by John Datzkiw
December, 1987, Aviation Review (Altitude)
On the occasion of Halloween, I have racked my brain for a chilling story and finally I have settled on the following unbelievable scenario; unbelievable because it portrays air traffic controllers as people who would, as it were, fool around at work. Knowing their true, serious nature, you no doubt will realize that one would have to have a vivid imagination to believe such an episode, but, what the heck!
It’s raining outside, Halloween is approaching, so why not use that as a start for the improbable?
Let us imagine that we are back in the late 1950s on a dark October 31. An airport control tower sits on stilts, with an outside staircase leading up 35 feet. Said tower has a catwalk around the periphery. Located 365 meters away (about 1,200 feet in those days) was located an aircraft control centre, within which seven dedicated and serious controllers guided airplanes along the invisible runway.
A slight lull in air traffic allows these harried controllers a brief moment to relax in their hard chairs, and one of them suggests that, because it’s Halloween, perhaps, just perhaps, wouldn’t it be great to relieve the tension by wondering what they could do that was a bit, shall we say, different.
A knowing look, seven diabolical grins, a hasty conference, and five serious, dedicated civil servants move as one. With the stealth of well-trained commandos, they sweep to the parking lot and slide into a dark blue Oldsmobile, having stopped at a washroom only long enough for each to grab a bar of soap.
In the dark, without lights (a highly illegal procedure), the Oldsmobile moves swiftly to the base of the control tower. A nervous driver stays at the wheel while four dark figures, armed with a length of rope, silently steal up the staircase and place themselves on the catwalk around the glass-walled domain of three airport controllers.
The rope quickly secures the only door, in or out, of the tower cab, a furtive signal sounds, and four bars of soap do their mysterious business on the control tower windows. Three startled tower controllers jump up, but find the only door securely tied and the view of the airport suddenly disappears. Just as suddenly, four dark figures scamper down the unlit stairs into the Oldsmobile and disappear into the night.
Do you think this really could have happened? I’ll leave it to you. Your guess is as good as mine.
This article originally appeared in the December, 1987 edition of Aviation Review; now Altitude.