People don’t often fall out of aeroplanes – especially when they are thousands of feet up in the air. But I nearly did.

During my time at university I was a member of the air squadron and learnt to fly Chipmunks (by now almost certainly extinct!).  We flew from Brough airfield beside the River Humber.  This was where Beverleys – big elephant-like transport planes – were serviced.  When one of these ungainly giants was ready for testing, we were often offered a ride.

I had accepted the invitation on a number of previous occasions without mishap.

During take-off and landing we had to occupy the seats up in the tail-piece of the aircraft, strap ourselves in and, for some strange reason, wear our parachutes.  Once airborne, we were free to undo our parachutes and roam around.  Joining the crew in the cockpit was the usual thing to do but I had done that on a number of previous occasions.  I opted to stay put while my two colleagues went off to join the crew in the cockpit.  With my parachute off, I wandered around rather aimlessly and eventually stood on the large doors set into the floor between where the seats stopped and the toilet, tucked right away in the tail, began.  As I gazed at the innocuous handle, I remember thinking, ‘That can’t be the only thing that opens those big doors’.

Then Miss Hap appeared and suggested that I stoop, lift the handle and turn it. The doors immediately opened, inwards fortunately, and I flung myself across them confident that the weight of my body would enable me to get them closed again.  Unfortunately, this coincided with the pilots enjoying themselves by throwing the empty Beverley around in an uncharacteristic fashion (it was a test flight remember).  We didn’t exactly loop the loop, but certainly there were lots of violent twists and turns!  Each manoeuvre caused the doors to buffet, sometimes nearly closing and sometimes opening wide enough for me to be staring down at the dinky fields of Lincolnshire far below.  If I had been wearing my parachute, I’d have given up the struggle and gone.

As I fought with the doors I remember thinking that, in the far away cockpit, there must be some indication that the doors were open.  A warning light flashing perhaps, or some sort of audible signal?  I should explain that the cockpit was a considerable distance from where I was; down a ladder, across a vast hanger built to accommodate a few lorries, and up another ladder.  I was sure that if I hung on long enough someone would come to my rescue.  But no one came and the Beverley continued to lurch.

Eventually, during a lull, I managed to get the doors shut and staggered back to my seat (and my dear, dear parachute!).  That is where my colleagues found me when they returned for the landing.  Naturally they asked me if I was feeling OK.  I hadn’t the confidence to tell them how foolish I had been.  They assumed I was suffering from air-sickness.

It was many years before I could bring myself to tell anyone what had really happened.  Miss Hap knew of course, but that was it.

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