BY ED SUSMAN
HOLLYWOOD, FL -- Before Crystal Denlinger, MD, of Fox Chase Cancer Center delivered a talk at the National Comprehensive Cancer Network meeting here today she first had to help lead the evacuation of her jetliner that crashed on takeoff at Philadelphia International Airport.
“It wasn’t a big deal,” she told OT. “I called my boyfriend, and he said, ‘I’ll come get you right away.” I told him I was fine. We were all fine. It was probably more traumatic seeing the pictures of it than being a part of it.”
The routine trip from Philadelphia on US Airways Flight 1702 ended abruptly when the front nose tire blew out and the landing gear collapsed.
“I was sitting in the middle exit row seat, so the women next to me opened the door,” Dr. Denlinger recalled. “I stepped around to the other side and she was holding the door and I said, ‘Okay, I’ll take that.’ I stepped out and took the door with me out of the plane and stuck it on the wing. You are supposed to open the door and then get out. So that’s what we did.”
She said that she was mildly nervous about sitting in the emergency exit row, so “this time I actually read the card and looked at how I was supposed to open the window if necessary.
“We had weaved a little bit before we started to fly, and then we bounced and we got up in the air again and I thought, ‘Really? We are going to do this again?’
“Then we came back down and we skidded to a nice stop, and they told us to sit for a while. They said, ‘Stay in your seats,” and the flight attendants asked, ‘Is everyone okay? Is anyone hurt?’ No one was hurt. Then there started to be some smoke, and there were people yelling, and finally the first officer said, ‘Evacuate.’ And then it got a little bit chaotic.
“The flight attendants didn’t help us that much,” she said. “They didn’t tell us to open the window. But everybody got out okay, and then immediately after we got out people started taking pictures. There was more stuff on social media within five minutes after the crash than I would think humanely possible. Frankly as soon as I knew the plane was not going to explode and I was a safe distance away, I turned around and took a picture, too, and posted it on Facebook.”
While waiting on the tarmac in the wintry afternoon, the passengers gathered together to help each other. “It was cold,” Denlinger said. “It was cool to see the passengers huddle together. Not many of us had brought coats off the plane with us. We figured out who was in T-shirts or light dress shirts and huddled around them. We were all sharing phone chargers so we could call our families, etc. Then I got on a plane at midnight and got here at the meeting at 3 am. I had a job to do, so I got on the plane.”
She also was scheduled to present a poster study at the NCCN meeting, but left that on the plane when she was evacuated. She eventually got it from the plane later, though, and took it to the meeting and hung it before giving her talk.
Dr. Denlinger speaking at the podium during her Point/Counterpoint session on “Challenges of Communicating with Patients about Optimal Post-treatment Surveillance -- Patient Expectations versus Scientific Evidence” (also shown is her co-panelist, Terry S. Langbaum, MAS, of Sidney Kimmel Comprehensive Cancer Center at Johns Hopkins).