190814 airplane
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There’s a saying, ‘Good luck is when opportunity meets preparation; bad luck is when lack of preparation meets reality.’ That may sound clever, perhaps in the context of getting (or not getting a job), but when it comes to life, that doesn’t quite work.

My friend Barney says he’s been thinking about luck a lot, of late. What triggered off this train of thought, he adds, is a reality television programme. ‘I thought you were averse to reality TV?’ I remind him, but to his good luck he’s come prepared to anticipate this opportune question. ‘You know, we’ve just got the one television in the house. So sometimes you just end up watching what the others are,’ he reminds me in return.

Anyway, on this show, where the contestants sing to the back of a chair and attempt to get the chair to swivel around, one of the participants — who managed this unique feat — revealed that she was a survivor. Nearly a decade ago, she’d been on a flight that made global news — the one that hit a bird (or birds) shortly after take-off, lost its engines, but still managed to land in the icy waters of the Hudson river. Every member of the 155 passengers and crew escaped with the lives.

‘And here she was, on our national TV screens, singing for a spot in the competition and happy to share her story of survival with us all,’ said Barney, adding, ‘You can never prepare for situations like that. You just have to hope that somehow, miraculously, things will work out. Even if the chances of that happening are point zero, zero one. And afterwards, people will just say, oh they got very lucky.’

Barney tells me that this is not the first time he’s run across someone with a story like that.

‘Back in the Seventies, I worked with a man in import-export,’ Barney tells me. This man, owing to the nature of his job, was a frequent flyer. ‘He spent a lot more time in airplanes and airports than at his luxury villa. Always rushing off to make some business deal,’ said Barney.

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One such deal — a half a million-dollar venture — with a very tight deadline for finalisation required this importer to drop everything he was doing and take the first plane out. Which he attempted to do. ‘Got his secretary to ring every airline until a last-minute seat could be procured at terribly short notice.’ That done, he hopped into a cab and ordered it to ‘fly to the airport.’ Metaphorically, of course.

The cab, I am told, did attempt to ‘fly’ only it ended up clipping the road divider and subsequently sideswiping another car in the neighbouring lane. ‘You don’t need imagination to guess what happened after that,’ said Barney who, nevertheless, proceeded to fill me in (assuming no doubt that my imagination might lead me astray and so couldn’t be trusted.)

Yes, predictably, the man — this importer-exporter — missed his flight. ‘And what’s more important, he lost a huge amount of money. Business-wise that was a disaster.’ So, rightfully, the man raved and ranted, cursed his ill fortune, called his business partners, begged for the deadline to be extended, all to no avail. The tender was awarded to a competitor.

When the phone rang in the dead of night, it was his sister’s voice on the other end. She’d been the unfortunate recipient of all his raving. His sister was saying, ‘Turn on your TV.’ And there it was.

The first footage coming through of the twisted, mangled wreckage of the plane he just missed. ‘You can’t call that luck,’ said Barney, ‘It may have been lucky for him. Let’s not forget there were people who made that plane on time.’

Kevin Martin is a journalist based in Sydney, Australia.