Interesting experience this morning. Was flying into Santa Monica airport, SMO. [To tape a book-promo interview for NPR’s Fresh Air, my favorite radio show. Will air next Mon or Tues, I think.]
Coming from San Bernardino airport, SBD, in inland SoCal, where I’d been visiting my parents. Perfectly clear day, so was going VFR and enjoying the spectacular view. The LAX class B was very busy, so I couldn’t get a transition through it. Instead took the low altitude (sub 2000 ft) route across LA, wonderful to see. Contacted Santa Monica Tower, cleared for landing.
When WHAMMMMO! It was as if the plane had hit a brick wall. Or as if a land vehicle had hit a 20-foot-deep pothole in the road. I was strapped in but hit my head hard on the ceiling. So did one friend in the back seat – like me, he’s 6’2." His 5’6" wife in the co-pilot’s seat didn’t hit her head. Charts all hit the ceiling, compartment between the front seats flew open and ejected its contents.
So this is the world of wake turbulence! Maybe a thousand feet above us, airliners were turning downwind-to-base for their approach to LAX. This was the drifting-down residue of such a turn. I had flown below airline approach paths many, many times at Boeing Field in Seattle (beneath SeaTac’s south-flow approach.) But I had never seen anything like this.
Re-gathered charts, landed without problem a minute later. But two “I’m a believer” thoughts. First – will be all the more vigilant about being in harm’s way from a 757 ever again. Second - the parachute! The rear-seat passenger said his immediate thought was: what if Jim is knocked out? And he said it was very reassuring to him to think there was an option. Drifting by parachute onto greater LA is not ideal, but it beats the alternatives.