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    It’s Saturday morning. I took the controls of an A350 en route to Shanghai, my last flight before vacation. I was scheduled to return for a turnaround that day, but my vacation starts the next day. I’d booked a ticket that would take me to Germany that very day.

    Although Han Jae-yi’s wedding was canceled, my schedule was still packed for various reasons. On the day of the birthday party, I would spend a day at the house in Winnenden, then head to Iceland. I didn’t want to cancel at this point. There were places I had always wanted to visit.

    “Autopilot set.”

    As the airplane reached a stable altitude, the co-pilot engaged the autopilot and stretched.

    He was a veteran co-pilot about to take his captain’s promotion exam. He asked me to suggest a realistic scenario that could come up in the exam for practice. I posed a situation where he had to decide whether to declare minimum fuel and proceed to the planned A airport with tight fuel or divert to a closer B airport. He preferred the former. In reality, there’s no definitive right answer.

    “What if I told you that Airport A is an airport you’re familiar with, but it doesn’t have instrument approaches. Additionally, it’s prone to below minimum (when the runway is not visible from 50 feet up) due to frequent fog. What would you do in this situation?”

    “Can Airport B handle ILS approaches?”

    “Yes, though the facilities are subpar.”

    “How much fuel would we need to return to Airport A if we fail at B?”

    “Assume you’ll need about 5 tons. You currently have 10 tons, and it will take 30 minutes to fly to Airport A.”

    “Hmm… If we fail to land, we can just barely make it back to Airport A.”

    “Yes, but you won’t have enough fuel for another go-around.”

    “Then I’ll head to Airport B.”

    “Why?”

    “Because it seems safer. Statistically, the chances of failing an ILS approach at B and then failing a manual landing at A are very low. If there’s enough time to plan the new route, B is the safer option.”

    I liked his answer.

    “Good. I agree.”

    I don’t know what kind of situation will be presented as a question on the upcoming captain’s upgrade exam, but the Co-pilot’s instincts didn’t seem to be bad. Aviation is about managing probabilities, so an answer like that is always welcome. The Co-pilot was pleased with my response and had a proud look on his face.

    The camera outside the cockpit showed the cabin manager’s face. I opened the door.

    “We have a medical emergency. A passenger with a medical license is attending to it, but he seems unsure.”

    “Oh dear. Is the situation serious?”

    “It looks pretty bad.”

    The cabin manager’s worried expression indicated this wasn’t a simple emergency.

    “Let’s go together.”

    I unbuckled my seatbelt and stood up from the pilot seat.

    In a two-pilot system, it is dangerous for one of the pilots to leave the cockpit. It’s strictly prohibited in Germany, but Korean airlines allow brief absences, such as bathroom breaks.  I trusted the Co-pilot and handed over control.

    I followed the cabin manager through business class to economy. I saw a middle-aged man lying in the aisle, and a young woman was checking on him. She saw me and quickly explained the situation.

    “It seems he suffered hypoxic shock. He’s breathing again after emergency treatment.”

    “Is there no guardian with him?”

    I turned to the cabin manager.

    “He boarded alone.”

    A young male passenger in the aisle spoke up. The middle-aged man who had collapsed was waving his hands in the air, signaling that he was okay. Several people worked together to help him up and lay him down in an empty business class seat. His breathing seemed to have improved, but he was unable to speak.

    The male passenger next to me cautiously asked if we were going back to the airport. He had a laptop and papers on his tray, as if he were traveling on a business trip. All of the passengers on the plane were looking in this direction and making eye contact.

    I asked the young doctor for her name and specialty. She was an anesthesiology resident heading to a conference in Shanghai. She seemed aware that her words could decide if the plane turned back, and it made her nervous.

    “His breathing is back, but his inability to speak is concerning…”

    “That’s okay. Just give your professional opinion. The final decision is mine.”

    She hesitated before fulfilling her professional duty.

    “If left untreated, he could suffer brain damage. I think he should be taken to a hospital as soon as possible.”

    “Understood. Thank you.”

    I immediately took the cabin manager back to the cockpit. The Co-pilot looked at us nervously.

    “We’ll return to Gimpo Airport. Co-pilot, I want you to declare a medical emergency on the tower right away. Manager, please make an announcement to divert. If you receive any complaints, please do not handle them yourself, but report them directly to me.”

    “Yes, Sir.”

    Our plane promptly changed course and headed back to Gimpo Airport. To match the airplane weight for landing, we needed to dump 20 tons of fuel. This would cost the company around 15 million won. The return, the fuel, and the ensuing delays would increase the losses further.

    -Coreana Airlines Flight 441 heavy. Medical emergency. Request handling approach.

    -Coreana 441 heavy. Gimpo approach roger. Altimeter 30. 25. Runway 22 available. Is the passenger… um, very critical?

    A familiar voice spoke Korean over the communication channel. Sometimes, even controllers instinctively switch to their native language during emergencies involving their national carriers. It’s a reminder that there’s a human on the other end of the radio.

    -Hypoxia, the passenger is unable to speak, please have an emergency vehicle ready immediately. Coreana 441 heavy.

    -Coreana 441 heavy. Roger that.

    We opened the tanks to gradually release 20 tons of fuel into the air, which would evaporate before reaching the ground. The Co-pilot input the revised route and disengaged the autopilot. I took control, and the plane turned back toward Gimpo Airport.

    We landed safely 20 minutes later. Thankfully, none of the 210 passengers complained.

    -Coreana 441 heavy. Emergency vehicles are responding.

    We parked at the end of the runway. From a distance, we saw a step car and ambulance approaching. Paramedics boarded and quickly escorted the patient off the plane. The Co-pilot and I watched from the cockpit window, hoping we had arrived in time.

    The purpose of the captain’s promotion exam is singular: to train for accurate decision-making in real situations. Safety incidents can happen at any time, and pilots must always rely on the lesser probabilities. Even a 1% chance is too risky when lives are at stake.

    “We won’t be able to return for the turnaround today, will we?”

    “I guess so.”

    Once the immediate emergency was handled, practical issues surfaced. We needed to find and offload the patient’s luggage, refuel, and get a new takeoff slot. We exchanged weary smiles.

    Along with the flight schedule, my personal schedule was also messed up. I realized that if I flew into Germany a day early, I wouldn’t have time to meet Han Jae-yi. At best, I could visit his office and have lunch with him. I sighed inwardly.

    “Let’s take a taxi.”

    I nodded at the Co-pilot’s words. The fact that I had less time to meet him hurt more than the company’s financial loss. Maybe I’m only human after all. With a bitter taste in my mouth, I pushed the thrust lever.

    In the end, I had to adjust my ticket to Germany to a day later. I received news from the company that the condition of the patient transported to the hospital was improving, which was a relief.

    Chris was supposed to pick me up at Frankfurt Airport. It seemed he had taken a day off for the birthday party. Despite it being a weekday, the airport was crowded. Amid the throngs of incoming passengers, Chris quickly spotted me and waved. The brothers embraced warmly.

    “Your face looks a little better.”

    He grabbed the suitcase from my hand and headed briskly down the escalator. We passed through the underground passageway and stood in front of the parking garage, paying for our parking tickets. As we sped down the autobahn in his car, memories of my eighth birthday came to mind.

    I was adopted to a town called Winnenden, located a bit south of Stuttgart, Germany. Calling it a town was generous given its limited infrastructure and tram routes. There were more fields and hills than paved roads, and many people commuted to nearby factories or to Stuttgart.

    I used to ride my bike to school all the time. When I got home from school, which was about 10 minutes away from my house, I wandered the back roads alone since I didn’t have any friends. I mostly climbed trees or caught bugs. One time, I got seriously injured, and after that, Chris always followed me around. When I stopped climbing trees, my German improved quickly.

    “Where are you traveling to? Since the wedding was canceled, why not just stay home for a bit?”

    “Yeah, but it’s too late to cancel now.”

    “So, was it because of you that Jae-yi’s wedding got canceled?”

    Chris kept glancing at me while driving, trying to gauge my reaction. He must have wanted to ask this for a while but was hesitant.

    “Well… it kind of turned out that way.”

    “So, you mean the wedding got canceled entirely because of you? Are you two dating then?”

    Feeling a bit embarrassed, I looked out the window. It was the middle of July in Germany. It hadn’t rained in a while, and the leaves were drying out. There were hills planted with rows of vines and farms with geese and horses. This must have been the same landscape a hundred years ago. Everything moves slower here. Changes were accepted, but complete transformations took time.

    “Max, aren’t you going to answer?”

    Chris seemed determined to hear it directly from me.

    “Yeah, that’s how it happened. I guess we’re dating.”

    He grabbed me by the shoulders and shook me, expressing joy that he was happy as long as I was happy. There are only a few people who would use the term “unconditionally” for me. Chris was one of those people, and I was grateful for his caring nature.

    This meant that now two people knew about our relationship. No, three if we counted Gisella. I couldn’t contact her separately, so I hoped she was okay. She had the right to resent me, and I had no reason to pity her. When we become responsible for our actions and emotions, we earn the label “adult.”

    “Can I borrow your car for lunch later today?”

    Chris nodded in understanding. He patted me on the head and said.

    “Get some sleep. You must be tired.”

    I agreed with him. To stay awake until night, I needed to adjust to the time difference. I reclined my seat and closed my eyes. Chris closed the panoramic sunroof, blocking out the bright light and allowing me to fall into a nap. The familiar sound of the radio played softly. Somewhere on the autobahn, there seemed to have been a minor accident.

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