Memories of the DC-10

As I write these lines, and as announced months ago by Biman, the McDonnell-Douglas DC-10 is making its final commercial flight from Dhaka to Birmingham via Kuwait City, and the tweets about this unique final flight are pouring in.

I’ve had the privilege of flying onboard the DC-10 at least once, so I thought I’d share my memories with you.

It was back in December 1994, on an airline which no longer exists: AeroPeru. My family and I were going back to our home country for a two-week vacation just after Christmas. Our ticket said we’d fly on AeroPeru flights PL603 (Miami-Lima) and PL602 (Lima-Miami), but when we got our boarding passes, the number was changed to PL1603 and the departure time was rescheduled. Turns out the airline added an extra flight and instead of flying on a Boeing 757, we’d fly on a DC-10.

Early DC-10 flight. Photo from the San Diego Air and Space Museum Archive via Flickr.

Early DC-10 flight. From the San Diego Air and Space Museum Archive

I was 12 years old and a complete aviation geek. I was amazed by all the details I’d find here and there. The engines roared even when we were still taxiing. Imagine how loud they were on takeoff. The placards were in English… and in Portuguese. I found the cabin to be extremely tall and roomy. The galleys had small containers with the logos of CP Air and SAS (two former DC-10 operators). Near one of the flight attendant jumpseats, there was a console (with light controls, etc.) that looked like it came straight from the 1970s. The inflight movie audio played on the loudspeakers instead of the headphones (which weren’t working). The landing in Lima was one of the smoothest I ever had. The cabin was less than half-full, but you couldn’t tell from the round of applause upon touchdown. At the time, Lima Airport did not use jetways and we deplaned directly on the tarmac. That’s when I realized our plane had no logo: just the basic AeroPeru title.

In January 1995, on the flight back (PL1602), we flew exactly the same DC-10 with the basic color scheme. This time, the cabin was full, there was no inflight movie, but the pilot overflew the Andes mountains and gave us a clear view of the Huascarán, Peru’s highest mountain. Passengers scrambled to the window seats on the right side of the aircraft to have a glimpse. Then, it was lunchtime. Back then, inflight meals on 5-hour flights were common… and so were flights with smoking sections. I realized that we had seats in that section when one by one, most passengers lighted up after lunch. (None of us smoked.) Our landing in Miami was the complete opposite of the one in Lima: the approach was extremely bumpy and the touchdown was hard.

We left Lima exactly 45 minutes late and landed in Miami exactly 45 minutes late. For some reason, our bags were not checked all the way to Montreal and took over an hour to arrive at the baggage claim. As a result, we were too late to check in with Delta Air Lines and missed our flight to Montreal via Boston. Fortunately, AeroPeru paid for accommodation at an airport hotel and we flew the non-stop flight to Montreal the next morning.

It was with great sadness that I heard, a year later, of the crash of AeroPeru flight 603 and, three years later, of AeroPeru’s demise. I’ll cherish my experience aboard the DC-10 – and AeroPeru – long after the DC-10’s final commercial flight.

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