First Lady Hillary Rodham Clinton
Talking it Over

November 11, 1997

ALMATY, KazakhstanLast Sunday night, I was part of a harrowing mid-air adventureat least according to news reports.

At about 8:30 p.m., I boarded an Air Force plane at Andrews Air Force Base in Maryland, bound for an eight-day trip to Central Asia, Russia and Ukraine. We'd been in the air for about 20 minutes when a crew member calmly informed me that there was difficulty with one of the plane's four engines and we were heading back home to get it fixed.

No problem, I thought. Planes like this can fly along easily on three enginestwo if they have to. And our Air Force pilots are the best in the world. I curled up in my seat and went back to reading about Kazakhstan, the first country I was scheduled to visit.

In no time at all, we landed smoothly at Andrews. Yes, it is true that a bunch of fire trucks were waiting for us, lights flashing, but I figured the people on the ground were simply being extra careful. It didn't take long for mechanics to discover the problem in the engine. The plan was to try to fix it that nightor to start again the next day. In the meantime, we stayed on the plane for dinner, and I called my husband to tell him about the delay.

I was just sitting down to eat when I heard an urgent-sounding voice come over the small on-board television. "First Lady's plane turns back...fuel dumped...everyone on board safe." I was a little surprised. I didn't even know we were in danger! The television screen was emblazoned with a logo that read "BREAKING NEWS" and with a map that included a great big red dot marking our locationthe kind they use when they're talking about an accident on TV.

Though I recognize the responsibility news organizations have in covering the President's family, it seemed a little much at the time. After all, this sort of delay happens to countless Americans every dayand at much greater inconvenience. At about midnight, we got word that we would have to delay our departure until the following afternoon. Understanding the situation but feeling a little dejected nevertheless, I went home.

As soon as I got back to the White House, I found Bill talking on the phone to Chelsea who had seen the news and called. I reassured her quickly and then asked how she was doing.

The next morning started with a phone call from my mother who was traveling and wanted to hear my voice. Then came calls from friends who were watching the news. Others must have called after reading the headline in The Washington Post: "First Lady's Jet Aborts; Central Asia Trip Delayed." It sounded as if I had ejected from the plane in an escape pod and parachuted to Earth. The story went on to describe the scene in which technicians "swarmed" around the engine. I guess you could put it that way, but to my eyes, it looked more like a group of seasoned doctors examining a patient with a minor ailment.

I had to smile. The speed with which an unremarkable story became news was startling. Hearing about the entire range of press coverage from my staffmany of whom spent the morning fielding calls from anxious relativesI thought of "telephone," the game where one person starts a story and that story gets wilder and wilder as it is passed on down the line.

The funny thing is, Sunday night's episode is probably one of the least interesting moments in the life of the plane we were on. The aircraft took President Ford on the first trip of an American President to Japan; it took President Carter to the Middle East; and it took President Reagan to Geneva to meet Mikhail Gorbachev. It served as Air Force One until it was replaced by two 747s acquired under President Bush.

A number of the people accompanying me on this trip have fond memories of earlier travels on this airplane. One photojournalist remembers President Ford's golden retriever running around the aircraft. Another recalls how President Reagan, during long flights, would ask him to take pictures of sleeping staff members.

I have every confidence that the plane will serve us well on this trip. As I write this, I am already safely in Almaty, Kazakhstan. Over the next week, I will go on to Kyrgyzstan, Uzbekistan, Russia and Ukraine. The President and Secretary of State asked me to make this trip to reinforce the young but strong ties between the United States and these newly democratic states and to see what more we can do to help democracy, free markets and civil society take root in the republics of the former Soviet Union.

These countries have an extraordinary story to tell, which may not be as "newsworthy" as an ailing airplane engine but which is more important to their people and to the rest of the world.

Reprinted with the permission of Creators Syndicate, Inc.

First Lady Hillary Rodham Clinton's Trip to Central Asia, Russia, Ukraine