Charles Tillman once thought he had been shot at in a plane flying over Iraq, so the emergency landing in Indianapolis this week was nothing to worry about for him.
The 13-year veteran and first-year Panther was on an American flight Tuesday out of Chicago that had a fuel leak. The pilot landed the Charlotte-bound plane in Indianapolis where they worked on it for two hours before arriving in the Queen City.
Tillman said only one person on the flight seemed to panic while everyone else remained calm.
Digital Access for only $0.99
For the most comprehensive local coverage, subscribe today.
“Everybody else was calm so I figured if they were cool I should keep my cool,” Tillman said Thursday at Wofford College where the Panthers reported to training camp.
Then he dropped an Exorcist reference.
“If I saw someone spitting pea soup and her head started spinning, and kids are running around freaking out and screaming then yeah, I probably would have been freaking out too.”
Tillman then recalled a flight on which he thought he was going to meet his maker. On a USO trip to Iraq he participated in a combat landing as the plane wobbled in the air worse than any turbulence he had experienced before.
“Our flares on the back of the plane, they popped, and the plane—a big C-130 Hercules—started doing this (whipping around),” Tillman explained. “That one scared me because I thought someone shot something at us because we started doing damn-near barrel rolls. We did this combat landing and the guy was like yeah sometimes when it gets hot in the triple digits our flares go off. So no one shot anything at us but good thing our flares work.
“I said, ‘OK, but that’s not what I’m telling everybody. I’m telling everybody they shot an RPG (rocket-propelled grenade) at me.’ That was probably scarier than the fuel leak.”