Four minutes. That’s all it took.
From the first explosive sound from the plane’s engine – just a few seconds after take-off – until the wheels hit a meadow near Gottröra in Sweden, around 20 km north-east of Stockholm. But in those four minutes it seemed as though time took on a new dimension for Stefan G. Rasmussen.
“The stress in such a situation cannot be described,” he says. “To have responsibility for so many people’s lives, combined with a feeling of total powerlessness, is one of the worst situations a person can be in.”
Rasmussen was the pilot of SAS Flight SK751, which made a crash landing in a snow-covered field after improper de-icing caused an explosion in the plane’s engines. On impact, the plane broke into three parts but luckily did not catch fire. All 129 on board (including 6 crew members) survived.
RINGING TONESThe crash deeply affected Rasmussen, both physically and emotionally. Not long after the accident he became aware of constant ringing tones in his ears that prevented him from sleeping at night.
His wife encouraged him to visit a doctor.“At that point I didn’t know what tinnitus was,” he recalls. ”I asked the doctor what I could do about it. He gave the worst advice I have ever heard: ’You’ll just have to learn to live with it.’”
It wasn’t an uncommon diagnosis in the early 1990s, when most healthcare professionals were unaware of sound therapy. Hearing aids and other devices to help tinnitus also didn’t exist. But instead of giving up, Rasmussen created his own sound therapy program.
He discovered that when he had the radio on he could disregard his tinnitus. One night when the ringing tones became more than he could bear; he took his Walkman to bed. ”I slept like a baby for the first time in a long time,” he recalls.
Rasmussen then began to research tinnitus and find methods that would keep his tinnitus at bay.
He recalled how he was able to block out distracting voices of passengers and stewardesses when he was a pilot and applied those same listening techniques to his tinnitus.“Remembering that made me realise that one has a type of selective hearing,” he says. “I said to myself: There is the solution! I just have to focus on something else.”
When Rasmussen came out in public with his tinnitus, he was contacted by the Danish Association of the Hard of Hearing and invited to become involved in their cause.
A STABLE ‘FRIEND’
He became active in the association’s network for tinnitus sufferers and quickly became a popular speaker, travelling around the country to talk about his hearing problems.
Tinnitus has been the background music to Stefan’s life since the crash. But thanks to his hearing aids he has been able to take up one of his old passions again - jazz. He plays saxophone and has started his own one-man band, ‘The World’s Smallest Big Band’ and records and plays live at private functions.
It is easy to understand why Stefan is a popular speaker; he has a humoristic approach to even the most difficult parts of life. “Before I got tinnitus, I used to say that there are only two sure things in life: being born and dying. Everything in between is just coincidence. But now there is a third thing I can be certain of and that is my tinnitus. It is the most stable companion I’ve ever had.”