Genel

The Ridge

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Amateur

The plane, a twenty four year old, twin propellered Sentinel was two hours late in taking off from Tutuila International Airport, more affectionately known as Pago Pago Café, Samoa. It had been a radio fault that caused the delay and with the control tower’s permission had begun to roll down the apron preparatory to lining up at the far end of the runway for takeoff. Rain, that had been forecast, had just began to fall and the co-pilot was advised over the fixed radio, that they were now more than likely to hit heavy weather south west of Fiji on the flight to Brisbane.

But for that radio fault, the aircraft would have missed the storm and not be heading into it and this story would not have been written. The plane, on charter to the Samoan Council, carried a pilot and a co-pilot, both Australians and two stewardesses, one an Australian and the other was a Kiwi from New Zealand. Maximum passengers would be eighty six, though on this flight, they had fourteen empty seats so seventy six souls took to the air for the city of Brisbane. Also, the aircraft carried ten pallets of tuna fish from the cannery of Pago Pago for the Australian market.

The emergency drill patter had been performed and all were seated as the plane took to the air to swing on its course for Australia.

‘Welcome aboard flight Sam two one four,’ the small speakers throughout the cabin crackled. ‘This is your Captain speaking, name of Chris Jones and my co-pilot is Dennis Raymond. We apologise for the late take off, but we’ve got to have a radio that works. We’ll be flying at approximately thirty five thousand feet and arrive at Brisbane at approximately midnight. Dinner will be served shortly and we hope you will enjoy the flight.’ He clicked off the speaker.

‘You didn’t mention the bad weather ahead,’ Raymond said from his seat on the right.

‘No. Let them have their dinner in peace,’ Jones replied. ‘We might just be able to avoid it.’

In the main cabin, the stewardesses had unclipped their seat belts and went to the miniscule galley and pulled out the drinks trolley and began to serve everyone who wanted a drink before their meal. The seat belt sign and no smoking lights went off and the passengers began to relax. Being a chartered plane, they didn’t quite follow the rules of the larger airlines by banning the smoking of cigarettes on their flight, though it was a question asked when the seats were allocated so as to have the smokers towards the rear end of the plane. Most of these lit up when the sign went off.

Debra, the Australian stewardess served the drinks off to the port side passengers, while Tiki, the New Zealander, served those on the starboard side. The same as on a ship, the port side is on the left as you look forward and starboard is to the right, and, though not visible from the cabin, the wing tips carry a red light for port and green for starboard and a white light shining forward beneath the belly of the aircraft.

This is to advise any person from seeing these lights at any angle can tell in which direction the ship or aircraft is travelling in the darkness.

The galley was also equipped with a locker that was really a large microwave oven, switched on earlier for heating the pre-cooked dinners and with the drinks served, these sealed meals were then doled out. The choice was either chicken, Australian style, or a Samoan rice dish. The forward passengers all had a choice but sometimes the rear end ones had to take whatever was left if the rest all opted for one only. The captain and co-pilot always had a different one each, for like all airlines, they were not allowed to both have the same meal at the same time. It was a safeguard against food poisoning, though neither of these two had ever experienced this, they still followed this rule.

Just over an hour out from Tutuila the pilot picked up the tower of Nandi airport at Tuva, Fiji and got a confirmed fix and knew they were still on course. Also, they would definitely hit the storm which had really built up in the last hour.

‘We have just been advised,’ the captain said into his handset that let the passengers hear him, ‘that we will experience some turbulent weather very shortly. Please return to your seats and fasten the belts.’

As he clicked off, Raymond pressed the button to illuminate the seat belt sign that was above each seat.

‘No smoking sign?’ He queried of the captain.

‘Not yet,’ was the answer as he tightened his own belt and concentrated on his flying.

Three minutes later they hit the outer edge of the predicted storm. At first it was just a sickening drop of two hundred feet as the air disappeared from beneath them, it being sucked into the tempestuously violent winds. These latter then began to toss them from side to side as it battled to fight against this intruder into its own airspace.

Heavy rain bombarded the windscreen making it impossible to see out, though this really made no difference for it being night and that they were already flying on instruments. The canlı bahis şirketleri pilot began to lift the aeroplane higher, hoping to get above the storm as they saw the lightning flash across the sky ahead of them.

The aircraft shook and shuddered the first time it was hit by one such bolt, but after sustaining four in quick succession, all the instruments went haywire.

‘Christ!’ exclaimed Jones at the quick sudden shocks as he struggled to hold the wheel in his hands firm.

‘We’ve lost instrumentation,’ Raymond cried out as the needles of various dials went either round and round or oscillated from one side to another. He too was grimly hanging onto his yoke to try and help the captain keep the aircraft stable.

What they didn’t know was that they were very quickly being pushed further north by the very strong winds as they were still being hit by lightning.

‘Get on to Nandi and tell them what we’ve hit, to warn others and give us a navigational fix,’ Jones said to Raymond, his teeth chattering as he spoke. Not from fear but from the sheer buffeting they were getting.

Just as Raymond began to speak, the radio behind him seemed to explode as a lightning strike came down through and shorted out the whole panel.

‘Radio’s gone,’ he shouted to the captain, the noise from outside rising in crescendo as they were now being hit by hail. Hail in the Pacific? But it was fact as they could see large chunks of white ice shatter on the screen in a relentless stream, hoping that the glass would hold up to this constant battering.

In spite of the seat belt sign, both Debra and Tiki were moving up and down the aisle, hanging onto the backs of seats as they collected sick bags and gave out fresh ones.

Jones and Raymond, for nearly an hour, fought the controls of the plane until the final straw came. Only it wasn’t a straw but another bolt of lightning that hit the portside engine and blew it to pieces and at the same time, split the wing’s fuel tanks.

Passengers began to scream at the sight of this trailing flame from the wing and the sudden lurch, not the first, but a more sickening one, to this side, making the flame actually begin to lick at the outside of the small windows on that side.

With superhuman effort, both Jones and Raymond managed to bring the plane onto a level flight path, much lower than before but were at least being able to keep it stabilised as the aircraft began to slowly lose height with only one engine for power.

Even though he knew the radio was out, Raymond kept sending out a mayday call in the faint hope that he could be heard though they couldn’t receive. He’d already activated the engine fire extinguisher and it had lessened the flames, but not put the fire out completely.

‘We going to ditch?’ Raymond asked as he struggled with his yoke.

‘It looks like it. The altimeter has gone mad so we’ve got to go down to see where we are and try and set her down on land if we can see any, if not, the water. I’d best prepare them,’ and he triggered the speaker for the passenger cabin.

‘Attention please. Do not be alarmed about the fire to the port side engine. I am about to put the plane into a dive to put out the bloody flames and I’m afraid that I’m going to have to land. Either on land or in the water. So please recheck your seat belts and brace yourself when I call out to brace. You’ve had the emergency drill told to you. You have a few minutes to refresh yourselves of this by looking at the card in the pocket of the seat in front of you. This applies to the two stewardesses as well. Good luck to us all,’ he said and clicked off his hand set and helped his co-pilot in getting the aircraft lower in a shallow dive and was successful in extinguishing the flames to the port engine and wing.

‘Christ! We’re fucking low Chris,’ Dennis exclaimed, using his captain’s Christian name whilst in the cockpit which was not a normal practice. Off duty was a different matter.

‘Not low enough yet. The fire’s out this side but I still can’t see the water. We’ve got to go lower,’ and so the pair of them while keeping the aircraft level, dropped slowly down until Raymond cried out.

‘Land! I’m sure of it!’

They were more into squalls now than the actual storm but with his controls beginning to feel sluggish, the captain knew that he had to land the damn thing. In between the intermittent gaps in the rain, he too saw that the land was indeed there and that it looked more of an island.

It was ahead and slightly off to the left and this made it easier for them to veer the plane that way.

‘Look for a clear stretch of land or beach,’ Jones called out as he strained his own eyes for somewhere to land.

‘I can’t see anything now from my side,’ he complained as the plane banked to port.

‘Well I can see a beach, so I’m going to go right round and level off for it,’ he said. Dropping down to about five hundred feet, they were below the storm and just had the rain to contend with and now Raymond canlı kaçak iddaa could see the phosphorescence of the water breaking on the shore.

‘Yes, yes,’ he cried. ‘About half a mile ahead. Well done Chris. Now just get the bugger down.’

‘Undercarriage down,’ Jones ordered, ‘half flaps,’ and then concentrated on that faint strip that was dead ahead of him. He flicked the switch for the speaker.

‘There’s a beach below where I’m going to land so, brace, brace, brace!’ and flicked the switch off and watched the beach come closer and closer to him as he let the plane down to meet it. He felt the thump as the landing gear came down and locked.

‘I’m aiming to put down as close to the water as possible. The sand will be much firmer there and maybe we can run along it and hope to stop before it runs out,’ he said to Raymond through gritted teeth as he throttled back to just above stalling speed as they dropped closer and closer to the beach.

‘What’s that black line that runs from the trees to the water?’ Raymond asked as they began to drop the last few feet.

‘I don’t…..oh fuck!’ and pulled with all his strength at the yoke to try and lift the aircraft but didn’t have a third hand to increase the power, and also tried to turn the plane to starboard towards the sea.

They hadn’t known that this was a volcanic island that they were trying to land on and that this black thing that ran from the trees across the beach and into the water was a ridge of solid lava.

*

In the cabin when the captain announced that he was going to get

the plane down, Both stewardesses, in spite of the motions of the aircraft, still checked that each passenger had their safety belts properly secured before taking to their own seats. Debra had her fold up seat at the front, her back to the cockpit wall while Tiki had hers at the rear end by the toilet door.

From where they both sat, buckled up, they saw all the heads disappear onto their folded arms when they heard the voice of the captain telling them to brace. They too then followed suit and they could hear the sudden murmuring of most of the passengers saying their prayers to God.

There were a few screams as the plane suddenly appeared to lurch to the right and then came the horrendous noise as several hundred tons of aircraft being brought to an almost immediate stop from a speed of about one hundred and fifty miles an hour.

Captain Chris Jones had failed to clear the ridge and the under-carriage struck and was savagely torn from the fuselage. The nose wheel had made it across but the power wasn’t there to lift the rest of the plane high enough to get the main landing wheels over. As these ripped away, this fragmentary pause caused the nose of the plane to dip and bury itself into the sand at the water’s edge. Simultaneously, in trying to turn to starboard, the wing tip caught the ridge too, twisting the aircraft as it began to stand on its crumbling nose.

The weight of ten tons of tinned tuna snapped their restraints and at the apogee of the aircraft’s somersault, shifted with alarming speed towards and through the forward bulkhead. On its passage downwards, the tops of the pallets began shearing the bolts that held the passenger seats, releasing them too.

From about the middle section of the passenger cabin, these seats with the occupants strapped in, hurled down to crush those sitting there into the backs of the seats in front of them, which in turn then smashed into the next and so on like a domino effect.

Debra had not the time to scream as these seats and passengers crushed her as they all then smashed through into the tilted cockpit burying both Jones and Raymond. This all took a fraction of a second as the plane stood on its nose and most of the planes occupants died at that point.

The forward momentum continued as the plane carried on its somersault, twisting as it landed on its back, having a whip lash effect on the tail section which sheered away from the main fuselage to bounce and finish in the upright position in a depth of about six foot of sea water.

The noise had been horrendous with the screeching of metal being torn apart that would have drowned the screams, if any, of the dying passengers as the plane came to rest in a welter of spray with those passengers whose seats were still bolted to the floor, upside down with their upper bodies underwater. They drowned if they hadn’t suffered broken necks before they could release their seat belts.

The rear section of the plane had landed over twenty feet away from the main fuselage and was in the upright position facing the gaping hole that it had once been attached to. The sudden silence was almost deafening to those that had survived and the only noise to be heard was the falling rain and the slap of waves.

In this section, the configuration of seating was a single fold up seat at the rear for a stewardess, two rows of two seats either side before it became three seats either side. It was just in front canlı kaçak bahis of the three seat row that the split had occurred though with the whip of its parting, had taken the legs off the three passengers seated on the starboard side. One was already dead and the other two were rapidly losing the fight and died within a few minutes.

Then came the groans of those twelve survivors as they felt their bruised thighs and aching heads and muscles, trying to comprehend what had just happened. From point of impact until they finished up in this position took just two seconds. They had been in the braced position and with the cabin lights on, staring at the carpeted floor and now they were in darkness and could feel the rain blowing in on them.

‘What the fuck happened?’ came an American voice from the, what was now the front row seat by the window.

‘I think we have just crashed,’ came the dry reply from the back row. Now came the sobs and crying from the female passengers.

‘Oh my God,’ cried one sobbing voice.

‘We crashed?’ came a bewildered voice.

‘Well we’re not in the bloody air for there’s water just in front of me,’ came another American voice with a sarcastic tone.

‘Get me out of here,’ came the high pitched scream of a female which was followed up by the sound of a heavy slap that cut off the screaming.

‘We’d better get out,’ came the dry voice again which had the modulated tone of being English. He was in the rear seat, portside, next to the window and he put his arm round the shoulders of the girl sitting next to him who was gently sobbing.

‘You’re safe now. Buck up and let’s get out shall we.’ If things had been normal, she would have slapped him for his hand was fumbling near her groin as he tried with one hand to release her belt buckle, but it went un-noticed in the circumstances. He could hear other seat belts being undone and as he tried to help her to get up, another pair of hands came out of the gloom to pull her up. In the near darkness, he saw that it was Tiki, the stewardess who was helping her out into the now very short aisle. They moved back to allow him to get out too. The back two rows were now getting to their feet but of the three living at the open end stayed seated for there wasn’t any floor for them to stand on.

‘Oh shit!’ said the man nearest the aisle, looking across at the other three. ‘They’ve lost their fucking legs!’

The Englishman moved past those now out in the small aisle and bent over the backs of these three seats and felt the necks of all three but couldn’t find any pulse.

‘They’ve gone,’ he said quietly, and then looked out at the main body of the aircraft but couldn’t see anything move for he was really looking into the belly of the plane not really comprehending that it was upside down. This was only apparent when they were out on the sand and could see it properly. He could see that they were about fifteen feet from the water’s edge and the sand beyond.

‘I’ll see how deep it is,’ he said to those at the rear end, now all standing up. ‘Get ready to follow me if it’s okay.’ With that, he went to the end of the aisle and jumped out into the water. No sooner had his head gone under, he felt the sand beneath his feet. He came up and then pushed himself down again to guess that with him being six foot exactly, the water depth was about seven to eight feet.

‘Okay,’ he called up. ‘Eight feet. Start jumping down and I’ll catch you.’ The first to comply were the three Americans in the front seats, jumping down almost at the same time, one of them landing right on top of the Englishman. He spluttered out sea water when he surfaced to remonstrate, but the three were already wading ashore.

‘One at a time please,’ he cried out. ‘They nearly drowned me.’

‘I’ll give you a hand,’ a male voice called out from above, his accent was that of an Australian and he landed in the water. So they trod water as the females began to drop down for their arms to be caught as they splashed into the sea. It only took a few swimming strokes to be able to stand and then wade ashore. Second to last was Tiki, followed by the last person who was another male.

‘Thanks buddy,’ he said as he surfaced, betraying the fact that he too was an American. The three men now swam those few strokes and soon waded ashore to find the others sitting on the sand watching them come ashore.

It was still raining but not very heavy and there was just enough night light to be able to recognise faces of those who had been sitting at the rear end of the plane. Two of the girls were still crying and being comforted by another, huddling together for warmth too.

‘Another fine mess you’ve got me into Stanley,’ one of the American’s quipped in a shaky voice.

‘Oh shut up Drew,’ the biggest of them all said. He too was an American and stood about six four and looked like he might have been a football forward judging by his size. ‘Let’s get up to the trees now we’re all off and get ourselves sorted out,’ he said, and not waiting to see if anyone had heard, began to trudge up the sand towards the tree line. The Englishman noted that he had been one of the three in the front seat who had jumped out first and that the other two knew him for they followed at once.

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