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Dead Reckoning

The nights were the worst. Joe never liked flying at night because anything can happen. Whether the plane was well equipped with the right precautions or not, Mother Nature will always win. It was once said that “The thing that a lot of people cannot comprehend is that Mother Nature doesn’t have a bullet with your name on it, she has millions of bullets inscribed with ‘to whom it may concern.” It was up to Joe and his crew to make sure it was not “them” it concerned.

Meanwhile back at the ATC, Calvin could already sense the clouds disturbing the instruments. The machines were failing to pick up any signals that Joe was sending from the plane.

Calvin took hold of a radio and began giving directions to the plane. “Air Traffic Control to Kaohsiung International 334. Maintain 4,000.”
Joe took his own radio and spoke calmly, “KI 334 to Air traffic Control. Copy. 4,000.”

It was the last plane coming back from Moscow, and Joe was right on schedule with his flight. The night sky was drawing to a close at 5:30 am, just when the clouds started to warm up nice and lightly. However, for the 350 passengers on board, more than 2 dozen crew members and the 3 very wary pilots who squirmed inside the cockpit as they dove into the depths of a fog which was only getting denser by the minute.

“KI 334 how’s the weather up there?” Calvin joked to Joe, sensing that the pilots were already sweating a bit.

“It’s good so far, but winds are picking up,” Joe answered cautiously. He hoped that the weather would at least remain steady till the plane was on the ground.

“KI 334, reduce minimum”, Calvin ordered on the radio, hoping flying low would get Joe out of the fog.

“Roger. KI 334 to Air Traffic Control. Reducing Minimum,” Joe repeated.

Calvin reciprocated, “Correct, minimum speed Kaohsiung 334.”

After a few unsteady moments of fear, Calvin relaxed his shoulders and gave a sigh. Even though he’s been guiding planes for more than 6 years, nothing scares him more than knowing that 400 lives lie in his hands to help them get a safe landing. Deaths were rare in Flight, but catastrophic nonetheless. Knowing what his job would take him, Calvin always knew to be safe than sorry.

As the other employees calmly navigate the other operating aircrafts home, Calvin sat back down in his cushioned seat and gave a weak smile. This will be like any other flight. A little fog never did any major damage. Hopefully that’s all there is. Suddenly, a call from the radio blasted Calvin right out of his seat. It was Joe.

“KI 334 to Air Traffic Control. KI 334 to Air Traffic Control,” Calvin heard from the radio. “We seem to be experiencing some unknown turbulence.”

Taking control of the navigation systems in front of him, Calvin desperately seeked for the coordinates where Joe and his crew were. “Tower 1 to KI 334, do not copy. Repeat”.

“KI 334 to ATC. Request for emergency landing in the nearest territory,” he heard from the radio as the signal grew weaker by the second.

“Joe, where are you?” Calvin stumbled around the controls to find any sort of signal but the coordinates weren’t picking up on the screen. “The controllers aren’t detecting your coordinates.”

The cockpit grew even more wary. There wasn’t any signal, and the ATC wasn’t picking up their messages. Joe shook his head and looked at the rising light meters signifying some sort of disorder in the plane. Not now, not when Caoya was not more than just a few hours away. But much to his dismay, and for the crew, the weather did not hold up enough. Clouds were gathering up a storm and the fog was only getting denser.

Joe finally had it and decided to go with his gut instinct. “KI 334 requesting for emergency landing. ATC, do you copy?”

“NO!” Calvin screamed at the other end of the receiver. “Dammit, what are his cords? Do not make an emergency landing. KI 334, what are your coordinates?”

Joe could only spit out a few words before the signal began to fail. “Altitude: 3456…”

Calvin slammed his hands on the table and yelled “Pick it up! Tower 1 to KI 334. Maximize to 4,000. I didn’t say you can drop!”

“KI 334 to ATC, request for emergency land…” Calvin heard Joe’s voice growing softer and softer as the static gagged the signal.

Calvin couldn’t take it anymore and whipped his body around to face the ATC crew with anger so full of rage that nothing could stop his rampage of words that hurdled through the Tower. It was then, that the crew knew to keep quiet and do as he says.

“Where are the damn coordinates!?” his voice boomed. “KI 334, do not make an emergency landing, we do not have your coordinates.”

“KI 334 to KI Tower 1, requesting for emergency landing. There seems to be a nearing island of some sort within peripheral vision,” Joe repeated calmly back to the ATC radio.

“KI 334, I’m not detecting anything on the screen,” Calvin sternly reported. “I think the fog is breaking up the signal. KI 334, do you copy?”

Joe didn’t know what was going on but this was bad. “KI 334 to Tower 1. I can hear you but I can’t see a damn thing!”

“You!” Calvin called out to a frazzled young ATC officer near him. “Find the coordinates to the flight, or so help me God I’ll break every bone in your body!”

Another distressing signal from Joe came back from the radio: “Mayday! Tower 1 do you read me?”

The entire ATC Tower was going in circles trying to find the coordinates of Joe’s flight. Even for the workers who worked on other flights tried to pick up the extra slack, but to no prevail so far. Calvin nearly gave up and began to panic as the officer he yelled at before, showed him a paper filled with random numbers.

“I got it!” the worker blurted. “KI 334 IS nearing an uncharted island 15 miles east of Taipei. I think it’s a military base.”

“GODAMN, just give me the coordinates!” Calvin frantically grabbed at the piece of paper. “Tower 1 to KI 334. Listen to me, Joe. Drop 160 to a minimum.”

“KI 334 to Tower 1. I do not copy.” Joe called out on the radio with a stiff voice.

“Joe, you are headed east to a military base. We will contact the base to secure your landing but you have to listen up. Do you copy?” Calvin just about had it with the ATC systems. Whether or not that they were up to date or not, they couldn’t do what Calvin and the ATC had tried to prepare for.

“Requesting emergency landing here!” Joe’s voice boomed through the radio.

Calvin shook the radio to regain a better signal before talking into it. “He’s not hearing me. The fog is breaking the reception. Hurry and contact the Base! Tell them to make an emergency landing for an aircraft coming from the east at 3456,” he tells the officer. “Tower 1 to KI 334! Can you hear me?”

Joe’s signal was weak but he managed to speak “…334 to Tower 1. I read you.”

“Tower 1 to KI 334. Emergency landing granted. Put the plane into autopilot,” Calvin ordered calmly, for the first time.

Copy that, Tower 1,” Joe nodded to himself in relief. “Kaohsiung 334 is now entering autopilot.” Once a plane hits autopilot, it has the capability to lower itself close to the ground but it is up to the pilot to give a secure landing.

“Ok, KI 334”. Finally smiling a bit, Calvin continued the instructions. “Minimize 160 every alternation. You are heading towards a nearby military base. We are giving orders as we speak to the general.”

“160 every alternation,” Joe repeated.

“Good,” Calvin sighed. “Once you get close enough to see the ground, you know what to do.”

As the fright and hearts of the workers finally began to die down, Calvin could only laugh at his reaction. Way to go overboard on a newbie. Who knows what the weather can bring, but it’s up to people like him to get things done in a rational fashion. So much for that ideal. But just as everything seemed to be going well, another rumble shook through the ears of the ATC as Joe’s flight signal rang in.

“Uh-oh,” Calvin heard Joe’s haunting message.

“What, uh-oh,” Calvin frowned.

“We have a problem,” Joe spoke into the radio, gravely. “KI 334 to Tower 1, something is wrong. I can’t see the runway.”

“WHAT!” Calvin screamed.

“How many more feet do I have?” Joe asked, as he prepared for landing.

“You’re about 2,000 feet,” Calvin searched for the calculations.

“What is my Glide Distance*” Joe continued to ask.

“1650,” he heard from the radio. “KI 334, do you see any flight towers at all?”

“…wait…” the radio muzzled the reception on the ATC radios. “…SHIT!”

After a few moments, Joe couldn’t be heard at all. Calvin’s crew only looked at one another, not knowing what to do. Even if they were to respond on the radio, there is no real way of knowing that Joe or his crew, who were stuck inside the agitated cockpit, was going to succeed in their landing. Not with that last response. With nothing but an ounce of hope, 400 lives were at stake as Calvin and the ATC stood inside the silent Tower, helpless. Calvin’s heart began to race as the white noise coming out of the radio spat nothing but static.



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