Once Upon a Nightmare – Chapter 1

A man descends into the drug-running underworld, is frightened by his capacities for evil, and attempts to turn towards the light.  Here is a bit from the first chapter.  More to follow.  This book will be published this coming summer.

CHAPTER 1

 

Commuter flight 1632 was going to cost him his life.  The whimpering woman several rows to the rear seemed to agree.

The Beech 99, a twin engine prop job out of Boston to Rockland had taken off late afternoon into blowing snow and low clouds.  A late March low pressure system was disrupting the entire eastern seaboard, bringing reduced visibility and turbulence.  Airports below minimums were closing like dominos.

The plane hit an air pocket and lost several hundred feet.  A man in the back screamed and then started to pray. Jesse closed his eyes and listened to the surging sound of the engines and the groans from his fellow passengers.

He opened his eyes and focused on the pilots.  The plane had an informal configuration and there was no barrier between the pilots and passengers.  Jesse sat alone in the first row where he could watch the work of his fellow pilots. There was not much to admire on this flight. The crew was tired and sloppy and nervous.  Even with the terrible weather, there was no excuse to be so far off headings and altitude.  They were one step behind the airplane at a time that called for ultimate anticipation.    The co-pilot tried twice to clip the instrument approach plate in front of his pilot before finally succeeding.   They regained some of the lost altitude.  The windshield was an ominous gray screen.

Jesse could feel the tension of all the souls on board.  The pilots struggled to bring the flight to a safe conclusion but were probably wishing for the game to end.  Jesse pushed fatalistic thoughts to the side and tried to convince himself that all would end well.  A drop of cold sweat dribbled down his side.

The plane continued to descend through the rough air.  It yawed violently to starboard.   Something fell to the floor with a thud.  The engine sounds slewed asymmetrically.  Everything bounced.

Jesse was familiar with the approach procedure. Rockland was a small airport with adequate but non-precision instrument approaches.  He’d done it countless times, even in bad weather, but never under these conditions.  The pilots should be in radio contact with Brunswick Control, who would be instructing them to descend to 1300 feet and maintain a heading that would intercept the final approach course.  The winds were blowing hard from the north which meant a landing on runway 3.

Once established on the final course, they would maintain 1300 feet until crossing the Sprucehead NDB.  The needle would swing from front to back.  They would descend to the minimum altitude of 440 feet.  If all went well, God willing, the pilots would keep the localizer needle centered, they would break out of the overcast before reaching 440 feet, see the runway, and land uneventfully.

The rules for an instrument approach to minimums are based on honesty and self preservation.  Once established on the final approach course and aligned with the runway, you need to keep the needle centered.  If you get too far afield, the time you have for correction is limited, and you are all the time coming closer and closer to unforgiving ground.  And you never ever bust the minimum descent altitude.

Rockland’s elevation above sea level is 55 feet.  On the approach, you’re allowed to go as low as 440 feet. That leaves you flying at 100 miles an hour in the clouds and blustery north winds with only 385 feet between you and granite.  To the right and left are trees and other obstructions.

The pilot brought the throttles back and spoke into his microphone.  He initiated a shallow turn to the left.  The plane descended out of 2000 feet.  Jesse placed them south of Rockland out over the ocean.

The pilot concentrated on the artificial horizon instrument which is driven by gyros and not subject to the thrashing of turbulence.  His hand on the control wheel countered the effects of the wind and was in constant motion.

The altimeter wound down to 1300 feet.  The plane leveled off and turned left to a heading of 079 degrees.

Jesse leaned forward, straining on his seat belt.  His life was in the hands of these two tired pilots who now looked too young to be pilots.

Jesse surveyed the panel, confirming that everything was proper for the approach.  The beacon frequency was correct.  Their speed was good.  The communication channel was set for Rockland Unicom.  But then Jesse noticed a glaring error.  The main navigational instrument still had the Brunswick frequency and had not been reset to reflect their present approach.  The plane lurched right.

The pilot was not scanning the panel but was frozen on the artificial horizon.  The copilot reached out and set the Rockland approach frequency into the number one navigational instrument.  He must have felt Jesse’s gaze because he turned to see if anyone had noticed their error. Jesse saw fear in his eyes.  The plane jerked left and the copilot returned his attention to the approach.

Jesse unclenched his fists and took a deep breath. His face was a sheen of sweat.  He wondered if the copilot’s expression was a reflection of his own unblemished fright.

The plane was at 1200 feet but not yet established on course.  The pilot pulled up abruptly and gained altitude.  His heading was off by 20 degrees.

The localizer needle came alive and the pilot slowly came left to 030 degrees.  He anticipated the strong left headwind and compensated, but too soon.  The needle was not centering.  He came right ten degrees and waited for the instrument to react.  The NDB needle swung aft and went unnoticed.

As the localizer finally started to react, the pilot noticed the NDB.  He brought back the throttles and called for the copilot to lower the flaps and gear.  The localizer needle swung through center and headed left.  The grinding sounds of the flaps and the clunk of the gear were all but lost in the wild confusion. The plane slowed and started to descend too rapidly.  The pilot was chasing the airplane.

They descended through 500 feet.  The copilot looked out the windshield, searching for the airport.  The window was full of cloud.  The altimeter spun through 440 feet.  They were right of course and below their minimum descent altitude.

The copilot noticed the breach and reached out with a bouncing arm and tapped the instrument.  The pilot nodded and slowed the descent but still went lower.

Jesse knew the approach was irretrievable.  His premonitions were coming true.

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