For a landing, Lincoln International offered the best chance of safety. But Lincoln was at least an hour’s flying time away. Their present speed–two hundred and fifty knots–was far slower than they had been moving at the higher altitude, and Anson Harris was holding the speed down, in the hope of avoiding further structural damage. Unfortunately, even that involved a penalty. At their present low level of ten thousand feet there was considerable buffeting and turbulence from the storm, now all around them instead of far below.
The crucial question was: Could they remain in the air another hour?
Despite everything that had happened, less than five minutes had passed since the explosion and explosive decompression.
Air route control was asking again: “Trans America Two, advise your intentions.”
Vernon Demerest replied, requesting a direct course for Detroit while the extent of damage was still being checked. Landing intentions, either at Detroit Metropolitan or elsewhere, would be notified within the next few minutes.
“Roger, Trans America Two. Detroit has advised they are removing snowplows from runway three left. Until informed otherwise, they will prepare for an emergency landing.”
The intercom bell chimed and Demerest answered. It was Cy Jordan calling from the rear, shouting to make himself heard above a roar of wind. “Captain, there’s a great hole back here, about six feet wide behind the rear door. Most else around the galley and toilets is a shambles. But as far as I can see, everything’s holding together. The rudder power boost is blown to hell, but control cables look okay.”
“What about control surfaces? Can you see anything?”
“It looks like the skin is bulged into the stabilizer, which is why the stabilizer’s jammed. Apart from that, all I can see outside are some holes and bad dents, I guess from debris blowing back. But nothing’s hanging loose–at least, that shows. Most of the blast, I’d say, went sideways.”
It was this effect which D. O. Guerrero had not allowed for. He had blundered and miscalculated from the beginning. He bungled the explosion, too.
His greatest error was in failing to recognize that any explosion would be drawn outward and would largely dissipate, the moment the hull of a pressurized aircraft was pierced. Another error was in not realizing how stoutly a modern jetliner was built. In a passenger jet, structural and mechanical systems duplicated each other, so that no single malfunction or damage should result in destruction of the whole. An airliner could be destroyed by a bomb, but only if the bomb were detonated–either by plan or chance–in some vulnerable location. Guerrero made no such plan.
Demerest queried Cy Jordan, “Can we stay in the air an hour?”
“My guess is, the airplane can. I’m not sure about the passengers.”
“How many are hurt?”
“I can’t say yet. I checked structural damage first, the way you said. But things don’t look good.”
Demerest ordered, “Stay there as long as you need to. Do what you can.” He hesitated, dreading what the answer to his next question might be, then asked, “Have you seen any sign of Gwen?” He still didn’t know whether or not Gwen had been sucked out with the initial blast. In the past it had happened to others, including stewardesses who were near the site of an explosive decompression, unprotected. And even if that had not happened, Gwen had still been closest to the detonated bomb.
Cy Jordan answered, “Gwen’s here, but in pretty bad shape, I think. We’ve got about three doctors, and they’re working on her and the others. I’ll report when I can.”
Vernon Demerest replaced the interphone. Despite his last question and its answer, he was still denying himself the indulgence of private thoughts or personal emotion; there would be time for those later. Professional decisions, the safety of the airplane and its complement, came first. He repeated to Anson Harris the gist of the second officer’s report.
Harris considered, weighing all factors. Vernon Demerest had still given no indication of taking over direct command, and obviously approved of Harris’s decisions so far, else he would have said so. Now, Demerest appeared to be leaving the decision about where to land to Harris also.
Captain Demerest–even in utmost crisis–was behaving exactly as a check pilot should.
“We’ll try for Lincoln,” Harris said. The safety of the aircraft was paramount; however bad conditions might be in the passenger cabin, they would have to hope that most people could manage to hold on.
Demerest nodded acknowledgment and began notifying Toronto Center of the decision; in a few minutes, Cleveland Center would take them over. Demerest requested that Detroit Metropolitan still stand by in case of a sudden change of plan, though it wasn’t likely. Lincoln International was to be alerted that Flight Two would require a straight-in emergency approach.
“Roger, Trans America Two. Detroit and Lincoln are being advised.” A change of course followed. They were nearing the western shore of Lake Huron, the U.S.-Canadian border close.
On the ground, both pilots knew, Flight Two was now the center of attention. Controllers and supervisors in contiguous air route centers would be working intensely, coordinating removal of all traffic from the aircraft’s path, sectors ahead warned of their approach, and airways cleared. Any request they made would be acted on with first priority.
As they crossed the border, Toronto Center signed off, adding to the final exchange, “Goodnight and good luck.”
Cleveland Air Route Center responded to their call a moment later.
Glancing back toward the passenger cabins, through the gap where the flight deck door had been, Demerest could see figures moving–though indistinctly, because immediately after the door had gone, Cy Jordan had dimmed the first class cabin lights to avoid reflection on the flight deck. It appeared, though, as if passengers were being ushered forward, indicating that someone in the rear had taken charge–presumably Cy Jordan, who should be reporting again at any moment. The cold was still biting, even on the flight deck; back there it must be colder still. Once more, with a second’s anguish, Demerest thought of Gwen, then ruthlessly cleared his mind, concentrating on what must be decided next.
Though only minutes had elapsed since the decision to risk another hour in the air, the time to begin planning their approach and landing at Lincoln International was now. As Harris continued flying, Vernon Demerest selected approach and runway charts and spread them on his knees.
Lincoln International was home base for both pilots, and they knew the airport–as well as runways and surrounding airspace–intimately. Safety and training, however, required that memory should be supplemented and checked.
The charts confirmed what both already knew.
For the high speed, heavy weight landing they must execute, the longest possible length of runway was required. Because of doubtful rudder control, the runway should be the widest, too. It must also be directly into wind which–the Lincoln forecast had said–was northwest at thirty knots, and gusting. Runway three zero answered all requirements.
“We need three zero,” Demerest said.
Harris pointed out, “That last report said a temporary closing, due to obstruction.”
“I heard,” Demerest growled. “The damn runway’s been blocked for hours, and all that’s in the way is a stuck Mexican jet.” He folded a Lincoln approach chart and clipped it to his control yoke, then exclaimed angrily, “Obstruction hell! We’ll give ‘em fifty more minutes to pry it loose.”
As Demerest thumbed his mike button to inform air route control, Second Officer Cy Jordan–white-faced and shaken–returned to the flight deck.
IN THE MAIN terminal of Lincoln International, Lawyer Freemantle was puzzled.
It was most peculiar, he thought, that no one in authority had yet objected to the big, increasingly noisy demonstration of Meadowood residents who, at this moment, were monopolizing a large segment of the central concourse.
Earlier this evening, when Elliott Freemantle had asked the Negro police lieutenant for permission to hold a public censure meeting, he had been firmly refused. Yet here they were, with a curious crowd of spectators–and not a policeman in sight!
Freemantle thought again: it didn’t make sense.
Yet what had happened was incredibly simple.
After the interview with the airport general manager, Bakersfeld, the delegation, led by Elliott Freemantle, had returned from the administrative mezzanine to the main concourse. There, the TV crews, whom Freemantle had talked with on the way in, had set up their equipment.
The remaining Meadowood residents–already at least five hundred strong, with more coming in–were gathering around the TV activity.
One of the television men told him, “We’re ready if you are, Mr. Freemantle.”
Two TV stations were represented, both planning separate film interviews for use tomorrow. With customary shrewdness, Freemantle had already inquired which TV shows the film was destined for, so that he could conduct himself accordingly. The first interview, he learned, was for a prime-time, popular show which liked controversy, liveliness, and even shock treatment. He was ready to supply all three.
The TV interviewer, a handsome young man with a Ronald Reagan haircut, asked, “Mr. Freemantle, why are you here?”
“Because this airport is a den of thieves.”
“Will you explain that?”
“Certainly. The homeowners of Meadowood community are having thievery practiced on them. Thievery of their peace, their right to privacy, of their work-earned rest, and of their sleep. Thievery of enjoyment of their leisure; thievery of their mental and physical health, and of their children’s health and welfare. All these things–basic rights under our Constitution–are being shamelessly stolen, without recompense or recognition, by the operators of Lincoln Airport.”
The interviewer opened his mouth to smile, showing two rows of faultless teeth. “Counselor, those are fighting words.”
“That’s because my clients and I are in a fighting mood.”
“Is that mood because of anything which has happened here tonight?”
“Yes, sir, We have seen demonstrated the callous indifference of this airport’s management to my clients’ problems.”
“Just what are your plans?”
“In the courts–if necessary the highest court–we shall now seek closure of specific runways, even the entire airport during nighttime hours. In Europe, where they’re more civilized about these things, Paris airport, for example, has a curfew. Failing that, we shall demand proper compensation for cruelly wronged homeowners.”
“I assume that what you’re doing at this moment means you’re also seeking public support.”
“Do you believe the public will support you?”
“If they don’t, I invite them to spend twenty-four hours living in Meadowood–providing their eardrums and sanity will stand it.”
“Surely, Counselor, airports have official programs of noise abatement.”
“A sham, sir! A fake! A public lie! The general manager of this airport confessed to me tonight that even the paltry, so-called noise abatement measures are not being observed.”