Page 15 of Runway Zero-Eight

“Right. Now back to second notch.”

With infinite caution he cajoled the ASI needle until it rested steadily at 140.

“Tell him, Janet”

“Hullo, Vancouver. Our flaps are down 15 degrees and the air speed is 140.”

“714. Are you still maintaining level flight?”

Spencer nodded to her. “Tell him, yes — well, more or less, anyway.”

“Hullo, Vancouver. More or less.”

“Okay, 714. Now the next thing is to put the wheels down. Then you’ll get the feel of the airplane as it will be when you’re landing. Try to keep your altitude steady and your speed at 140. When you are ready — and make sure you are ready — put down the landing gear and let the speed come back to 120. You will probably have to advance your throttle setting to maintain that air speed, and also adjust the trim. Is that understood? Tell me if you are doubtful about anything. Over.”

“Ask him,” said Spencer, “what about propeller controls and mixture?”

At Janet’s question, Treleaven said in an aside to Burdick, “Well, this guy’s thinking, anyway. For the time being,” he said into the microphone, “leave them alone. Just concentrate on holding that air speed steady with the wheels and flaps down. Later on I’ll give you a full cockpit check for landing. Over.”

“Tell him, understood,” said Spencer. “We’re putting down the wheels now.” He looked apprehensively at the selector lever by his leg. It seemed a much better idea to keep both hands on the column. “Look, Janet, I think you’d better work the undercart lever and call off the air speed as the wheels come down.”

Janet complied. The arrest in their forward flight was so pronounced that it was like applying a brake, jerking them in their seats.

“130, 125, 120, 115… It’s too low.”

“Keep calling!”

“115, 120, 120… Steady on 120.”

“I’ll get this thing yet,” Spencer panted. “She’s like the Queen Mary.”

Treleaven’s voice came up, with a hint of anxiety. “All okay, George? Your wheels should be down by now.”

“Wheels down, Vancouver.”

“Look for three green lights to show you that they’re locked. Also there’s a pressure gauge on the extreme left of the center panel, and the needle should be in the green range. Check.”

“Are they on?” asked Spencer. Janet looked and nodded. “Better tell him, then.”

“Yes, Vancouver. All correct.”

“And say she still handles like a wet sponge, only more so.”

“Hullo, Vancouver. The pilot says she still handles like a sponge, only more so.”

“Don’t worry about that. Now we’ll put on full flaps, shall we, and then you’ll have the proper feel of the aircraft on landing. You’ll soon get the hang of it. Now follow me closely. Put full flap on, bring your air speed back to 110 knots and trim to hold you steady. Adjust the throttle to maintain the altitude. Then I’ll give you instructions for holding your height and air speed while you raise the landing gear and flaps. Over.”

“Did you say 110, Captain?” Janet queried nervously.

“110 is correct, Janet. Follow me exactly and you’ll have nothing to worry about. Are you quite clear, George?”

“Tell him, yes. We are putting on full flap now.”

Once more her hand pushed hard on the flap lever and the air speed started to fall.

“120, 115, 115, 110, 110…”

Spencer’s voice was tight with the effort of will he was imposing on himself. “All right, Janet. Let him know. By God, she’s a ton weight.”

“Hullo, Vancouver. Flaps are full on and the air speed is 110. Mr. Spencer says she is heavier than ever.”

“Nice going, George. We’ll make an airline pilot of you yet. Now we’ll get you back to where you were and then run through the procedure again, with certain variations regarding props, mixture, boosters, and so on. Okay? Over.”

“Again!” Spencer groaned. “I don’t know if I can take it. All right, Janet.”

“Okay, Vancouver. We’re ready.”

“Right, 714. Using the reverse procedure, adjust your flaps to read 15 degrees and speed 120 knots. You will have to throttle back slightly to keep that speed. Go ahead.”

Reaching down, Janet grasped the flap lever and gave it a tug. It failed to move. She bent closer and tried again.

“What is it?” asked Spencer.

“Sort of stiff. I can’t seem to move it this time.”

“Shouldn’t be. Give it a good steady pull.”

“It must be me. I just can’t make it budge.”

“Here. Let me.” He took bis hand off the column and pulled the lever back effortlessly. “There, you see. You’ve got to have the touch. Now if you’ll just rest it in the second—”

“Look out!” she screamed. “The air speed!”

It was 90, moving to 75.

Bracing himself against the sudden acute angle of the flight deck, Spencer knew they were in a bad stall, an incipient spin. Keep your head, he ordered himself savagely — think. If she spins, we’re finished. Which way is the stall? It’s to the left. Try to remember what they taught you at flying school. Stick forward and hard opposite rudder. Stick forward. Keep it forward. We’re gaining speed. Opposite rudder. Now! Watch the instruments. They can’t be right — I can feel us turning! No — trust them. You must trust them. Be ready to straighten. That’s it. Come on. Come on, lady, come on.

“The mountains!” exclaimed Janet. “I can see the ground!”

Ease back. Ease back. Not too fast. Hold the air speed steady. We’re coming out… we’re coming out! It worked! It worked! We’re coming out!

“105, 110, 115…” Janet read off in a strangled tone. “It’s completely black now. We must be in fog or something.”

“Get the wheels up!”

“The mountains! We must—”

“Get the wheels up, I said!” The door to the flight deck crashed open. There were sounds of crying and angry voices.

“What are they doing?” came a yell from a woman.

“There’s something wrong! I’m going to find out what it is!”

“Get back to your seat.” This was Baird’s voice.

“Let me through!”

The silhouette of a man filled the doorway, peering into the darkness of the flight deck. He lurched forward, grabbing hold of anything to keep himself upright, and stared in petrified disbelief at the back of Spencer’s head and then down at the prostrate figures of the two men on the floor. For a moment his mouth worked soundlessly. Then he impelled himself back to the open doorway and gripped the jamb on both sides as he leaned through it.

His voice was a shriek.

“He’s not the pilot! We shall all be killed! We’re going to crash!”

EIGHT

0420—0435

WREATHED IN woolly haloes, the neon lights at the entrance to the reception building at Vancouver Airport glistened back from the wet driveway. Usually quiet at this pre-dawn hour of the night, except for the periodic arrival or departure of an airport coach, the wide sweep of asphalt now presented a very different scene. At the turnoff from the main highway into the airport approach on the mainland side of the river, a police cruiser stood angled partly across the road, its roof light blinking a constant warning. Those cars which had been allowed through along Airport Road were promptly waved by a patrolman to parking spaces well clear of the entrance to Reception. Some of their occupants remained out in the damp night air for a while, talking in low voices and stamping the ground occasionally to keep warm, in order to watch the arrival from time to time of fire rigs and ambulances as they halted for a few seconds to receive directions to their assembly points. A gleaming red salvage truck engaged gear and roared away, and in the small pool of silence immediately following its noise the sound of a car radio carried clearly across for several yards.

“Ladies and gentlemen, here is a late bulletin from Vancouver Airport. The authorities here stress that although the Maple Leaf Airline flight is being brought in by an inexperienced pilot, there is no cause for alarm or panic in the city. All precautions are being taken to warn residents in the airport area and at this moment emergency help is streaming out to Sea Island. Stay with this station for further announcements.”

A mud-streaked Chevrolet braked harshly at the reception building, swung over to the parking lot, its tires squealing viciously on the asphalt, and stopped abruptly. On the lefthand side of its windscreen was pasted a red sticker, PRESS. A big man, thickset with graying hair, and wearing an open trench coat, got out and slammed the door. He walked rapidly over to Reception, nodded to the patrolman and hurried inside. Dodging two interns in white medical coats, he looked round for the Maple Leaf Airline desk and made his way over to it quickly. Two men stood there in discussion with a uniformed staff member of the airline, and at the touch of the big man one of them turned, smiling briefly in greeting.

“What’s the score, Terry?” asked the big man.

“I’ve given the office what I’ve got, Mr. Jessup,” said the other man, who was very much younger. “This is Ralph Jessup — Canadian International News,” he added to the passenger agent.

“Who’s handling it here?” asked Jessup.

“I think Mr. Howard is about to make a statement in the press room,” said the passenger agent.

“Let’s go,” said Jessup. He took the younger man by the arm and drew him away. “Is the office sending up a camera team?” he asked.

“Yes, but there’ll be a pretty full coverage by everyone. Even the newsreels may make it in time.”

“H’m. Remind the office to cover the possible evacuation of houses over near the bridge. The same man can stay on the boundary of the field. If he climbs the fence he may get one or two lucky shots of the crash — and get away quicker than the others. What about this guy who is flying the plane?”

“A George Spencer of Toronto. That’s all we know.”

“Well, the office will get our Toronto people on to that end. Now grab a pay booth in Reception here and don’t budge out of it, whatever happens. Keep the line open to the office.”

“Yes, Mr. Jessup, but—”

“I know, I know,” said Jessup sadly, “but that’s the way it is. If there’s a foul-up on the phones in the press room, we’ll need that extra line.”

His coat flapping behind him, he strode across the concourse, head down like an angry bull, out of Reception and along to the press room. There several newsmen were already foregathered, three of them talking together, another rattling at one of the six or eight typewriters on the large center table, and a further couple using two of the telephone booths that lined two sides of the paneled room. On the floor were dumped leather cases of camera equipment.

“Well,” said Jessup sardonically, “what kept you boys?”

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