General Fiction posted August 18, 2020

This work has reached the exceptional level
An incident in the high country

Flight to Fairbanks

by Brad Bennett

A Ghost Story Contest Winner 



William brought the aircraft's nose up to face the horizon of the western mountains. The air was clear. The visibility not bad for a night flight. He set the altimeter for eight thousand feet and settled back in his seat.
“What time do you see us getting in?” Jean asked.
“We should make it in around ten."
"Good," she replied. "When we're close, I'll text Mom and dad and tell them we're back."

William and Jeanette McLain were returning from a visit to his father's cabin up in the high country camping. They had enjoyed their time away, but now they needed to get back to their jobs in Fairbanks. Their small child, Darlene, was staying with Jean's mother. Will is a ferry pilot for a local mining company that had granted him the use of their aircraft for this brief vacation. 

The late evening mountain air was rising now, making the flight's ascent a bit choppy, but it was good. Will thought. Hardly a cloud in sight, it would be smooth sailing back to Fairbanks.

Suddenly, THUD! THUD! The plane lurched violently as objects out of nowhere slammed into the windshield. "Oh, my God!" Jean screamed. Will grabbed the yoke with both hands and fought to steady the lurching aircraft.
Blood and parts of birds splattered on the glass, the engine sputtered, the airplane pitched sideways. Will fought for control as the horizon disappeared from view. Finally, he brought the nose to level flight.
"Will, I'm hurt!" Jean blurted out. Will looked over and noticed blood running from her nose; evidently, she had hit her head against the front panel.
"Oh, no! Are you all right?" Will reached across and touched her shoulder.
“I’ll be okay, don't worry about me. What happened?"
"We hit a flock of geese on our climb."

The engine began vibrating violently. "Dammit," Will cursed. "The prop's damaged." He reached forward and hit the kill switch. Silence. No sound now except for the whistling air over the wings.
 Jean began gasping to breathe; she was in obvious pain. "Jean, are you sure you're alright?"
"Yes, yes. I'll get the emergency kit and pack my nose. You fly."
Will quickly organized his thoughts. They were in extreme danger; they were a glider now, with no power, and at night over the rough Alaskan terrain. "Don’t panic, he told himself," find a landing spot. He desperately scanned the ground for an emergency landing, but it was too dark and rocky. Now he realized they were in serious trouble. There was no safe place anywhere to land. He grabbed up the radio mic and clicked the switch.
“MAYDAY! MAYDAY! Cessna 172, N209, loss of power, emergency landing!"
There was no answer. He clicked again. “I repeat, MAY…”
“Flight N209. State your position.” Came a calm male voice.
“We are forty-five miles south of Channing Lake, gliding at 5,500 feet, two people on board," Will quickly answered.
“Do you have any visual at all?”
“Very little, too dark. We need the nearest airport immediately."
“Okay, Flight N209, now listen. I’m at Langdon field, approximately fifteen to sixteen miles from your position. Do you have ILS?" (Instrument Landing System.)
“No, we are strictly visual reference, standard instruments. I will need flight guidance.”
“Alright, N209. We'll work on that. You must conserve your descent.”
“Roger that Landon Field, can you give me a heading?”
The radio was silent for a moment, then the voice returned, “N209, turn left to 195 degrees, maintain descent at steady glide.”
“Landon, that’s a long glide. Are you sure we can make that?”
The male voice was still calm but concerned, "N209. Who am I talking to?"
“I’m Will. My wife, Jean is with me.”
"Will, this is Joe Danforth. I'm going to get you down. You stay calm. We're going to do this together."
The sudden change in conversation was disconcerting. It was clear Joe was not sure they could make it.
“What’s he saying?” Jean interrupted, obviously frightened. "Will, are we going to crash land?”
"Look, honey, we're okay. This guy sounds like he's a pro. We'll make it."

But Will knew it was almost impossible, at their lower altitude, they would be miles short. Will steadied his nerves; he put the thought away and focused on the glide.
Joe came back on the line, "Will, look below and to your right. Do you see a small lake?"
"Yes, Joe, due north."
"That’s a good sign. Listen, there’s a small mountain range to your right, glide sixty degrees right, then turn back to your heading.”
“What’s he doing, Will?" Jean blurted out. “We should stay straight?”

"He's taking us over an updraft, honey; it will give us more altitude. This guy knows these mountains."

Joe came back on the line as if he had overheard their conversation. "Jean," he said, his voice reassuring. "I will get you in. Do you have any children?"

 The face of Jean's young daughter flashed into her mind. "Oh, yes, Darlene, she's five, soon she starts school."
"Jean, I have a daughter too, her name's Kate; she lives not far from here. But don't worry, you'll see her again. I promise you, Jean."
Somehow, Jean's panic subsided. She felt better, almost as if they were already on the ground, safely down. Even though the air rushing past the silent aircraft said differently.
As the dark outline of distant mountains grew closer, Will could barely make out the line of small structures on the ground.
Will clicked on the mic. “Joe, I think we’re over some small buildings.”

 "That's great. You're on the outer perimeter. What's your altitude?"
“420 feet.”

 "Okay. A road will come up soon. It has street lights. Maintain your glide."
Will could see the lights coming up fast. Then to his horror, he could make out electrical wires between the poles. He was heading straight at them.
“Joe!” Will yelled in the mic. “Wires! Wires!”
"Maintain glide. Do not change course." Joe yelled back.
Will's hands froze on the yoke as the wires loomed up dangerously close, then passed barely below the wheels. Up ahead, the scarcely discernable runway appeared.

"Joe, I can't see the strip."

"You're over it now. FULL FLAPS."

Will reached between the seats and yanked the flap lever up. The aircraft instantly flared out, and the back wheels hit the ground. He pushed down hard on the foot pedals, and the plane slid down the dark runway. Then, finally, it came to a stop.
They were down.

 Will quickly opened his door and ran around to the other side, helping his shaken wife from her seat. "I'm okay," she told him. "Just let me rest. I think I may have a broken nose."

 A police car red light suddenly appeared, the car's headlights lighting up the scene as it drew nearer.
“Are you alright?” the office enquired as he rushed over.
"We're fine, officer," Will replied. "But my wife does need some medical attention."
"No problem, I'll drive you to our local medic."
Jean was being attended to for her injury at the small clinic. Will sat nervously nearby. The policeman came and sat beside him. "Wow!" the man exclaimed. "That was the most incredible landing I’ve ever seen. How'd you do that?”
"We were lucky for sure. It was the guy in the tower that got us down."
“Tower?" the policeman replied. "What tower?”

 "The guy in the airport tower," Will answered. "He talked us in."
The officer put his hand on Will's shoulder. "Sir, this airport has been closed for years. There's no one in that tower. It's abandoned.”
"But that's impossible," Will exclaimed in disbelief. "He talked me in all the way. He saved our lives."
"Who talked you in sir? What was this guy's name?"
“He said his name was Joe, Joe Danforth.”

 "Oh, my God. Sir, listen carefully to me. Joe Danforth died over 20 years ago."

 "No," Will exclaimed. "He is alive. Jean and I both talked to him."

"Mr. McLain, that can't be. Joe Danforth and his wife were both killed after their aircraft's engine lost oil pressure. He was trying to make it back to this very airport when he crashed into the side of a mountain up near the lake. Sir, I know this for a fact; I was in the crew that brought their bodies in."

 "Officer." came Jean's voice from the other room, "Joe had a young daughter named Kate, didn't he."
"Why yes, ma'am, how did you know that?"
"Joe told me so himself, officer, just before we landed."


A Ghost Story
Contest Winner


I never flew up north, but I have great respect for all the pilots who do. I found the Cessna 150, and 172, are forgiving aircraft, they almost fly themselves. All of us students learned on them, they are a beautiful aircraft to fly.
Pays one point and 2 member cents.

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