Ch. 12 — “The High-Flying Brits” Incident

A bulletin airs on NNN reporting that an aircraft belonging to All-Britain International Airlines has suffered a serious mishap on approach to BWI (Baltimore-Washington International Airport), near the national capital. The 747 jetliner suffered a freak hit from an aircraft part falling from a military C-130 Hercules, impacting the huge airliner in the area of its cockpit.

Hosted by John Cox, his show was the recipient of the initial report. The news first arrived in the NNN Center as “John Cox Tonight” was in progress and he reads the bulletin verbatim as soon as it is handed to him.

“Word just in to our newsroom causes us to break into our regular program of discussion and expert evaluation of events on the national scene. NNN has learned that shortly after passing the halfway mark of its journey across the Atlantic Ocean into BWI, the international airport that serves Baltimore, Maryland, and Washington, DC, an All-Britain International Airlines jumbo jet suffered an unusual accident.

“Early reports indicate that the airliner was struck by a part of a wing that became detached from an American military Hercules aircraft on a routine patrol. It appears that an aileron fell from the wing of the Hercules and dropped into the path of the passenger jet during its journey into BWI.

“The separated aircraft part is said to have struck the airliner in the vicinity of the cockpit. News is arriving here in our newsroom all the time, and we will update you on this story as soon as possible.”

#

“Here is an update on the report I gave you earlier about that All-Britain International Airlines passenger jet that experienced a freak accident off the eastern seaboard about 1,000 miles short of BWI airport. The airliner, now confirmed to be a 747, was struck by a flying-control surface that had become detached from a U.S. military Hercules flying overhead of the passenger jet at that same time.

“Several additional items have now been received.

“First, let’s start with the one from the White House. The President has issued a statement to confirm that this is not an act of terrorism. It appears, he said, this is trillion-to-one accident that could not have been foreseen.

“Second, it has been confirmed that the USAF C-130 Hercules aircraft has landed safely without incident. The crew of the aircraft is in fine shape. The group is extremely concerned as to the reason why such a large piece of equipment fell from their aircraft during what had seemed to them like a routine patrol.

“Also the ten airmen expressed deep anxiety for the crew and passengers of the airliner hit by the falling aileron.

“The Air Force supplies the C-130 aircraft from time to time on contract to N.O.A.A. (the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration) for weather patrols.

“Here at NNN, we share the crew’s sentiment, because a third report we have received indicates that in striking the 747 the falling aileron hit the four-engined airliner in the area of its cockpit. Indeed, the Hercules’ part appears to have struck with such violence that it has penetrated the aircraft’s windscreen to a depth of several yards.

“Eyewitness accounts say that only about half of the mechanism can be seen protruding from the stricken jet; it is possible that the crew, if they have survived at all, may be severely incapacitated.

“Not only would they need to contend with the physical impact of the falling object, which the jet struck at a speed approaching 500 miles per hour, but also the explosive decompression that would have resulted from the penetration.

“All-Britain International Airlines has released a statement which shows the total number of individuals on board the aircraft to be sixteen crew and three hundred and nine passengers, including fifteen children, and forty-one infants.

“The cabin staff are reportedly in radio contact with the company’s headquarters at Gatwick  Airport (LGW) near London, but the fate of the flight crew is still unknown.

“Here at NNN, we’ll be watching this story very closely and will bring you another update when it becomes available to us.”

“In the meantime, we were talking with … ”

#

John Cox: “A further package of information has been handed to me related to the midair strike on the All-Britain International Airlines airplane about 1,000 miles off the Virginia coast. The aircraft has now been completely identified to us by the airline, as a 747-400, jumbo jet, which is equipped with the very latest avionics equipment.

“You’ll remember that an aileron from a U.S. Air Force Hercules aircraft fell and struck the airliner while it was on its way toward BWI from London in mid-afternoon.

“Late eyewitness information has been received by way of N.A.S. Oceana at Virginia Beach, which dispatched two F-18 Hornet fighters of the Navy to make a visual inspection of the damaged 747.

“On their initial flyby, the Navy pilots were able to see that the aileron struck the airliner in its center windscreen and has penetrated two or more yards of its length. The effect has been a catastrophic loss of cabin pressure inside the jumbo jet.

“The Hornets have stated in their account that debris can be seen hanging from the cockpit windows. Except for the damage to the cockpit area, the fuselage seems to be intact. No other windows appear affected.

The flight leader of the F-18 patrol has volunteered to remain on-site and maintain visual contact with the huge jetliner and has called for air-to-air refueling and Oceana Naval Air Station has dispatched a tanker aircraft to permit the two Hornets to do that.

“Information arriving here at NNN indicates the flight was on automatic pilot at the time of the incident and everything was working normally. The jetliner was about two hours short of BWI when the accident happened. The aircraft is presently in a cruising attitude, and apparently still flying straight. The flight controls must be unaffected by the strike. The two F-18 aircraft are remaining on site and an air-to-air refueling aircraft has been dispatched from Ocean to allow the Hornets to maintain their present station.

“From All-Britain International Airlines at Gatwick, we have learned that the flight attendants have advised that, physically, all of the passengers are in good shape, although many of them are highly traumatized by the probable loss of the flight deck crew. In addition, the cockpit door is locked from inside, but this would be normal procedure since higher security provisions were put in place following the 9/11 attack on the twin towers of New York City’s World Trade Center.

“The cockpit door is also reported to be blocked by a section of the Hercules’ aileron that was the original cause of the incident.”

Donnie Dane of NNN realizes that only a few minutes are left before 7:00 PM and his program The Cabinet War Room goes to air for its third hour, following John Cox Tonight.

“Dane calls Ethan Thomas and asks him to intervene with the Richardsons. He is well aware of Ethan Thomas’ reports regarding the System‘s capabilities; and wonders if his colleague can get the family to help with this plane full of passengers with no pilots, which may soon begin a fatal dive toward either ground, or ocean.

James receives Ethan’s call and Deej, in expressing the family’s willingness to assist, asks Ethan to have the government supply two aircraft-accident specialists and an address for a hospital to which any injured person can be delivered. “Too, we’ll likely need a qualified 747-400 pilot and someone who knows where the black boxes are located, although we can sort that out on the phone.”

#

“DJ, it’s Ethan. I’ve got two NTSB experts waiting for pick-up in Washington, DC; a pilot waiting for you at Gatwick; and a two-member NNN crew waiting here in NYC with me for pick-up; total of six at three locations. The NTSB guys know the locations and retrieval data for the black boxes. That OK with you?”

“I’m leaving now; I’ll pick you three up first; can you get up to the roof right away? It’s easier for me to get you from the roof rather than mess around coming right into your office.”

“Count on it! The address here is the same as before; you’ll see us on the roof … I’m getting someone to call All-Britain International Airlines and get them to get their 747 pilot up onto the roof of one of their hangars at Gatwick and I’ll let you have the details when you pick us up.”

“OK, we’ll get the folks in Washington after we have you on board; to London for the skipper; then on to the plane!”

“Lynz, Dad, Mom … Come quick! … Ethan phoned again!”

DJ briefs the family quickly, and suggests to Lynz that she bring down the corporate first aid kit. It has been substantially upgraded both in size and in quality since the Paw Paw incident, when it had been so handy for the repairs that needed to be carried out on the miners.

“Dad, is it OK if I look after this operation?” James questions the president of the NPO.

“Be our guest, son.”

#

Mere moments later, the host of Ethan Thomas 180º is aboard with his two colleagues, (the anchor, needless to say, is on his mobile, receiving information about the two NTSB staffers and their exact whereabouts.

Likewise, data is gleaned about the AB pilot to be collected from Gatwick, then, an incredibly short time later, a stop at Washington, DC, so that two more can climb in through the System’s wide mouth.

More seconds, and we’re easing down on Hangar Two at Gatwick to pick up Captain Frank Ferguson.” ‘All aboard!’

Currently in-house, we have DJ, our driver for this operation; Russell and Dianne; Lyndsey; Ethan Thomas with his two videographer colleagues, Gary Illidge, and Melvin Allard; NTSB staffers Bruce Read, and Gregory Kiddle. Finally, from All-Britain International Airlines, Captain Fergy.

Again, moments pass; then, with a minimum of ten pairs of eyes on the lookout, it doesn’t take long before someone catches sight of the huge aircraft: Lyndsey. [How interesting that it was not Frank Fergy. You would think that, reasonably, the more experienced eye would be the winner, but no; it is the high school student. Who said planes are a guy thing?]

It is only a brief time before Deej is able to pull alongside the 747 and astound some of those present with his ‘intrusion’ into the aircraft. [Without so much as a ‘by your leave,’ or ‘kiss my foot.’ Stop it! This is serious stuff; lives are at stake here!]

Deej penetrates the aircraft at the cockpit and, like all present, is horrified at the carnage there. Fergy does a little extra-vehicular activity and checks out the control columns, and the automatic pilot settings; he sticks his head back into the family room and reports: “I say, chaps! This isn’t as bad as I thought! The aeroplane is at 27,000 feet and it looks as if the automatic flight controls are doing their jobs. Perhaps the increased drag of the broken windscreens caused the plane to leave its normal cruising altitude. I’ve cleared with Air Traffic Control a fast descent down to 10,000 feet, so that the passengers and cabin crew won’t have to fight for every breath.

“Before I dive down, I’ll release the automatic pilot and check if my first impression is correct. I can always re-engage the automatic pilot (AP) without losing too much of its present direction.”

The maneuver is initiated successfully and Fergy is able to fly the plane through a couple of mini banks, a turn to port (left, sir) and starboard (process of elimination makes that a right turn, sir,) verifying his earlier diagnosis.

“I’ve reset the automatic pilot to keep us on a straight and level course instead of being in a steady descent mode. So, can you follow me down to 10,000 feet so we can get together a little lower down?

“I think the boys in the cockpit are all still alive. Can we offload them through the System and you get them dropped off at a hospital where they can be cared for, ASAP?”

“OK, that sounds like a great idea!”

“I’ve updated the Company at LGW with the info about the crew.”

Ethan: “Can you NTSB guys give Fergy a hand with getting the flight crew offloaded into the house here. Bruce, Greg? Better be very careful; they’re already pretty badly knocked around. Dianne, do you folks have any rubber gloves the lads can use?”

“On the way! Lyndsey is the best at first aid, so she can help with the injured, Ethan.”

Bruce Read, NTSB: “Could you set the automatic pilot to land the aircraft at BWI, Fergy?”

“Actually, Bruce, I’d much rather see it go to JFK, or even back to Gatwick. At both of those stations AB has the facilities to repair this aircraft and get it back into the air; maybe try to recoup some of the losses that are going to be arising because of this incident.”

Greg Kiddle, of NTSB: “What about recovering the black boxes, Fergy; the pilots of this plane might have been at fault in some way and if those boxes are destroyed later, it’ll be impossible to prove either way. We could use DJ’s System to recover both black boxes while the captain flies toward the U.S., then unload the passengers and cabin crew and get them to safety; then Fergy can take the aircraft empty to JFK or Gatwick, so long as there is enough fuel in the tanks.” [Keep in mind, dear readers, that commercial airliners are not fitted with equipment for air-to-air refueling; that is restricted to military aircraft only.]

Captain Fergy: “I can show you where the Cockpit Voice Recorder and the Flight Data Recorder are located and you can take them with you if you like. It might be better, though, just to take the FDR and leave the CVR where it is for now, just in case I run into trouble later on.”

Greg Kiddle: “If the CVR is still working, it will already have recorded over the digital transcript of what happened when the Hercules’ aileron came into the window here. It runs in a loop and only records for about one hour. So, we’ll just take the FDR and hope that we can get some data from it. If for no other reason than the fact that it will let the manufacturer know how its aircraft responded to the strike.”

Ethan: “Deej, would you be willing to be on standby in case Fergy gets into difficulty?”

James, our chauffeur, “It would be a pleasure. Do you still have our number?”

“I sure do. Can NNN call you just before Fergy gets to Gatwick, so that you can help him disembark in case anything goes wrong?”

“Sure; I can go and get a few extra crew to assist with the flight if Fergy needs?” DJ volunteers.

“It would probably help to relieve the boredom (I hope). Because I’ll be flying well below the jet stream, and due to the loss of pressure in the cockpit, that’s going to be a flight of up to 12 hours.”

“Can you raise London on the Company frequency when the time comes, and have them get a 747 captain and a qualified flight engineer ready on the roof of Hangar Two immediately, and we can get them as soon as we finish offloading the passengers.”

“I’ll do that right now.” With those words, Lyndsey walks back to large-screen HDTV Two and steers it off east in the direction of the UK and Gatwick’s ‘Hangar 2.’ Within less than a minute, she is there, patiently waiting for the relief crew to be brought to the rooftop.

It is now Lynz’ turn to do an extra-curricular space walk on top of ‘H2,’ when two lost sheep in All-Britain International Airlines uniforms, show up on the roof, carrying heavy briefcases, and who don’t appear to know what comes next.

Lynz approaches and identifies herself as being a guide sent by Captain Ferguson from the stricken aircraft in mid-Atlantic. They accept her invitation to climb into the waiting arms of HDTV Two. After their arrival in the rec room it takes only a few seconds for them to recognize Fergy, through the main TV, sitting at the controls of the 747, now cruising west at low speed at 9,000 feet.

“Are you sure there’s enough fuel to get you back to Gatwick, skipper?”

“Positive; there’s enough juice in the tanks to get to Los Angeles and back here again.”

The flight-deck crewmembers are gently and lovingly removed from the remnants of their seats and passed through the System into the rec room.

Dianne, Lyndsey and Russell all jump to getting blankets and hot water. “These guys are near to being frozen to death; they must have been in that open cockpit for well over an hour.”

NTSB, Washington, had earlier supplied Ethan with a hospital location to which injured passengers and crew could be taken. So, as soon as she was able to get free from caring for the needs of the injured crew members, Lynz ‘drove’ the second large-screen System directly to The Johns Hopkins Hospital, 600 North Wolfe Street, Baltimore, Maryland; coincidentally, this is relatively close to the flight’s original destination.

In the background to the other action, Lyndsey has taken the liberty of ‘intruding’ a wall at John Hopkins, in Baltimore, into the Emergency Department. There with the help of four puzzled nurses, she manages to offload the flight-deck crew. She quickly briefs the nurses as to the circumstances in which the injuries were caused. The physician on duty is filled in by the nurses and he seems satisfied with the explanation and finds it consistent with the appearance of the three men.

Lynz heads out and away from the hospital, over toward BWI. It is there that they will have to deposit the passengers from the London service. To avoid any trouble with the authorities, it will be mandatory that they offload inside the airport’s restricted area. This allows U.S. Immigration and Customs to process them for the agencies’ requirements.

Everyone wonders in awe: ‘What would have happened if the System had not been there to kick in? Hundreds of people would have lost their lives.’

With the guidance of the new All-Britain International Airlines flight crew, Deej can ‘drive’ around to the rear of the jumbo jet, where the teen ‘intrudes’ on the tailfin just above the Auxiliary Power Unit (APU) where the FDR is located. Bruce Read, NTSB, reaches over and releases the unit from its mounting brackets, extracts it from the aircraft and withdraws it into the Richardson home.

“Fergy,” through the screen to the flight deck, “we still have to offload the passengers and the cabin crew and get them over to the airport. We must be getting close to BWI. Can you turn the aircraft around to give us a little time to disembark them all. It’s going to take us a while to handle a group of that size.”

“I can do that; I’ll raise Baltimore on the radio and ask Air Traffic Control (ATC) for permission to do a 180° about-face, and also to fly east for about forty-five minutes at 3,000 metres.”

#

With ATC’s permission, the giant airliner makes a huge half-moon shape in the sky and reverses its course, so that it’s heading back to London and the operation can move ahead. [At this altitude, there will be no other airliner traffic anyway. This is a way too low for economically cruising in a huge airplane.]

“Fergy, do you think you could contact the cabin staff on the Company frequency and ask them to meet us in the aft end of the aircraft, near the rear galley. That way it will be possible to evacuate most of the passengers without arousing too much curiosity, and perhaps, avoid a panic.”

Now, a massive and unprecedented task: Offloading 322 passengers and crew from the giant in-flight airliner. In on-ground tests, the manufacturer, with volunteers in every seat on the aircraft, shaved the time required for this operation to 90 seconds, but there’s no way in creation that these folks will be able to match that through one ‘emergency exit’ door.

Again, with an OK from Fergy, James ‘intrudes’ through the fuselage of the huge airliner, as planned, at about the rear galley, entering by way of the still-sealed rearmost door on the starboard (right) side.

Then, row by row, the air hostesses whisper directions to the passengers, working their way from the last row forward. Quickly, yet quietly, the passengers evacuate the aircraft through the System, directly into the second screen stationed just across the rec room by Lyndsey. They are instantly ‘disembarked’ at the airside of the passenger terminal at BWI International Airport; sans baggage, of course. That would have to follow in a day or so from London; but it is pretty much agreed that it is a lot better to be alive with delayed baggage than to be dead in the company of your suitcases.

Imagine the puzzled looks on the faces of the authorities at BWI when hundreds of people suddenly surface at ‘Arrivals’ seemingly from no-where.

Incredibly, The Cabinet War Room went to air at 19:00 hours. Not only was Ethan Thomas able to supply host Donnie Dane with a full verbal report of the activity that has taken place on the huge jetliner, but all the action has been captured on video by NNN staffers Bill and Thomas Miller.

NNN’s nationwide ratings are climbing off the charts with such spectacular reporting by the evening anchors.

Ethan is now able to air ET 180° at 22:00 hours with his eyewitness account of the activities on board the System in company with Mr. and Mrs. X, and their children XX and XY.

One result that was even more exciting for the Richardsons: just about every airline in the world began clamoring at NNN’s world-wide offices to obtain multiple copies of the System so that they could train their own employees to be able to head off their own disasters in the days ahead.

The family asks Ethan to let those would-be customers know that the portal will shortly be released for commercial use through a new NPO to be announced shortly. In the meantime, the folks are willing to handle any genuine emergency requests provided such were funneled through NNN, which is an organization easily capable of using its resources to verify the accuracy of any claims of emergency status.

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