Ch. 7 — Aircraft Collide with High-Rise Office Tower

National News Network is again the bearer of news that will call the folks’ attention to happenings in the world that require them to reach out to others.

The afternoon news program is the setting for a newsflash, “This item has just come into the NNN Newsroom from Boston this afternoon.

“We have word that what appeared to be two U.S. Navy F-16 aircraft have crashed into a high-rise office tower.

“Initial reports hint that the weather was misty, and that the two single-engined fighter jets may have simply gotten lost due to poor visibility, and accidentally hit the building.

“There is no indication of terrorism here. The White House is already suggesting that this was a tragic error.

“We’ll have an update on that story as soon as we can. Keep watching ‘NNN Newsroom’ for the latest on this terrible accident.”

#

“Here is the latest on the Boston tragedy . . . The White House verifies that no terrorism is believed to have been involved in this crash of two F-16s into a building identified as the Massachusetts Tower in downtown Boston.

“Firefighters are on the scene and preliminary statements from onsite supervisors indicate that the two aircraft struck the Tower between about the twenty-forth and twenty-sixth floors.

“Several hundred people are employed at companies within the building.

“Phone calls and text messages from some of those who have escaped the flames state that all stairways above the twenty-second floor and up to the twenty-sixth are a mass of flames due to burning aviation fuel.

“This is preventing people from escaping from the higher floors.

 “Our sources tell us that the Massachusetts Tower has thirty to thirty-five floors, meaning that the people working above the twenty-sixth floor who have survived the accident are unable to escape the holocaust.

“It has been reported to us that NTSB officials are en-route to the scene.

“The two pilots are feared to have died in the accident. We are awaiting word from the Pentagon as to their identities. Presumably, the information will not be released until … ”

#

It is Thursday afternoon, a regular workday at the Richardson house; a regular school day for the kids at St. Pete’s High School.

For the System, if the day is quiet, it will be spent silently staring at the Sunshine-Herald clock and calendar display.

First to spot the inferno as it appears on NNN on her kitchen TV was Dianne, who calls her husband, Russell, to look at the report.

Russ recalls the tragic horror of September 11, 2001; that almost magical date; the day the Twin Towers crumbled and fell.

He realizes that this is not likely to happen in the case of the Mass Tower since two F-16s would have neither the integral weight, nor the fuel load to create a repeat of that terrible occasion.

He remembers, too, that aerial ladders carried by fire trucks are only good up to the ninth floor.

“After that you’re on your own,” the fire chief had said, in a chilling statement he used at a conference Russell had attended some years before.

“Here in the NNN Newsroom, we are receiving fresh reports from Emergency Response authorities in the city of Boston.

“Scores of frantic mobile telephone calls are being received by 9-1-1 operators from individuals trapped above the twenty-sixth floor of the Mass Tower in Boston today.

“The emergency has arisen following an accident which saw two U.S. F-16 fighter-jet aircraft plough into the building.

“A spokesman for the City of Boston, which operates the Tower on behalf of the Commonwealth of Massachusetts, states that landline telephone communication with floors above the twenty-sixth, has been lost.

“NNN wishes to apologize for misinforming you earlier as to the identity of the two aircraft involved in this catastrophic accident.

“The Navy does not carry F-16s in its operational inventory. These were U.S. Air Force fighter-jets.

“Fire drills customarily advise employees inside taller buildings to head for the roof if the stairwells become inaccessible.

“However, in a panic situation like this, it is entirely possible that many will forget those instructions and crowd onto the lowest floor they can reach, to wait for the aerial ladders, which can’t reach them anyway.

“Fire departments in cities with high-rise office towers lose dozens of people that way every year.”

NNN News Staffer, “We are keeping a close eye on this story and will keep you abreast of any developments as they come in. Stay tuned to NNN Newsroom.”

#

“Listen, Dianne, if we could do it for the miners, we can do it for these folks in Boston; what do you think?”

“Golly, Russ! That’s four or five floors of offices, filled with workers! What will we do with all those people?

“Some of them could easily be injured, or even dead, and then what will we do?”

“Let’s just play it by ear and take a few at a time. We’ll just drop them off at ground level, as you did with the miners the other night. OK?”

Dianne says, “My mother told me there would be days like this!”

“Oh, come on, Di, you’ll be great. If the kids come home in the middle of it, so much the better. This is fun!”

Russell is beginning to enjoy himself; he’s starting to find his true strength. He has never learned how at a fast-food outlet’s drive-through, but he obviously enjoys working under pressure.

He runs down the stairs to the carport door, opens the SUV, and picks up the GPS navigation equipment.

I don’t know why I didn’t think of this before. We could have used this pesky thing the other night to get to the mine in Paw Paw, West Virginia.

“If you could get the Internet up on your mobile and get us a street address for the Massachusetts Tower, we can get there without having to make so many adjustments.”

Having loaded the street address for the Mass high-rise, Russ places the GPS through the screen of the HDTV onto the rack James had fabricated from the wire coat hanger to hang his old watch on.

The former college student sits down at the controls of the ‘Richardson shuttle’ and sets the System to head off in a northerly direction, following the prompts of the GPS.

He chooses to travel at altitude, Dianne’s trick, so they’ll be able see the Cape Cod peninsula long before they reach Massachusetts airspace.

Long before he needs to think about finding Boston, the smoke from the Mass Tower can be clearly seen, so Russ ignores the routing instructions from the GPS and homes in on the fire’s own marker beacon.

The System is working very smoothly and he selects a quiet, yet smoky area of the roof to settle down.

The low visibility of the ‘exterior’ side of the System is proving to be useful. The last thing the Richardsons need is a blind panic by hordes of frightened people, desperate to escape a funeral pyre.

“Stay here, Di! Take over the remote while I’m outside.”

Stepping through the HDTV’s large plasma screen feels good to him.

He crouches down in somewhat of an endeavor to maintain a low profile as he makes his way over to a group huddling together at the parapet of the roof.

“Quickly! Just the four of you; come this way. Now!”

The lone man and three women follow the tall frame as it walks back into the smoky area from which he had first emerged.

The group is completely unaware of the presence of the System, as its miniscule visibility is totally obscured by the thick smoke blowing around on the roof.

Ultimately, the small group is able to pick its way from the parapet at the edge of the roof over to where the backside of the screen is patiently waiting.

At Russell’s urging, the small group climbs through the System, into the room where Dianne is sitting. Their rescuer is immediately behind them.

“Hi, folks! You all OK? We’ll have you on the ground in a moment!

“Russell, are you alright to keep going?”

“OK, thanks, Di. It’s just a bit hard to breathe out there.”

Seconds later, and Dianne has done it again.

“There you go, ladies and gentleman. Sorry your trip to Florida was so short!”

The senior lady from the Mass Tower spoke on behalf of her group: “Thank you so very much; I’m sure we would have died if you hadn’t gotten us down from there.

“The rescue helicopters were unable to get anywhere near us because of the smoke. Thank you again.”

“Climb through the picture window here onto the ground in Boston, and you’ll be just fine,” Russell reassures.

“Who are you? How are you doing this? Are you from the government? What on earth happened to your sofa?” The rapid-fire questions come thick and fast.

Same reply as to the miners, with the necessary adjustments, of course: “We’re a special, new, high-rise fire-rescue unit formed to handle situations exactly like this. This equipment is excellent for carrying out a rescue from skyscrapers in an emergency. Take care!”

She, along with her three companions, disappears into the disorganization and chaos of fire-fighting equipment, and masses of police and rescue vehicles outside the Massachusetts Tower.

“Di, that was great! You were incredible; so cool, calm and collected! . . . OK, back to the roof!”

“Heck! It would be so handy if we had another large-screen unit to work with, then we wouldn’t need to shuttle back and forth between the roof and the ground.

“We could leave one unit positioned on top of the building and the other located at ground level and just pass the folks right through the rec room into the opposite System.

“Maybe we could even put the sets ‘face-à-face,’ and then they wouldn’t have to make comments about our lovely sofa.”

Back to the roof it is. Next trip, Russ herds a larger group together that appears to be relatively calm. He ushers seven women and three men over to the System.

As the members of the group are helped through the exterior of the screen, “Hi folks, welcome to St. Petersburg. Is everyone OK?”

“Russ, are you still OK?”

“I’m fine, Dianne, just keep going.”

“Hold tight, then, we’re almost on the ground.” The rescuees gape with open-mouths at the sight that can be seen on the three HDTV sets in the family’s rec room.

“Who are you? How are you doing this? Are you from the government? What on earth happened to your sofa?” It was just like the first group. Questions just blast in one after the other.

Standard reply, “We’re a special, new, high-rise fire-rescue unit formed to handle situations exactly like this. This equipment is excellent for carrying out a rescue from skyscrapers when the fire-truck ladders won’t reach the high floors. Take care!”

With that, he directs them back to the large-screen TV and helps them to disembark.

“Thank you very much. What did you mean ‘Welcome to St. Petersburg?’ This isn’t Florida …This is Massachuuussseetttts … ” was all that could be heard as, again, they are moved on by the Richardson’s brand of shuttle diplomacy.

Dianne directs the System back to the smoky scene on the roof.

“Well, we’re certainly meeting our share of Bostonians today, Di.”

“Away you go, Hon. Be careful.”

“Quickly! Just the ten of you; come this way, NOW!”

The stentorian tone reflects his growing anxiety at selecting larger groups of people for relaying through the System.

The miners had been twenty-three, but that had been an extreme case offering little alternative other than to take the entire crew.

Seven men and three women this time, in sheep-like fashion, followed the ‘shepherd’ across the roof.

Again, to the near-invisible shadow that represents the System on that smoke-blown roof.

It continues to be too dangerous for rescuers to use helicopters.

“Hold it! Why are you in flight suits?” he demands of two of the men.

“Sorry, Staff,” the first replies. “We punched out of our F-16s at the very last second. Our seats are zero-zero type and the parachutes deployed at about 600 feet and dropped us here on the roof.”

“You mean you’re the pilots of the planes that did this?” Russell asks. “Holy cow!”

“Sorry, sir, we dove into an unusually heavy bank of low cloud, and there was just no way we could avoid hitting the building.”

“Well, here’s a piece of news for you. NNN has reported you as dead. You’d both better phone your wives.”

“Into the window, folks,” Russell instructs the whole group.

“One-at-a-time. That’s it. We won’t be in here for long.”

Dianne is cheerful, as before. “Hi, folks! Welcome to 14 Dusty Miller Drive.

“You’ll only be here for a few seconds, but in the meantime, is everyone OK?” she bubbles, glad to be of such enormous help.

“Russell, you OK to keep going, Hon?”

“I’m fine, thanks.”

“Who are you people? … How are you doing this?

“What part of the government are you from? … What on earth happened to your sofa?”

“Not again. Can no-one come up with an original question anymore?”

Reply number four, “We’re a special, new, high-rise fire-rescue unit formed to handle situations exactly like this. This equipment is excellent for carrying out a rescue from high-rise office buildings. Take care!”

The eight civilians and two USAF pilots are ushered back into the ‘window,’ and sent on their way.

“Thank you very much for rescuing us. Have a nice day … Hey, just a minute, ma’am. The city of Boston doesn’t have a Dusty Miller Drive. Where are weeeee … ?” The voice fades into the incredible cacophony of sound outside the Massachusetts Tower.

#

Five more trips are made, identical to that one, and the crowd on the roof quickly dissipates.

“That’s it, Dianne,” Russell proclaims.

“Now someone with the means to do so will have to let any employees congregating on the floors above the flames know that they should move onto the roof, where they can be cared for.”

#

Local officials obviously have no knowledge of how the folks from the roof are managing to get down to ground level.

#

NNN Staff, “Back at the Newsroom … a quirk to this unfolding story is puzzling authorities in Boston.

“Well over sixty people trapped on the roof of the flaming Mass Tower in Boston have mysteriously been transported from the top of the high-rise office building down to the ground.

“Local and State police and FBI, as well as U.S. Air Force investigators are trying to track down the precise nature of this enigmatic but timely rescue.

“The building was the site of a tragic accident this afternoon, when two F-16 fighter jets crashed …

#

“Keep tuned to NNN Newsroom for the very latest update, which will come to you as soon as it comes in to us.”

#

Again, from an NNN News staffer, “A further report has come in from Boston in connection with the tragedy at the Mass Tower this afternoon.

“Rescue officials have stated that people trapped on lower floors just above the flames, have been warned to move to the roof, where it has been cleared for the helicopters to land.

“Hopefully this will see an end to the threat to their well-being.

“A few people are reported killed in the crash of the two F-16s into the high-rise, and many are injured.

“Our reporter is on the scene now and we’re going to get him on camera now to bring you the latest now that we have been able to reestablish contact with him and can show you video of the carnage in Boston.”

#

“An incredible announcement was made a short while ago by the Boston Fire Department.

“Officials state that sixty people were miraculously brought down from the roof to ground level during the conflagration.

“Of that number, two of those individuals have identified themselves as the U.S. Air Force pilots, whose planes tragically crashed into the tower, causing the holocaust.

“Both are reported to be in fine shape and have been handed over to military authorities for debriefing.

“Stay tuned to NNN Newsroom for the very latest updates, which will come to you as soon as they come in to us.”

#

“Di, we have to do what you mentioned before!”

“What did I say?”

“You know, about buying another large-screen TV so that we can transfer people directly from one TV to the other. That way we wouldn’t have to worry about them coming into our home in droves.”

“If we’re going to be involved in large-scale operations like the Mass Tower, then that will definitely be a good investment.”

“I’ll see to it tomorrow,” Russell asserts.

#

“Mom, Dad! Have you been using the System?”

“Oh, we just took a 1,200 mile trip up around Cape Cod; nothing spectacular.”

####

Link to Ch. 8

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