Ch. 24 — The Terrorist Airliner Hijacking

During Laura Elliott’s NNN program, word comes in that an aircraft has been hijacked. The lives of the passengers have been threatened, so our heroes are called upon for help.

Ethan Thomas of NNN calls the family on behalf of Laura, who has heard ET’s report on the System’s capabilities. He will suggest perhaps the family might assist with an ongoing bomb-on-a-plane scenario.

Dianne is the one who responds to the ringing telephone. “Ethan, how are you?”

“Very happy and relieved, now that I found you home. Life is good, Dianne,” he proclaims. “How is the family?”

“We are all well, thanks. Should I be quaking in my shoes at your call?” she queries.

“To tell you the truth, I would be shaking if I got this call, but you folks seem to handle this kind of situation without batting an eyelid, so there is probably nothing for you guys to be worried about,” he commends.

“Laura Elliott saw our earlier programs with the various reports about the System and wondered if you would be willing to kick in with some help with a rather interesting scenario,” Ethan begins.

“Thing is, Dianne, Laura has just received a report about an aircraft flying between the Philippines and mainland China, that has been hijacked by a bunch of Filipino terrorists. Her information says that the hijackers have somehow gotten some serious explosives on board and are threatening to fly the plane into a skyscraper in a city in the area of the South China Sea, but they haven’t said which location.”

Dianne: “Passenger or freighter?” The conversations Dianne heard Russell having with his clientele over the years since their marriage has taught her the difference between these two aircraft configurations.

ET: “Passenger flight, 345 passengers and 16 crew, unfortunately. Not that it would have made much difference if it had been a cargo flight anyway. Even the crew of three on a courier flight would be an unacceptable loss as a result of a deliberate act of terrorism.”

“Can you give me some idea of how great the risk of explosion is? How realistic is the claim that explosives have been smuggled onto the plane?”

Doorbell: “Ring!”

“Ethan, could you hold on just a second? There’s someone at the front door.”

“Hi Buck, Ladybird! Come on in. I’m on the kitchen phone with NNN in New York. It’s about a hijacked plane, out of the Philippines. Why don’t you wait downstairs in the rec room. I shouldn’t be long.”

Back at the telephone and her notepad, Dianne says, “Sorry, Ethan, I’m back!”

“OK, Dianne. You asked about the chances of explosion on the plane and if the terrorists might be bluffing when they say there are explosives on board.

“The crew has notified Air Traffic Control in Manila that the terrorists got onto the plane in a cargo container and gained entrance to the cabin through an door in the floor. They got into the cockpit by way of an access panel in the floor of the flight deck. They’re armed with automatic handguns and AK-47 assault rifles.

“It seems the flight engineer was forced back down the same access door to the baggage and cargo compartment and the pilot reported to the tower that his colleague had been shown C-4 plastic explosives wired into the aircraft’s electrical System. The terrorists claim that the plane will be used as a missile, 9/11 style, or, in case the mission has to be aborted, then the aircraft and its passengers and crew would be destroyed with the C-4, along with the terrorists, who are willing to sacrifice their lives to show that the movement is serious about its cause.”

“Holy cow! Listen, you’ll have to give me a little time to talk to the boys and Lynz and we’ll get right back to you … Talk to you soon!”

“Thanks, Dianne. Bye for now.”

#

Buckminster and Ladybird Richardson are able to share in the council of war that held as soon as the family could be assembled. Dianne fills in on the detail of her conversation with Ethan Thomas and, after describing the apparent claim that the terrorists did not mind giving their lives in order to achieve their aims, turns the discussion over to Russell and James to decide how to proceed, if they agree to participate.

Russell, because he is now the president of the organization; James, well, James because he is still acknowledged as the person with the greatest skill at using the System.

Again, the matter is thrown open for discussion, especially as to the potential threats to the family’s safety. C-4 explosives are extremely powerful and could do irreparable harm or much worse to the folks, should those explosives be triggered.

“What do you think, Dad?” Russell asks Buckminster.

“Thanks, son. I never had any experience with C-4, but I seem to recall that the plastic types of explosives are extremely stable and safe if they are kept apart from their detonators. They also have to be kept away from any electrical charge; as that is what is used to set off the detonator, which lights up the main explosive.

“Remember, we can always get government experts to pitch in with stuff like that.” The former U.S. Army officer still remembers his stuff from the ‘good old days.’

“That’s true, Grandpa Buck,” James agrees. “That’s a good point; we can always get experienced helpers to kick in with any of the problems we’re likely to encounter.”

Ladybuck puts in her two cents worth: “This is like the airliner that was hit by the weather-plane aileron. Could you borrow an All-Britain captain or engineer, qualified on whatever aircraft type this is.

“He would need to be able to lead you around the aircraft’s baggage or cargo compartment again, the way he did for the Flight Data Recorder on that flight into BWI?”

Buck adds, “You can get NNN to line up two or three bomb disposal experts, maybe from ATF (Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco and Firearms).”

Lynz says, “Too, you’ll probably need a place to deliver any explosives they locate. Be handy to have along half-a-dozen translators familiar with the Tagalog language; preferably military types who are knowledgeable with handguns and AK-47 automatic weapons.

“Something else; it would be good if we could do this job without allowing any bloodshed,” she concludes. “Let’s see if we can get these guys into jail without a scratch.”

“Good thought, Lyndsey,” Ladybuck declares.

Lynz: “Who’s going to call Ethan?”

“I will,” Russell volunteers.

#

“Ethan?” Russell asked. “It’s Russ Richardson. I wanted to let you know as soon as possible that we’re OK on helping with finding a solution to the problem with the flight from the Philippines.

“We’re going to need you to get us a little help from the federal government.”

“I may have anticipated one of your requirements, Russ. The ATF already has three bomb-disposal specialists immediately available, ready for pick up at ATF in Washington. I told them to be wearing their flak jackets, to bring their protective clothing, and to get up to the roof right away and wait. I have their street address.

“What else did you need?” he queries.

“The ATF info sounds about right. Thanks for thinking of the explosive end of things. On top of that, Ethan, we’ll be needing about six U.S. military people; three fluent in the Tagalog language, and three fluent in Mandarin and Cantonese Chinese. All should be familiar with handguns and automatic weapons, like the Kalashnikov AK-47.

“They will need their bulletproof vests without fail. Finally, could we get a AB captain or flight engineer from Gatwick who can give us advice on the airplane’s electrical circuitry?”

“Better make that an electronics engineer or flight engineer, or both; I don’t know how familiar the captains would be with the aircraft’s electronics down in the cargo holds,” the anchor adds.

“Can you give me ten minutes?” is his final remark.

“We’ll be ready to leave in five, so let us know as soon as you can.

“Who are you sending, Ethan?” Russell asked.

“I wouldn’t miss this for the world, Russ, and I’ll scout up our camera crew and we’ll be ready in five. You won’t believe this, but the powers-that-be here at NNN have agreed to keep a camera crew always on standby here in New York ready to handle your operations. That’s very hard to believe. You folks have really shaken things up here.

“The pick-up address here is the same as usual.”

“Can you find out the name of the airline, the aircraft type and roughly where the flight is at the present time?”

“The plane is an Airbus A-340. I’ll get back to you with the rest of the info right away!”

Seven minutes and forty seconds later, the five minutes expires, and Thomas calls for Russell to state that, not only is the ATF team ready to leave, but the six U.S. military personnel are also immediately available. The military folks unfortunately are a little scattered; three at the Presidio in San Francisco; three Navy Seals available for pick-up at their unit headquarters at Pearl Harbor, near Honolulu, on the Hawaiian island of Oahu, over 2,000 miles out into the Pacific Ocean.

The requested engineers from All-Britain will be ready inside ten minutes atop ‘Hangar Two’ at Gatwick Airport. [A genealogy hint for you here. London’s principal airport, Heathrow, used to be part of the English county of Middlesex, but, in 1965, Middlesex disappeared, not physically, of course; it was absorbed into the Greater London Area. If you’re doing any family tree research on any British heritage you may have in your family that involves Middlesex, you’ll have to keep that change in mind.]

“That’s likely where we’ll start then; we can pick up the Presidio and Pearl Harbor guys on the way to the aircraft. How about you folks in New York?”

“I’m speaking to you from the roof of NNN. We’re ready to go.”

“OK, we’re leaving now and will pick you up first and then over to London for the engineers. Which camera crew is coming with you?”

“The Miller boys, Bill and Tom; I think you’ll remember them from the operation you did with the UXB team in London a couple of weeks ago.”

“Oh, yes! Won’t forget that one for a while. We’re out of here now and we’ll be dropping in to pick you up in about half a minute.”

“You’ll find us all here and ready.”

“OK, we can see you on the roof.” Buckminster Richardson has taken the bull by the horns by picking up the remote control and directing the System in the general direction of New York City. He follows the directions of the GPS and in seconds, he is in sight of the high-rise building allowing him to ‘land’ beside the three men with the camera equipment on the roof.

“Hey, that was quick, guys,” Ethan says as he climbed into the rec room. The Miller boys climb in after gently ‘throwing’ their camera gear into the room ahead of them. Handshakes all around as they come aboard.

“Ethan,” Buck inquires, “do you have the address for the ATF pick-up in Washington?”

“I do, I had an idea you might ask for the info,” said the popular journalist and anchor, handing Buckminster a slip of paper.

“Awesome,” said Buck, as he wheeled off in the direction of the nation’s capital. “You don’t know what a difference this makes.” He passes Russell’s mobile GPS unit and Ethan’s note to his wife. Ladybird punches in the required information and then leans into the HDTV and mounts the unit onto DJ’s wire rack, so that the signals from the satellites from the Florida location would have no effect.

Buck can now use the emissions received by the GPS at the specific location of the System to guide the ever-growing group to its next pick-up location, the ATF building in Washington, D.C.

Stop two sees our portal settle down on the roof of a government edifice not far from the White House. It is relatively easy to find, since from an altitude of two miles, it is a simple matter to pick out the building with three men wearing bulletproof vests and having a fair-sized load of equipment with them.

Ethan disembarks to greet them and to let the three know what to do with their equipment. Almost immediately the bomb suits, and bomb blankets, start flying into the recreation room, followed shortly thereafter by three bodies; Melvin Allard, Grant Miles, and John Robinson. Close on their heels comes Ethan Thomas. Naturally, there follows the custom of handshakes, backslaps, and the ever-present question: “What in the world happened to your sofa?”

Buckminster now heads off eastward, over the Atlantic Ocean in the direction of England and the Gatwick pick-up location. One minute later at the warp speed of the System he steers in toward A-BI’s technical location. Although nowhere in sight at the moment of arrival, the requested electronics engineers soon emerge from the building’s superstructure, each one carrying a leather case of tools and technical manuals.

Once more Ethan disembarks from the HDTV to greet the A-BI gentlemen and takes the case from each one and places it on the floor of the family home in Florida. Two bodies and Ethan follow in short order. The usual greetings ensue. It goes almost without saying that the next thing had to be, “What in all creation happened to your settee?”

Granddad Buck now wheels to the west and takes off for San Francisco. Holding his finger hard down on the button that propels them in a forward direction, he elevates to the customary two miles and lashes off in the general direction of the east coast of the United States.

Mere seconds later, the Chesapeake Bay area comes into sight and Buck heads slightly south so that the family and its guests cross into U.S. airspace at Virginia Beach. Naturally, this allows them to get the mandatory look at Oceana Naval Air Station and its scores of F-18 Hornets. Again, many ooohs and aaahs from the male contingent now made up of three Richardsons, one Thomas, two Millers, plus a group of three from ATF and two bodies from All-Britain, LGW. The three girls of the family are somewhat outnumbered. [This unquestionably has to be a guy thing!]

Once clear of N.A.S. Oceana, Buck guesstimates a vector for San Francisco, and bears due west and makes mini corrections to his course to insure arrival at the Presidio in San Francisco.

The Presidio has not been used as a military base for over twenty years, the soldiers were at a nearby Army base but, at Ethan’s suggestion, they had been taken by chopper over to the Letterman Digital Arts Center, which is one of the facilities now occupying the former army site. The three men have been instructed to head for the roof of the LDAC and to make themselves visible as if to an arriving helicopter.

Among the former tenants of the Presidio, since the site was first selected by Juan Bautista de Anza Bezerra Nieto, on March 28, 1776, can be numbered General John J. (Black Jack) Pershing, and, General William Tecumseh Sherman, both of whom are well-known figures from U.S. military history.

The LDAC proves to be an easy find; it is the only building on the entire Presidio with three heavily armed men standing on the roof. Flak jackets, M-16 rifles and other gear come flying through the HDTV at the invitation of Ethan, who again takes the liberty of handing out invitations to the get-together. “Mon Dieu! what happened to your chesterfield?” some high-school graduate asks. All this along with the routine of handshakes for all present.

Buck hands off the remote control to Lyndsey. “I’m getting too old for this sort of thing,” he says.

Lynz knows exactly where to go from SFO. She turns due west, zips the two miles up in the air and hits the warp-speed button. In seconds, the archipelago of Hawaii came into view and Lynz homes in on the huge naval base at Pearl Harbor on Oahu Island. The Navy Seals she is looking for have been ordered to report for duty on the fantail of the battleship-museum BB-63 USS Missouri at the aft end of the huge vessel.

The massive warship was turned into a museum following its decommissioning about twenty years ago. It is one of the easiest locations to find at Pearl. [It is anchored immediately adjacent to the Arizona memorial, which marked the resting place of BB-39 USS Arizona, sunk during the first minutes of the Japanese Navy’s air raid on Pearl Harbor on December 7, 1941, which action was responsible for America’s entry into World War II.] Now open to the paying public, it makes an ideal pick-up spot for the family’s sortie. The fantail of USS Missouri is quite a large open area. It will easily permit the ‘driver’ to spot the three Navy men.

Sure enough, there they are; kitted out like the first three picked up at the Presidio. Beside where they are standing, at the rear rail of the battlewagon, the System touches down. This time Dianne takes the initiative to jump out and invite the men to board the ‘USS Dusty Miller Drive.’

Rifles, handguns, even a grenade belt full of the hand-bombs, all come flying into the house; quickly followed by four bodies, one of which is Dianne’s.

“Holy crow, what in the name of Pete happened to your daybed?”

Handshakes all around, then: “OK, everybody; could I get your attention, please?” Ethan speaks with authority.

Ethan’s reputation as an anchor is growing by leaps and bounds as his exploits with the Richardsons continually prove to be both fascinating and revealing to his audiences.

“Folks, you’ve all met the Richardson family. Russell here is the president of the organization that manages what the family is calling the System and so he’s the one who calls the shots. He has a huge amount of experience at using this equipment, so he’s going to be taking the lead in our operation.

“We all realize that all of you have qualifications in your various fields that we could never come close to, so we respect those very much and we want you to know that you will have our every co-operation.

“An aircraft flying between the Philippines and mainland China, has been hijacked by Filipino terrorists. The hijackers have gotten some serious explosives on board and are threatening to fly the plane into a skyscraper in a city in the area of the South China Sea, but they haven’t said which city.

“This is a passenger flight with 345 passengers and 16 crew, unfortunately. The  flight-deck personnel told Air Traffic Control in Manila that the terrorists got onto the plane in a cargo container and gained entrance to the cockpit through an access hatch in the floor.

They are armed with .45-caliber automatic pistols and AK-47 assault rifles.

“The flight engineer was apparently forced back down the same access door to the baggage and cargo compartment and reported back to the captain that he had been shown C-4 plastic explosives wired into the aircraft electrical system.

The terrorists claim that the plane is to be used as a missile, 9/11 style, or, in case the mission has to be aborted, then the aircraft and its passengers will be destroyed using their C4, along with the terrorists.

“They say they are willing to sacrifice their own lives to show that the movement is serious about its cause.

“So, that what we’re up against. guys.” Ethan continues, “That will be where each of you comes in. Lyndsey will get us inside the aircraft and we can get started by deactivating the explosives. That will stop them from destroying the aircraft in one fell swoop. We have our ATF men for that.

“Our All-Britain engineers will be able to insure that the wiring used to interconnect the explosives to the aircraft avionics will not cause any unexpected difficulties.

“After we’ve completed that, we’ll check around the rest of the underfloor holds to see if there is anything else there that the terrorists have cached there to have available for use later.”

“Ethan, I asked you earlier if you could get me the name of the airline, the aircraft type and the rough location of the flight right now. Did you manage to isolate that info?” Russell asks.

“I’m just going to get onto my office,” Ethan replied. “My producer should be ready with it now.”

The internationally known journalist turns his attention to his mobile phone, and begins frantically writing down notes that provide replies to Russell’s questions.

“Lynz, could you take us to Manila on Luzon Island first and then turn north, toward mainland China, and see if we can catch up with the plane?” Deej asks.

Lynz turns about five degrees south west and heads away from Pearl, at the same time ascending to their customary altitude. At the usual hyper-speed, the thousands of miles disappear in seconds. The southern islands of the Philippine archipelago hove into sight. Lynz points the System toward the center of Mindanao Island and again pours on the gas. Soon it is possible to discern the Bataan peninsula and Manila Bay with Corregidor sitting at its mouth. “Here we are,” she reports. “Turning north now.”

#

They are already well over one thousand miles north of Manila, heading for Guangdong Province just beyond Hong Kong Island, when Ethan completes his telephone conversation with his producer in NYC. “He’s texting me the information, so I’ve made notes in the meantime, and his data will confirm it for us.

“Apparently the plane is an Airbus A-340 belonging to Hong Kong International, a Hong Kong-based airline. The flight is out of Manila destined for HKG, but there are many mainland Chinese on board, heading for their destinations in central China. There are lots of Filipinos on board too, headed for Hong Kong, perhaps to catch other flights to the United States and Canada.”

“Lynz, here are the co-ordinates for the GPS system where the airplane was five minutes ago, as well as its heading, so that you can set the right vector to find it.”

Grandma Ladybuck takes up her spot at the HDTV and again adjusts the GPS unit outside, this time into the airspace of the South China Sea. She calls out some co-ordinates to Lyndsey and the teen makes a minor correction and quickly rips over to where the aircraft has last been reported. Once there she slows and does her best to manage about 800 miles per hour, so that she is besting the A-340 by about one hundred mph. This will allow her to spot the giant airliner long before she catches up with it.

This time, Ladybuck sees the 340 some two miles above them. It seems to be an unusual altitude for a jumbo jet to be flying, but someone in the present party mentions that it is possible that the captain is unobtrusively trying to work his way slowly down to a flight level where an explosive decompression will not be possible if the pressurized hull should be breached. [This would allow the passengers to breathe normally in the case of an emergency. At 10,000 to 45,000 feet, such an event would require oxygen to be supplied to each one.]

Lynz draws up alongside the fuselage of the giant flying machine, turns the System toward the rearmost overhead cargo door and ‘intrudes’ the aircraft at the aft cargo compartment. The move is completely soundless.

Initially, at the suggestion of the electronics engineers, Lyndsey turns aft, toward the tail of the aircraft. Then she edges forward and comes into an area that is free of load. It has a steeply sloping floor, which matches the steep slope of the exterior of the fuselage. This area is intended for the bulk stowage of baggage or cargo, in excess of the load placed in the baggage and cargo containers. Even the hinged shelves, provided for a portion of the load, are empty and are strapped in an upright position to the walls of the compartment.

“OK,” our engineer friends say, “there’s nothing here; this is a good start! Could you now make a run through the cargo containers? Start with the ones on the left and work your way down to the wing spar. You’ll have to be careful doing this, because beyond the bulkhead in the front of this compartment is the central fuel tank and you may not be able to penetrate it without perhaps causing some damage.”

Lynz starts out by punching her way into the first cargo container. She circles around inside it checking the different items of freight, but finds nothing that raises either her suspicions or those of the ATF or the All-Britain staff.

[An aircraft’s cargo ‘pallets’ are based on a plywood board, laminated on top and bottom with aluminum (aluminium, if you’re a Brit), a total of some 2 cm thick. Flat on the ground, it measures approximately 3.175m x 2.235m, and, bolted to this base is a heavy fiberglass ‘igloo,’ molded (moulded, if you’re a Brit.) to match the interior shape of the cargo holds of all wide-bodied aircraft. The ‘igloo’ has a height of 63 inches and is capable of being loaded with some eight thousand pounds of freight. Waterproof tarpaulins protect the goods from rampside inclement weather, then multiple heavy-duty straps restrain the cargo to the pallet. In turn, the pallet is securely fastened to the roller-bed floor of the cargo compartment ready for flight.]

She works her way through three other containers, being careful not to intrude past the side of the fourth unit. None seems to contain anything that appears out of place.

Next, over to the four containers on the starboard side of the aircraft. Despite careful checking, again there is no content of a suspicious nature.

“How will I get past the bulkhead at the wing spar?” she questions.

“Probably the only way to do that is to go back outside and re-enter at the forward cargo door; it’s on the port side.”

“Done,” Lyndsey says. She points the System toward the door, and ‘drives’ completely through and back into the outside air. Turning forward again, she flies past the number two engine and ‘re-intrudes’ into the airplane in the forward cargo hold, which doubles as a baggage compartment.

“There are twenty or more ‘small’ baggage containers between the stowage areas on the port and starboard sides. Try those first, and this time, you can penetrate the bulkhead when you finish checking these out; that’s where the electronics bay is. They could easily have used that to stow some of their stuff.”

Lynz checks the first rows of containers on the starboard side but finds nothing, but, of much greater interest is the location of two of the starboard containers next to the forward bulkhead. Normally the baggage containers are packed so tightly into place that it would be impossible to open them without first offloading some of the surrounding containers. These two have been unusually positioned in the compartment so that they could be opened by someone gaining access to the hold from the electronics equipment cupboard; this causes the entire situation to begin to look like an inside job. Who would load these containers in such an attitude? What is inside them?

The teenager ‘intrudes’ the first container and, sure enough, this is terrorist materiel. There are fully loaded AK-47 magazines; hand grenades by the crate; boxes of .45 caliber ammunition. There are RPG (rocket-propelled grenade) launchers, still in their cases, with the grenades needed for their operation. The second container proves to be almost empty with the exception of a little communications equipment and electronic test material for assembling IEDs (Improvised explosive devices).

“Is it OK if we offload that stuff into the house?” one of the ATF men asks.

“Yes,” says Russell, “but be careful that there’s no way for any of it to be triggered.”

“Goes without saying, sir.” he responds.

The two ATF men and half of the U.S. servicemen jump into the containers and pass the armaments through the portal to the three soldiers who stack it neatly beside the rec room wall. The RPGs have to be handed through individually as their containers are too large to be passed through the HDTV. These are placed on a carpet to avoid scratching the floor. The electronics gear is likewise handed off to the men in the house and placed in the stack.

All that remains in the two containers is the stack of empty crates from which the RPGs have been removed.

The All-Britain engineer now asks Lyndsey to penetrate the bulkhead at the front of the cargo compartment, a request with which she immediately complies.

The two engineers now disembark into the electronic equipment bay and start nosing around. The family and its visitors are able to hear the conversation quite easily. The conversation revolves around several small blocks of material that look to be about the size of a can of beans. The ‘cans’ are attached to portions of the shelving in close proximity to large pieces of electronic gear bolted to the racking.

One of the engineers calls for the ATF agents to join them in the small area, which the two men do without hesitation.

The ATF men quickly identify the ‘cans of beans’ as C-4 plastic explosives, wired into the aircraft avionics system. Between the four men, they discern that the C-4 is connected to the aircraft in such a manner that it can be remotely detonated by a radio-controlled device, possibly in the hands of one of the terrorists.

In addition to the possibilities of remote-control detonation, each of the “cans” is independently linked to a triggering device that will set off the explosive if its wiring into the avionics is cut. An intrinsic timer has been set for five minutes after its being severed from the aircraft’s electrical circuitry.

The ‘cans of beans’ are carefully severed from the aircraft’s wiring and taken into the Richardson home. Once this necessity arises, Dianne picks up the remote control on the second large-screen HDTV and, thanks to the third ATF agent who has remained inside the house, she directs the unit to the site of ATF’s bomb disposal division in Virginia.

The ATF agent steps through the screen at the Virginia site and Dianne passed the ‘beans’ through the portal to him. Dianne helps the agent return to the house and backs the System off about fifteen hundred feet. They are in time, for, after only 1 minute from the time the ‘beans’ are deposited at the bomb disposal range, there is a huge explosion and the C-4 is no more.

The six U.S. military men help to unload the armaments found in the two containers onto another disposal pad at the same site and ATF notified its Virginia unit of the deposit so that the equipment can either be disposed of or used for other purposes.

The ATF agent also orders 20 AK-47 magazines and 20 .45 caliber Colt auto magazines, but filled with blank cartridges; no bullets.

“OK, guys,” Dianne advises, “the goodies have all gone into the ‘recycle bin’ at ATF.”

Back at the aircraft, the underfloor problems have all been taken care of.

Ethan now says to Russell, “What do you want to do next, Russ?”

“Somehow we have to disarm those guys, but first we’re going to have to get into the passenger cabin, or onto the flight deck.”

“It may be hard to do anything on the flight deck. It’s so small, and there’s likely to be a hijacker in there at all times,” Ethan cautions.

“OK, Lynz, let’s take a crack at the passenger cabin first. Take the rear catering door, as we did on the AB flight into BWI.”

Lyndsey complies by exiting through the forward cargo door and looping over the top of the airplane, and ‘intrudes’ through the emergency exit just ahead of the tail plane. There is no welcoming committee, which suits everyone just fine.

The passengers appeared relatively relaxed given the fact that their flight has been hijacked. Strangely, despite the fact that many are watching the television on the seatback in front of each seat, or listening to MP3 players, the cabin lights are all ablaze, although most seem unconcerned with the ongoing terrorist operation on board their flight.

The System is propelled forward in the passenger cabin in the starboard aisle just between the overhead storage compartments, so that they can remain unobtrusive and not raise concern on the part of the hijackers.

Row 48, Seat H contains the first hijacker. His AK-47 is on the empty seat beside him. His eyes are closed.

All this time, the second HDTV is waiting for the delivery of the substitute AK-47 magazines loaded with blanks. These arrive a short time later, accompanied by the Colt’s automatic magazines, likewise loaded with blank .45 caliber ammunition. The goods are unloaded into the house.

The ATF agent reaches down and picks up the weapon. He brings it carefully back into the house, and removes the original magazine and replaces it with one of the substitute units and quickly but carefully ejects the unfired cartridge from the chamber, and replaces in on Seat J without disturbing the terrorist. He does not cock it.

Continuing down the aisle, they find hijacker number two in Row 23, Seat H. Likewise, he is feigning sleep, but not doing a very convincing job of it. ATF retrieves his automatic pistol from the empty seat alongside him, and once more removes the loaded magazine from its butt, ejecting the unfired cartridge from the chamber. He reloads the gun with blank cartridges, remembering not to charge one into the firing chamber. He replaces the weapon without being noticed by the bad guy.

[If the men try to shoot their weapons, not having a cartridge in the chamber, ready to fire, it will seriously slow them down, since each will then need to cock his gun manually.]

Row 2 Seat C on the port side of the aircraft is the final sinner that they are able to find in the passenger cabin. He is toying with his AK-47 and, unlike the other two miscreants, he is also wearing a holstered .45 automatic on his right hip. ATF so far has had to deal with men carrying only one weapon each.

“We’ll have to leave this bad man for later, unless we hit him over the head,” Ethan said.

“Wait up, sir,” says the Navy Seals lieutenant. “We’re six armed guys; we could take on these guys one at a time, without firing a shot and without killing anyone. They’re far enough apart that we won’t disturb the others. Their turn will come.”

“I’d say, ‘Go’ for that,” Russ directs.

“OK then, let’s go to the back to Row 48, Seat H, for the first guy,” he tells Lyndsey.

Lynz complies, keeping at a location that makes it hard to see the portal.

“There’s a galley just a few rows behind him and we can use the open space there to assemble ourselves,” the lieutenant says, as those who are without armored protection, put on their flak jackets.

The six disembark in the galley space as agreed. Two move forward to the first miscreant’s seat and one disables him with a single blow to the solar plexus. The two men then pick up his AK-47 and hand it off to those in the house. The bad man is left in his sleepy pose, so that suspicion will not be aroused.

Six soldiers clamber aboard the System, which is propelled forward to seat row 23, where at Seat H, the second Filipino terrorist is still sitting enjoying his snooze. [The ‘Vulcan nerve pinch’ has been investigated thoroughly by the Navy Seals, and, after long trials, it was determined to work only on old reruns of your favorite space series.]

Once again, the sextet disembarks from the portal. A swift blow to the sternum puts the man into a state where he can no longer offer any resistance for at least a half-hour or so. Like his compatriot in Row 48, he is left with his eyes closed, as if in repose to avoid raising any alarm. His armament too is recovered and passed back to the Florida home.

Back into the System with the military group, and Lyndsey crawls the portal forward, this time in the portside aisle, as close to the ceiling as she can manage. Arriving at Row 2, they find bad guy number 3 still stroking his AK-47. The ‘designated hitter’ lowers himself to the aircraft floor; he quickly positions himself immediately behind the perpetrator and quickly strikes him in the lower chest area at the solar plexus, another disabling blow. He throws the terrorist’s AK-47 and his automatic pistol into the reverse side of the HDTV.

That takes care of the passenger cabin. Now for the flight deck, and anything that it might hold.

With the entire staff back inside the house, the young Navy Seals lieutenant asked Russ if he would have any objections to getting Lyndsey to return to the cargo hold. He recommends intruding on the flight deck possibly underneath the pilots’ seats, a vantage point from which it may be possible to observe who is in the cockpit and how many terrorists might be found there.

“How do you guys from A-BI feel about that?” Russell queries the Brits.

“What about arriving right in the middle of the instrument cluster? The bad guys probably won’t be looking at that area … Already I’m having second thoughts. I think the pilots’ seats would be the best spot; it’s quite dark down there and the System will be virtually invisible. Go for that, if it’s OK with you.”

“Lynz, can you take us back to the forward cargo compartment, then into the electronics bay right at the front of the hold, and then up into the cockpit. Are you OK with that?” Russell asks.

“Do you want to drive, DJ,” James’ sibling asked.

“No, I’m fine. I’m right here if you run into a snag.”

“Hey guys; before you take off,” Ethan pipes in. “How about leaving a couple of the guys here at the front of the aircraft, just in case the cockpit bad guys come out?”

“Lieutenant, could you take your boys and look out for anyone coming out of the cockpit? Go easy on your trigger fingers, because it might be one of us.”

Once the trio climbs back onto the cabin floor, Lyndsey Parker Richardson guides the System outside the aircraft and back to the front of the fuselage. She makes ‘incursion’ six feet behind the nose radome. The upward motion commences once the HDTV shows it is completely inside the fuselage. Very slowly, the teen raises the view until it just ‘penetrates’ the cockpit’s metal floor.

Unfortunately, the scene is somewhat obscured by the captain’s seat, so the girl creeps slowly toward the nose of the aircraft and turns right to look at the co-pilot’s seat. The first officer’s seat is filled by an unkempt man in a baseball cap. He certainly does not have the appearance of a Chinese airline pilot, but rather the appearance of an ethnic Filipino. Cockpit bad guy number one. The folks in the house are unable to discern what if any armament he is carrying. The System will have to ‘intrude’ on his side of the cockpit to be able to make this out.

Next, Lynz moves three feet toward the starboard side of the cockpit and rotates 180º so that the same check could be made of the captain’s seat. It proves positive. The Captain is a Chinese man wearing a royal blue uniform with badges and epaulettes reflecting his pilot status and his rank. Cockpit good guy number one.

Now for those in the back of the flight deck. Gingerly, the youngster eases the view toward the rear, open area of the cockpit. In addition to the pilot and co-pilot, normally the third crewmember on the flight deck is a flight engineer, for a total of three crew. As the screen clears the seats, the viewers are able to see one crewmember lying on the floor, bound with a plastic tie and gagged with duct tape, presumably the co-pilot. Cockpit good guy number two. The flight engineer (cockpit good guy number three,) sits at his controls, but with an automatic pistol pointed at him by cockpit bad guy number two. That is it; so there is a total of five perpetrators of this hijacking, three of whom are already neutralized.

“Ethan, can you get us four tasers and four tranquilizer dart guns suitable for use on humans at close range, and get them delivered right away? We can send the second System to pick them up anywhere in the United States.”

“I’m on it, right away!” ET replies, snapping up his mobile, and pressing the speed-dial for his producer.

Two precious minutes later ET’s alarm buzzes, and he receives the much-needed response to his question about the equipment. “Tasers available from New York City police; courier already on way to NNN with police escort; ETA this location three minutes; Manhattan City Jail at location next door to NYPD able provide tranquilizer handguns; will bring to roof upon receipt. Same ETA,” the text message reads.

ET relays the info to Russ with the words, “Wow. It’s great to have everything work this way.”

Ladybuck is already looking after the New York trip, and is dropping down to the roof of the NNN high-rise. Ethan’s producer, Ron Pfeffer, has risen to the occasion, taking the elevator to the penthouse, running up the final two flights of stairs onto the roof, where he is met by Dianne, who, this time, doesn’t object to climbing through the screen to make the pick-up.

Once inside the house, the tasers and tranquilizer guns are handed off to the crowd around the screen of the first HDTV, still showing the inside of the cockpit.

“Man, we really should give one of these to the Seals in the main cabin,” states James.

“Any suggestions, folks?” Russell asks.

“Everything seems stable here at the moment; these two don’t even know that their backup department in the main cabin is hors de combat. Get Lyndsey to take us sideways to the outside of the plane and then back in at the first passenger door. That should bring us to just about where we left them. We can just drop off the tasers and the handguns, and come right back here,” suggests Buckminster.

“Thanks, Dad. OK, Lynz, let’s do that,” Russ directs.

Back, once more, to the passenger cabin to drop off the equipment with the Seals; quickly briefing them as to what conditions are like on the flight deck and then back to the cockpit and return to the position we left previously. Nothing has changed. Bottom line is that no one has moved significantly.

“Lyndsey, could you please rotate the System so that we can have both bad guys in view and we’ll pop both of them at the same time with the tasers?” the ATF team leader questions.

Two of the army men step forward and each one takes a taser gun. They verify they are correctly loaded, and position themselves for their shots. The ATF supervisor says he will simultaneously tap each one on the shoulder and that they should fire on the third stroke of his hand.

All watch carefully as the soldiers target the two bad guys. The ATF taps the army once, twice, thrice, and ‘bam.’ The evil deed is done. Two barbed contacts strike each of the hijackers. The electrical charge is devastating, extremely powerful, without being lethal.

Immediately, the two terrorists begin struggling uncontrollably, losing all bodily control, which renders them unable to use their weaponry.

At the moment of firing, Lyndsey elevates the System so that the ATF officer can leap from the HDTV into the cockpit and announces, “It’s all over, gentlemen. We’ve already disabled the men in the passenger cabin.” He makes a point of gathering up the armaments sported by the two cockpit bad guys, and passes it into the house.

The Hong Kong International flight engineer takes a knife and cuts the bonds from his prone colleague. The All-Britain electronics engineers use heavy-duty plastic cable ties to ‘handcuff’ the two Filipino terrorists and bind their feet by similar means. The disabling electrical charge has already been discontinued by this time, and the barbs recovered and the tasers passed back into the house.

Now Lyndsey, our ‘driver,’ can raise the System up to normal height, exits the aircraft just behind the captain’s seat and travels aft to the first passenger door, where the Seals are anxiously waiting. “It’s all over, guys. We got them with tasers. You can drop them off with the Airport Police when you get to HKG.”

The cockpit door opens and the Captain exits to the passenger cabin, where he takes the public address microphone and announces the terrorist incident has been put down. He is able to make the announcement in Cantonese Chinese for those from Hong Kong and the Province of Guangdong, as well as in Mandarin Chinese for those from the rest of Mainland China. He also repeats the information in English, but Tagalog is out of his ballpark.

An air hostess is able to provide the information for those passengers who need to have it spoken in the language of the Philippines. The information is greeted by a loud cheer of appreciation for the efforts of the crew. Most seem unaware of the presence of USS Dusty Miller Drive.

“Is there anything else that we can do to help finalize this case?” Ladybird asks. “Or is this it?”

“Where did this flight originate?” Russell questions.

Ethan has the answer for that question. “According to my producer, it was Sydney, Australia.”

“Ethan, if you could get us the exact pushback time of this plane at Sydney today, we might be able to do something that would put this bunch of terrorists completely out of business for many years.” Russell has something in mind that will allow the System to manifest its true capabilities.

“On it,” said the journalist, again reaching for his mobile and punching the speed-dial for Ron Pfeffer.

Again, one minute later, the mobile rings. It is another text message, this time reading: “Pushback for Hong Kong International A-340 flight at Sydney, Concourse C, at the aerobridge for Gate 58 was 08:57, three minutes early.”

Again, ET relays the information to Russell. Now comes the cruncher; “Let’s go back to Sydney before this plane was pushed back from Gate 58 at Kingsford Smith.”

“Ethan, you can ‘drive’ if you’d like.”

Thomas seemed apprehensive as he receives and fingers the remote control. “Could you give me a little help, first off?” he asked.

“Dianne, could you do the honors with Ethan, please?” Russell invited.

Dianne steps up and gives Ethan a quick lesson in the use of the touch-pad buttons on the remote control. She pays special attention to those buttons that will be required to travel backward in time.

First, Ethan gains altitude and ‘drives’ the System up to 10,000 feet to improve the group’s visibility. The anchor heads south at speed so that once past the Coral Sea, Australia soon hove into view. Once past Brisbane, and the Gold Coast and the Great Barrier Reef, it isn’t long before the Sydney Opera House is in sight. Kingsford Smith is just moments south of Sydney Harbour. Speed limits may be ignored when ’driving’ with the Richardson family.

The airport is plainly visible in the near distance and ET heads toward the main terminal and ‘parks’ on the roof. Once there, it is a simple matter to key the action back until about 6:00 in the morning. That is easy to check since television monitors, displaying the exact time, are easy to find, as they are placed at strategic locations all over the building.

The corporate watch is recovered from DJ’s rack once more and adjusted to match the time in Sydney.

One effect of the movement backward in time is that aircraft by the dozens take off and land, and taxi all over the field, but all in reverse.

At 6:30, it is possible to see a Hong Kong International Airlines A-340 taxi up to the terminal gate and park. This will be the crucial operation.

ET gently lifts the HDTV view until it is beside the giant airliner and able to view into the forward cargo compartment and in particular, into the forward area where the electronics equipment cupboard is to be found. The entire underfloor area is totally empty and deserted at this time. The team seems to have arrived at just the right moment.

Ethan gently probes the button that will transport them forward in time as they watch for baggage containers to be brought out to the aircraft ready for loading. After moving forward for about one half-hour, two men who appear to be of Filipino extraction, drive up on a tractor pulling only two baggage containers. These are subsequently loaded onto a scissor-lift truck, which elevates them to the level of the cargo hold floor, and into the A-340. The two containers are standing on roller trays from which they can be pushed into the cargo compartment where they are taken over by the aircraft’s own roller-bed system, rotated into a sideways orientation, then traversed close to the electronics cupboard.

The two men drive off aboard their tractor, without taking any further action, so Ethan raises the screen view up to the floor level and ‘drives’ into the aircraft. He ‘intrudes’ into the first of the two containers and finds the weaponry and other materiel that they had discovered during the flight to Hong Kong.

He is a little more cautious in his approach to the second container for he is very concerned because he can hear voices. He very gently ‘intrudes’ a tiny way into a corner of the container and is not startled to discover five men inside the AVE unit along with the electronic gear they found earlier. This is how the five terrorists had found their way into the aircraft. They simply cut open the fabric door of the container once the A-340 was airborne and found their way into the cockpit through the access in the floor of the flight deck.

This operation obviously has been well planned. Once more, the Miller boys are having a great time making a permanent record of this for NNN’s evening news show.

ET backs off from the aircraft and waits for the next event to occur. After fifteen minutes, the two Sydney airport employees are back, this time with a long train of baggage containers. Each of these is subsequently transferred to the cargo compartment of the Airbus, each one locked into position using the snap-locks provided on the airplane. Ethan watches each container and how it is handled. The men made no further moves toward the ‘crook’ containers but complete a normal aircraft loading operation.

Since as it transpires, the terrorists actually harm no one throughout the entire episode, it makes no sense to switch magazines on their weapons at this stage. The entire party in Florida now realizes that this has already been taken care of in midair over the ocean.

Once in possession of this priceless information, the police can be advised of the identities of the two ‘inside men’ at Kingsford Smith so that these can be taken into custody and charged with conspiracy.

ET suggests that the police in New South Wales might be interested in having a photographic record of the earlier stages of the conspiracy, perhaps to show them where the hand grenades, AK-47s, automatic pistols, and especially the rocket-propelled grenades, had been obtained. The cops would probably also appreciate knowing how the weaponry was smuggled onto the international airport, along with the accompanying ammunition.

However, that’s a tale for another day. The A-BI engineers have to get back to Gatwick; ET and the Millers back to New York to prepare for their evening debut of this story before the entire world. The military men are free and easy, but their spouses are likely eager to have them home, safe and sound.

In response to instructions from Russell, ET wheels the System and points it in the direction of Hawaii, which he will use as a landmark on the way home to Florida.

On arrival at the St. Petersburg Sunshine Herald, Ethan makes the necessary adjustment to bring the time backward to match the rec room wall clock. Now it will be possible to drop their passengers off at the right moment to match their original departure times.

In order, drop-off is made first at NYC, and Ethan hands the remote off to DJ, who in turn, passes it to Russell. Next in line is a delivery to ATF in Washington, then Hangar Two at LGW, [remember this only takes a minute or two at the worst case, anyway); from Gatwick to San Francisco to drop off the three U.S. Army men. Finally, over to Pearl Harbor, to drop the Navy Seals back at the fantail of USS Missouri. It goes without saying that all are dispatched with the grateful thanks of the Richardson clan.

Russell ‘drives’ the family over to Diamond Head, the extinct volcano on the windward side of Oahu Island, Hawaii, where he pauses so that the family can enjoy the spectacular view of the famous landmark, which is now open to the public. Finally, he wheels to the east and sets warp-speed for home. As usual, the newspaper’s office is the site to be viewed through the HDTV screen for the night.

####

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