724.  What to say with 15 minutes left (Part 1 - Prelude)

 (From the '2nd Epilogs of JD Flora', Log #289)
It took me a while to realize where I was. For a short moment I wished to be able to remain in the realms of pure thought and to not have to put up with taking care of a body.

Loud noises entered my ears, a cold wind was blowing straight in my face, and my back was aching.

Nearly all of my limbs were numb. I must have left the body alone for quite a while, I thought.

Then, slowly, circulation set in and the body parts came alive again, one after the after.

Finally, I was able to rub my eyes and to stretch my limbs.

Carefully, I started to open my eye lids and tried to remember what name I had and what had happened so far in this life.

"Thank God, you woke up again!" someone yelled through the noise. "I thought you were dead!"

My throat felt dry and I began to realize that I was in the cockpit of a small airplane.

I turned my head to the side and tried to look at the man who was yelling it me.

Outside, it was dark. Through the windshield of the airplane, I could see only a sliver of light on the horizon.

The instruments of the airplane were not lighted. The pilot had a small torch hanging down from his neck. The light was dim, though, and it was barely enough to recognize the rough outlines of the instrument panel.

It looked to me as if the man was sweating, maybe even shivering a bit at times. In any case, he was breathing hard,  and the way he was holding on to the yoke was not instilling confidence in me.

I cleared my throat and massaged my fingers. The man next to me reached behind him and pulled out a water bottle. I remembered vaguely how to twist the cap of a bottle in order to open it. The soothing  feel of the water rinsing my tongue and my mouth helped bringing back the memories.

After clearing my throat again, I said "Wo sind wir hier eigentlich?"  It was not loud enough to be heard through the noise of the small airplane and I had to try again.

"What?" the pilot shouted and I repeated my words even louder. The pilot looked at me, puzzled.

More details entered my mind.

"Where are we?" I yelled to the guy who didn't look like an Englishman.

"Not positively sure," he shouted back with a funny gaze in his eyes.

The sliver at the horizon had widened in the short time that I had been awake. It must be the morning sun, I concluded, and started to rub my face, trying to wake up the rest of the body.

It's funny, I thought, that one thinks of waking up with the body, even though life is the dream, and not the other way around.

Looking through the window at my right side, I only saw blackness. I bent forward to see through the front shield but was restricted by the yoke on the
co-pilot's seat. The pilot started cursing as we were taking a dive.

Eventually, the nose of the airplane was level again, but the pilot was still cursing. The moment of diving down, however, was enough to recognize that the horizon was a smooth but curved line, seperating blackness from a beautiful rising sun and a blue sky that became brighter by the minute.

We were on high seas, over open waters, with no land ahead of us.

"Make a three-sixty!" I commanded the pilot. He looked at me, shrugged with his shoulders, and said "Roger!"

While I watched him watching the instruments, I remembered his name and that it was one those Thai names that I probably will never be able to pronounce correctly.

The light from the outside was now bright enough that I could see the readings of the instruments.

The gyro showed that the pilot was flying a procedure turn. I looked at him again closely.

"Flying instruments?" I shouted.

"Of course," he answered with a frown, but proudly, "since we took off four hours ago."

I took a deep breath and leaned back, watching the needle of the compass passing slowly through threehundredandsixty degrees. Several times the needle stopped even though we were flying a clean turn. I checked the ball and it was centered, too.

There was oil dripping down from the compass on top of the panel. Never a good sign, I said to myself.

Finally, the wings were level again and the heading steady at 020 degrees.

"I don't seem to get anything clear on the radios, even  though we should be close to Bangladesh by now." the Thai pilot shouted.

The DG showed a westerly heading, around 280 degrees. "Are you flying by the DG or by the compass?" I asked.

"DG, of course, calibrated twice. I don't know if the compass has a problem again, though." he answered.

"It has," I shouted at him, "it definitely has. Do you want me to take over the airplane for you?"

"You got it," he said, and started to relax, probably for the first time in four hours or more. "Never flew that long on instruments, you know. Good practice for my IFR checkride next week," he grinned.

It was at this moment that I positively knew that we were in trouble.

"Look around," I said and started to exercise the  rudders and the elevators to get a feel for the small airplane. "What time did we take off and how much fuel we got?", I added.

"At 1215 hours. I was flying with 75% power, meaning we should have fuel for five hours and thirty minutes," he said while looking around.

"It's now 430 hours precisely," with a weak voice and a bewildered look in his face.

I checked my watch and it showed 5:30 am.

"Did you adjust your watch for the timezone change?" I asked.

"Yes, I did. We should be close to Bangladesh now, I don't understand why we're over open water, I mean..." his voice was barely hearable now. Drops of sweat were forming on his forehead, ready to roll down his face at any moment.

"Not a good idea to change your watch," I remarked, "I'd rather stay on Zulu than to be confused by all these time zones. It's now 530 hours local time at the point of our departure. We're in the air for five hours. Time flies if you're having fun..."

It seemed that the pilot had stopped breathing. There were tears in his eyes and they merged with the drops of sweat as they were rolling down his cheeks.

"Please, make another three-sixty, please," he pleaded
I entered a steep turn which seemed to scare the hell  out of him.

I thought of asking how many hours he had as a pilot but I then I decided that this may not be a good idea at this time.

"Where are the life vests?" I asked instead.

"We were not planning to fly over open waters," he said, avoiding a straight answer. "Just along the coast of Burma..."

"IFR along the coast?" I asked with a frown.

"Well, no, but it's a New Moon, remember. It was totally dark outside. No way to see the horizon."

I remembered. I also remembered that I had a bad feeling about all this to begin with.

"Will cut power to minimum throttle and start circling around a point - we're going nowhere anyway," I announced, reaching for the throttle and initiating a procedure turn.

"Where is the ELT on this bird?", I continued. He didn't know where the emergency transmitter was located and his  tears were now flowing over his cheeks uninhibited.

"Get a grip on yourself," I yelled at him. "You're Thai. Cool heart, you know?"

His face stiffened but he visibly cooled down while I tried to visualize the shape and the innards of the airplane.

"Look under the back seat if you see a little black box," I shouted to him.

He leaned over the seat to the back, nearly blocking  the yoke as I had done earlier.

"Not here, I think" he said, rummaging through the baggage on the back seat. "Look at the other side," I told him.

"Too much baggage, can't flip the seat," he yelled.

"Open the door and throw the stuff out," I commanded, getting nervous now myself.

"All my clothes and stuff?" he asked shocked.

"Listen, pal..." I said sternly, but he got the picture before I had to say anything more. My visualization of the plane got sharper by the second. I tried to imagine where I would have placed an emergency transmitter if I would have designed the airplane.

"I just remembered. It's next to battery under the back seat behind you," he suddenly shouted, and then he started to shuffle baggage around.

After a while he said "I think I see it. What should I do?"

"Smash it, of course," I said, "that's how it's triggered, isn't it?"

Without further words, he took his small torch to bang on the ELT for quite a while. I already became impatient when he finally shouted "It's blinking now, alright!?"

"OK. We should have much more than 15 minutes left with the low power settings. Time to relax. Wonna pray or something?" I said, scratching my head.

The pilot was now back in the front seat while I was still flying the plane.

"Tell me about what you think will come after this... I mean, when it's all over," he said after a long pause. "I never really thought about this seriously, I mean, all this religion stuff, I mean, I learned all this in school and so forth, but I never really looked at it, really..."

"What's the emergency frequency again, and what's the squawk  for distress?" I asked in response.

I remembered myself before he found an answer and turned the knobs accordingly.

"What does it matter to you if you hear what I think I would know?" I said, looking at him. "Anyway, I'd rather be in Samadhi when the fat lady sings. Too late for making big words..."

He looked back at me without understanding.

"Start saying your may-day spiel," I continued and switched to COM 2 while starting to think about how I would explain in fifteen minutes or less what I think would be truly important.

"How old are you?" I asked after he talked through his first round of may-day on the radio.

"Thirtyseven," he answered.

"Tell me, how many times do 15 minutes fit into 25 years? That's about how much time you had to think about these questions, or not? Now we have another 15 minutes... enjoy them while you can..."

He didn't answer but he got the point.

After a while, he said in between may-day announcements: "it's too late now to think about anything. It's stupid to even do this may-day stuff. It's over in a couple of minutes no matter what... Listen, it would really help me if you would say something..."

"OK. OK." I said, thinking of handing the controls of the plane back to him since I wanted to relax myself before the big exit. "Did you ever ditch an airplane?"
I asked.

"Stitch???" he asked back.

"No - ditching - landing it on water..."

I gave up on the thought of letting him fly the plane when I saw a terribly terrified expression on his face.

And so I began talking:

"There are good things in life and there are bad things. And there are things that one doesn't care about. Are you with me so far?" I said.

"Sure," he said and it appeared that my words comforted him.

"Now, life is a gamble," I continued. "You win a few and  you lose a few. In the end, everybody kicks the bucket,  is that right?"

He nodded.

"Beyond all this, however, is something for which there aren't any words. Something that is untouched by whatever happens around here. From that view, all this what seems so important to us, appears just as some silly stuff. Embarrassingly silly, actually. Maybe 'insane' would be a better word..."

He looked at me with big eyes.

"How about you broadcast another may-day while I'll take another sip from the water bottle?" I said. "And always keep an ear on the radio... maybe there is something intelligible in all this noise. Who knows..."

He nodded again and grabbed the mike while I was thinking about what to say next.

[End of Log #289]

Copyleft © 1998 by Maximilian J. Sandor, Ph.D.