727. What to say with 15 minutes left (Part 3 - Ditch)
(From the '2nd Epilogs of JD Flora', Log #291)
The nose of the airplane pointed at the luxury cruiser on the ocean below us.
I felt uncomfortable as if there was something that wasn't the way it should be and I glanced quickly over the instruments.
The airspeed wasn't red-lining yet but when I looked at the vertical speed indicator my hand went to the throttle as an automatic reflex before I realized that the engine was out of fuel and the prop was feathered.
With inappropriate relief I realized that the strange sensation of guilt that I had felt for a moment had been caused by the risk of shock-cooling the engine in such a steep descent.
I snickered about my
own silliness - this airplane was about to sink down all the way to the
bottom of the Andaman Sea. No point to worry about the health of the
"Got your passport and stuff?" I yelled to Thip through the ever increasing noise of the air as we went down faster and faster.
Thip rummaged through the pockets of his flight jacket and produced a bunch of papers. Holding the yoke forward with my left hand, I managed to finger through my flight bag behind the seat and luckily I found the snap-lock plastic bag I was looking for and threw it over to Thip who stuffed it full with documents and a couple of bank notes.
I found my own passport and my wallet and Thip crammed both in the plastic bag as well and closed the snap lock very carefully.
Thip looked pale in his face. He avoided looking at me. The altimeter passed through 3,000 feet.
Without notice, Thip suddenly exclaimed: "I'll shave my head if we'll survive!"
I laughed, "I was thinking of that last week myself! It's really cool in LA these days, you know. It's hip and it's rad, as they say, hehe!"
"No, No!" he yelled, distressed. "I'll become a monk, I mean!"
"Hey, dude, never make a pledge under stressful circumstances! Think about this when your mind is clear and calm... not now, man!" I shouted back.
We descended rapidly
through 2,000 feet. I could recognize quite a lot of people on the decks
of the Club Med vacation ship below us. Strange, I always thought
these guys would party all night and then sleep in. And now, it wasn't even 6am yet.
"Get ready! Go through the motions!" I shouted.
"What motions?" he shouted back, very much disoriented and absent minded.
"This is not the time to think about the deeper aspects of life, man. Watch!"
I bent forward, held the yoke down with my chest and went through the motions of opening the safety belt with the left hand and opening the upper and lower door handles at the co-pilot's side of the plane with the right hand.
He got the picture and went through the motions himself.
"Don't start before
the first impact on the waves! The recoil would throw you forward and the
yoke would crush your chest," I reminded him and suddenly I
became very concerned about him.
It is one thing to take care of one's own rescue and quite another to look after someone else.
Of course, I could try to help him getting out of the airplane after the impact. There would be very little time left to get out myself, however.
And then, if I would
injure myself while helping him getting out of the airplane, I wouldn't
be able to help him afterwards. If I would be safely out of the plane
already myself, on the other hand, I could pull him out from the outside before the airplane would sink into the sea.
Otherwise, both of us would kick the bucket, perhaps.
And also, his way of getting out may be different than my own particular way.. every person is different after all.
It could be that he would do just fine for himself if I wouldn't interfere. And it might be that I would only be in his way if I wanted to help him.
Or, I could distract
him by bringing his attention onto something that he had never had a problem
to begin with and make him overlook what he really should concentrate
on in his current situation?
For a few seconds I lost the focus on the task at hand. Thoughts were racing through my mind.
How much different was this situation from trying to help someone to find _himself_?
"I never was kind of a preacherman," I reassured myself.
"But, then, I wrote a lot of stuff about religion and stuff. Even Thip asked me about it," my thoughts continued.
"What if it would have been better to let people find their very own way? Was it really enough for me to repeat over and over again that everyone has to find their own approach to this thing called spiritual liberation? Wouldn't it have been better to not to talk about it at all?"
By now, I had loosened the forward push on the yoke, causing the plane to level out a bit. Thip looked at me from the side without understanding what I was doing.
At the current angle
we would come down to the waves nearly a quarter mile behind the cruiser.
I quickly pushed the yoke forward again with all my force and started
to step on the rudder to align the plane with the backbord side of the ship.
"If you just keep that nose to point right before the bow of the cruiser, you'll make it," I told myself.
Then the thoughts came back. I was not able to shake them off - a circumstance that seemed more annoying than the thoughts themselves.
"Maybe I should just
shut up. Let people figure it out for themselves," I thought. And, "There
are now a few who are quite good, probably much better than me, in
explaining stuff like that..."
And then, "most people just want to run with the crowd anyway. Joining a Church or a cult, what's the difference?"
"Yeah, I'll shut up in the future!" I decided. "That way I can't tell anybody anything wrong. Right!?"
Before the thought was over, I stopped myself: "No long-term decisions in emergencies!" I reminded myself sternly.
Thip yelled at me "Hey, what's the matter?"
The airplane was too much to the right by now. The few seconds that I got carried away by my own thoughts had been enough to lose positive control over the plane.
"A lil' slip before we'll slip, Thip!" I shouted out and giggled about my own silly pun.
With all my force I stepped onto the opposite rudder. There was much more resistance than I expected.
It took hard work to bring the airplane into a left forward slip.
"Maximum drag!" I yelled, inexplicably enjoying the ride.
The airplane drifted down sideward, through 1000 feet, 700 feet...
It was time to start worrying to get closer to the ship. Close but not too close.
A last look at Thip. He smiled. I regained my confidence in him.
300 feet. The bow of the ship was less than 200 yards to the left front of us now.
I looked down to the waves. It seemed calm. The view from above can be treacherous, I reminded myself.
The sun was casting a shadow of the airplane onto the ocean.
And the shadow of something else that must have been right behind us.
My breath stopped for a moment and I nearly lost my nerves during the last seconds before the ditch.
"What's that, dammit?" I said but then I concentrated on the airplane again.
"Ready?" I shouted over to Thip.
His hand was on the lock of the seat belt.
I released the rudder to bring the plane out of its forward slip and straightened it out. The backbord side of the cruise ship was now about a hundred feet to our left.
20-30 feet over the surface, I pulled up the nose to enter a full stall.
It worked - the plane dropped straight down like a rock.
The first impact was hard but tolerable. The plane bounced off but didn't roll over. Good!
The second impact was predictably less hard than the first.
I yelled "Now!" and I let go of the yoke to open the seat belt and the upper door lock.
When the third impact hit, I had just reached the lower handle and pushed the door open.
I looked to the left. To my surprise Thip was already climbing out of the plane, holding the plastic bag with our papers in his hand.
Noticing that I forgot to take off my shoes, I cursed and wriggled myself out of the door.
The airplane was rocking a last time and then floated amazingly peaceful on the surface of the ocean.
"Close the door and take off your jacket!" Thip shouted.
He was right, of course - the plane would float a bit longer with the doors tightly closed and the jacket would drag me down if I would start swimming.
Wondering about Thip's amazingly good shape and why I myself needed such reminders, I looked over to the ship and saw several orange-colored rubber boats coming towards us.
They reached us just before the plane started to dip forward into the sea.
I jumped into the boat that had lined up at the right wing.
Seconds later, with dry feat and just some ocean spray in the face, I was watching myself sitting in the rescue boat.
Cheerful faces all around me but I couldn't feel any emotions in my heart.
Above us was the roaring of a helicopter.
I suddenly remembered the second shadow on the waves.
When I looked up to the sky, I saw a giant black helicopter just starting to turn away from us. I watched while it was rapidly gaining altitude. It had no tail numbers nor any other kind of markings. Just black, with two grayish rockets at each side of its huge belly. It grew smaller and smaller with every second.
"Well, it seems that there is really always more than one solution to any given problem," I said to myself, and, finally, serenity flooded my heart and mind.
From another one of the orange rescue boats, Thip was waving his arms.
The spray of the Andaman Sea covered my face, hiding my tears.
[End of Log #291]