Flight Into Danger

“Look, Stan, I understand your concern, but this is a business and as a business we’re here to make money. If we don’t we’ll go under and we’ve already lost hundreds of millions of pounds. It’s why we are here right now. Testing the air quality. It’s clear that everything is just fine.”

“Is that all you are really concerned about? We… you are placing so many lives on the line. Knowingly putting lives at risk.”

“Wake up, Stan. Get real. At the worst there may be the loss of an aircraft. Maybe, but probably not. There are no issues with the samples. There are no problems.”

The aircraft with scientists and company senior executives on board was flying at operating altitude.

“No problems? The possible loss of an aircraft full of passengers. And don’t forget the aircrew that are being forced to fly in them and you’re telling me to ‘get real’?” He added with an assertive statement: “You really couldn’t care, could you, Frank.”

“I do care. I do. But the risks just don’t match up to the financial losses we already know about. And they’re growing by the day. Hundreds of millions of pounds more every day.”

“You’re a short-term thinker, Frank, and you don’t see the longer-term damage this could do. Not just the odd plane or two. Or three. And hundreds of people killed. The damage to the industry would be irreparable. Not only could the company be wrecked, but the reputation of a safe method of travelling could be ruined forever.”

“Could be. Could be. Stan, this is a business that deals with odds. Every time a plane flies, there’s a risk. Planes crash. Cars crash. People are killed in accidents every day. People need to travel and it’s why they are prepared to pay the prices we charge and put up with all the inconvenience at airports. And even we don’t question the security imposed by governments. We are a business and we… do. We deliver a product. It’s very simple.”

“But an accident is something that isn’t expected. What you’re doing is with foreknowledge. The game you seem to be playing simply involves a considered probability exercise, but the stake is hundreds of lives.”

“What are you saying, Stan? That I am happy with the fact that people may die?”

“Not that you’re happy, Frank, only that you are prepared to take the risk with others’ lives.”

“Listen, Stan. You stick to looking after your cabin people and I’ll look after the company. You don’t understand the issues of running a multi-billion pound industry. We’re already planning an action against Iceland to recover some of our losses. And we’re going to introduce an insurance premium to cover costs if you get stranded. Hotel bills. That’d be a good earner.”

“Are you serious, Frank? You are blaming a country for the effect of a bad-tempered volcano? It’s geographical and it’s been around for millions of years. This troublesome volcano is only one of many in Iceland and you’re already thinking the problem is over, but it’s only just started. It’ll be months before there could be any glimmer of certainty that the volcano has become dormant. Right now, it may be spewing out less ash clouds, but it’s still producing them. Again and after so many years since the last time. You’re losing your mind, Frank. Actually, I think you lost it a long time ago. You really are something. Do you know that?”

Thoughts seared through his mind like a red-hot poker: the insulting accusation that he didn't understand how this business should be run. He understood. And he understood people. These arrogant self-righteous people are so blind to the obvious. Stupid idiots! Something you can’t see doesn’t mean it’s not there. Stan just wore a puzzled look on his face, maintaining his calm composure; always the true professional.

“Do you hear that?” queried Stan.

“Hear what? I don’t hear anything.”

“Precisely. The silence.”

Moments later, the flight-deck door suddenly burst open and a uniformed crew member stood still in the doorway to the cabin. He was very pale.

“We have a problem.”

Those few words by themselves were enough to explain the situation. The engines had failed. Clogged by the volcanic ash and the plane was gliding silently without engine power. The panic along the aisle between the rows of seats was instant. The few technicians and scientists that were the only passengers on-board this lone aircraft took just moments to realise that everything that had been discussed and viewed as negative was right. Of course winds move the air at high speed in the turbulent atmosphere at 30,000ft. Of course, ash-free air at one moment may be contaminated the next. How else could the frozen ash particles be falling hundreds of miles distant from the source in only days?

Stan’s mind was in turmoil: what the Hell am I doing here? Instantly he became aware of the images of Mount Redoubt in Alaska flashing into his mind. The cause of the failure of all four engines of a Boeing 747-400. This knowledge just intruded into his thoughts, bringing the problem into a stark reality that seemed so peculiarly unreal. He even remembered the date: 15th December 1989. Years ago.

At least the lights and all the equipment were still operating under battery power, thankfully fulfilling demand. Stan looked outside through the small rectangular window at the grey cotton wool-looking clouds getting closer as the plane’s altitude was reducing, though without engine power.

Stan’s pulse was racing away as his heart beat hard inside his chest and all those stories of calmness at times of great stress were now so obviously untrue. He was terrified. Many unfinished projects entered his head all in a rush. All crashing into his consciousness with each trying to be first. He was aware of one confident thought though and that was he’d somehow get through this.

Then all the lights went out and the aircraft entered the gloomy clouds…

© Louis Brothnias v. 1.4 (2010)

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