What to say with 15 minutes left (Part 2 - Descent)
(From the '2nd Epilogs of JD Flora', Log #290)
Thip, that's how I
nicknamed the Thai Pilot with the unpronouncable and long-winded
name, made the may-day broadcast with a clear and firm voice.
We were circulating at 9,500 feet over the ocean with no land in sight. If the Bay of Bengal would have had some major trading routes, it would have been worthwhile
to look out for ships. But neither the small fishing boats of Calcutta in the West or the Burmese villages in the East nor any freight ships or tankers were likely
to extend their trips onto high seas between West-India and Burma.
With the bold, steady, and keen eyes of a true Thai, Thip examined the horizon as we kept turning around a point over the calm sea.
"So, you've said," he asked me, without turning his head, "that - 'Beyond all this there is something for which there aren't any words. Something that is untouched
by whatever happens around here.' - that's what you said, right?"
"That's what I said," I answered.
"Do you have any proof for that?" he questioned me, being quite sure of the answer already.
"Do we have any bright
clothes on board?" I asked instead of answering him.
"Don't think so," he said.
"Any water other than
the small bottle I got here?" I wanted to know.
"Negative," he said, his eyes constantly staring at the horizon like a hawk.
"By the way," I remarked casually, "why are you staring out there all the time?"
"Trying to see if I can recognize land, of course!" he exclaimed.
"How do you know there IS land out there, Thip?" I asked as innocently as I could.
Now he turned his head towards me, a frown on his face. "Of course, there is land out there, don't be silly, JD!"
"Do you have any proof for that?" I asked.
Thip stayed silent
for a while, only the humming of the engine and the noise of the constant
speed propeller was around us.
I examined the instruments. The fuel gauges showed empty for both tanks.
"When did you switch tanks, Thip?" I inquired.
"Well, eh, I kind of
forgot to switch from the left tank in time, and, eh, I switched tanks
when it ran empty," he answered, quite embarrassed, pressing his lips together.
He nearly panicked again. Not a good thing to do in a such a situation. Never a good thing to do in any case, I thought by myself.
Thip cleared his throat. "OK, JD, let's say there is this 'Beyond happiness, suffering, and boredom thing'. But wouldn't it be cruel and shameful to just leave
all the other beings behind? Shouldn't one help all others until everybody is free?"
"When is that?" I asked.
"What? Until everybody is free? Hmmm, at the end of the world, I guess," Thip said.
"Let's say we had fuel for eternity, and let's say we would fly straight ahead instead of in a circle - how long do you think would it take until we would reach the end of Earth?"
Thip blinked with his eyes. I wasn't sure if he had seen something out there or if my question confused him.
"Earth is a sphere, there is no end for traveling on its surface. We would keep on going forever..."
"So what if time would be like a sphere?" I asked, checking out the radios more closely.
Thip didn't answer.
"Do you have a chart of the area?" I inquired, and, "...why don't we get any static on the radios, anyway? Do you mind if I test the transceivers?"
"Go ahead, and there are a bunch of sectionals and a Jeppesen behind the seat" Thip said, his eyes still carefully examining the horizon.
I put the charts on my lap and started playing with the radio selection panel.
Thip cleared his throat again. "Listen, JD. I just realized I was hoping for all kinds of things for my entire life. Always running behind something and never quite catching it... Now that I should hope with all my strength, it seems pointless..."
"DON'T! PLEASE!" I yelled, "DON'T _HOPE_, DAMMIT!"
Thip looked startled and helpless.
"'Hope' means to want something one can't have. The straight road into disaster," I added more calmly. "Promise me to not do this hoping shit now, PLEASE!"
"OK. OK. JD, Thip said, a bit confused. "But I think I'd rather have you take over the plane when we run out of fuel. We're over the calculated time already."
"No problem. I'll let it glide down and try to enter a stall at less then 6 feet over the crest of the waves. The moment the nose drops, open the door and be ready to release the seat belt and to jump ship. What's the best glide for this flyer
anyway, do you know?"
He didn't and he started to browse in his notes for an answer.
"When was the last time you talked to someone on the radio?" I asked Thip.
He looked up from his notes and said "At takeoff, I believe."
"BELIEVE?" I yelled. For the second time I nearly lost my temper.
"At takeoff," he said with an apologizing voice and I regretted that I had been so harsh with him.
"Believing means not-knowing, my friend," I said with a sigh. "Did you read the other party loud and clear, yes or no?"
"Eh, I just announced that we would take the runway for a right downwind departure. It was midnight. No one around..." Thip said, quite shy. His self-esteem seemed to have dropped to zero.
"Cheer up, buddy," I said more friendly, "I got static on COM1 and I've put in the emergency frequency, too. These selection panels can be a pain. And, it's time for another may-day broadcast."
Thip stared down at his notes, lost in thoughts.
"I would like to know how I can feel free and safe, you know," he said after a moment of silence, "...as a child, I can remember, there were a couple of
times, I felt like nothing could harm me. Do you mean something like that when you talk about 'being untouched'?"
"First things first - say your may-day again, Thip," I reminded him politely but with determination. "And start thinking if you don't better take off your
jacket and your shoes before we'll go for a swim."
Thip swallowed hard. "You don't seem to be worried at all, JD - are you so sure you won't go to hell or come back as a... I don't know what...?"
"If a tree is leaning over towards one side, do you think it would tip over to the other side when it gets chopped? Now say your may-day, pilot!" I answered calmly.
Halfway through the may-day broadcast Thip stopped and stared through the front shield. "There was a reflection, at 10 o'clock, I'm positive!"
"OK," I said, "...turn 30 degrees to the left and then straight and level. You didn't finish the may-day..."
Thip continued his message over the radio and then took a deep breath before browsing through his notes again.
I stretched forward, trying to see if there was really something ahead of us in the ocean.
"Best glide at 76 knots," Thip read aloud from his notes and quickly looked out the window again.
After a while, he said "what do you think, JD, that I should do if I would get another life? I mean, becoming a monk, or praying, or do Yoga, or something?"
I took a deep breath and answered "what goes up, will go down. You'll have another life as sure as this bird will hit the waves. Now, how about thinking for yourself
for a change? Not taking all the bull that is around; not waiting for something to happen; not justifying the failures but working hard to do it better next time...
Finding out how the mind is working, finding out what you do when you feel a certain emotion, trying to see behind things instead of taking stuff for its fake face value, and, of course, it is always a good idea to..."
The engine had quit without a warning. The silence came as a shock.
"I got the plane," I said quickly and feathered the prop. "76 knots you said?"
"Yup. But hold more to the left, if I'm not wrong, I saw another reflection down there..."
Thip put his left hand on the handle of the pilot's door.
"Floats along nicely at about 700 feet per minute sink rate. Out of 9,500, we'll have another thirteen minutes together, Thip, relax," I said. He had his nose pressed at the window, trying desperately to see something out there.
The noise of the wind alone is a scary thing to any pilot who is used to engine-powered airplanes.
I should have taken some times to fly gliders, I thought, but then I brushed all thoughts aside and forced my body to breathe deep and slowly.
The sun had been coming out of the dark blue ocean and an incredible range of shades of red and pastel blue set a beautiful stage for the bright disk of the rising
Not an entirely peaceful departure from this world, I thought, but at least a lot of aesthetics.
I looked over to Thip. He was calm, relaxed, and determined. Once a certain point has been passed, there is no need for panic anymore. He would certainly make a good pilot, I thought, just before I brushed my thoughts away for yet another time.
Seconds, minutes passed away in the eery white noise of the wind hitting an airplane descending at 76 knots airspeed. Thip was silent.
The shrill voice in the headset hit me without warning, hurting all of my senses, making me nearly let go of the yoke.
The voice was so loud that I couldn't understand what was said. I turned down the volume and made a sign to Thip that I was now in control of the radios, too.
"Hailing vessel, do you read me?" the voice said.
I pushed the transmitter button at the co-pilot's yoke. "Loud and clear, go ahead" I said.
"This is the MS Sunrise, en route to the Andaman Islands. We got your distress signal but we can't detect you on our radar. What kind of vessel are you?"
I pushed the button again "just a little airplane, two passengers, en route to Bangladesh, but a bit off course as it seems. Can you fire a rocket for us?"
"Roger. Will take about 30 seconds. Over." the voice in the radio answered.
Thip got all excited. "I can't believe this. I had lost every hope..."
"Cool down, Thip," I advised, "I'm glad to hear that you're not into hope and belief anymore, at least in for the moment... but it ain't over 'til the fat lady sings,
remember? Don't count the chicken before they hatch..."
Thip's emotional outbreak turned into cool determination again. He was a great guy, after all. I smiled.
"There it is," Thip exclaimed, and I could see it, too: a long, red line in the air ahead of us, just slightly to the left.
"MS Sunrise. We can see your signal. Please be ready to fire another one in plus five minutes. We're out of fuel and will have to float down as close as possible to you."
The voice in the radio answered cheerfully "Roger. don't worry! We have enough fireworks for two New Year's Eves on this vessel. And by now about everybody on this ship is watching out for you in the skies."
Two more signal rockets went up in front of us.
"We may be too close already," I exclaimed. "We're still over 7,000 feet high. Can you see the ship, actually?"
"In sight," Thip answered sharply.
I leaned over to have a better view. Eventually, I could make out a white spot in the ocean. And, indeed, the ship was quite close.
"I'll have to force it down," I said to Thip.
"Everybody is on deck. Come down safely. We're having a party. Don't spoil it!" said the voice in the radio. "Say, eh, you have a passenger, right? Is he is a guy, too?"
"Affirmative," I said with surprise, "why do you want to know? And.. no need to throw a big party, we're just glad if we'll be able to make it!"
"Great! Don't worry about the party... we're always having a party... it's a Club Med charter, you know. I'm just asking because, for some reason, we have way
too many ladies on this trip. Well, everybody is on the deck now and we'll be watching your landing, I guess."
"Every landing you walk away from is a GOOD landing," I said with a grin. "Even if it's getting a bit wet.."
"Don't worry, we'll take VERY good care of you guys down here, you won't believe it!" said the voice in the radio.
Thip looked at me. "Why do smile, JD?"
"Ah, nothing," I answered, "just enjoying the sunrise..."
I added yet another notch of flaps and initiated a steep descent.
[End of Log #290]