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Home > Airframe(3)

Airframe(3)
Author: Michael Crichton

"It's Transpacific Flight 545, incoming from Hong Kong to Denver. Pilot's requested emergency landing at LAX. Says they encountered turbulence during flight."

"Is the plane airworthy?'

"They say it is," Levine said. "They've got injuries, and they've requested forty ambulances."

"Forty?"

"They've also got two stiffs."

"Great." Greene got up from his desk. "When's it due in?"

"Eighteen minutes."

"Eighteen minutes - Jeez, why am I getting this so late?"

"Hey, the captain just told us, we're telling you. I've notified EMS and alerted the fire crews."

"Fire crews? I thought you said the plane's okay."

"Who knows?" the woman said. "The pilot is not making much sense. Sounds like he might be in shock. We hand off to the tower in seven minutes."

"Okay," Greene said. "I'm on my way."

He grabbed his badge and his cell phone and went out the door. As he passed Karen, the receptionist, he said, "Have we got anybody at the international terminal?"

"Kevin's there."

"Beep him," Greene said. 'Tell him to get on TPA 545, inbound Hong Kong, landing in fifteen. Tell him to stay at the gate - and don't let the flight crew leave."

"Got it," she said, reaching for the phone.

Greene roared down Sepulveda Boulevard toward the airport. Just before the highway ran beneath the runway, he looked up and saw the big Transpacific Airlines widebody, identifiable by its bright yellow tail insignia, taxiing toward the gate. Transpacific was a Hong Kong-based charter carrier. Most of the problems the FAA had with foreign airlines occurred with charters. Many were low-budget operators that didn't match the rigorous safety standards of the scheduled carriers. But Transpacific had an excellent reputation.

At least the bird was on the ground, Greene thought. And he couldn't see any structural damage to the widebody. The plane was an N-22, built by Norton Aircraft in Burbank. The plane had been in revenue service five years, with an enviable dispatch and safety record.

Greene stepped on the gas and rushed into the tunnel, passing beneath the giant aircraft.

He sprinted through the international building. Through the windows, he saw the Transpacific jet pulled up to the gate, and the ambulances lined up on the concrete below. The first of them was already driving out, its siren whining.

Greene came to the gate, flashed his badge, and ran down the ramp. Passengers were disembarking, pale and frightened. Many limped, their clothes torn and bloody. On each side of die ramp, paramedics clustered around the injured.

As he neared the plane, the nauseating odor of vomit grew stronger. A frightened TransPac stewardess pushed him back at the door, chartering at him rapidly in Chinese. He showed her his badge and said, "FAA! Official business! FAA!" The stewardess stepped back, and Greene slid past a mother clutching an infant and stepped into the plane.

He looked at the interior, and stopped. "Oh my God," he said softly. "What happened to this plane?"

GLENDALE, CALIFORNIA

6:00 A.M.

"Mom? Who do you like better, Mickey Mouse or Minnie Mouse?"

Standing in the kitchen of her bungalow, still wearing her jogging shorts from her five-mile morning run, Casey Singleton finished making a tuna sandwich and put it in her daughter's lunch box. Singleton was thirty-six years old, a vice-president at Norton Aircraft in Burbank. Her daughter sat at the breakfast table, eating cereal.

"Well?" Allison said. "Who do you like better, Mickey Mouse or Minnie Mouse?' She was seven, and she ranked everything.

"I like them both," Casey said.

"I know, Mom," Allison said, exasperated. "But who do you like better?'

"Minnie."

"Me, too," she said, pushing the carton away.

Casey put a banana and a thermos of juice in the lunch box, closed the lid. "Finish eating, Allison, we have to get ready."

"What's quart?"

"Quart? It's a measure of liquid."

"No, Mom, Qua-urt" she said.

Casey looked over and saw that her daughter had picked up her new laminated plant ID badge, which had Casey's picture, and beneath that C. SINGLETON and then in large blue letters, QA/IRT.

"What's Qua-urt

"It's my new job at the plant. I'm the Quality Assurance rep on the Incident Review Team."

"Are you still making airplanes?" Ever since the divorce Allison had been extremely attentive to change. Even a minor alteration in Casey's hairstyle prompted repeated discussions, the subject brought up again and again, over many days. So it wasn't surprising she had noticed the new badge.

"Yes, Allie," she said, "I'm still making airplanes. Everything's the same. I just got a promotion."

"Are you still a BUM?" she said.

Allison had been delighted, the year before, to learn that Casey was a Business Unit Manager, a BUM. "Mom's a bum," she'd tell her friends' parents, to great effect.

"No, Allie. Now get your shoes on. Your dad'll be picking you up any minute."

"No, he won't," Allison said. "Dad's always late. What's your promotion?"

Casey bent over and began pulling on her daughter's sneakers. "Well," she said, "I still work at QA, but I don't check the planes in the factory any more. I check them after they leave the plant."

'To make sure they fly?"

"Yes, honey. We check them and fix any problems."

"They better fly," Allison said, "or else they'll crash!" She began to laugh. "They'll all fall out of the sky! And hit everybody in their houses, right while they're eating their cereal! That wouldn't be too good, would it, Mom?"

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