Free Fall by Rick Mofina is the latest Kate Page thriller, featuring crises in the skies, pilots with no control, investigators with no answers, and a looming disaster.
Read this exclusive excerpt from Free Fall by Rick Mofina, and make sure you're signed in and comment below for a chance to win the latest Kate Page thriller!
High above the Adirondack Mountains, a commuter flight to New York City turns into a rolling, twisting nightmare, plunging from the sky before the crew regains control. Then, in London, a jetliner crashes into the runway, killing fifteen people.
Reporter Kate Page believes something beyond mechanical—or human—error is behind the incidents that have air investigators baffled. But the mystery deepens as teams scramble to pinpoint a link between the tragedies, and Kate receives an untraceable message from someone boasting responsibility and threatening another event.
As Kate, the FBI and the NTSB race to find answers, the shadow figures behind the operation launch their most devastating plan yet, and time ticks down on one of the greatest tragedies the world has ever known.
The sprawl of metropolitan London flowed under Shikra Airlines Flight 418 as it approached Heathrow.
The six-hour flight from Kuwait City had been a smooth one for Captain Fahad Al-Anjari, the crew, and for their two hundred passengers aboard the Starglide Blue Wing 250.
Al-Anjari was one of Shikra’s top pilots with some twenty-five years’ experience with the Kuwaiti airline. His seniority afforded him the Kuwait City–to–London route, considered one of the airline’s plum assignments. Al-Anjari had flown it nearly a hundred times and had always enjoyed it.
He loved flying the Starglide Blue Wing 250. It was a modern plane, equipped with easy-to-use computers, and had an admirable safety record. It responded well in all conditions, and always gave a smooth ride.
He loved the views over London, starting with the Thames. Each time he saw it, he thought of Joseph Conrad’s passage in Heart of Darkness about the river evoking a large snake twisting deep into the country.
Flight 418 continued its descent and was minutes from landing. It was vectored for a visual approach to Heathrow’s Runway 27L, the airport’s southern runway. The autopilot and autothrottle were engaged. As the jetliner passed over the rows of homes crammed together in Hounslow, a suburb bordering the airport, it was ninety seconds from touchdown.
Al-Anjari had extended the landing gear.
The jet had now descended to one thousand feet and was fully configured for the landing. When the plane reached eight hundred feet Al-Anjari took manual control of the aircraft, instructing Khalid Marafi, the copilot, to disconnect the autopilot at seven hundred feet.
Marafi disengaged the autopilot.
At fifty seconds from landing, Al-Anjari, now in control, commanded more thrust from both engines. Both engines initially responded, but seemed disturbingly reduced to a trickle of power.
“What the hell’s this?” Al-Anjari couldn’t believe it. “What’s going on?”
At thirty-five seconds from touchdown, Al-Anjari and Marafi scrambled to identify the cause for the loss of thrust.
“I don’t know what’s happening!” Marafi said. “Our speed is dropping fast! We’re not going to reach the runway!” He scanned the instruments for the problem. The fuel level was okay, the pumps were okay, no fire indicators, no malfunctions. “We’ve got a double engine failure! The engines have been switched off!”
“Switched off? How? We didn’t do that! Try restarting!”
They commanded a restart without response. Nothing worked.
Al-Anjari’s throat tightened as he scanned the rooftops of Hounslow and noticed a petrol station ahead.
Not here! Oh God, please, not here!
Now at twelve seconds before touchdown, a buzzer sounded and a robotic voice warned, “Air speed low! Air speed low!” Then the stick shaker activated and the control column physically vibrated, indicating that the aircraft was about to stall.
“We’re going to crash!” Marafi shouted.
Al-Anjari reached for the cabin PA system and announced to the passengers, “Brace! Brace! Brace for hard landing!” Then he radioed the tower. “Four one eight, Mayday! Mayday!”
At five seconds before impact, the jet just cleared the houses of Hounslow and the petrol station, coming so low to traffic on the A30 motorway that ran along the airport’s south side that vehicles swerved to avoid the airliner’s landing gear.
In the moment before impact, Al-Anjari pulled back on the control column and thought of his wife and children, flying kites and picnicking amid the southern dunes, praying he would see them again.
The jet came down in the grassy undershoot of the runway about two hundred and fifty yards inside the airfield perimeter fence. The right wingtip hit the ground first, followed by the right main landing gear. The wing disintegrated and the landing gear broke away as the plane skidded, then lifted and rolled, cartwheeling to an inverted position.
As it tumbled down the right side of the runway, the plane broke up. The rear tail section separated, taking several rows with it. While most passengers were belted in their seats, others spilled from the plane to the ground as it bounced along.
The main fuselage, the large center section, remained intact. As it slid and rolled, passengers were rocked loose in the cabin, some catapulted through it and out of the gaping hole left by the separated tail section. The metallic grind was deafening as passengers in the cabin were jerked and shaken like toys. The section seemed to slide forever before coming to a stop upside down.
People still belted were hanging in their seats. Blood dripped everywhere, and severed legs, arms and hands were scattered about the cabin. In some areas, the fuselage had been crushed, trapping people in coffins of compacted metal, their bleeding hands reaching out. The air filled with screaming, moaning and the overpowering smell of jet fuel.
“I can’t find my husband!” One woman cried. “Help me find my husband!”
As people began disentangling themselves and helping others, a ball of fire shot down the cabin, blasting it with heat and a kerosene smell. In the choking smoke, people fought to help each other, struggling to the daylight and away from the wreckage amid the wail of approaching sirens.
The crash track was clawed into the earth. It was strewn with passengers, some unconscious, some dazed, in a trail that led to the severed tail section. The people in that section who were able to helped others free themselves, then stumbled aimlessly, staring at the foul cloud of black smoke rising from the main fuselage.
The cockpit had separated and had come to rest some seventy yards down the runway.
Amid the dust and swirling smoke, rescuers pulled bleeding crew members from the wreckage. Captain Al-Anjari passed in and out of consciousness as he glimpsed the scene: his plane in smoldering pieces, passengers staggering through the carnage.
Amid the cries of victims and sirens, he turned his head to the sky, as if the answer to the horror was written there.
Copyright © 2016 Rick Mofina.
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Rick Mofina is a former crime reporter and the award-winning author of several acclaimed thrillers. He's interviewed murderers face-to-face on death row; patrolled with the LAPD and the RCMP. His true crime articles have appeared in The New York Times, Marie Claire, Reader’s Digest and Penthouse. He's reported from the U.S., Canada, the Caribbean, Africa, Qatar and Kuwait's border with Iraq. For more information please visit www.rickmofina.com