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The news swept across the Canadian airwaves and was picked up by other nations. A 737 with 86 people on board had gone down in the Canadian north. The first information was scant at best. No survivors were expected. Rescue teams were being flown in from Edmonton while skidoo rescue teams from Fort McMurray were racing to get to the site.
The phone call came and its high pitch was a message that Kevin Browne was being called in again. The form on the bed was spread out with the large hands surrounding a pillow as if it were a sleeping companion. The groan and protest showed that the brain at least was registering the demands of the telephone. He reached over and felt for the damned object.
"Yeah. What are you some sort of maniac? Do you know that I've had less than three hours sleep?"
The voice at the other end of the line said the appropriate excuses, but excuses were not acceptable, no matter if Kevin Browne was undergoing a life threatening operation he was still needed.
"All right what's happened?" He listened and his mind quickly formed an impression of the Canadian plane. "It's going to be like working on the moon. I've heard the temperatures are close to -50 what do you expect me and my team to do under those conditions?"
Again the impersonal voice gave the orders.
"So are the others ready? They got back yesterday, but I guess since this accident is on land it's better than the last two crashes. The one off Peggy's Cove and the other off New York were god awful to handle. Can you phone up Terry and tell him to break out the arctic gear. I have a terrible aversion to having my balls frozen off. They haven't beenused lately, but I have a belief that they are necessary."
The voice at the other end of the line chuckled. At least he got his boss to laugh. Air disasters were never that humourous. Those poor souls frozen stiff if they hadn't been burned up, were the least of his worries. It was the families and those left wondering that were the hardest part of the job. How long had he worked in Crash Investigation? It was going on six years. Six years after he had flunked out of Astronaut school. He had always wanted to become an astronaut and with his degree in avian engineering he had a good chance. Yet for all this efforts, his education and being a flyer his body had betrayed him. This first experience at flightlessness had left his body so confused it had taken him nearly three weeks to regain his normal orientation. Fifteen seconds in one of the special aircraft that was used to test candidates had proven he wasn't made out of the right stuff. Damn them all. Now he was finding out why others had screwed up. Pilot error, mechanical failure or terrorist actions were all part of his daily bread.
Jesus, now he had to go north into Canada and work on yet another accident. Things never seemed to slow down. The cold would be terrible. Well, if it didn't snow all the bodies would be frozen. The nineteenth of February was the beginning of the end of winter another six weeks and the old mother winter would be chased back to her den while spring thawed the land. Why had he so foolishly thought he might take his three weeks of holidays and find a deserted island with a nice girl who might suddenly take pity on an old man?
The boss Steven Rogers had done him proud not only was the team ready, but also their mode of transport was a fast Lear jet. They would be in Edmonton in four hours where already the Canadian Transport investigators, the Edmonton personnel responsible for that flight and the police were beginning the process of initiating an investigation.
Kevin spent the four-hour flight in getting some more shuteye. The weather report was a mixture of good news and worse news. The weather had warmed up nearly 20 degrees, but whether it was -50 or -30 seemed hardy an improvement. The bad news was a blizzard had descended and the on-sight crew were losing any visible signs of the crash. The orders had now been changed and any pieces of the aircraft big or small or in between were being ferried back on sleds drawn by the skidoos. A skidoo club from Fort McMurray was already transporting anything that the investigators could find before the snow buried the remainder.
That was not a good start from the investigation. It was best to take several photographs, using infrared and other measuring frequencies to get a complete picture of the point of impact and calculate the energies of impact and speed and angle. All this was necessary. The black boxes of the cockpit conversations, as well as the flight were needed. That was the first priority. The one site chief had confirmed that there were no survivors. Soon it would be like a homecoming. The science of aircraft disaster investigations had a short list of people who were needed. He'd have more people from the Canadian government, the aircraft manufacturer, the engine manufacturers as well as more of the FAA people all doing their part in trying to determine what actually had happened. All had a vested interest in proving it wasn't their engine, their airframe, their food, and their fuel that had caused the accident. Any way to divest their responsibility might save them millions of dollars in lawsuits and insurance. Oh, there were always two reasons for an investigation. One was to find the cause and the other was to find someone to blame.
For some if it could be shown was an act of God or an act of a terrorist it would no longer be their fault and the insurance companies covering them would be able to breath easier. Eighty-six people were dead. There had to be a reason why. No matter who was finally tagged for the majority of the blame tens of millions of dollars would be spent in court cases and settlements. Kevin's field was rather more specific. Sometimes he and his crew were in and out quickly, other times it was a damned deadly time consuming task. You could spend weeks or months teasing out the story. This snowstorm was not going to make things any easier. For the first three days they were collecting experts faster than remains of the aircraft. He had been given a small office to start the investigation. He looked up; Captain Saunders from the BASH team grinned as he too arrived.
"I thought you would give this one a pass! There aren't many birds flying around at -50 degrees."
"Hell, don't look at me! I'm following orders. I was working on an Executive jet that had a bird hit. Those small jets aren't as strong as the commercial ones and the windscreen took a turkey vulture through it and decapitated the captain. The man in the co-pilot's chair wasn't a pilot and the plane hit the ground full bore. We are still trying to finish up there. It happened four hours after your accident. Hell, we don't even know who the passenger was. The flight plan said it was coming from Calgary with its destination to be Los Angeles."
"It's still good to see you. I don't think you need to stick around I can't see that a bird could have been involved.
"Well if you give me a written order as the chief of investigations I'll be able to satisfy my boss that I was here and did the proper thing. Then I can go back and see if I can dig those poor souls out from the muck of a cranberry bog. Oh, it seems one of the passengers on your crash was a big wig and the powers on high want to make sure we don't discount anything."
Saunders was an old friend and his expertise in bird strikes had been useful in the past. It was very doubtful that a Snowy owl had put the 737 down, yet stranger things had happened.
"Syncrude has given us a store house that will do for a start. The skidooers are bringing in any parts they can find. It's too bad about the storm. I think unless we are lucky and we find what happened, it's going to be springtime before we can get everything recovered. I don't know what sort of announcement is going to be made." Kevin said.
"Has the administrator told you if the CIA or FBI are working with the RCMP?"
Kevin nodded his head. "I expect them to be here like fleas on a dog if there is any suggestion that this flight was sabotaged. That's all we need. What flavour of the month in terrorists are we dealing with today?"
Saunders grinned. "How the hell should I know? They don't tell me anything. Are you coming up to Fort McMurray today or are you coming later?"
"My team will be up shortly. We just got back from another site where that German did a nosedive into the sea near Peggy's Cove. At least there we feel it had to do with overheated wires and the faulty insulation."
Copyright © 2007 George Laidlaw.