With the airline in confusion, the media pursuing, and the hijacker forcing the aircraft into wild maneuvers as they head toward Salt Lake City, the FBI reluctantly fields its closest hostage negotiator, a rookie female agent and psychologist named Katherine Bronsky. Immediately, Bronsky finds herself sucked into the vortex of an impossible war of wills between a volatile, unstable hijacker holding the trigger to a bomb and stonewalling Justice Department officials who have no real intention of meeting the lone gunman's demands.
When the hijacker suddenly refuses to land at Salt Lake City, Kat commandeers a business jet and races after the low-flying 737. As the jetliner runs low on fuel, she's stunned to discover that the man with the gun is none other than the murdered girl's father, and that one of his hostages is a front-runner to become the new Attorney General of the United States.
Successful at last in getting him to land in a remote Colorado airport, Bronsky's brave and desperate attempts to reason with the hijacker backfire, and she becomes a hostage herself. Now discounted and ignored by her superiors in Washington for losing control, Bronsky's only hope to save the passengers and crew of AirBridge Flight 90 is tosolve the wrenching mystery of who killed an eleven-year-old girl in a dark Connecticut forest two years before. And for that, all she has is an airborne phone and precious few hours before the bomb detonates.
Nance ratchets up the tension with expertly crafted twists and turns that converge into an unforgettably wrenching dilemma. But one thing finally becomes clear. The only person who can safely land AirBridge Flight 90 and save its 130 passengers is dangerously close to death. And if the clock runs out, The Last Hostage will never see the light of day.
|Edition description:||Abridged, 4 cassettes, 6 hrs.|
|Product dimensions:||4.28(w) x 7.16(h) x 1.43(d)|
About the Author
John J. Nance, aviation analyst for ABC News and a familiar face on Good Morning America, is the author of several bestselling novels including Fire Flight, Skyhook, Turbulence, and Orbit. Two of his novels, Pandora’s Clock and Medusa’s Child, have been made into highly successful television miniseries. A lieutenant colonel in the U.S. Air Force Reserve, Nance is a decorated pilot veteran of Vietnam and Operations Desert Storm/Desert Shield. He lives in Washington State.
Read an Excerpt
AirBridge Airlines Dispatch Center, Colorado Springs International Airport. 10:45 A.M.
Judy Smith heard something ceramic breaking and looked up to see Verne Garcia leap to his feet and gesture to her frantically, his eyes wide. She moved quickly to his side as he covered the mouthpiece and turned to her, barely glancing at the broken cup on the floor, the blood draining from his face.
"Judy, we've got a big, big problem. Flight Ninety's gone airborne and left the first officer behind!"
Judy stood in confusion for a few seconds, wondering how Garcia could have garbled his words badly enough to convey such a bizarre meaning.
"Ninety's airborne and the first officer left something behind?" she asked.
"No, no, no! The captain and the flight are airborne. What they left behind was the copilot. There was no maintenance signoff as far as we know, either. I have him on the phone here. He's on the ground in Durango and panicked."
"Which copilot? A deadheading copilot?"
"The copilot assigned to that flight. He's on the ground in Durango and on line eight. The plane is in the air without him."
"How in hell could that happen? The copilot? No way!"
"I'm not kidding, Judy. Please pick up an extension."
She lunged for the telephone on the next desk and punched the appropriate line.
"This is the director of flight control. Who's this?"
"First Officer David Gates, ma'am."
"Where are you?"
"Durango. On the ground. The flight's left without me. As far as I know, the only pilot on that plane is the captain, and I don't have any idea why he'd leave unless he was forcedto."
"Forced? You mean, hijacked?"
"I . . . I can't figure out any other explanation." The voice on the other end was anguished and tinged with panic, the young pilot's breath coming in short bursts as he ran through an explanation of his fruitless trip to the south end of the field and the utter shock of finding the airplane poised for takeoff when he'd returned.
"Wait a minute. There was no mechanic?"
"There was a mechanic; I mean, there is a maintenance facility there, but this Gus I was supposed to find died several years ago, so I wasn't able to get anyone to come look at the engine, and when I got back, Ken had left me and a passenger and was at the end of the runway.'
"You said a passenger was left behind, too?"
"Yes, ma'am. I'll put him on in a minute. His wife's still on the aircraft and he's very upset."
"How long ago did the airplane leave?"
"Five minutes max."
"Hold on!" Judy turned to Verne Garcia. "Get Albuquerque Center on the horn. Find out if they're working Ninety, and where he's going. Get me the controller."
"Got it." Verne Garcia turned away and began punching numbers into his phone as Judy turned back to the conversation with a shaken David Gates.
"David, is it?"
"Yes. David Gates."
"Okay, David. Did you see any indication that someone might have slipped on board?"
"No. The plane was beginning its takeoff roll when I spotted it. But there was no security on the ramp. Anyone could have boarded. There were line boys around, but I haven't asked them."
"David, this is very important. What, exactly, makes you think he was hijacked?"
"There's no other logical explanation. No one in his right mind would fly a two person airliner without a copilot unless he was forced to do so, or it was a war and someone was shooting at him."
Judy felt her mind race through a variety of possibilities. The copilot was right. No other rational explanation existed. If the flight was airborne without a copilot, then it had to have been hi jacked, and they had a major problem.
"What do you want me to do?" Gates was asking.
"Give me the number where you are, stay right there by that phone, and . . . ah . . . don't talk to anyone about this yet."
"Don't worry, I won't! You want me to put on the passenger who was left?"
"Tell him I'll call back. Not now."
"Okay, but he's really, really worried. His wife's on that aircraft."
Judy replaced the phone and glanced over at Verne Garcia, who was talking urgently into his handset. Several off-duty dispatchers had begun to congregate in the area, each of them straining to hear what was happening. She turned and surveyed who was available, and pointed to the nearest one.
"Jim, get the FBI on the phone and stand by for me to come on the line. Jerry, will you go to my desk and get the emergency procedures manual and start going through the hijacking procedures? Rashid, are you working any flights?"
"No. What do you need?"
"Call the chief pilot, the VP of operations, and corporate communications. Fill them in."
"On what, Judy? I don't know what's happening."
"Oh, sorry. Okay, everyone, gather around. Here's what we've got so far."
Albuquerque Air Route Traffic Control Center. 10:50 A.M. -
Air traffic controller Avis Bair took another sip of coffee and double-checked the altitude block on AirBridge 90. As cleared, the pilot had leveled at flight level two-one-zero, twenty-one thousand feet above t he four corners area of northwestern New Mexico and northeastern Arizona and checked in with the usual expressionless, deep male voice. It was curious, she thought, that his emergency diversion to Durango had ended so quickly. At least 90 was taken care of now and on his way, leaving her free to deal with a developing conflict between an American jet and a United jet, with one overtaking the other at the same altitude, both bound for Los Angeles. The guy in the lead was being a genuine slug and flying much too slowly.
Avis had poised her finger over the transmit button when an alarm suddenly sounded in her ear. A small phosphorescent information block next to AirBridge 90's target began flashing simultaneously, displaying a transponder code she had never seen in actual practice.
Obviously a mistake, she thought, but just in case, there were specific procedures to follow. She felt a sudden rush of adrenaline as she glanced to her left, curious as to whether the beeping alarm had attracted anyone else's attention.
It hadn't. No one else was looking her way.
Avis leaned forward and studied the data block on the screen again, double-checking that it said what she thought it said.
She pushed the transmit button. "AirBridge Ninety, Albuquerque Center. I show you squawking seventy-five hundred on your transponder, sir. Is that correct?"
She felt her heart beating loudly as she waited for the answer.
"Affirmative, Center. I am purposefully squawking seventy-five hundred. I have an uninvited guest in the cockpit."
Avis sat back, suddenly filled with adrenaline. The real thing! This was the real thing! Seventy-five hundred meant a hijacking, and this was a commercial airliner.
She swiveled around and shouted at her supervisor, then turned back to her scope.
"Roger, AirBridge Ninety, I do copy that the seventy-five hundred squawk is valid. Please maintain flight level two-one-zero and stand by."
Aboard AirBridge Flight 90. 10:55 A.M.
Her hands were shaking slightly, but Annette struggled to hide her apprehension as she did a quick drink service for her first class passengers. She had returned to the galley to think when she heard the engines throttle back and Ken Wolfe's strained voice on the P.A.
"Folks, this is the captain. We have a small treat for you today. I know we're running late getting you to Phoenix, but since air traffic control is slowing us down for traffic flow into the Phoenix airport, and since they're taking us right over Monument Valley, Utah, we've gotten approval to go down for a closer look. We'll get you into Phoenix just as soon as they let us, but in the meantime, enjoy the view which will be coming up in about five minutes."
Annette pulled the interphone handset from its cradle and punched the cockpit call button. Ken answered rapidly.
"Ken, I need to talk to you."
"So talk, Annette."
"As your lead flight attendant, I want to come into the cockpit and talk with you right now. Ken, what's going on?"
"Annette, coming up right now could prove a bit difficult. What, exactly, are you concerned about?"
She leaned against the forward door with the phone pressed to her ear, wondering if she was having some sort of paranoid delusion. Maybe it was ridiculous to be worried, but the fact remained that refusing her entrance to the cockpit meant that he had something to hide, and she could feel herself panicking. She knew Ken Wolfe to be changeable and distant, but he wasn't the type to shut out his flight attendants. There could be several reasons for the refusal, none of them good.
What if he's got that other pilot flying in the right seat illegally, and he doesn't want me to know? We'd be at risk. I'd have to do something.
"Captain, please let me speak to David."
There was a chilling pause. If David was on the jumpseat instead of his copilot's seat, he might lie about it to protect the captain and himself. It was illegal for any pilot from another company to occupy the captain's or copilot's seat in a commercial jet.
"He's busy, Annette. He'll talk to you later."
"Now, please. I want to talk to him now. Or isn't he in the right seat? Ken, dammit, level with me!"
Another long pause, then the click of the push-to-talk button. Ken Wolfe's voice was suddenly different, carrying a more authoritative tone.
"Okay, Annette. You're right. Listen carefully, because I'm under some tight constraints here. David isn't here."
"Wh . . . what?"
"Someone else is up here, and he's insisting on telling us where to go."
Annette closed her eyes, trying to find a better explanation than the one now looming in her mind.
But nothing else fit. She had to ask, though the words threatened to choke her. "Ken?"
"Are we . . . are we hijacked?"
Another chilling pause that seemed to last forever.
"That's affirmative, Annette. Back there in Durango. He suddenly barged in and slammed the door and put a gun to my head. Well you did, damn you!" Annette heard the volume of his voice diminish as he addressed the occupant of the right seat.
"Oh God, Ken. One person?"
"Yep, and he's waving a gun at me right now to end this conversation. He says that you must not tell the passengers. He says he's not going to hurt anyone, but he demands to go where he demands to go."
"I don't know, Annette, other than Monument Valley. First he wants to see Monument Valley up close. Then he'll let me know, and I'll let you know. In the meantime, keep quiet about this."
"How about Bev and Kevin? They need to know what's happening."
"No. I'll be listening to this channel, and so will he. You can't tell them. He says you can't tell them anything."
"Is it the guy in Eighteen-D, Ken? The guy you asked to come up? His name is Beck."
There was no response.
"Ken? Are you still there?"
There was a click, indicating the interphone had been disconnected. She looked at the handset like it was a ticking bomb, then replaced it slowly in its cradle, trying to imagine the man in 18D as the hijacker.
The image didn't fit. Not with such a young face and a pretty young wife back there in 18E.
Annette entered the galley feeling dizzy. She pulled the curtain behind her, vaguely aware that the 737 was descending, her mind whirling.
She could see the desert floor getting closer outside the small window in the galley door as a feeling of helpless confusion paralyzed her, the same question running over and over in her mind:
What on earth do I do now?
On Monday, February 9, barnesandnoble.com welcomed John J. Nance, author of THE LAST HOSTAGE.
Moderator from barnesandnoble.com: Good evening, and welcome back to the barnesandnoble.com Auditorium.
John J. Nance: Thank you, it's wonderful to be here. I have been having a great deal of fun learning the ropes of online chats in the past year and a half, and have been looking forward to this. Fire away!
Rory from Florida: Hello, Mr. Nance. I read PANDORA'S CLOCK and MEDUSA'S CHILD (I own both of them), and I must say that it is a honor to speak to the man that placed a virus aboard a Boeing 747 (my favorite airplane) and a nuclear bomb aboard a 727. I have two questions for you 1) Is there any place where I can obtain a copy of the "Pandora's Clock" miniseries? I checked the Blockbusters in my area and I can't find any copy of it. 2)Why was the "Medusa's Child" miniseries so different from the book? Thanks a bunch!!!!
John J. Nance: Hello, Rory! Good questions in good political fashion. Let me take the second one first and the first one second. MEDUSA'S CHILD, like all of my books when translated to screen, are filtered through the minds of screenwriters familiar with the TV genre. In the case of MEDUSA'S CHILD, I had a wonderful writer -- now friend -- named Ellen Westin, whose long experience in translating books to screen was very faithful originally to the book, but who like all TV screenwriters had to change the script due ot a combination of network orders and the realities of budget. Specifically, we lost the carrier landing due to the refusal of the director to use a more economical method of re-creating the end of the book. I felt that the resulting film was very good -- and I was, in fact, the technical adviser on it -- but we're always going to see a different story in essence and characters when translated to the small screen. I was proud of the fact that with only a few exceptions, it was technically very accurate, even to the "callouts" that the pilots give to each other during flight. Stay tuned! I'll be an executive producer of the next one, with a little more ability to keep it faithful to the book. Now, the first question, Where can you get a copy of "Pandora's Clock" in videotape?" From NBC directly. Unfortunatley, I don't have a number for you, but NBC can sell the copies directly to the public, even though tney haven't released them to video stores, yet. "Medusa's Child," unfortunately, is not yet available from ABC.
Kevin from Athens, OH: Hi, Mr. Nance. What kind of changes emerged from the shakeup to the industry that resulted from Pan Am flight 103? What about Flight 800 -- is it too early to say? Thanks, Kevin.
John J. Nance: Well, Kevin, Pan Am 103 proved beyond doubt two things. Number one, an airline that takes a flip or cavalier approach to security in a situation of international vulnerability is to be held both criminally and civilly responsible for the results of what amounts to, in legal terms (forgive me that I'm a lawyer) malfeasance. Number two, it proves as well that when an airline as formerly well loved as Pan Am deteriorates to the point of losing public trust -- which was the result of PanAm 103's revelations -- it will not be capable of surviving financially. It was a sad performance by a once-great carrier, but there was no excuse for the Pan Am attitude before 103 in Frankfurt. As for TWA 800, while we have no conclusion on what caused the spark that ignited the volatile mix of vapors in the center fuel tank, we have learned a great deal about the aging structures of large jetliners, and despite the accident, we learned that we can have a great degree of confidence in the resiliency of such airframes, as strange a conclusion as that may sound. You see, it took a massive explosion to tear that airplane apart. In fact, no similar airborne fuel-tank explosion has ever occured before, nor is it likely to ever occur again. Nevertheless, the resulting massive investigation by the National Transportation Safety Board, Boeing, and many other aviation entities, have led us to the conclusion that either inerting fuel tanks with nonflammable gases or controlling the temperature of near-empty tanks, are steps that must be taken in the future. Aviation, to a greater degree than any other industry I know, learns very rapidly from its mistakes. This was a classic example of that.
Sluggo from firstname.lastname@example.org: Dear Mr. Nance This is by far your best thriller since FINAL APPROACH, and it seemed to me to resonate many similar elements of structure and style. First, where did the general idea for this one come from, and second, to what extent did you consider matching the intensity of the events in FINAL APPROACH while writing it?
John J. Nance: I appreciate very much not only the favorable comparison with FINAL APPROACH, Sluggo, but also your statement that this is my best work yet. That's precisely how I feel. What I was trying to accomplish was to once again tell an exciting human story using an aircraft as the stage (never the subject) and in doing so, to expand it into a deliciously intense psychological thriller in which the medium (the airplane) becomes transparent, and the conflict of the personalities and what they seek to accomplish respectively maintains a breakneck speed -- as it would in real life in such an incident. I have to tell you that as much as I have enjoyed my other characters in my other books, not since Joe Wallingford, Senator Kell Martinson, or his almost-lost love Cindy in FINAL APPROACH have I been so enthralled with what my characters became during the writing. I happen to feel that the Captain here, Ken Wolf, gave me the greatest opportunity I've yet had to run the full spectrum of emotions that an otherwise-controlled professional would display in a situation of such intensity. In addition, I simply love the character of Kat Bronsky -- so much so that Kat will appear in the next book as well. Ultimately, what I'm trying to accomplish is to give you a thrilling ride through projected reality against the background of my world of aviation.
Sandi from North Carolina: Thank you for a super novel. I finished it yesterday and enjoyed it even more than MEDUSA'S CHILD. I have a question for you about your last Barnes & Noble chat. In it you were asked a question about new novels, and you responded you were one-third finished with a novel named "Cassandra's Song." Did this novel evolve into THE LAST HOSTAGE?? Or, is another novel being released in 1998?? Thanks again!
John J. Nance: I'm impressed, Sandi! Not only do I appreciate the grade of "super" but am flattered that you would remember last year's appearance here to the degree of remembering the name of "Cassandra's Song." Indeed, the title simply changed, as happens often in publishing, but the book is precisely the same as the one I referenced last year. In fact, I'll share a little internal tidbit with you on this. I had the idea of perpetuating the use of mythological-based titles when I conceived that title but discarded it in recognition of the fact that this story was another leap forward, let's say, in the type of breadth and scope of the tale I wanted to tell. Looking back, however, as my wife has pointed out, if we had named the captain's murdered daughter Cassandra, the title would have fit like a glove. Bless you for remembering!
Dorian from West Springfield, MA: Hi! I thoroughly enjoyed MEDUSA'S CHILD, and I am really looking forward to reading THE LAST HOSTAGE! Keep up the great work! I stumbled upon your books only recently through a friend, and I had never read any "airplane disaster" novels before...but you seem to be the big name for this genre. My question is, was it a genre before you began writing? Did you invent it, or were you building on the works of other writers? Thanks very much!
John J. Nance: Thanks, Dorian, for the kind words about MEDUSA'S CHILD. I am sure you are going to like THE LAST HOSTAGE as well. You bring up a fascinating point. I envision myself as having planned (and you might say plotted -- no pun intended) for some years now to create this genre in the same way that Clancy created himself as a writer of techno-thrillers (with nuts and bolts in all directions), and the way John Grisham has so effectively created his unique genre against a background of southern law. I have more than a little kinship with John, however, on several fronts -- not the least of which is the fact that we are both Doubleday authors. The most important aspect, however, is that John Grisham tells galvinizing stories of ordinary individuals in extraordinary circumstances against the background of his stage of southern law. I do precisely the same thing but simply move in different scenery -- linguistic flats replete with airplanes in motion. In other words, I tell stories about people on a moving stage, but otherwise, the approach, the intensity, the pacing, and the deeply held intent to entertain and take you on a wild ride is precisely the same. Now, hey, this isn't a plea to snag John's readers, although if you like his books you'll like mine -- but it is to say that what you will not find in my books is just airplane disasters. First, last, and always, I write about people (and as my friends at Boeing can tell you, very few aerospace vehicles -- airplanes -- ever crash in my books).
Penny from Nashville, TN: In your acknowledgements, you thank FBI vet Larry Montague, who helped you make sure you represented the FBI correctly. Did you deviate from his advice anywhere in the book for the sake of the story? Where was he most helpful? What in this book is most typical of their approach?
John J. Nance: Actually, Penny, I gave Larry the entire book and asked him to please jump on me with hobnailed boots if he found anything that deviated from the bureau that he served for so long. I've got to tell you, I did so with a certain measure of trepidation because the book had already been completed at that point, using my research to date on the FBI, their people, and their methods. I was somewhat stunned and overjoyed when Larry gave it back to me with fewer than two pages of notes. My main concern had not been the procedural -- I was pretty sure I had that right. My main worry was that the relationship to the rest of the agency of a young female agent with advanced education, as in Katherine Bronsky's case (psychologist) had to be exactly right, especially since there was an obvious male expectation that a young female would foul up the assignment at that stage in her career -- an expectation that in my opinion would have stemmed in no small part from a combination of gender bias and plain old testosterone-soaked thinking. To be told by a veteran male agent that I had gotten it precisely right was very gratifying. I really wasn't looking forward to overhauling the book or recreating Kat.
Jeremy from Norfolk, NB: Was there a particular event that sparked your new novel, THE LAST HOSTAGE? Do you know of any such cases, where the pilot hijacks his own plane?
John J. Nance: Fortunately, Jeremy, I am unaware of any such case actually happening in commercial aviation. That in no way means that it could not happen if the appropriate checks and balances were not there in most of established aviation to maintain a corporate awareness of the stability and emotional health of the human beings who operate at the "sharp end" -- the crucible of the commercial cockpit. We are, after all, (in "Star Trek" terms) carbon-based units, and as such we are generically incapable of being perfect. In fact, there is no way to tell a Ken Wolf in real life -- a father who as in this case had lost so much and endured so much rage and pain -- to simply "go do your job and don't let all that bother you." We have to be constantly aware of not only our physical health but our emotional health as well, and only an airline dedicated to providing the safest and most stable air transportation system (not just rip off as much money as possible, as with Valu-Jet) can uphold such a requirement. The Ken Wolf in the story would have been grounded many months before reaching his trigger point in a stable airline, not as a punishment but in terms of getting him help. The event that sparked this book was the Oklahoma City bombing, and the introspective thought as a veteran airline pilot that all too often the enemy is within each of us and does not require the wild-eyed intervention of someone trying to make a bloody statement. The human nature of aviation and its recognition has been a revolution in the past 20 years of air safety, and that, too, guided my thinking here.
Harry from Frankfort, KY: I read that you flew in Vietnam, Desert Storm, and Desert Shield. How did the plane tactics and your role as a pilot differ in these different events? Also, can we expect a memoir from you, someday? Thanks.
John J. Nance: Great question, Harry! I flew for 23 years as a C-141 aircraft commander through (as you pointed out) two wars. Since our duties were primarily transport, we ran it like an airline with great adherence to procedures, smootheness, reiability, and getting our "client" servicemen and -women where they needed to go. To that extent, it was the same as the airline world, only the coffee was much worse, and the navigators tended to eat our lunches without permission. I doubt I would inflict a memoir on my audience, but I have for a long time had a substantial amount of background writing toward an eventual book which -- with respect to Joe Heller -- would be more in the vein of a modern CATCH-22.
Ron from Columbia, MO: When can we expect your next book? Are any more of your books be made into movies soon?
John J. Nance: My goal is to release a major thriller every year. I'm glad to say THE LAST HOSTAGE is scheduled ot be made into a four-hour ABC miniseries for release this fall, and I'm increasingly interested in working with my friends at Columbia-Tri-Star on not only bringing past stories to the screen but original work as well, written specifically for screen. A new frontier, as it were. Stay tuned!
Moderator from barnesandnoble.com: Thanks so much to John J. Nance for joining us this evening to chat about THE LAST HOSTAGE. Best of luck with your next project.
John J. Nance: Thanks everybody, very sincerely. I appreciate your readership and your comments tonight, more than you know.