Wrongfully Removed - Chap. 1
MedAir Series #4
Available in paperback and eBook
Amy Gibbs’ head jumped to attention from its half-napping position, their helicopter sliding through the sky as if a giant heavenly hand had swept them aside, like brushing crumbs off a tabletop. Those were not words you wanted to hear from your helicopter pilot.
They had left St. Louis early that morning to transport a patient to the Mayo Clinic, eager to outrun a promised weather front that would move into the region that afternoon. All had been going smoothly and she tried to take advantage of the trip home to take a much-needed nap, as best she could manage on the Bell 407 where she attended as the flight nurse.
Kent Howard had the reputation for being easy-going, calm, and methodical as a pilot, so even the mild expletive emerging from his lips gave Amy cause for concern. “What’s wro –?”
A thump, loud enough to hear over the engine, arose from the rear of the aircraft, followed by a wobbly, slow uncontrolled spinning of the chopper, a spin that began to accelerate.
“Hang on!” yelled Kent into the intercom. “That storm cell popped up out of nowhere and something just took out our tail rotor.”
Amy had seen training films about tail rotor failure. The tail rotor countered the torque of the main blades and kept a helicopter from spinning around. Without it, safe flight was no longer a possibility and most flight instructors trained their pilots to perform an autorotation to the earth. Under the best of conditions, that would be like careening down from the tallest peak of a roller coaster and hitting soft sand at the bottom. Under the usual circumstances, autorotation was more like a rock falling out of the sky. With this wind, well … the odds were strongly in favor of their hitting the ground, hard, and rolling.
There was a word for that, crashing.
A tear emerged from her eye at the thought. She’d become engaged to the man of her dreams less than a week ago. This wasn’t fair.
“No trees, please,” murmured Amy in a short, quiet prayer. “Lord, please help us safely to the ground.” She donned her helmet, brushing her shoulder-length, dirty blonde hair back inside the headgear to keep it out of her eyes. She took a deep breath, but refused to close her eyes. She needed to be alert to everything happening around her.
Kent struggled with the aircraft, but managed to minimize its spin. “I can’t auto-rotate with the winds we have now. I need to attempt a running landing.”
Amy saw that he had managed to align the chopper so that it had a left crosswind, which helped to reduce the spin and compensate for the tail rotor’s failure. But, his airspeed remained high. A running landing at even 10 knots could seriously injure them all.
Rain and hail now pelted the windshield and made visibility impossible for those in the back. The darkened skies, making it seem as if they were flying at dusk and not late morning, didn’t help that visibility. She hoped he could see what lay ahead in the trajectory he had chosen. Again, she asked for no trees. Landing in trees would kill them all.
A flash of lightning gave her a sense they were nearing the ground. Kent had managed to slow the aircraft. She felt him flare the main blades and watched him temper the cyclic to bring their ground speed to zero. Hopefully.
A sudden gust of wind caused the 407 to shudder and in an instant, Amy felt the right skid hit the ground and dig in. Before she could blink, she was on her side, then upside down, her five-point restraint keeping her in the seat. They continued to roll, as she lost consciousness.
* * *
Sinead O’Malley criticized herself inwardly. Why had she told the man that she knew how to operate this blasted tiller? The April air had warmed and she was anxious to prepare the little garden plot she had so carefully laid out in her mind over the previous couple of weeks. She couldn’t afford to waste time in a town that was over an hour away from the house. How hard could it be to operate a tiller? she thought. Isn’t it just like a lawn mower?
Besides, the man at the rental store seemed so patronizing. She couldn’t ever recall being called “little lady” before, despite her petite stature.
She again adjusted the choke and pulled the cord for what seemed like the hundredth time. This time it caught short and about yanked her arm off. She massaged her right shoulder and took a deep breath. After a moment, she grabbed the pull cord in her left hand and placed her right foot on the edge of the machine to stabilize it. She pulled and the old Briggs & Stratton™ engine sputtered for a few seconds. Encouraged, she eased off the choke and tried again. This time the engine came to life.
She let it run, to allow the engine time to warm up, as well as to refresh her memory on how to engage the tines. Satisfied that the tiller wouldn’t die on her, she eased the lever forward and startled as the machine began “walking” forward without her. She quickly grasped the handles and fought to maintain a straight line as she worked down the twenty feet of the first row.
At the end of the row, she stopped the tines and turned back to see what she had accomplished. Nothing more than scraping off the tops of the newly emerging weeds.
“This is going to take more work that I thought,” she muttered. If the town wasn’t so far away and her funds so limited, she’d almost consider giving up this fantasy she hoped would become a vegetable garden. What business did she, a New England city girl, have trying to become a farmer in rural Illinois?
Suddenly, a gust of wind slapped her like a Boston Bruins player checking her into the glass. She caught her hat as it tried to escape her head, and looked up expecting to see a tornado carrying off the house, as her old nemesis peddled into the clouds with Sinead’s daughter strapped onto the back of the bicycle. She shook her head at the thought. Her Technicolor™ world devolved into black and white as the ominous clouds fomented toward her and seemed to swallow the sun.
The weather forecast had called for a storm front to move into the area that afternoon, but God apparently saw humor in making those weather people look foolish most of the time. How did that scripture go? “For the wisdom of this world is foolishness before God.”
No, that wasn’t the precise one she searched for. Mentally, she stepped ahead one verse. “The Lord knows the reasonings of the wise, that they are useless.” Well, that fit most politicians, maybe weathermen, too, but it still wasn’t the verse she strove to recall.
The first few drops of rain began to pelt her face. She saw that she would not have time to move the tiller out of the weather, if she wished to remain dry. So, she dashed for the back door of the house, holding tightly to her hat. She heard the noise as she reached the door.
The sound, like two cars slamming into each other head-on at high speed, came from above, but with the wind and escalating rain she couldn’t tell exactly from where. She searched the sky, wiping more and more drops from her eyes as she did so. About to give up and go inside, she saw it. A helicopter spinning, in trouble, and falling.
Her daughter’s cry reached above the wind to catch her ears. At fourteen years of age, the girl still anguished over thunderstorms. She dashed through the door, into the kitchen.
“It’s okay, Ruth. It’s just a storm. Why don’t you go into the safe room? I need to go back outside.”
The girl started to move from the kitchen, but turned her head back and reached toward Sinead with her right arm. “Come with me.”
Sinead walked over to her daughter and cradled Ruth’s hand in both of her hands. “I will. Soon as I can. Someone’s in trouble out there and I need to see if I can help.” She leaned over and gave the girl a kiss on the forehead. “Go on. You’ll be safe in that room. Don’t come out until I come get you.”
The girl pleaded with her eyes, but Sinead knew she’d argue no more. Ruth knew her mother’s grit and determination well. Once Sinead’s mind was set, little could change it.
“Go on.” She watched Ruth leave the room, and mentally thanked her friend, Adriana, yet again for the use of the old family home. Even more, that there was a room prepared which could withstand all but the most powerful tornadoes. That reassurance had proven critical for dealing with Ruth’s fear. Yet, it wasn’t a fear of the storm that lay at the bottom of the girl’s anxiety, but fear of being separated from her parents again. Sinead sighed. The year and a half struggle to regain her daughter from foster care had been draining on them all. But the persecution wasn’t over. Her husband, Jameson, sat in a Massachusetts jail cell on contempt charges, charges that the judge would drop if she and the girl would return to the state. In agreement, the couple vehemently refused to do that.
Another blast of wind caused the house to shudder. Sinead wrapped her arms across her chest and wondered what good she could do, even if she found the helicopter. Still, her parents hadn’t raised her that way. She knew she would offer what aid she could, even if that jeopardized being discovered by the authorities. There were other states in which to hide.
She grabbed a poncho from a coat hook near the back door, slid it over her head, and pushed through the back door into the storm. Small pebbles of hail, mixed with cold, heavy drops of rain made her pause. She shook her head and moved into the yard where the house no longer provided a modicum of protection from the wind. She looked toward where she had seen the aircraft, not expecting to see it there, of course. Yet, it had been on a course toward the northeast. The farm on which the home sat extended that direction. The fields had been leased to neighboring farmers, but an old tractor path had been maintained to allow movement between the fields. She decided to follow that rutted road, to find whatever she might discover. If she had found no crash site by the time she reached the end of the road, she would return to the house, her conscience satisfied that she had done what she could.