I had been a passenger on the flight in question, jumping from JFK New York to London Heathrow for work.
A slight shudder shook through the plane.
A bit of turbulence, it seemed. Nothing to be alarmed about.
But when the young flight attendant addressed me directly, alarm bells still rang.
Looking up, I examined the young man before me.
Dressed in the company flight attendant uniform, he had soft, curly brown-red hair, tied into a tight knot behind his left ear.
He seemed unnaturally ill at ease, hazel eyes shifting tirelessly, unable to find a resting place.
“M-may I ask you to follow me to the flight deck, please? They said it’s urgent.”
Swallowing hard, he took a step back, awaiting my response.
I felt a pang of pity for the man. He must not have worked here long, by the looks of his timid demeanour.
“Certainly!” I smiled and slid out of my seat, following him back up the aisle.
“What’s your name?” I asked him, and the man paused a moment, coughing discreetly before answering.
“Fynn, sir.” He said, almost impossible for me to hear. “Fynn Glade.”
“Fynn.” I gave another smile. “I am Avery Rhyse, captain with the Grand Britannica Airways, though I am sure you’re already aware, given the circumstances!” I laughed.
“Ah, yes sir. Your reputation exceeds you.” Fynn muttered, almost inaudible over the sound of the engines.
My reputation exceeds me?
I did my best to shake the connotations of this out of my head, and went on asking.
“How long have you been with us, Fynn?”
“Oh not long at all…” replied Fynn, guiding us through the curtained off area towards the flight deck.
“This is only my sixth flight.”
We stepped up before the cockpit where the purser stood waiting.
“Well, Fynn!” I gave him a hearty clap on his shoulder. “I do hope you will enjoy your time with us! Thanks for the escort!”
Giving a short bow, Fynn exited the area, resuming his regular duties amongst the passengers.
“A charming young man, if I do say so myself.” I noted, nodding at Sal, the purser and a woman I’ve known since my early days with the company.
“A bit flustered, but sure.” She replied, turning and giving the door before us a knock before going about opening it.
“I am sure it is only a matter of time under your guiding hand before this attitude is worked out of him.” I laughed as I followed her inside the cockpit.
The first thing I heard was a gentle cough.
“Here they are, sir. As you ordered.” Sal noted, stepping back as I approached the two pilots.
In the captain’s seat sat an older gentleman, discreetly coughing into a napkin. I knew him by last name only, but was aware he’d been with the company just as long, if not longer than Sal.
Beside him sat a first officer, perhaps around my age, with thick, dark hair tied into a knot at the nape of her neck.
Her face seemed slightly pale, dark eyes darting over every time her captain coughed.
“How may I be of service?” I asked, glancing from one to the other and back again.
It took a moment before the captain spoke.
“Sorry…” he muttered, coughing again. “I’m not sure what’s wrong, but I can’t say I feel confident to continue flying–”
His next words were drowned out in a coughing fit much harsher than before, and Sal came up to help him out of the seat as he tried to stand.
“It’s been like this for a while.” Noted the first officer as I sat down beside her. “We’re not sure what’s happening, but–”
A shudder ran through the plane and, now that I could see the wind and weather indications before me, I realized something was off.
Sal took the stricken captain, still coughing out of the cockpit and closed the door behind her.
“I’m scared it might be a technical issue.” The first officer noted, casting a worried eye at me.
“Are ATC in the loop?” I asked her, strapping myself in.
“We’re communicating, but all I can do is relay information as it happens.”
“Good. Then I have controls, you continue to monitor and update ATC.”
Glancing over the instruments to familiarize myself with where we were flight-wise, I took hold of the controls.
“What’s your name?”
“Maria.” She replied. “Maria Pallera.”
“When did the coughing start?” I asked, checking our altitude, speed and bank. We should be approaching the British coastline.
“Ten, maybe fifteen minutes ago?” replied the first officer. “He complained about a tightness in his chest. We grew worried when the sensation didn’t ease up and he called you to the flight deck.”
“Understood. And the shuddering? I did feel a few of them in the cabin as well, but wrote them off as turbulence.”
“I don’t blame you.” Replied Maria, looking over the controls. “That’s what I thought they were, until Captain Marlowe pointed out it made no sense with the instruments.”
“He’s right.” I replied. “I’m not sure I enjoy this situation, but for now, all we can do is keep us airborne.”
In that moment there was another shudder, and every light and indicator in the cockpit flickered and spazzed.
“That is not good.” I said, glancing around once the initial shock had worn off. “Call in a PAN-PAN, Maria. Have ATC on standby.”
“Yes, sir.” Maria grabbed the radio, and began speaking rapidly into it. Then, at my request she notified cabin crew as well and had them begin preparations for a possible emergency landing.
Outside, it was pitch black, and even if I had tried, there was no way I’d be able to make out any discernible features.
“We should be over land now.” I said, checking with the radar vectors in order to confirm.
“Ask them about a place to land.”
“Er, Captain..?” I cast a glance towards Maria, to find her pointing to something below my seat and to the left.
Turning back I noticed a ghostly tendril of smoke seeping in from the ventilation shaft.
“Masks.” I commanded, reaching over and deploying my oxygen mask immediately.
“Have cabin crew do the same.” I told Maria. “And stay in touch with ATC. Tell them we have a mayday on our hands and need to get down fast.”
Having donned her mask almost equally as quickly as myself, Maria got to work, radioing message after message.
“There’s a local airport not far off.” She informed me. “They’ll pass on the vectors.”
“Roger that.” I said, inputting the new information into the system as it came to me.
It was not an airport suitable for aircraft of this caliber, but I felt confident we’d be able to touch down there even so.
That was until another shudder struck the plane and the air around us went disturbingly quiet.