And then the static cleared and a voice echoed strong and true. "This is Royal National Lifeboat Institution, Cold Harbour. Zec Acland speaking. No way you're going to land here, girl. Can't see my hand in front of my face.
For Dupont, this was the final straw. He gave a sudden moan, seemed to convulse, and his head lolled to one side.
The plane lurched down, but Denise took control and gradually leveled it out. I leaned over and felt for a pulse in his neck.
"It's there, but it's weak Looks like a heart attack."
I pushed him away from her. She said calmly, "Take the life jacket from under his seat and put it on him, then do the same for yourself."
She put the 310 on automatic and pulled on her own life jacket. I took care of Dupont and struggled into mine.
"Are we going into the drink?"
"I don't think we've got much choice." She took manual control again.
I tried to be flippant, a personal weakness. "But it's March. I mean, far too cold in the water."
"Just shut up! This is business," she said, and spoke again as we went down. "RNLI, Cold Harbour. I'll have to ditch. Pilot seems to have had a heart attack."
That strong voice sounded again. "Do you know what you're doing, girl?"
"Oh, yes. One other passenger."
"I've already notified Royal Navy Air Sea rescue, but not much they can do in this pea-souper. The Cold Harbour lifeboat is already at sea and I'm on board. Give me a position as accurately as you can."
Fortunately, the plane was fitted with a Global Positional System, satellite-linked, and she read it off. "I'll go straight down," she said.
"By God, you've got guts, girl. We'll be there, never fear."
My wife often discusses her flying with me, so I was aware of the problems in landing a fixed-wing light twin aircraft in the sea. You had to approach with landing gear retracted and full flaps and reasonable power, a problem with one engine dead.
Light winds and small waves, land into the wind; heavy wind and big waves, land parallel to the crests. But we didn't know what waited down there. We couldn't see.
Denise throttled back and we descended, and I watched the altimeter. One thousand, then five hundred. Nothing-not a damn thing-and then at a couple of hundred feet, broken fog, the sea below, small waves, and she dropped us into the wind.
Copyright © 1998 by Higgins Associates Ltd. All rights reserved. This excerpt reproduced with the permission of G P Putnam & Sons. This book, or parts thereof, may not be reproduced in any form without permission
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