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The ground controller throws a jab at the local controller. Is that Bashar al-Assad’s ride taxiing out?
The Syrian president arrived for secret discussions at an undisclosed Naval Air Station. It would elate the tower crew if they are leaving already. Aja Paculba is the standby translator if one is needed. She is probably the most bored person of the trio in the tower. Also by far the prettiest. Hasta luego calls out the local controller. The L-1011 calls for taxi instructions: 406 Echo Papa taxi to runway niner, wind zero niner zero at ..niner, altimeter two niner niner niner. Wow was that about 40-niners? Asks Bill with a grin. Claiming a severe case of feigned martyrdom, the crew had agreed to work on the Fourth of July when the tower would not normally be manned. And be rewarded with three consecutive days off afterward.
Bill Doone is the local controller, and tonight he is the airport supervisor in the absence of the NAS Commanding Officer. Bill controls aircraft in the air. He is the elder of the two controllers. He backs to the sink to brew a strong cup of coffee. He also has the thinnest veneer when it comes to being criticized for any questionable air traffic control call he makes. You can measure it seems from the tower in yds the distance between aircraft during cross runway take offs and arrivals, it isn’t that close but still, watching him work is not for the faint of heart.
Some of the lesser-talented or less experienced controllers practice a form of apery and someday, someone is gonna get hurt. Hey Igor, you going to go flying tonight? Richard the ground controller is just talking out loud because the aircraft has not moved. He calls all of the international pilots Igor.
Richard Ramsay has been an air traffic controller for almost a year. But he spent 9 months going to basic ATC training in Pensacola, so his real time is two months in the tower. Anyhoo, given he has the ego of most controllers, he thinks he is God’s gift to it. We’ll see in a couple of months when he moves to local controller. Of course the airborne action requires faster decisions when aircraft are actually in the air.
Rich graduated from SoCal with a major in airport management/ATC emphasis. Tried to get hired by the Feds but cutbacks kept him out. Finally he joined the Navy and here he is. Ground control may I speak with the translator?
Sure, here, Rich hands the mike to Aja. There is a long and intense conversation between the two and when she is finished she merely says he is not ready to go yet. Roger that, Rich takes his seat. There is an abbreviated POD which is military for the Plan of the Day. July 4, tower closes at 3 p.m. Conditional manning may be required. Well, it is going on 7 p.m. and we are still here. Why don’t they just spend the night? The Lockheed L-1011 TriStar is now completely dark. We need three more people to get up a poker game thinks Doone, but with the tower visitor, that is not going to happen. Rich wishes the Navy Exchange Service NES, was still open. He could use a sandwich since he didn’t think they would be working so late.
He checks the tower fridge and finds a dozen chicken wings someone left. Well, they
won’t be any good tomorrow he says feeling slyer than most. Naomi, his fiancé won’t let him eat much fried food but these are unbreaded so he thinks they will be okay. Rich notices a logo on the side of a piper cub, he recognizes it as insync education and wonders if they teach high school aviation courses?
Now, Rich wishes he had a digestive enzyme to help break down the heavily sauced wings he had eaten.
But mostly he wished the bird would fly the coop or say goodnight until tomorrow. Rich had on his Aldo boots and if anyone saw that, he would be in some deep trouble for being out of uniform. He drank some Sanka coffee from a thermos and thought about very little. In no time he was asleep.
Bill noticed, but he could not see a problem. He was wide awake as it approached 9 p.m. And not even a vehicle is moving out there. Instead Bill called his wife Pam to tell her he will be even later. She was already asleep so it wouldn’t matter to her. Pam’s last name was O’meara and her red hair and fiery temper gave her away – to most – immediately. Bill would hear about waking her in the morning. Her saying is always NOEL nothing on earth lasts forever; Bill didn’t know where the F went; he guessed it didn’t last.
Bill believes the words of the prophet Elihu that discuss divine providence, which he insists are full of wisdom and mercy; But who is Bill to say? He wonders.
Bill switched on the tower tumble-dry as he called it. It is supposed to cool the air but mostly it just swirls warm dry air around like his dryer at home. He even had them retag the switch with that name.
He turns on the radio where Adele is singing Put fire to the Rain. Bill is feeling sleepy until a sudden din filled the tower radio frequencies and a language neither Bill or Aja recognized came on all through the tower. The noise was so bad he could feel it vibrate his teeth. Someone is screeching, Sidea, Sidea.
It is so loud they cannot tell even what sex the screamers are. And in all the pandemonium, no one has yet noticed the L-1011 is taxiing without lights.
Everyone is startled fully awake. A makeshift battering ram breaks the tower door jamb. Someone is on the catwalk. Now the door is ajar, now busted open and men wearing flak jackets over bare chests come screaming up the last few steps into the tower. Twas no time that the three original occupants were on the tower floor and bound. They could not understand a word of what was being said. They seemed to call the leader Aly, but Doone couldn’t be sure if this scrawny, scary, little brown-skinned man was, in fact, the leader, and if he was hearing the name Aly.
Doone couldn’t discern any parts of the language. He even thought he heard one say pastry dough or did he say close the door or get me more? One aggressor is standing on the tower counter with a trifold like a surveyor might use.
Another man nearest to him carries what looks like a Jewish Seder Sword. Aja is already in agony from her restraints. She is beginning to think this is a tribe from Egypt looking to thwart an uprising that could hurt Syria’s Muslim Brotherhood. She tries to speak to the one wearing a black dome hat. He shoves her face into the floor nearly breaking her nose. She heard herself scream with her piercing alto voice combined with a muffled scream.
Now the leader is asking Doone for his EIN, employee identification number. Why do you want that? Doone feels the knife against his neck and tells the man to fish out his wallet in back left pocket.
The man on the console cracks open Rich’s energy drink and he gulps it down nervously. Lil Wayne is playing on the radio. Doone realizes more men are on the catwalk and the guy on the console is telling them where to set up – something?
OHO! the leader points toward the taxiway. He watches a shadow passing several blue taxiway lights. Position!!! Doone thinks he hears someone outside yell Andy Rooney; but that can’t be correct he smiles?
Rich is totally teed off and tries unsuccessfully to get up. A boot greets his neck. It is coming up on one a.m. For the first time Doone notices Aja is perspiring profusely. She exudes the sweet smell of Este Lauder. He wonders why he hasn’t spoken more with her tonight. She seems so pert and yet, quietly competent.
The catwalk people continue to set up on the alee side of the tower. The band of men have made several mistakes in trying to turn the runway lights off. He errs again and turns off the taxiway lights. Once again he has lost the aircraft. He raps the console and orders his men to drag Doone to his feet and untie his hands so he can reset the lights. He is screaming at Doone right in his face the clammy terrorist smells like week-old sweat mixed with garlic aioli. Where is airfield security wonders Doone. From the catwalk now enters Mr. Dynamite. He is carrying enough to level the 80 foot tower. Doone is naturally concerned for the safety of his crew. He is also painfully aware there is nothing he can do.
The guy in the dome hat says stay calm and we will not use this, pointing to the tnt. Doone looks at him quizzically? Hat says ESL and grins. Not wishing to become a pile of NOM, Doone resets the lights and the big bird becomes visible. Doone can’t help but worry that CINC is still aboard NAS. Is he safe? Is he onboard the L-1011?
What are the ETAs on Air force One and the shadow birds? Nothing has come across the line or from Tracon. Are the guys down below alright? Doone had been trained as a calm-on-the-outside, but falling- apart-on-the-inside kind of guy. It will help his crew remain quiet and controlled. He wonders if the hat is really a Saudi operative. None of these guys is heavily armed but I guess they figured taking on the unarmed night crew in a control tower would be pretty easy.
Doone was not amenable to assisting this group blow up the L-1011. If LEAs (law enforcement agencies) aren’t going to show, well, he is the only one untied; he must take a chance try to stop this. He speaks quietly to the hat. Let the others go, I will cooperate completely with your instructions. Unbelievably, the hat agrees and forces them not so gently down the interior ladder. He hears the doors slamming as they make their way down and in one zane-y move he grabs the knife from the hat and stabs him with it; a small handgun falls from his waist band. The odds are against it but Doone goes for the weapon. His mind moves as if in slow motion and he remembers hot apple pie baking at his home on Lake Erie. His mom telling him he would always be her little hero;
Before he can fire at the dynamite, a catwalk terrorist fires once into Doone’s head. The legendary Lynx attack helicopter rises from nowhere and fires missiles intended to be used against ships taking the top cleanly off the elevation and detonating the dynamite. An explosion seen for miles away.
The night watch in a Navy tower is a lot like air traffic control in general from boredom to bedlam, you just never know what might happen.