Half their lives were over
before Doug and Jaye found each other. Doug had two adult
kids with kids of their own, and two ex wives. One was still
a friend, and one, the mother of his spawn. Jaye had two left
at home. One on the edge of the nest and one still had two
years to mature.
Three weeks ago, they were
flying back from their honeymoon in Alaska. The Rocky Mountains
of British Columbia crawled through the lumpy gray cloud cover
below. The ridges reminded Doug of the Loch Ness Monster of
Scottish lore. The plane seemed to be flying low for a jet
liner and he noted they were flying lower than some of the
peaks. Before he could ask the flight attendant, a blast from
the rear of the plane stole his consciousness.
The plane fell from the sky
and the cockpit and galley were sliced off the body by a jagged
peak as it dropped like a disgraced Samurai Warrior, belly
first, on his sword. The body of the plane surfed backwards
down the ninety-degree face of the peak until the blast-broken
tail section shot through a gap between two spires and ejected
out into the snow slope below, depositing wings in a ball
of fire on either side. The broken tail dug in and the fuselage
pole-vaulted over it to make a cartwheel through empty air
and into the snow a couple hundred yards below, now on its
back, and without the remaining tail. An avalanche built around
the fuselage creating a tube surfer, enveloped in folded wings
of snow. As the angle of descent leveled off, the speed of
the dropping plane body slowed and the avalanche rolled up
around it, stuffing every crevice it could with suffocating
powder and ice that pushed six rows of seats back over the
The metal cocoon was deposited
under several feet of pack-snow, but for a three-foot cavity
leading to the hole that was once the passageway between the
rear seats and lavatory. A white painted sheet of aluminum
skin flopped uncomfortably in the constant alpine wind.
Cold seeped into Doug's consciousness
until he twitched, groaned, and pulled against the restraint
on his lap. He was hanging upside-down. There were people
hanging toward the seats in front of him. It took him some
time to understand his surroundings, but when he did, his
focus went immediately to his right. Jaye was unresponsive
against the starboard window. He remembered now. The plane
had been in a tumbling free-fall. It didn't last long enough
to pray or tell Jaye how much he loved her. Painfully he checked
her neck for a pulse. He found it, and her skin was warmer
than his fingers. Thank God. He pulled the handkerchief-thin
airline blankets on the ceiling below him up over them both
and checked for broken bones, first himself, then Jaye. He
found both of her ankles took right angle turns under the
seat in front of her. A splinter of bone stuck out the back
of her left calf, and he promptly turned to be sick in the
Doug used all the strength
in his left arm to pull himself to his seat, and with his
right, flipped the 1960s Chevrolet seatbelt release. This
caused him to pile ungraciously on his head and shoulders.
It also highlighted the many bruises he was going to have.
His first thoughts were to get his bride stabilized and as
comfortable as possible. Scooping a handful of fresh snow
from the ceiling around him, he squinted and rubbed it around
the exposed bone at the back of Jaye's leg, and quickly pulled
both legs straight, sucking the bone back into the wound.
He could feel the bones drop into place. Next, he gathered
three airline pillows and his and Jaye's scarves and tied
the limbs together with one pillow between and two in front
of her legs.
Doug looped one set of ties
above, and one below. He released Jaye now, onto his shoulder,
then gently to the ceiling somewhat above where he had spilled
He pulled their parkas out,
put hers on, and wrapped her warmly. By now, he was shivering
constantly, so he pulled his parka on as well.
Doug began a survey of vitals
down the dark tunnel. He found pulses in only three. He noted
that many had obvious broken necks. They hadn't suffered.
In turn, he pulled breathing passengers down and made them
as comfortable as possible. He noted that the smaller ones
could fit in luggage racks, now at foot level, as long as
they bent their knees. Perhaps if he kicked the partitions
out, he could make a chamber for each for comfort and possibly
protection from the direct effects of the freezing cold in
the tube. He would make that his next objective after getting
a look out of the tube.
He climbed to the light at
the tail end of the blackened fuselage and pushed the aluminum
skin aside to the blasting assault of pinprick-painful light.
Doug went back for his backpack and pulled out his Ray-Bans.
Another attempt at reconnaissance won him a view of a massive
snow meadow surrounded by countless, brilliant mountaintops
poking up through cotton batten clouds. The bright radiating
heat of the sun on the snow momentarily countered the cold,
but he knew things would be drastically different when that
sun went down.
Below him, the glacier meadow
was fringed with a comb of treetops. They were not far from
the tree line, but where, he had no idea. If they were to
survive, he had to find a source of heat. He took a moment
to ponder if the ship's black box or beacon locator was calling
for help. He thought of his cell phone. He pulled it from
his pocket and dialed 911.
He was ecstatic. It rang and
a voice came on.
"This is the 911 operator,
what is your emergency, please?"
plane from Alaska to Denver crashed in the mountains."
"What is your location,
"I have no idea, just
the mountains in British Columbia. Big mountains, with sharp
peaks. We are above the tree line."
"What is your flight
"Let me see
"Ok, sir, please take
note. I want"
The signal was gone. Doug
tried again several times, but his battery icon was transparent.
He was going to need to find a fresher cell phone on the plane,
but he also needed to find heat real soon. The front and rear
of the plane were gone; all that was left was the body with
rows of seats full of hanging dead people. He figured the
911 dispatcher would be working on the problem now; the tree
line would perhaps supply dry wood for a fire.
Doug climbed out into about
a foot and a half of new powder snow that covered a broken
shelf of three-inch ice slab created by a melt and freeze
prior to the new snow. It held his weight. His jeans were
not made for this trek, so snow packed up under his pant legs
and stung his calves, but he was thankful for his laced up
hiking boots with aggressive tread.
It only took an hour to plow
through to the edge of the sloping meadow, rewarding him with
the dried wood he sought. The trees were a high mountain band
of uniform aged Lodgepole Pines that were packed around centuries
of windfall and broken branches. The mountain air and constant
sun at this altitude ensured the deadwood was tinder-dry and
brittle. This would do.
Sunset was near, so Doug headed
back to the plane. He would need to shelter there tonight,
then drag the survivors down to make shelter and fire in the
morning. He made it back to the plane, kicked out some partitions,
packed Jaye and the others in blankets and coats, collected
Bic lighters and cell phones. None of the phones had signal
or battery. He had to count on his one and only call.
* * *
During the week, Doug managed
to build a rudimentary shelter with a pyramid of Lodgepole
trunks and sticks, packed it with snow to keep out the draft,
and left the top unpacked so smoke could escape. He had a
healthy fire burning from the first day. Each day grew tougher,
because the junk food he could scavenge and ration was gone
by the third day. He, Jaye, and one beefy guy in his early
twenties who had suffered a broken leg were all that were
still alive. They had lost one of the survivors during the
first night, and one woman had made it for two days. He couldn't
deny the fact he had been favoring Jaye with the scraps of
food, and it was probably the only reason she was still breathing
after a week on the mountain. He managed to melt snow for
water, in a pair of steel coffee mugs he found.
Doug had gone through the
pain of the crash diet like the rest, but his strength was
waning drastically now. Something had to be done. They had
to eat. He knew there was no food source unless they were
rescued soon, but he had not heard one plane since day one.
He hadn't even seen a jet trail in the sky since being stranded
here, and he figured the search would be all but given up
by now. There had been some nasty weather below them, but
they had lived this nightmare in bright sun so far.
A trip back to the plane proved
that all the bodies were well frozen and he couldn't help
thinking they reminded him of slabs of meat hanging in a processing
plant. He had to do it.
Doug ripped a jagged chunk
of aluminum airliner skin off the flap over the entrance and
hefted it with satisfaction.
Later in the day, he built
a cooking fire outside the shelter and rigged a spit using
a steel bar he found in the luggage hold. Doug managed to
feed Jaye and the kid who identified himself as Dan that night.
He told them he found a beef shipment in the hold. Life continued
for the next few days. Jaye and Dan were gaining strength
and Doug had come back to form as well. The only problem that
kept them from being too mobile was the constipation that
follows a complete protein diet and the immobility of Jaye
Doug started adding inner
bark from the surrounding trees to their diet for roughage.
The kid wouldn't eat it, but Jaye, trusting her new husband,
forced it down on Doug's example.
They had shared a lot of conjecture
and depression this last week. It's amazing what starvation
will do to your outlook on life. Jaye counted on Doug almost
as a father figure now, and Dan would not stop complaining
If they were going to survive
this, they needed to build some will, and the first sound
of helicopter rotors brought them back to hope again. This
continued several days.
* * *
For two days, they waved at
the helicopter that hung around the peak and would not venture
down the hill. The fire they burned was so dry and hot, it
produced very little smoke, and the plane fuselage was invisible
in the snow pack. Doug scrambled back up to his meat locker
and ripped plastic doors and wall coverings off the plane.
He dragged them back to his camp and threw them on a new fire
he planned away from the camp. Night fell by the time he finished
his quest, so he decided to hold off until the daylight.
The hope held at arm's length
made them miserable last night. Combined with the extreme
constipation pain Dan was howling about, no one slept. He
still wouldn't eat jack pine bark, and now he was so stopped
up, he couldn't stand to even force down water. Doug felt
he wouldn't last too long now, without giving birth to a cantaloupe.
He tried a different tactic.
"Dan, I'm afraid I have
a confession to make. There was no beef in the hold of the
Dan hardly looked up from
his pain, but Jaye's eyebrows went up. She peered at the flame
flickered profile of her new husband. She knew what he was
going to say, but wished with all her heart he wouldn't voice
"Yes, I'm afraid the
only thing that has kept us alive during this time is the
fact that our fellow passengers have been donating life to
us until we can be saved."
Now Dan was interested. He
"Are you saying you have
been feeding us human flesh?"
Dan pulled himself out of
the shelter and they heard him empty his stomach. A few moments
later, there was a scream and a muffled explosion out his
other end as well. Jaye didn't make it out of the shelter;
she deposited her supper in a stainless steel sink Doug had
managed to find near the plane. This she had been using as
a bed pan for two and a half weeks.
She broke down in tears.
"I knew it. Somehow,
I knew it. That wasn't anything like beef, but I wanted to
Sobs took over and her body
Dan stumbled back into the
"You bastard, why didn't
you tell us you were feeding us our friends and family? Was
that my mother?
"No, none of us knew
"You bastard, you fucking
bastard." He didn't know what else to say.
Doug sat back against the
wall of the shelter and looked into the fire. No one spoke
and no one slept. As dawn broke, Doug left the shelter to
build his smoke fire and work at getting them spotted. He
looked around the shelter. Jaye had finally cried herself
to sleep and Dan sat glaring at him from the darkness of the
pine lodge. Before he left, he noted the human thigh, cooked
medium well, sitting on a pair of sticks by the newly stoked
"I'll be back with help."
He turned and left.
The day had been long, but
his smoke plume had done the trick. A rescue helicopter sat
next to the opening to the plane body and flares sent orange
plumed ribbons of smoke skyward. There were a half dozen of
the crew exploring the plane.
In a daze, Doug nodded as
the crew commander asked him to lead them to the survivors.
They followed him down the
snowfield to the brim of Lodgepole Pine and the pole shelter.
As Doug pulled the blanket back from the entrance, Dan dropped
the thigh he had been feeding on.
Doug couldn't help himself.
"Want fries with that?"
Jaye still hasn't spoken to
him, and probably never will again.
He shook his head. They were