Author Jerry Norcia

With Larry King

                                                                                 Felony at 40,000 Feet

                                                                           By

                                                                                         Jerry Norcia                

 

October 25, 1971

Today’s conflict with Renee weighed heavy on Grant’s mind as he ascended the 747’s spiral staircase to the upper first-class lounge. Under the command of Captain Steve Como, flight 96 from Honolulu seemed longer than usual to In-flight Supervisor, Grant Guidera. Unable to get today’s situation with Renee off his mind, Grant was emotionally drained as he slid into the soft leather seat and took a deep breath. While inhaling the aroma of the rich leather, he fastened his seat belt for landing. These moments alone after a busy flight of sales and passenger contact were in themselves a small, relaxing reward. He looked around the empty lounge and pretended it was his own private jet. All he needed were the kind of friends he imagined he’d have with that kind of money, and not having to deal with the likes of Renee.

During flight, this lounge bustled with first-class passengers who were now on the main deck preparing for landing. The cockpit door was only a few feet in front of where Grant normally sat to watch the California coastline and San Francisco Airport come into view. It was especially beautiful today with a heavy fog layer directly over the airport that promised a thrilling decent and landing. He put on a passenger headset and tuned to channel 9 anticipating the excitement of an instrument approach. He was just in time to hear Bay Approach hand his flight 96 over to the San Francisco tower. “Universal 96 heavy contact San Francisco tower on 120.5. Good day, sir.”

Captain Como repeated, “Contact tower, 120.5, 96 heavy. Good day, sir,” He switched to 120.5 “San Francisco tower, Universal 96 heavy with you at 9,500 for 28 left.” “Universal 96 heavy, you’re cleared for the ILS on 28 left, please expedite, you have Lufthansa traffic on final. Lufthansa 2121, please slow to your final approach speed.”

Although Grant was a private pilot, he continued to be amazed how the captains could remember so many instructions and repeat them word for word. He also wondered how many of the passengers who were also listening on channel 9 knew that ILS meant Instrument Landing System.

The fully loaded 747 entered the thick cloud layer as Grant stared out the window. His stomach leaped with excitement as they broke through the cloud layer and he saw the runway with less than a 200-foot ceiling. He could almost hear the confidence in Captain Como’s voice as he called the tower, “San Francisco, Universal 96 heavy has runway 28 left in site, landing.”

The plane touched down at the very beginning of the runway and Grant felt his seatbelt strain as Captain Como applied reverse thrust while gently lowering the nose to the runway. Turning smoothly onto the high-speed taxiway, Grant was sure they cleared the runway in plenty of time for the approaching Lufthansa aircraft. He heard the tower direct his flight to “contact ground control on 121.8.

In the cockpit, Como changed frequencies and started to say something to the flight engineer, but stopped short when the engineer furrowed his brow and covered his lips with his forefinger. “Yes, sir, I understand.” With his free hand, the engineer scribbled a note on his clipboard and handed it to the Captain. While Grant had been listening to communications between the tower and his flight, what he hadn’t heard was the communications between the company and flight engineer on another frequency. “What’s this about?” Como asked. After reading the engineer’s note, he crumpled it and tossed it flippantly over his right shoulder in the direction of a garbage bag taped to the engineers table. After contacting ground and requesting company parking, he reluctantly picked up the mic: “Ladies and gentlemen, we would like to ask that you please remain seated.”

Grant was surprised to hear the captain on the PA system. While this announcement wasn’t out of the ordinary, it was not usually made by the captain. He couldn’t help but wonder what was going on. When Captain Como came on again and told the passengers they would be parking at the company ramp area because of a maintenance problem. Grant figured it was just another airline trick not to tie up one of their busy gates.

Detoured to the ramp area, the 747, guided by a mechanic, slowly rolled to a stop. While the engines wound down, Grant looked out the window and saw portable stairs being put into place at the main cabin door. Cars with flashing lights surrounded the plane with several men standing alongside, Grant wondered what all the commotion was about, he was sure the flight attendants were going to need his assistance with the passengers. In fact, he was surprised he hadn’t been advised about this unexpected turn of events.

Heading down the spiral stairway, he saw the first flight attendant disarming the emergency slide at the main cabin door. She gave a thumbs up through the small window, signaling the mechanic it was now safe to open the door. A few passengers rose from their seats, prompting Grant to grab the nearby mic. “The seat belt sign is still on. Please, everyone remain in your seats!”

Two heavy-set men dressed in dark gray suits appeared in the open doorway. Both wore mirrored sunglasses, oddly unnecessary Grant thought since the bright sun of Honolulu was hours behind them.

Renee pointed to Grant. “That’s him!” They walked over to Grant. “FBI, put your hands on top of your head.” One of the men reached up, grasped one hand and placed it firmly behind Grant’s back and then did the same with the other hand, placing them both in handcuffs. Grant’s hands hurt and he was stunned. The other man cleared his throat. “You have the right to remain silent…” Astonished passengers sitting by the door watched Grant being taken off the plane in handcuffs.

The two men took him to a waiting car at the bottom of the stairs. In a state of shock and disbelief, Grant felt someone’s hand push his head down while stuffing him in the back seat. He turned and looked out the back window. Two flight attendants stood on the stairs outside the cabin door; one had an unmistakable grin on her face. Renee. That bitch. At that moment, Grant’s dream job turned into a nightmare. How did it end up like this?



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