by Robbie Bach
The following excerpt is reprinted from The Wilkes Insurrection by Robbie Bach, released on October 12, 2021. Reprinted with permission of Greenleaf Book Group. Copyright © 2021 Robbie Bach
AN EXCERPT FROM CHAPTER 3: THE CRASH
Major Tamika Smith is a Combat Search and Rescue Specialist at Offutt Air Force Base. When a commercial airliner is diverted to attempt an emergency landing, she swings into action.
She grabbed the handheld mic attached to the wall by an accordion cable. “Attention all crews.” And then, “Hey . . . shut the hell up!”
Now, more calmly, she began. “Listen carefully . . .” She tried to balance her sense of urgency with the need for people to take a deep breath and focus. “We’ve got an inbound civilian 757 with two hundred thirteen souls on board. Two hundred passengers and thirteen crew. They blew a door at 34,000 feet and have lost significant hydraulic control. They’re trying to dump fuel, but we should assume that fire and smoke are in our future. They’ll be coming in from the northwest on Runway 12. Tough to guess about touchdown. The pilot will make sure he gets over the airfield. So let’s set up on Ramp B. Five minutes out. Obviously, this is not a drill.”
Air Traffic Control could have diverted the plane to Omaha or Lincoln, but Offutt had some decided advantages. In particular, its remote location reduced the likelihood of casualties on the ground. Her instructions would put the bulk of her team partway down Offutt’s main runway. Given the likelihood of fire, getting stationed close to the scene would buy them critical seconds to douse any flames and pull out survivors. But too far down the runway might make them roadkill in the wreckage.
“Washington—you need to call Commander Jessup. But he’s not going to be much help here until the press arrives.” At that point, his unique pain-in-the-ass skills might be useful. “If you really want to help, you can pair up with me.”
The look on the young captain’s face had equal elements of excitement and terror. Kind of like a teenage boy about to get to second base with his girlfriend for the first time. To his credit, he didn’t hesitate. “Major, I’ve done some training, but you’ll have to tell me what I need to do.”
Yelling above the sound of vehicles revving up, she kept her instructions short and to the point. “Grab some gear, Captain, and follow me. Keys are in the truck.”
They jumped into a vehicle and raced out on to the field, with Tamika directing him down the ramp toward the middle of the runway.
Putting on her equipment, she realized she better prepare him for what was coming. “Look, if this plane comes down hard, there’ll be shit everywhere. Plane parts, luggage, smoke, and probably body parts.”
That did not improve the look on Washington’s face.
“Just stay focused on our task and you’ll be fine. Part of the team will jump on any fires, but our assignment is getting people out and away to safety. As the plane goes past us, we’re going to go like a bat out of hell after it on the runway. Get as close to the fuselage as you can. Then stay with me. I’ve done this too many times before.”
Once in position, Tamika looked back down the runway, mentally tracing a line out toward the horizon. Dusk was settling across the prairie sky in hues of blue, red, and purple. Through the haze, she spotted the 757 with its wing and belly lights blazing. This was clearly not your typical approach. It looked like a boat bobbing across a rough ocean—first up, then down, now left, followed by steep right.
“Rev it up, Captain, it looks like he’ll be lucky to get it down somewhere on the field.”
On the radio: “Listen up—stay narrow for now. I don’t think they have much lateral control, and I don’t want any of us to get hit. Once he goes by, we can spread out based on how lucky he gets. Let’s make this count.”
The growl of the truck engines filled her ears.
In that instant, memories of enemy attacks crashed in. The smell of smoke, the feel of heat, and the cacophony of sounds associated with battle. Tamika’s ears rang with the crackle of her radio, the screams of wounded, and the continuing jackhammer sounds of machine gun fire.
Staring straight ahead, Tamika fought to stay in control. To push back the unwelcome memories that sometimes closed in around her.
“Major? Major Smith?”
“I’m here, Captain.” Adrenaline brought her back to the moment. “Just drive the damn truck when the plane goes by.”
With binoculars, Tamika could see the gaping hole in the right side of the fuselage as the plane shimmied back and forth across the approach vector. It crossed the outer boundary of the field, looming large as it sailed by.
“Go! Go! Go!” She screamed as the cavalcade of fire and rescue vehicles took off down the runway.
At the last moment before touchdown, the plane lurched down on its left side. It bounced once—and then broke apart. The mid-section flipped over and slid across the end of the runway. Both wings split off followed by a fireball. Sounds of destruction boomed across the field.
The initial strike had split the nose away from the main body of the plane. What looked like the first six or seven rows of the passenger compartment along with the cockpit slid all the way past the end of the runway but looked upright and relatively intact.
The main cabin, on the other hand, was in shambles. It went well off to the right side of the runway, settling upside down and facing backward. Smoke poured from gaps in the shell. The last ten rows of the plane had separated hard at landing and somersaulted into a ditch on the left side of the runway, surrounded by crushed debris from the tail.
“Let’s get some foam on that main cabin to the right,” Tamika yelled into her radio. “Crews one, two, and three, converge on the midsection of the fuselage. Four, you have the nose. Five, you’re on the tail section. Let’s move!”
She slammed down the radio and yelled at Washington, “Put us right next to that big hole at the front of the cabin. You’re gonna want your oxygen mask on.”
They screamed down the last stretch of runway then veered off into the sloped grass approaching what was left of Flight 209. As they swung around to the side of the plane, Tamika jumped out of the truck before it had rolled to a stop. She ran up to the opening with her heart pounding. She took a deep breath. Then leapt into the fire.
In that instant, she knew it would be for the last time.
ABOUT THE AUTHOR:During his twenty-two years at Microsoft, Robbie worked in various marketing and business management roles—including supporting the successful launch and expansion of Microsoft Office and leading the creation and development of the Xbox business. Then as Microsoft’s President of the Entertainment and Devices Division, he was responsible for the company’s worldwide gaming, music, video, phone, and retail sales businesses until he retired in 2010.
Robbie Bach is best known for founding and leading the team that created the Xbox. Today he is an entertaining storyteller and catalyzing voice who writes books and speaks to audiences on leadership, creativity, strategy, and civic issues.
He currently chairs the board of the Bipartisan Policy Center. He also serves on the national board of governors for Boys and Girls Clubs of America and Magic Leap, an augmented reality company. He previously served as a board member of the US Olympic and Paralympic Committee, Sonos Inc., Brooks Running Company, the Space Needle Inc., and Year Up Puget Sound. He is the co-owner of Manini’s, Inc., a gluten-free pasta and baking company.
In 2015, he published his first book, Xbox Revisited: A Game Plan for Corporate and Civic Renewal. Published in 2021, The Wilkes Insurrection is his first novel. Please visit: wilkesinsurrection.com
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