"On our way north out of Minneapolis last night, we lost all communication about an hour's flying time south of here," Rick said. "Though, from what Dr. Samuels was saying about the storm, communication access could continue to fluctuate."
When the 'Galileo' burst out of the bottom of the cloud deck, all eyes searched the sky for the 737. All that lay below them was the frigid snow- covered ground of Northern Manitoba.
"I've got him," Michael called out, his eyes fixed low and to their left. He immediately throttled back and deployed the speed brakes to get the 'Galileo' lower. "He's slowed way down and is descending fast. I'm going to make a three-sixty to the left and come in behind him."
"Are they in trouble?" Rick asked. "Is that smoke coming from somewhere in the rear fuselage?"
"Could be," Michael said.
Donovan checked to make sure he had the emergency frequency dialed in the backup radio. "If he's having a problem, the short-range transmissions should work, and we haven't heard any kind of a distress call." He dropped his eyes to the flight management display. The closest airport was Churchill, Manitoba, and it lay 140 miles east of them. He looked out and once again located the 737. With Michael's massive descent and tight turn, they were quickly closing the gap.
The intercom to the back pinged. Donovan brought the phone to his ear without taking his eyes from the Boeing. "Doctor, what do you have?"
"We've got the camera array locked on to the Boeing. We have no Internet to gather more information, but from the onboard database I can tell you it's a Boeing Business Jet, based on a 737-800. We captured the registration. It's HZ-NCT."
"That's a Saudi Arabian aircraft," Donovan said. "Any owner listed in our database?"
"No," Dr. Samuels said. "From what we can see, smoke appears to be coming from the very aft part of the fuselage."
"Got it, thanks," Donovan said.
"Captain, wait! One of the over wing exits was just opened. There's smoke pouring out of the fuselage. Oh Jesus, something just fell from the aircraft!"
"Track it!" Donovan could see the increase in smoke from the 737.
Michael was coming in high and fast and gaining, but whatever was happening, the Galileo's optics still gave them the best view.
"We have the coordinates of the object plotted," Samuels said.
"Any clue what it was?" Donovan asked.
"I don't know yet; we'll have to enhance it later. It fell like something solid, but there was also fluttering, like cloth. I hate to speculate, maybe a body? Whatever it is came down in the forest."
"Lock onto the 737 and keep recording."
"He's putting down flaps," Michael said as the 'Galileo' drew up less than a quarter of a mile behind the stricken Boeing. "Dear God, he's going to try and put it down."
"All of these lakes are frozen," Donovan said as he studied the terrain below, then turned to Michael. "Could he pull this off ?"
"I don't have a clue how much snow is on top of the ice, but it looks like we're about to find out," Michael said. "Give me twenty degrees of flaps. I want to slow down to stay behind him."
"He just put his landing gear down," Donovan said. "He's picked his spot, the lake three miles dead ahead. It looks long enough."
"This is crazy. No distress call, no nothing," Michael said.
Donovan found himself holding his breath as the Boeing, still trailing smoke, cleared the tops of the snow-covered trees along the shore. Then, in a blur of billowing snow, everything vanished from his view. Michael swung the 'Galileo' into a left turn as they flew over the top of the Boeing. All Donovan could see was a rising cloud of snow that completely obscured everything but the top of the tail. The second they raced beyond the 737, Michael added power and cranked the Gulfstream around to the right to bring them back around for another look.
The Gs from the steep turn pushed Donovan down into his seat as Michael expertly maneuvered the 'Galileo' only a hundred feet above the trees. As the Gulfstream swung around, Donovan strained to catch sight of the Boeing. It took him a moment to find the jet. The blizzard it had created on landing was still gently floating down onto the 737. As Michael flew back across the Boeing, the 737's wings rocked as bluish fissures raced out in all directions from the ice cracking beneath them. The Boeing lurched and then bucked sideways as the once solid surface of the lake collapsed and gave way. The entire airplane dropped straight down through the ice and splashed into the lake, geysers of water exploding upwards. As Michael flew closer, Donovan spotted a figure stagger from the smoking cabin through the emergency exit and fall, landing hard on the wing. As the 'Galileo' drew closer, Donovan saw the person stand up and run unsteadily toward the wingtip as the Boeing began sinking, tail first.