The small plane was banking sharply to the right when it was
captured by turbulence and flung several hundred feet upwards
into the inky blackness. A lightning bolt shot earthward past
the right wing illuminating the cabin. The pilot was slumped
over the wheel hanging limply in his shoulder harness. The copilot,
his forehead beaded with perspiration, was fighting with the
controls trying to stabilize the light craft.
The thunderclap shook the plane violently as it rumbled away
into the distance. Rain mixed with hail pelted against the thin
metallic skin but the copilot seemed oblivious to the din, his
tight-lipped, tense face was intent on the instrument panel before
Another flash of lightning split the boiling clouds and appeared
to pull the plane violently down with it toward the Smoky Mountains.
With grim determination, the copilot stabilized the plane again,
then banked to the left and began a gradual spiraling descent.
At 8500 feet the plane broke through the clouds, and the copilot
was able to see the rugged terrain below illuminated by the frequent
Suddenly the plane flew out of the storm, and the copilot
was able to see stars through the broken clouds above. He knew
that the lull would only be temporary because lightning was dissecting
another massive thunderhead immediately to his right.
Taking advantage of the relative calm, the copilot trimmed
the tabs and the small plane leveled off about 1000 feet above
the mountaintops. He turned on the cabin lights and glanced to
his left at the lifeless body of the pilot then returned his
attention to the instrument panel in front of him. Satisfied
with what he saw the copilot pulled a map from a waterproof pouch
and studied it briefly. His brow furled as he made a mental note
of his location. Quickly he returned the map to the pouch, turned
off the cabin lights, and took over the controls. Banking the
plane to the left, he resumed his gradual descent.
The plane was within 200 feet of the ground when the copilot
turned on the landing lights. The twin beams probed the darkness
below illuminating a swath of green as they were reflected by
the treetops. He dropped the right wing slightly and scanned
the small patch of light below. Green suddenly gave way to rippling
blackness as the plane passed over the shoreline of Mallard Lake.
The copilot let another few feet of altitude slip away as he
flew parallel to the east shore. The turbulence was increasing,
and he checked the location of the approaching storm, trying
to estimate when it would engulf the plane.
As quickly as it had appeared the blackness of the water gave
way to a tangle of green as the plane passed over the north shore.
The copilot banked the small craft sharply to the left bringing
it around 180 degrees at the same time dropping down to within
100 feet of the rough water below.
The sky above him was darkening rapidly as he flew south down
the middle of the lake, landing lights now off, his eyes searching
the darkness. He was checking the altimeter and almost missed
seeing the three brief flashes of light coming from the water
to his right. He flashed his landing lights in response to the
signal; then he throttled back and lowered the wing and tail
flaps. The small plane began to rapidly lose altitude.
The copilot turned on his landing lights again, and this time
he could clearly see the water. The rising wind pushed the plane
to the left at almost the same speed that it was moving forward.
With muscles taut, he wrestled with the controls trying to maintain
his course. The landing lights reflected off of the lapping waves
that seemed to be reaching for the belly of the plane. Ahead
he could see the outline of the shore with its dark wall of towering
He tightened his grip on the wheel with his left hand while he
quickly unsnapped his safety harness with his right. When he
was free of the straps, he pulled back on the wheel with both
hands bringing the nose of the plane above the horizon. It seemed
to stop in mid-air, if only for a second, then the engine stalled,
the nose dropped, and the small plane glided rapidly toward the
At the moment the plane stalled the copilot opened his door
and threw himself out into the darkness. Drawing himself into
a tight ball, he plummeted toward the lake. The impact knocked
the wind from him, and he experienced a brief moment of panic
as he felt the cold water close over his head. With determination,
he uncoiled his body and bit into the water with his hands and
arms pulling himself upward. His life vest inflated and forced
his head above the surface; immediately he began sucking in huge
lungs-full of cold night air.
He heard the plane hit the water and quickly turned his head
toward the sound. He saw the outline of the aircraft as it skipped
across the water like a smooth stone. There was a flash of lightning
at the same time the plane reached the shore, and he watched
the small plane being dismantled as it cut a swath through the
trees at the water's edge. Suddenly there was orange fireball
where the plane had been. A thunderclap drowned out the noise
of the explosion.
The copilot watched as several small fires broke out to the
right and left of the point of impact. The sound of an approaching
boat caused him to turn around, and he saw a light bearing down
on him from the north. Within moments he was in the cabin of
a small launch wrapping himself in a blanket.
The old man at the helm glanced at his passenger and asked, "You
The copilot managed a weak smile as he replied, "Sore,
but in one piece. No broken bones I guess." Then he added,
"I wouldn't want to do this for a living!"