Miranda Griffiths walked towards the Boeing 737 which lay sprawled
on the apron waiting for its passengers to board. She felt slightly apprehensive
as she passed the massive tyres of the aircraft for it was her very first flight.
A single spot of oil on the tarmac gleamed in the afternoon sunshine holding her attention as she neared the passenger ramp leading up into the aircraft.. A slight breeze teased at her hair and ruffled her skirt allowing a fair view of her shapely legs for the passenger who stood immediately behind her. Miranda blushed and made an attempt at holding her skirt down long after the damage was done.
The silver haired passenger on the lower steps raised his hand and smiled a reassuring smile that seemed to say, “Its all right, I never saw a thing”.
Ninety five passengers in all and a crew of eight boarded Flight SA 597 at Oliver Tambo, bound for Cape Town. It was only by coincidence that the silver haired gentleman was seated next to Miranda and yet in some strange and mystifying way Miranda expected that he would. He even helped to open the luggage rack for her and stow her vanity bag together with the notebook computer that he carried.
Settled in seats F 9 and 10 they both fastened their seat belts. Ten minutes later and with the passenger count verified, Miranda heard the planes main entry door thud shut. “At last we are on our way,” she thought. At that precise moment Miranda realized that the gentleman next to her was wearing a kind of a robe. A white robe
right down to his ankles. She turned to him intending to make an enquiry and at the same time he had turned to her.
“You first,” she said, smiling.
“All right,” he said. “Would you call one of the cabin attendants, I`d like a quick word with her.”
Captain Bruce Stollard had clocked some six thousand flying hours in the Boeing 737-400 series, and his number two in command, Flight Lieutenant Brian Lemming a further two thousand. Both competent aviators, they did a final instrument check on the flight deck before asking for permission to taxi to the runway. The fact that they were running eleven minutes late was no cause for concern since the usual tail wind on the down run to Cape Town would help make up the time.
Flight Lieutenant Lemming was calling over the hydraulic pressure figures when there was a sturdy knock on the flight deck door. He half turned on his swivel chair and called, “Come.”
Pretty and pert Flight Attendant Sally Van Rensburg apologized. “I`m sorry Sir, but there`s a gentleman in Economy Class that gave me a message for you, and I`m not sure that….”
“That what Sally,” Captain Stollard interjected. “We are three minutes from take-off, so get to the point.”
“That you are going to like what he just said.”
“And what did he say Sally?” asked Lemming as he ticked the hydraulics pressure correct off his check-list.
“That…that the aircraft was defective and we shouldn`t take off.”
Stollard threw his hands in the air. “Here we go again another bloody crank…is the guy a Muslim?”
Sally looked grim as she stood in the doorway. “No Sir, but he did look a bit …a bit white around the gills, he looked so funny dressed like that.”
A voice crackled in Lemmings earphones. “Victor Oscar Tango, proceed to runway zero four fiver and hold.”
He responded immediately. “Proceeding to runway zero four fiver and holding, Victor Oscar Tango.”
Stollard released the parking brake and eased the thrust bar up a notch. “Well, what was he wearing Sally?”
Sally bit her lip, a habit she had acquired during her school days and one she had never got over. “A robe Sir, a white robe right down to his ankles.”
Lemming grinned. “He`s a White Father then, they wear a piece of rope around their middle and are quite industrious I believe.”
Sally shook her head. “No, this one didn`t have anything around his middle, it was just plain, like J.C. wears.”
Stollard steered the 737 with precision along the taxi lane and was about to make a left hand turn. “J.C?” he asked.
Lemming leaned nearer his Commander and whispered. “Jesus Christ.”
The thought triggered another question. “Check the passenger manifest Sally and find out the guys name.”
“All right Sir, won`t be a tick.”
Victor Oscar Tango moved to its start point on runway zero four five and held as Lemming asked for take-off clearance.
“You`re never going to believe this Sir,” said Sally Van Rensburg as she stood in the doorway holding the Economy Class Passenger manifest.
“Believe what?” snapped Stollard, who`s hand was already on the Thrust Control and making ready for take off.
“It’s a mister Angel…a Mister A. N. Angel.”
Lemming giggled. “And I suppose he is from Heaven huh?”
“No Sir, from sixteen Paradise Road, Valhalla, Pretoria.”
Lemming swore irreverently. “Is this some kind of sick joke?”
Captain Stollard pointed his finger at Sally, “Take-off position NOW Sally,” and replied to the Tower`s last request. “Oscar Victor Tango cleared for take-off, heading one four nine, holding at ten K.”
Miranda turned to the silver haired gentleman as she felt the aircraft surge forward, “We are taking off now…it`s quite exciting.” she said.
Her flying companion seemed a little more concerned. His knuckles showed white as he gripped the armrest on either side of him, and his head shook with a definite “No” attitude. Then it dawned on Miranda that this must have been the strangers first flight as well. “Your first flight too?” she enquired.
“Good Heavens no child, I am constantly flying around in fact you could almost say it was my job.”
Miranda bit her lip. “I`m sorry, its just that I thought you were rather anxious when we took off?” A big puff of cloud swallowed the 747 for a moment and then like magic, they were back into the sunshine again. He smiled and immediately appeared more relaxed. “Yes I was a little anxious.” he said. “But mainly because I had asked our pilot not to take off!”
Miranda almost jumped out of her seat. “YOU WHAT?”
“I gave the flight attendant a simple message for the Captain not to take off, that’s all.”
Horrified, Miranda`s first thoughts were that this silver haired man was perhaps mentally unbalanced. “You can`t do that, nobody can dictate to the Captain when, where and why if they are sitting in the passenger seats.”
“I did, a moment ago.”
“They didn`t take much notice did they?’
“Alas no my dear, but just mark my words, they will in a little while, they definitely will.”
Miranda closed her eyes. The dull monotony of the engine noise seemed to drill into her brain and in less than a minute she was fast asleep.
“That’s funny?” Lemming stared at the flashing red light above the hydraulic pressure gauge of the port side under-cart. The needle of the gauge stood at one fifty, exactly half of where it should be. He turned to Stollard.
“I have a port side under-cart hydraulics malfunction Bruce, any ideas?”
Stollard glanced at the flashing red light. “Did it check out alright during your pre-flight check?”
“Whats the pressure?”
“One fifty…and I think its dropping.”
“Er..er no Sir, it is dropping it`s at one thirty now.”
“Bloody Hell, you can bet your life when some crank passenger gives a warning that something will happen, it will happen.”
“He didn`t say what Bruce, he just warned us not to take off.”
“That Mr. Angel, he told Sally before we took off.”
”Everything else check out alright?”
“Yes Sir, its just the hydraulics serving the under-cart.”
“How long to touch-down?”
Lemming did a quick mental calculation based on actualities. “Thirty five minutes, we have a twenty knot tail wind.”
Stollard took the headphone off his ears and placed them around his neck, then ran both hands over his graying hair and sighed deeply. Pushing sixty years of age he had heard the tiny voice inside his head too many times of late. “Pack it in Stollard, you`ve had enough of this caper, its time to retire.”
Lemming had a further twenty years at the yoke. He was still eager and still able to accept the challenges and responsibilities of an airline pilot. “Should I call emergency services Johannesburg Sir?”
The Captain had to make a decision one way or the other. The Boeing 737 was old, some twenty-three years old, and landing a crate like that on one set of wheels was hazardous to say the least. He imagined the trauma in a one second flash. The smell of tearing rubber as the tyres heated, then the brilliant shower of white sparks as the metal rims touched the runway. The heavy grinding jolt as the weight of the aircraft overcame the lift supplied by the wings. Gravity was never a friend of the aviator. Then the tearing of metal, brakes screaming, sparks flying, and still the speed of the aircraft would be around one hundred and eighty kilometers an hour.
“No, I don`t think so, call Sally, I want to speak to her.”
Serving beverages to thirsty passengers was not altogether Sally Van Rensburgs `cup-of-tea`, but it was a vital part of her workload. She had just twisted off the top of a bottle of tonic water when a fellow flight attendant handed her a message from Captain Stollard. Handing the passenger the bottle, she made her way to the flight deck.
”You want me Sir?” she enquired.
Oscar, Victor, Tango was flying on auto-pilot, always convenient in times like this. Stollard got out of his seat and went to Sally. “That Mr. Angel that gave you that warning, what`s he like?”
“Was he quite normal, you know, friendly kind of chap?”
“Oh yes Sir, he was quite pleasant….its just…just that he wore funny clothing.”
“Funny,” enquired Stollard.
“Well, he wore a white robe and it matched his white hair.”
Lemming looked up from his aviation guide book. “Did you see a pair of wings?”
Sally burst out laughing. “Heavens no Sir, nothing like that.”
Stollard rubbed his chin. “Could you bring him to the flight deck?”
Sally`s heart sank. “Is there something wrong Sir?”
”No, no, nothing at all,” he lied.
”I`d just like a chat.”
Captain Bruce Stollard had decided to take a stern stance regarding the message he received from passenger Mr. Angel. It was tantamount to tyranny for anyone to suggest that the aircraft was unsafe to fly, and in all his twenty odd flying years, he had never heard of it happening. When Mr. Angel did arrive onto the flight deck of the Oscar Victor Tango however, all of Stollards intended wind blew out of his overly inflated sails.
“Oh dear.” Commented Mr. Angel. “Oh dear! oh dear! oh dear! I did try and warn you Captain and now you really are in a pickle aren`t you?”
“Pickle?” queried the red faced Captain. “We do not refer to a malfunction as a Pickle Sir.”
“No dammit, not a catastrophe. It is not usual that passengers have any say when it comes to the aircraft taking off.”
“How about landing then, do they have a say in that?”
“No Sir, the passengers do not have any say when it comes to handling the aircraft, that is left entirely to the Captain without exception.”
The smile on Mr. Angels face faded as the 737 dipped behind a solitary cloud, but it was only momentary. Three seconds later, his dazzling smile was back.
“I could be that one exception Captain, please let me help.”
“Help Sir?” Stollard exploded. “You are a passenger aboard my aircraft and I will be very much obliged if you would return to your seat.”
Mr. Angel turned towards the open doorway. “I`m not great on hydraulics Captain, but I am a master at kinetics, I can move objects situated miles away without even being there.”
Stollard still fumed. “Back to your seat Mr. Angel, back to your seat.”
Calmly, Angel left the flight deck followed by Flight Lieutenant Lemming. Once they were clear of the doorway Lemming grabbed Angels arm and hauled the white robed gentleman into the forward galley.
“You know about kinetics?” He asked.
Slightly mystified, Mr. Angel nodded. “Of course, it was part of my training.”
“Of course, I`m not an angel for nothing, it was damned hard work becoming a
Lemming laughed. “Do you do tricks?”
“Tricks, what kind of tricks?”
“You know, bending forks and stuff.”
Mr. Angel plucked a fork off the washboard and held it in his left hand.
“I have never tried this before, but here goes anyway.”
Lemmings bemused smile was rewarded in seconds as he watched the fork bend lazily backwards, then tie itself in a knot.”
“Good man, that’s fantastic, how about big stuff?”
“Big stuff, how do you mean?”
The Flight Lieutenants face fell serious and he whispered in confidence.
“Like the undercarriage of a Boeing 737 Series 400?”
There was a disturbing moment of silence between the two men before a radiant smile returned to Mr. Angels face.
“Of course, all things are possible with the help of our Lord, but wait. I must see the errant piece of hardware before I can move it….have you possibly got a hand-book?”
Back on the flight deck, with Captain Bruce Stollard at the helm the 747 did a lazy right hand turn and lined up with the Cape Town runway three miles ahead. He reduced thrust and commenced the run in prior to landing. The flight deck enunciator announced their altitude every five hundred feet and, just as Stollard expected, the under-cart alarm warning siren wailed right on queue. “Port Undercart Not Locked, Port Undercart Not locked, Port Undercart Not locked,” it called.
”Over to you Mr. Angel.” snapped Lemming, fingers and toes both crossed.
With the Boeing 747 Service Manual in his lap, Mr. Angel sat in the `jump-seat` between the two pilots. Finger pointing at the picture of the complicated piece of aeronautical apparatus that did not function, he muttered beneath his breath, “Down you monster, get down, get down…. and lock……”
“Port Undercart down and Locked.” Replied the automated annunciator.
Stollard let out a huge sigh of relief. “I don`t want to know how you do that Mr. Angel, but you have done us all a great service, are you in aviation?”
Angel thought for a moment. “Yes, I suppose you could say that.”
They shook hands, as the runway for Cape Town loomed ever nearer ahead of them.
Lemming took over the yoke from his Captain and bid Angel farewell. “Better get back to your seat and buckle up Sir, I`ll take over from here.”
Slipping into his seat beside Miss. Griffiths, Angel shook the girl awake. “Wake up now Miranda or you`ll miss the landing.”
Miranda opened her eyes as the clutch of wheels beneath the Bowing 737 gently kissed the tarmac of the runway and the roar of the engines reverse thrust swiftly drew them to a halt.
“That was wonderful.” beamed Miranda. “Here we are safe and sound in Cape Town?”
Mr. Angel removed his laptop from the overhead baggage rack and handed Miranda her vanity bag. “Have a nice stay in Cape Town.”
Sally took the bag and rummaged quickly through it looking for her comb. “Don`t I know you from somewhere?” she asked casually and feeling a strange affinity with the gentleman.
Angel frowned. “Its more than likely,” he answered. “I`ve been around for a very long time.” Then he joined the queue waiting to get off the aircraft and disappeared.
Lemming gently tapped the glass face of the errant hydraulic pressure gauge. “Naa, its still on the blink Bruce. What are you going to put in the log book?”
Stollard shrugged his shoulders. “What should I put?” he replied cautiously. “A. N. Angel came to our rescue?”
“Not a chance, no one would believe you anyway. Hydraulic pressure down on port undercart would suffice.”
“I think that would be wise, considering all the complications that could be unearthed if we told the truth.”
Both men got out of their seats and left the flight deck. Lemming paused outside the forward galley to retrieve the fork that Mr. Angel had so miraculously bent.
Handing it to his Captain and for the first time in his twenty-six years of living, realized that faith really could move mountains after all.
“Here`s a little memento of the flight.” he said.
Stollard took the fork and examined it. “A desert fork? What has this got to do with the flight?”
“Mr. Angel bent it almost double and tied it into a….”
“Not this one Lieutenant, its as straight as a die.” interjected Stollard with a grin.
“Next time leave your hip-flask where it belongs….”