Ben Mason gripped his seat as the plane shuddered. He grabbed his seat belt and slid the clips together until they locked tight. Turning to look through the window, Ben saw wisps of cloud slinking by slowly. He felt the plane vibrate as Izzy fell into the seat next to him.
“You OK? You look off,” she said.
“Did you feel the plane shudder?” Ben asked.
His heart skipped a beat as the ‘fasten your seatbelt’ sign lit up. The plane hit a pocket of air and dropped. He breathed in as he pushed his hand through his short dark hair, making it spike. His dark brown eyes were wide and alert. He trembled as the plane dropped again. It hit another pocket of air, lifting them back up.
“We're going to crash. I knew it. I knew it,” Ben whispered to himself.
He closed his eyes tight, wishing he was in a different place. Maybe he was in a different place. He opened his eyes and looked at Izzy. She seemed different somehow, not real. He didn’t feel real. He stood in the aisle looking around the plane, and then he was in his seat looking at Izzy. Pinching one of his fingers, he knew he was real and was in a real place. A breeze blew across his face, and he inhaled the air, which soothed him. He closed his eyes again and embraced the situation.
“We will not crash, Ben. It's just turbulence,” Izzy retorted with a nervous giggle.
Ben opened his eyes and looked around. Everything appeared to be slowing down. He took another deep breath. Something had just happened to him, something he could not explain. But he now felt calm and in control. He looked at Izzy. He looked down at his hand in hers. She was shaking hard. The seat was shaking. Ben looked around. The entire plane was shaking. He pulled his hand from Izzy's, stretched, and then shook it before putting his hand back. She looked up at him, tears in her eyes.
“It will be alright, Izzy. I promise,” Ben declared.
The plane took another sudden dive. Screams rang out around them. Ben glanced over his shoulder between the seats where he could see his friends Gary and Dolly. Gary looked pale and was holding Dolly's hand.
“You OK, Gary?” Ben asked.
Gary shook his head without looking at Ben. His blond hair was thick with sweat.
“Keep it together, mate. It will be all right,” Ben said.
Gary nodded again. Ben turned his attention back to Izzy as he took another deep breath. He was still in control of himself despite what was happening.
“Ladies and gentlemen,” a voice boomed through the plane. “There appears to a minor problem with one of our engines. There is no cause for alarm. Please ensure you remain in your seat at all times and keep your seat belts fastened.”
Ben held his breath. The plane made a strange whirring noise. He looked through the window. Smoke poured from the edges of the wing, but not from the engine. Ben closed his eyes as he thought of terrorists attacking the plane and holding everyone hostage. Ben looked around, trying to spot the terrorist. He had not noticed before, but every other passenger on the flight was old like his Nanna and Pop. It made him smile as he imagined his pint-sized, saucy Nanna holding up a plane.
Air masks dropped from above. Ben grabbed one and put it over his mouth and nose, pushing the elastic around his head. He then helped Izzy put hers over her mouth. He looked around at Gary and Dolly. They were placing their masks on their faces. From the window, he saw the sea approaching fast. The plane seemed to drop and then level itself out. Ben jumped as the loud voice echoed through the plane again.
“Ladies and gentlemen, this is your captain speaking. We are about to conduct a forced landing. You will find life jackets under your seat. Put them on and then please take up your crash positions. When we have landed, please listen to the flight crew.”
The voice had a fearful tone that made Ben shiver, although he remained calm. He watched as the sea grew closer. He drew his knees up to his chest, and Izzy followed. Ben knew he would have to have his wits about him to survive a crash, and he had to help his mates. He glanced at Gary, who had bent down to hold his ankles. Ben took a long, deep breath before lifting his air mask from his face.
“Gary. Gary,” Ben shouted. “No—bring your feet up. Bring your knees up, mate.”
He didn’t know why, but he felt so sure it was what they had to do. Gary obeyed, and Dolly followed. Ben put his mask back on his face and took another deep breath. Ben had never felt so calm in all his fourteen years as he watched the plane fall towards the pale blue sea. Did it look different and calmer—a different blue, maybe?
The whirring sound under the plane stopped. It shook everyone hard as the plane touched the water. There was a horrific bang from underneath as the aircraft came down again and again. The plane sped over the water like a silver torpedo. The pressure pushed Ben back hard into his seat. Loud bangs and screeching came from under the aircraft amid screams of fear from people inside. Seats torn from their braces flew through the cabin like missiles at a firing range. Another heavy thud from under the plane as it came to its final resting place. Debris continued to fly under and over him, slicing everything in its path.
The missiles stopped. Silence raced through the cabin for a few seconds. Ben looked through the window and studied the waves splashing below him. He pulled the mask from his face. Ben glanced over his seat at Gary. He still had his head tucked into his knees, and so did Dolly. Some of the flight crew were already helping the injured passengers while others were opening the exit doors. Debris lay all around. Personal items precious to their owners a short time ago had become missiles and weapons of destruction. The warm sea air spilt in the cabin as the doors swung open. The inflatable escape slides popped and splurged, hissing as they slid into the ocean.
“Ladies and gentlemen, remove your shoes and any sharp items. Make your way to the escape hatches. We have landed close to land. No need to panic—no one is in any danger,” the stewardess announced into the microphone.
Ben unclipped his seat belt. Izzy followed, and they pushed past the man sitting in the aisle seat. The man who had been sitting next to Izzy was still bent down and holding his leg, which was covered in blood. A direct hit from a laptop had sliced open his leg. Ben grabbed a pillow that had landed close by, ripped off the cover, and tore it into strips. He bent down to the man and pulled his hands away.
“Let me help you, sir. Please,” Ben insisted.
The man let Ben bandage the strips of cloth around his leg. Ben helped the man to his feet. “My name’s Tom,” the man informed Ben with an American accent.
Ben looked over the seats at Gary and Dolly.
“You two, move it now. Get out,” Ben shouted at his mates before continuing to help Tom to the exit. He grabbed Izzy and pushed her along in front. The stewardess took Tom from Ben. Izzy disappeared down the chute and into the blue water. Ben turned to make sure Gary and Dolly were behind. He laid flat on the rubber escape slide, closed his eyes, crossed his arms over his chest, and slid into the cool blue water. His feet hit the water, and he panicked. The calmness vanished.
“I can’t swim, I’m drowning—help!” Ben screamed as he thrashed around. He tugged at the inflation cord on his life jacket. As the air filled the void pockets, Ben made exaggerated swimming movements. After opening his eyes, he saw everyone on the beach watching. He felt the sand between his fingers and his knees on the sand. They had stopped to watch Ben Mason land in three feet of water and panic. He stood up and laughed out loud. Izzy stood watching from dry land.
“You OK, Izzy?” he asked her. He walked over to her, tears falling down her face as she laughed at him.
“You’re a nut, Benjamin Mason. Only you could be funny in the middle of a disaster,” she said.
Ben smiled at her and put his arm around her to offer comfort. Izzy stepped away. He was glad it looked so stupid that everyone thought he was just an idiot.
Gary and Dolly had slid down the chute, followed by the rest of the passengers and crew. Everyone hung around the plane, its dark shadow offering shade to those who felt confident enough to be so close to it. The wing that had been burning was now giving off thin, odd wisps of black smoke. Standing so close made Ben’s eyes water. The fumes that seeped out unseen were sickening. The flight crew ushered everyone along the beach towards some large rocks. They all helped each other before collapsing onto the sand while others sat or climbed the rocks.
The captain jumped up above everyone. He held his arms high in the air and shouted, “Ladies and gentlemen, please be quiet for a moment.”
He flapped his arms up and down. Everyone fell silent and turned towards the captain.
“First let’s take a few moments to thank God that we have survived such a dreadful crash, and our casualties are so few,” the captain said as he lowered his head.
Most continued to stare at the captain. A few lowered their heads until he raised his head again.
“We will organise a camp until we are rescued,” he announced with a strong American accent.
“When is that likely to be?” a tall, tanned man of about twenty-five with bulging biceps shouted. Ben hadn’t noticed him on the plane and studied him. Without waiting for an answer, the young man stepped onto a rock.
“It would be better to organise one party to salvage everything we can from the plane. Another to search the island; there may be a better spot to make camp than this. We don’t want to make a dash up the rocks in the middle of the night because of the tide or anything. Sir?”
A force of energy seemed to run between the two men standing on the rocks. The captain lowered his arms.
“My name is Ryan, sir,” the man announced as he held out his hand for the captain to shake.
The captain obliged, not making eye contact with the younger man.
“Yes, you are right,” he said.
The captain spoke back to the crowd, which was gawping up at the two men.
“We will divide into groups. One group will go back into the plane and, after making sure it is secure, gather as much as they can. The second will search the island to see if there is a better place to make a camp. There may be fruit trees on the island, and we will need a fire. The rest will be the casualties and children. They will remain here where they are safe.”
Ben and Gary looked at each other and raised their eyebrows. Sally the stewardess put her hand on Ben’s shoulder and pulled him into towards the other youngsters standing near her.
“OK, guys. I expect you to do what the captain said and stay here. You could help the people who are hurt. Janice will be here, and you will do as she tells you. Understood?”
Ben looked over at the other stewardess. All four nodded.
The adults formed into two groups as if on a Sunday afternoon barbeque. They stood around or sat, talking to each other. Ryan now had another male with him whom Ben hadn’t noticed before either. He carried a similar physic as Ryan. Ben assumed both were marines because they both had American accents. Ben heard Ryan call the other man Joe before both men disappeared over the rocks and into the woods. Most of the others followed the captain back to the edge of the water.
They all stood gaping up at the vast machine, once elegant and aloof but now sorry and broken. The captain rubbed his chin and stared up at the fallen bird.
Sally walked up to the man and touched his arm. “Are you all right, Captain?” she asked.
He turned and looked at her. “They give you drill after drill on how to escape, but no one ever tells you how to get back on board in a situation like this.”
Sally looked at the captain and then up at the plane. She laughed out loud, and the captain joined her. Soon everyone was laughing and chatting. The captain stopped and looked around his group; he doubted anyone was younger than sixty.
“We shouldn’t have let Ryan go. We need his muscles now.”
He waded into the water and over to the chute bobbing up and down. The sea had risen to the captain’s waist. Grabbing hold of the side of the chute, the captain attempted to pull himself up.
Ben left the casualty group and wandered up next to Sally.
“I could climb that a lot faster than the captain. He looks as if he will have a heart attack or something. Miss?”
Sally looked at Ben just as the captain screamed and slid back into the water. He kicked and spluttered before righting himself in the waist-deep water. Ben sniggered and went to creep away.
Sally held him tight by the arm.
“Captain, perhaps Ben could climb up.” Sally looked at Ben and then back at the stumbling captain.
The captain, who was breathing hard, agreed. Sally pushed Ben into the sea towards the captain. The captain took a firm hold of Ben’s arm and pulled him towards the chute. The water swirled around Ben’s chest as he looked around. Sharks were Ben’s biggest fear, and his theory was they could smell his fear a trillion miles away.
The captain grabbed hold of Ben and pushed him up on the floating chute, giving directions and explaining what to do if he got to the top. Ben held the side and scrambled up to the plane with ease. A putrid smell filled his lungs, and his eyes burned. The thought flashed through his head that he had smelt it somewhere before. It wasn’t like smoke from a wood fire. He looked around coughing while holding on to the inside of the plane. He turned back to the chute and shouted down to the captain, glad of the warm, clean air.
“I’m OK. I’m on my way now. Get ready,” Ben shouted.
The captain replied with a thumbs-up sign.
Ben took a deep breath and fell to his knees. He crawled as fast as possible into the walkway, only stopping when he passed his old seat. Reaching in, Ben grabbed his bag that had fallen from the top locker. After ripping open the zip, he found a torch and some lollies. Shoving them into his pockets, he threw his bag over his shoulders. Ben carried on past the toilets and galley into first class. Here the air smelt clearer, and the putrid taste disappeared. He found the hatch door in the floor just as the captain had described. Struggling, he opened it. After collapsing on the floor, Ben rolled over onto his stomach to look into the hole. It was dark, and so he pulled out the pocket torch he had bought as a souvenir of his holiday. Ben shone the flashlight into the dark space below, viewing the luggage spewing the entire length of the cargo hold. With his breath back to normal, he swung himself round on to the ladder.
Placing the torch in his mouth, Ben stepped down into the darkness. Almost at the bottom, he stopped. Holding on with one arm looped over the ladder wrung, Ben took his torch with his free hand. He noticed glistening as his light flashed over parts of the floor. The captain had told him to be careful because he thought there might be a hole in the fuselage.
“The what?” Ben had asked.
“The floor of the plane body,” the captain explained. “Because we had to land on the plane's belly. We couldn’t use the wheels on the water.”
Ben understood and could now see what he meant. He stepped into the warm puddles of water and shone his torch around. Instantly Ben had a strange feeling he could not explain. He had been in this place before, and it worried him. He flashed his light up the curves of the wall and found the hatch door.
“Let’s see if this monster is easier to open than the last hatch door,” he mumbled. He piled cases on top of each other until he could reach. It was an easy push of the handle, and the door fell into the water. He heard cheers from outside but didn’t wait. He was gone before the captain was at the baggage door. By the time he had reached the chute, the captain’s team had formed a line. Passengers were collecting suitcases, boxes, and anything else they found. In the water, a few people struggled to stand upright. Some of the lighter bags had floated out into the water and were washing in and out on the soft tide.
Ben flew down the chute into the water and started to swim towards shore. Suddenly something grabbed his leg. It grasped hard and furious, pulling at him. He kicked out and tried to swim again, but his leg was trapped. His stomach churned over as he thrashed about. Water washed over his head as he fought to get to the shore. He grabbed the sand on the ocean bed to pull away from the dominant grip, but it was his hold that became looser; it was his breath that became shallower. He lost count of the mouthfuls of salty water that passed down his throat. He felt peace encase him. The world went quiet as he drifted from the shore.
Joe and Ryan had returned to tell the others what they had found. Joe saw what was happening to Ben, rushed over, and hooked him high out of the water. He shook him hard.
“Hey, lad, not too good of a swimmer, are you?” Joe said, shaking him and then throwing him over his shoulder.
Ben was coughing and spluttering while throwing up the salty water he had consumed. Most of it went down Joe’s back before they reached the shore. He dropped Ben onto the beach.
“You know, if you want to be a hero around water, you’ve got to learn how to swim.” Joe looked down at Ben and laughed.
“It got me. Did you see it?” Ben croaked in between coughs. He checked his leg to see if it was still intact.
“Yeah, I saw it, lad.” Joe dragged a shoulder bag over and held it up in front of him: the teeth from the zipper. Ben looked at Joe, and they both laughed.
“My name’s Joe. You’re Ben Mason, right? Remind me to give you swimming lessons when we get to the States.”
“Thanks, but I’m going home to Australia.” Ben grinned as Joe walked away.
Ryan and Joe had found shelter and plenty of dry wood for a fire. It was getting dusk by the time everyone helped each other to the new site and then transferred the rescued items from the plane. Ben had found his case and dragged it all the way to safety before returning to the beach to help. This time he avoided the water.
The meals that night came from the plane galley, still in plastic wraps. Sally handed out a blanket and a small, soft, spongy pillow to everyone, assuring them that by tomorrow night, they would be in a nice hotel bed. Ben lay on the sheet, looking up at the leafy canopy that opened up intermittently to show the stars. He thought about his mum and dad.
“Sally? Do you think my mum and dad know what has happened yet?”
“No, pet, I wouldn’t think so. Your mom and dad will still think you are having a great time with your mates and a gorgeous flight attendant in Florida,” Sally replied.
He closed his eyes while taking a long, deep breath.