11 May 2006
The radar stopped screaming. The clouds rose up and kissed the descending underbelly of the twin-propeller plane. Jack Burton had been a qualified pilot for three days, two hours and three quarters of a return flight to Laos before he encountered a situation only briefly hinted at during his two-year training. Flight Captain Leo Brokowitz had covered comprehensively all aspects of emergency manoeuvres, normally the pilot’s last resort in instance of severe mechanical failure, but had only mentioned ‘missile attack’ the one time when they had propped the bar up for 36 hours and ‘Broko’ had slipped back to his memories of the Tet Offensive.
“We’d eaten about two tons of small arms fire flying those damn missions. We didn’t even know what the fuck we were trying to bomb but there was definitely a whole barn full of Charlie ripping shots off at us. Mad Frank, you remember him from that strip joint, Mad Frank’s left ear had been hit and blown clean off. Shit yeah, it stuck to the landing gear switch for awhile before he put it in his pocket.”
Jack wondered ,”I didn’t notice a missing ear.”
“Well, he got an old papa-san to whittle him a new one out of bamboo but it didn’t fit so he shot him. Then he realised it was upside down and now he swears he can hear better out of that then the original. Shot his daughter too, mad bastard.”
Jack goggled ,”Jesus.”
“Sweet fucking Jesus. That’s what I said when I saw the flash from the trees and then the thin plume of dirty smoke head towards us with a missile in front of it. Fucking sneaky bastards had Chinese S.A.M.s and we were fucked! I shit my pants and Mad Frank starts hollering like a klaxon.”
Jack blinked ,”What was the crate? DC9?”
“Yeah, a flying brick. I tried to fly right the fuck out of its path but it’s got the turning circle of a….of a….well, shit, it hasn’t got one, not at 200 knots and with a missile coming head on at you.”
His companion pictured the scene and found it hard to believe that Brokowitz was here to buy the next round of warm beer. “So?”
“So?” He turned to look at Jack with the cold 1000-yard stare of someone who’s died and lived to tell the tale. “So the missile was getting bigger and bigger and coming straight towards the cockpit and I began to weep and that mad bastard turned to look at me and said ,”Have you shit yourself? I can smell shit.” We looked at each other as the windscreen shattered and the wind rushed over us. I wish that I could read Vietnamese so I could tell what those cunning pyjama-wearing motherfuckers had scrawled on the side of that missile.”
“That’s right. It didn’t explode on contact but just bust through the window, shot between me and Mad Frank’s head, straight down the cargo hold, straight through the stomach of the bombardier and blew a hole out of the tail fuselage.”
“What? That’s fucking impossible…”
The captain nodded into his beer glass ,”I know, but that’s what happened. Strangest things happened in the Nam and not just when we were high.”
“Fuck,” said the trainee pilot.
“Fuck indeed,” concurred his teacher.
The cargo plane dropped below the cover of the clouds and Captain Jack Burton pushed down hard on the stick, making the plane hug the contours of the jungle, palm fronds being whipped apart by the propellers. “Sweet fucking Jesus Lenny, I think we lost it!” The navigator nodded in a daze. The plane tore across the canopy of trees and then shot out over the Mekong delta surprising a flurry of migrating flamingos as they rested on their single legs in the water. “Shit,” both men quietly commented.
When the plane was found two weeks later it was mostly still pink and feathered.