by Juan Tomas
Fear – paralyzing and sickening fear can poison the mind. Some people
have been known to die of fear – even if asleep. William Carson was not a
man easily given to irrational fears. Fear of flying is an irrational thought, he
told himself, as the Boeing 7E7 ascended above Singapore’s Changi
Airport. This intensely nauseating feeling was not brought on by some past
experience, like claustrophobia, acrophobia, or even vertigo. It was an
invisible fear; something you couldn’t name, and it was consuming him from
His Ralph Lauren attire of blue pin-stripped shirt with white collar – the
sleeves rolled up, a light tartan neck tie complete with gold collar pin, light
brown vest, and gold Rolex watch, bespoke of his good taste and affluence.
He appeared to be in his late twenties, slim build, clean shaven, perhaps
about six feet tall, and not somebody who would have been given to erratic
The higher the plane went, the more he seemed to be uneasy. Next to him
sat an older man, and a teenaged girl. He wanted to apologize to them: How
can I say anything…I don’t know what’s happening. I have flown many times
before…and this has never happened. Dear God help me.
The man, wearing a three piece white linen suit, sitting next to him, seemed
to pick up on his paranoia, and turned his head to the left; more out of
curiosity than genuine concern. What he saw was alarming. Carson’s
reddened face was perspiring, and the dark circles under his eyes betrayed
a sense of doom. At first, the man in the white suit attempted to ignore his
neighbour, but for some inexplicable reason, that proved to be futile.
“Excuse me sir, are you ill, shall I call a flight attendant?”
“No I’m not sick. I just feel like something’s going to happen. I don’t know
what. And there’s nothing…nothing I can do about it”.
While the teenaged girl to his right was oblivious to all of this (her headset
being the only object of interest) the man in the white three piece suit felt
driven to do something. He unfastened his seat belt. The urge to escape
somewhere compelled him to rise.
* * * * * * * * * *
Captain Gerard Hetherington enjoyed being put through the training course
for the new A380. As a veteran pilot with SIA, he was given first crack at the
special program in the quaint French city of Toulouse. However, after
graduating, he decided to stay with the old and familiar bird he was flying.
His co-pilot, Ai-Ting, was an attractive young woman, fresh out of flying
college, and a welcome companion in the cockpit. She was single, and
seemed to be convincingly interested in his anecdotes about flying old WW II
fighter aircraft. These cross - Pacific flights could be lonesome, especially
after the stewardesses had distributed the evening meals,
and the passengers were either nestling in their improvised sleeping
positions, or sitting bleary – eyed; transfixed upon personal video screens.
The captain was seriously considering asking Ai-Ting to come with him to
Bermuda for three
days, on their next furlough.
“How are things up this way guys?” the blonde green eyed flight attendant
asked, as she entered their sanctified space. Her cultivated cadence of
cordial address made him smile. He liked pretty women. Especially since his
third wife had taken off with some twenty-one year old guitar player from
Montreal. The guy called himself Whitey, which Gerard thought was odd. He
heard from the grape vine that this Whitey kid was actually Polish or
something. The adventure seeking captain still had all his dark brown hair,
and at fifty five he figured that there were at least a couple more good laps
across the pool left in him.
“Captain, I don’t even know if it’s worth mentioning, but a certain passenger,
Mr. Dadashian is his name, got out of his seat to speak to me about the
behavior of a man sitting next to him. I spoke to the man and he told me that
his name was Bill Carson. However, when I asked him for his boarding pass,
he couldn’t find it. He also seemed to be terrified of something. It was
frightening. Now get this…and I know it may sound weird: according to the
passenger list, there isn’t anybody sitting by that window seat next to Mr.
Dadashian…and there’s no Bill…or William Carson on board either”.
Ai– Ting looked back and smiled. Her attractive dark eyes seemed to be
asking …is this phantom stowaway trying to sweet talk you.
“No…he’s not trying to pick me up. I know what you two gossip about up
here”. Captain Gerard Hetherington and his lovely young flying colleague
smirked a little at this. Such antics helped pass the time on long flights.
“No…listen I’m serious, this Dadashian guy is really freaked out by Mr.
Carson’s paranoid behavior. If there was an empty seat, I would’ve moved
him. I just don’t know what to do. Now – I’m getting a little …scared”.
It wasn’t so much what she had said…it was the air of genuine fear that
made Hetherington consider his next action.
“Have you seen him?” The captain asked.
“Yes…he looks pretty bad. He seems to be terrified of something”.
“Well young lady”, he said addressing his Chinese co-pilot, “you have
always wanted to
have crack at things…just keep her steady and radio ahead regarding a
possible stowaway. I’m going back to have a look for myself.” Then rising,
he asked the flight attendant, “by the way Anna,
where’d you stash that Mr. Dadashian fellow”?
“Well…I had no choice. I told him to return to his seat. There were no
empty seats available. Otherwise I would…”
“I wonder if we have a doctor on board. He may be suffering from some
anxiety disorder or something. Remember, we don’t want the other
passengers to get spooked. Just have Bridgette go over the passenger
manifesto with you, for any possible persons with a medical background – we
might need a doctor”. Then, with his hand preparing to open the door to the
flight cabin, he asked her, “what seat number did you say that mystery guy,
you know Mr. Carson, was in?”
The co-pilot switched the radio control frequency. “Hello Honolulu, this is
Singapore International, flight number SQ015 for San Francisco. We have a
possible stowaway on board, believed to be either American or possibly
Canadian. We believe that his name is William Carson. Request search
from security, for any possible suspicious persons having boarded this
“Roger…will do. “By the way”, sounded the man’s voice from Hawaii, “there’s
a nasty weather front coming your way. Better cruise above 30,000 ft”.
The teenaged girl sitting next to Mr. Dadashian was tuning into the news
her satellite TV. At first she wasn’t taking much notice of the report about a
weather front, until she heard: “It is believed that a flight coming from
Singapore to San Francisco has been caught in the storm. No further news
is available at present as radio communication seems to have been cut off.
However, Lihue Airport on the island of Kauai has picked a rather garbled
mayday message from the unidentified flight”.
Some of the other passengers had picked up the news also, and a soft
banter of speculation began to spread throughout the plane. Mr. Dadashian
managed to find a little niche at the rear of the flight cabin, where he could
look out the portal of an exit door. He contemplated the sublime vastness of
the Pacific Ocean. It would be a nightmare for anybody finding themselves in
such shark infested waters, he quietly contemplated. As a distraction from
his fears, he decided to enter into a conversation with a few other adults in
the vicinity. Anything beats the boredom of such a long flight.
Then, his momentary escape abruptly came to a halt. The surrounding
group of business-type looking men, and a woman in her early thirties, had
overheard the gossip emanating from the flight cabin, and the news was
spreading with alarming speed.
“Have you heard, they are saying it might be forced to the crash land near
“Ladies and gentlemen, this is the captain. We request that you all return to
your seats and buckle up. It seems we could be heading for some
turbulence in about ten minutes.”
The professional sounding voice coming over the speakers did little a
alleviate Mr. Dadashian’s sense of doom. He had seen it in Carson’s eyes.
Now he had to go back and sit next to him. Strange, he thought, that kid
sitting on his other side, didn’t seem to be bothered by Carson in the least.
* * * * * * * * * *
She looked over at the captain with concern, Ai – Ting had known him for
over a year now, and their close relationship had created a psychic link. She
could, on some occasions, actually read Gerard’s mind.
“It doesn’t add up. There’s something you haven’t told me…right?” The
captain didn’t answer her right away. She knew from experience, it was
better to let him alone with his thoughts.
Presently Anna came into the cabin and announced, “Captain I’ve found a
doctor on board. His name is Dr. Wang…from Singapore’s Mount Elizabeth
Medical Centre. He’s a psychiatrist. After I brought Mr. Dadashian and the
girl, Tamara Buchanan, back to the rear kitchen area, on the false pretext
that there was a passenger who needed their help, I introduced the Doctor to
Mr. Carson. He’s already spent sometime interviewing him. Shall I show him
Again he asked Ai – Ting to take over the plane, and then turned to greet
Dr. Wang as he
made his way into the cramped cockpit.
“Captain I’m honoured to be of assistance”.
“My pleasure Dr. Wang…we are so fortunate to have you on board”,
Captain in his most polite way of the Asian custom; bowing to a man worthy
of respect. After all, the entire plane was officially on Singaporean soil…and
he was employed by their airlines.
“Dr. Wang” he said, (using the correct phonetics of Wong even though it is
spelled with an a) “what can you tell us about Mr. Carson’s condition?”
Dr. Wang was an old school psychiatrist with an extensive career of practice
in five countries around the globe, including the United States. He was an
unimposing man of small stature, but the respect he demanded from those
who knew him, made him seem like a giant. His thinning scalp betrayed the
age spots of years in the outdoors, and he wore his spectacles on his nose
like some ancient Chinese philosopher.
“Schizophrenia was the first thing that came to my mind. However Captain,
this is an oversimplification. Many of my colleagues might have simply
labeled Mr. Carson as a paranoid
with severe hallucinations. However – he is not delusional. He does not
have the typical fear of being persecuted. You know the saying…they are
out to get me”, he said with a slight chuckle.
“I feel that way every time I try to get some badly needed R&R”, the captain
responded with good humour.
“Mr. Carson is perfectly normal…except for one thing. He seems to
know…not just think…but actually know, that he is in grave danger”.
“But Dr. Wang, forgive me, doesn’t that give us evidence that he is
“Yes and No”, the doctor answered solemnly. Before the Captain could ask
the doctor to explain just what he meant by his diagnosis of William Carson,
the plane received a sudden jolt, sending it downwards with a loud scraping
sound. The abruptness from the loss of altitude brought a moment of grave
concern amongst the passengers of flight number 15. Sounded like
something’s been torn.
Captain Gerard Hetherington thought for just an instant. The doctor was
immediately seated in a vacant chair behind the captain, and secured with a
seat belt by Anna.
“Captain, with your permission, I’ll go back to watch over the passengers”.
“Yes by all means – and keep an eye on that Mr. Carson”.
“Captain we seem to be losing altitude at a rate of 250 feet a minute”
“Ting how far are we from Honolulu International Airport?”
“About 100 miles due south Captain”
“I’ll take over. Radio ahead and ask ‘em for permission to land. I’m not
taking any chances here. There just seems to be something that’s not right.
Maybe I’m spooked by that Carson guy. When I went back to see him he
looked like death warmed up in a stove”.
“Say what Captain?”
“Oh …right, that’s a little carry over from my dear mother. She used to say
that all the time.”
The radio broke in – “Singapore flight number 15…we have some
information that you asked for regarding a Mr. William H. Carson. Ah …he’s
not on your flight. He boarded a
Cathay Pacific flight bound for San Francisco about an hour and a half
before your flight took off. Repeat, he’s not a passenger on your flight. Is
As their plane lost more altitude, Ai- Ting maintained radio contact with flight
control in Honolulu. The weather front had moved away to the North, and a
sense of security returned once again to the Boeing 7E7, as it graciously
touched the tarmac. Even the seemingly ambivalent Tamara and Mr.
Dadashian appeared to have finally relaxed a little.
“Excuse me young lady” the older man asked, “I’m just curious. What ever
happened to that man sitting next to me…over there by the window, the one
who seemed to be so upset?”
She smiled, and then shrugged her shoulders, communicating with simple
body language her lack of interest and knowledge of the man’s
whereabouts. Humph…he must be in the lavatory or something...poor chap,
the man in the three piece white linen suit thought to himself.
As Mr. Dadashian collected his camera hand bag and waited patiently in the
queue, he couldn’t help thinking how grateful he was to have escaped
whatever it was Mr. Carson was so terrified of. Before leaving the plane , he
left the Singaporean News paper that had helped in him pass the time on Mr.
Carson’s empty seat. It was an unconscious action.
* * * * * * * * * *
Maria Elena Rosario had left the Philippines for a better life by immigrating
to Hawaii. Most Americans treated her well, and she was grateful for the
employment. The colossal plane she was engaged in cleaning was strewn
with litter; thrown away tissues under seats, and now this Singapore
Newspaper. From within the pouch of the window seat she retrieved a slip of
paper. Out of curiosity she read it: Cathay Airlines Boarding Pass – Mr.
Flight # 9, Singapore to San Francisco one way. Without thinking, she
stuffed it into her pocket.
As the cleaners exited the plane and made their way into Terminal three, Mr.
Dadashian was one of many passengers transfixed on the televised news
broadcast. The news spread with paralyzing alarm. The horror of what
almost happened to flight number 15 was apparently fated for an earlier
“The latest update from Honolulu simply affirms that there were no survivors
on that Cathay Airlines flight number 9 out of Singapore, which crashed
about an hour ago, just off the
coast of Kauai. The U.S. Coast Guard was dispatched to the area
immediately after the fated crash, which has taken the lives of some three
hundred passengers and crew”.
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