Preview #1


This is an excerpt from Chapter 11:


     The hour had passed 5:25, and there had been no announcement of Flight 718's arrival. My grandfather felt a subtle twinge of apprehension and remarked to my mother, "The plane is probably on the ground already," alluding to the possibility that it was somewhere far out on the airfield, taxiing toward the terminal building from the end of the runway on which it had just landed. Whether his purpose was more to reassure her or himself, he abandoned it a moment later in reaction to a voice on the loudspeaker system, which asked for all persons awaiting Flight 718 from Los Angeles to come to the ticket counter.

     This was a relief and a comfort to some who had begun to worry, but for the more astute it was a shock. A simple delay would be announced over the loudspeaker, so it could only be serious and therefore threatening, that everyone was being summoned to be told something discreetly and face to face with whoever would tell it. Something was wrong, and those who were more acutely aware, whether by character or just in that unfamiliar circumstance, instinctively knew it.

     Once they had gathered, the group was directed to a room nearby. Now the astute were sure, and the naive were afraid. It was obvious to all of them that this was exactly what would be done if there had been a crash.

     While this was happening in Chicago, people waiting at TWA's terminal in Lambert-St. Louis Municipal Airport were becoming increasingly anxious. St.Louis and Chicago were on the same time system, Central Daylight, and up until 5:30 p.m., the time that people waiting for Flight 718 at Midway Airport were called to the United ticket counter, the flight board at TWA's terminal in St. Louis had displayed the message, "Late," next to Flight 2. Family and friends had been arriving since about 5:00 even though Flight 2 was not due until 5:57, and most had inquired at the ticket counter about how late Flight 2 would be. They were given only the disquieting, cryptic answer that no more information was available and that more was expected soon, but then around 5:30, "Late" was replaced with the chalked-in message, "More Information at 7 p.m." This was a truly frightening promise because it obviously meant either that the airline did not know where Flight 2 was, or that they knew and were withholding the information, pending deciding how to reveal it. Either way, something was seriously wrong.

     At 5:40, the chalked-in message was erased from the flight board, leaving a blank line next to Flight 2, and the TWA employees who had been present retreated to a room behind the counter. For some of the people waiting, the bottom must have fallen out right then. It was the third indication that something was wrong, and the most dramatic and portentous of the three.