The fire had jumped across the valley, and now formed an impenetrable wall around all four sides of the stranded group of hikers. Crews were trying desperately to reach them, but were driven away by the heat. The last option was a water-bomber dump directly on the hikers’ position in an attempt to suppress the flames long enough to reach the trapped party.
“Base, this is Dragon 768. We are on approach to the target. Confirm release at grid 27?”
“Roger, Dragon. Grid 27.”
Mike Harrison keyed the radio toggle again. “Copy, Base. We’re going in.” He pushed the control column forward and the enormous plane began its run.
The hot air rising off of the fire made for a bumpy ride.
“Wait until I give the call before hitting the release,” Harrison told his co-pilot, Andrew “Ace” Carol. “They don’t have time for us to go back and refill.”
“Gotcha,” said Ace in his usual laid-back manner.
Harrison often remarked that, when Ace wasn’t flying, it was hard to tell if he was alive.
Ace claimed “energy conservation”, if he defended himself at all.
The aircraft was seconds from releasing its liquid cargo when Ace sounded the alarm. “Fire warning on the number two engine,” he called, simultaneously pulling the extinguisher handle.
Before Harrison had a chance to respond, Ace made another announcement.
“Fire in number one, too.”
“Leave it,” Harrison commanded. “We need to make the drop. Get ready.”
The hikers watched the plane fly toward them. One wing was trailing a cloud of dark smoke. The aircraft started to wobble as it got closer. Then the belly opened up and released the water over the fire. Several of the hikers were knocked down by the deluge.
“We’re empty,” Harrison shouted. “Cut the engine.”
Ace did as he was told, and the plane lurched sideways as it lost thrust on one side.
Harrison saw the problem immediately. “I can’t correct. We don’t have enough altitude. Hold on.”
Rescue crews reached the hikers just as the bomber hit the ground. Luckily, it crashed just ahead of the fire.
Harrison lifted his head and looked at the shattered flightdeck. He couldn’t quite remember what had just happened. He felt someone pulling at his shoulder strap and looked slowly in that direction.
It was Ace, who had a nasty gash over his eye, but otherwise seemed to be in good shape.
“We need to go,” he told Harrison. “The tail’s already going up. I don’t want to get cooked.”