Terrorist Hijacking of Pacifica 762 SQUAWK 7500 1155 Central Standard Time

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"Denver Center, Pacifica Seven Sixty-Two, Mayday."

The communications between the controller and the other aircraft abruptly ceased and the reply from Denver Center was instantaneous.

In a shocked voice, the controller said, "Pacifica Seven Sixty-Two, say again!"

Before Mike could respond, Gary pointed at the radar screen and said, "We need to do something about this line of thunderstorms."

Mike had become so preoccupied with the safety of the flight attendants and the marginal weather in Bozeman and Billings that he had lost track of the thunderstorms looming ahead. "Damn. Like I don't have enough trouble already," he thought.

While Mike was trying to determine their next course of action, Gary piped up, "When I was flying corporate jets from Canada, we always cleared U.S. Customs in Great Falls. Maybe we should take a look at their weather since it's about the same distance from here to Great Falls as it is from here to Bozeman or Billings."

Gary was a new first officer at the airline but he wasn't a new pilot. A graduate of Spartan School of Aeronautics, he had spent the last ten years flying corporate jets all over the world and, just recently, started dabbling in aerobatics. No fewer than twenty-five Pacifica pilots had recommended him for employment when his resume came up for review. His suggestion would turn out to have a significant impact on the flight.

In the background, both pilots could hear the Denver controller say, "Pacifica Seven Sixty-Two, if able, repeat last transmission or squawk appropriate code."

"Squawk appropriate code" was the controllers' way to discreetly ask the pilots if they were being hijacked or had some other type of emergency that, for some reason, couldn't be mentioned over the radio. Pilots are able to non-verbally communicate with air traffic controllers by setting specific numbered codes in the transponder, a device on the aircraft that is "pinged" by the ground based radars. The squawk code for "hijack" is 7500. Once a radar scope detects a 7-5-0-0 code on an aircraft, bells ring at the controllers' station and several emergency procedures start taking place. Mike instructed Gary to set 7500 in the transponder, then pressed his transmit button.

"Denver, Pacifica Seven Sixty-Two, we have a hijack in progress and I'm declaring an emergency at this time," Mike said into his microphone. Again the response from the controller was instantaneous.

"Roger, Pacifica Seven Sixty-Two, we copy and we see your squawk. Say your intentions and, when able, sir, I need your aircraft type, fuel on board, and number of souls on board."

A flash of lightening illuminated the cockpit as Mike responded, "OK, Center, I'll get all of that in just a second but right now I have an urgent request."

"Go ahead with your request," Denver came back.

"Sir, I have a line of thunderstorms at twelve o'clock and approximately twenty miles. I need a block clearance for a cruise altitude of eighteen thousand feet through forty-one thousand feet. Also, I need multiple course changes of plus or minus forty-five degrees for weather avoidance, over."

Denver Center replied, "Roger, Pacifica Seven Sixty-Two, we are in the process of clearing all traffic out of your airspace and putting a ten mile ‘no fly zone' around your aircraft. You are cleared as requested."

"Roger, stand-by for the additional information that you requested," Mike said as he glanced over at Gary.
Another bolt of lightning, brighter than the last, filled the cockpit as Mike instructed Gary, who had disconnected the autopilot and was hand-flying the aircraft, to fly whatever course and altitude needed to stay out of the thunderstorms. Mike was extremely concerned with the possibility of encountering turbulence. The last thing he wanted to do was bounce a flight attendant, or helpful passenger, off the ceiling of the aircraft. Gary was in a climbing right turn to skirt a rain cell, leaving Mike free to concentrate on finding a suitable place to land. And Mike needed to land - quickly.

"Denver Center, Pacifica Seven Sixty-Two, I need the current weather report for Great Falls and be advised that we are executing multiple deviations for thunderstorms and moderate rain showers."

The controller must have been reading the captain's mind because he started reciting the Great Falls weather as soon as Mike had released the radio transmit button.

"The current Great Falls weather is, ceiling one thousand five hundred feet, visibility is greater than ten miles, and the wind is out of the southwest at seven knots. The active runway is runway twenty-one, over."

Finally, some good news! Great Falls airport was reporting weather conditions suitable for Mike to execute a visual approach and, from the charts that Gary had placed on the center console; the runway was long enough for them to land. Mike looked over at Gary who, although starting a left turn to keep clear of another thunderstorm, was pumping his arm up and down like he had just hit a homerun. There was no need for further discussions between the pilots - Great Falls was the new destination.

Mike keyed his transmit button. "Pacifica Seven Sixty-Two is requesting a clearance from our present position direct to Great Falls International Airport."

"Pacifica Seven Sixty-Two, you are cleared as requested."

Previous: Saturday 1110 Central Standard Time

Next: Saturday 1155 Central Standard Time

Captain Steve A. Reeves is author of fiction book SQUAWK 7500 Terrorist Hijacking of Pacifica 762 rue and it is true story. Book will be soon available on Amazon. Stay tuned.

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