Terrorist Hijacking of Pacifica 762 SQUAWK 7500 1225 Central Standard Time

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Denver Center issued Pacifica Seven Sixty-Two a descent clearance to sixteen thousand feet.

Mike re-engaged the autopilot while the pilots reviewed and briefed the arrival and landing in Great Falls. Gary, the first officer, will fly; Mike will work the radios and coordinate with airport ground personnel and the law enforcement officers.

The aircraft has flown out of the drizzle so Mike switches the radar from the "weather" mode to the "ground mapping" mode. Although they're in thick clouds and can't see a thing, the ground mapping screen indicates the mountainous terrain that surrounds them - the higher elevations in red, the intermediate in yellow, and the lower in green.

The controllers have the same mapping mode on their radar scopes; it is their responsibility to assign headings and altitudes that will keep aircraft clear of the high terrain. Mike's equipment is merely a backup but it was comforting for the pilots to "see" the invisible mountains that passed silently beneath the wings. Approaching sixteen thousand feet, the controller contacted the crew.
"Pacifica Seven Sixty-Two, Denver Center, continue your descent to ten thousand feet, turn right to a heading of zero three zero; vectors for a left downwind to runway 21, and contact Great Falls approach control on frequency 118.55."

"Pacifica Seven Sixty-Two, roger, sir, we copied all of that, good day and thanks for your assistance."
Denver Center answered in the same solemn voice that the pilots had heard earlier.

"Good day, sir and...good luck."

Mike reached toward the radio panel ...

TRAFFIC! ...TRAFFIC!...CLIMB!...CLIMB!
Both pilots flinch and instinctively grab their control yokes as the piercing alarm of the Traffic Collision Avoidance System blares through their headsets and over the cockpit speakers. They immediately focus their attention on the TCAS screen located at the bottom of the flight instrument panel. Two fast moving aircraft, represented by the red diamond shapes on the screen, are rapidly closing on them from their twelve o'clock position.

TRAFFIC! TRAFFIC! CLIMB! CLIMB!
The pilots have twenty seconds until impact.
"Pacifica Seven Sixty-Two, Great Falls Approach, disregard any TCAS warning you may be receiving, sir."
The TCAS system screams even louder as the time until impact reaches ten seconds. The pilots must execute an immediate six thousand foot per minute climb to avoid hitting the unidentified aircraft.

TRAFFIC! TRAFFIC! CLIMB! CLIMB!
It takes every ounce of mental strength for Mike and Gary to override their primal urge to yank back on the control yoke.

"Pacifica Seven Sixty-Two, I say again, disregard TCAS warnings. Be advised that two Montana Air National Guard F-16's are joining up on you and will escort you into the terminal area."

Due to the cloud cover, the pilots never see the fighters rocket past their wingtips. However, the aural warnings stopped and the two red diamond shapes on the TCAS screen turned to green once the computer sensed that the F-16s' were no longer a collision threat. Mike released his white-knuckled grip on the control yoke and started breathing again. He should have anticipated the intercept from the fighters since a fighter escort is one of the many security procedures put in place after the terrorist attacks of September, 2001; attacks that started with hijackings.

The Boeing 737 is just a few minutes away from landing. Still in light drizzle and fog, Mike can't see the airport but the navigation computer indicates that it is at the twelve o'clock position and ten miles away.
Mike is becoming more anxious as the airport gets closer. With no word from any of his flight attendants, and unable to determine the exact conditions in the cabin, he desperately wants to get the aircraft on the ground as quickly as possible. It is his fervent hope that he is not flying a commercial airliner full of bleeding men, women, and children.

The approach controller gives the pilots a heading to line up with the runway. Mike instructs Gary to start slowing the aircraft so they can configure for landing. Their airspeed of three hundred fifty knots is so great that if the landing gear was lowered, or the flaps extended, the wind pressure would tear off the gear doors or rip the flaps off the wings.

With the speedbrakes extended and the aircraft slowing to approach speed, the airliner is descending to its initial approach altitude. Two thousand five hundred feet...two thousand four hundred feet, the fog is starting to lift...two thousand three hundred feet; Mike hears his co-pilot gasp and instantly looks up from the instrument panel.

The captain couldn't believe what he was seeing. In twenty-two years of flying, Mike had never observed anything like the scene that filled the windscreen!

Previous: Saturday 1216 Central Standard Time
Next: Saturday 1242 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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