And then it came: ‘CLIMB’
Absolute smooth movement was imperative in this event. Sloppy movement, believe it or not, could potentially rock or shake the aircraft, alerting the crows inside that something was going down. There was no hurry during this phase of the assault; however, the announcement of “COMPROMISE” would mean that stealth was off, and everyone would move rapidly to breach and flood the aircraft with as many marauders as possible.
Our movement onto the wings was uneventful. Once on the wing we edged slowly toward the over-wing exit, on knees and elbows crouching as low as possible under the passenger windows. A passenger window blind slid open and a beam of white light appeared on the wing just to the left of our crouching lineup. We froze. Had they heard us? Had they SEEN us? Within seconds the blind closed again.
Now we’re ready to breach. We waited in the summer dark, heads down, sweat dripping off the tip of my nose. I noted that I had curiously formed a full-scale puddle of sweat on the wing, just from the drops off of the tip of my nose. My nose had become the focal point drain to wick the sweat from my face. The puddle had begun to run down the sloping contour of the wing.
With nothing else better to do, I pondered that if my brothers behind me stepped squarely in it, they were in jeopardy of slipping. I soaked the sweat with my flight gloves and the knees of my Nomex flight suit. I ran a tight and tidy ship you see; of that, I did fancy.
Command voice crackled over ear buds: “Ready, ready, ready… “ Each man reached forward and squeezed the calf of the man in front of him. In the event that any of us had lost communications at this critical moment, the squeeze meant that the preparatory command was being transmitted. The squeeze was followed by pats, as the countdown was sent: “Five… four… three… two… one…
And then it came: “EXECUTE, EXECUTE, EXECUTE!”
There came at once the supersonic report as the snipers fired at targets acquired. Cockpit glass exploded with a BOOSHHH!! Sam was already up with his breaching tool and punched the door in hard. One punch is all it took from dead-eye Sam. The unfortunate entry of over-wing teams meant that the doors fell inward and onto the laps of horrified passengers.
If the passengers did not push the doors off of themselves, we assaulters dove in on top of the doors that were on the laps of passengers. It was not a pretty sight, or sound, as passengers screamed bloody murder. We offered not one ounce of concern for them, destroying the seating arrangement as we thundered in.
Despite the rough entry, the wing teams were typically in first, with a mission to move as fast as absolutely possible down the aisle toward the rear of the aircraft. It was understood that we were jackrabbits, with the intent to draw fire from the crows, returning fire with pistols, and hoping the front teams with sub machine guns could knock them out before they did us fatal harm.
“Nice work if you can get it.” I though as I moved as fast as I could behind Sam, sweeping my halogen pistol light across the petrified faces of passengers. They screamed, cried, called to Jesus and the apostles. Suddenly WHAM! Sam went down, I mean HARD, flat on his face. “Goddamn, that’s gotta hurt!” I worried as I stepped on his back and vaulted over his body.
And then it came: WHAM!
I went down hard, I mean HARD, flat on my face. I sprang up and: “Those cock-suckers!” I stewed… they had stretch out and fastened seat belts from seat to seat across the aisle. I burst forward flagging every face with the barrel of my pistol. I settled into a smooth and rhythmic, step-step-step LEAP… step-step-step LEAP, and so it went.
Now, I never ran track or field in school, but I was a gazelle, and ran the seatbelt hurdles in record time, even shaving off some last few tenths of seconds from my last year’s qualifying time.
At the rear of the aircraft I met and high-fived my brothers from C team who had effectively breached the left rear passenger door. We kicked in and cleared the lavatories. I slowly but surely moved forward again, unbuckling the seat belt hurdles, screaming the perfunctory commands that communicated to the passengers that if they did not do exactly what we told them to do, they were going to get hurt really really bad.
I moved up the aisle, gun-lighting passengers in the eyes to keep their heads down. I moved with my left hand out forward in front of my body, my right gun hand tucked high up under my chin and flat against my chest, sweeping strongly from side to side, precluding anyone from grabbing my pistol.
Sam was just now sitting up, he looked at me with a thoroughly dazed expression and a big fat lip: “Wha… wha happened?” He had fallen and knocked himself unconscious (for the second time on such an operation) but had kept his pistol secure the entire time, somehow. That was impressive.
Long(er) gunners thundered down the aisle en route to link up with the Charlie boys in the rear of the aircraft. Only then would the aircraft be accepted as secure. I passed Sam off to them to take care of. They did not look happy when they saw his damaged face: “Who did this, Goddamnit?!?”
“Relax, he did it to himself” I explained
The scene inside was a morbid remake of Dante’s Inferno. All were the most amazing liabilities. Men, women, children, babies, invalids, non-English speakers. We had to tame this mob, and get them off the aircraft quickly and safely.
POP, POP, POP, whhhoooooosssssshhhhhhhh: the brothers fired the inflatable slides for emergency exit. Leadership moved swiftly down the aisle receiving curt verbal status reports, repositioning men, sending as many of us down the slides as possible to form the search corridor; only once that was ready, could we begin to send passengers down the slides.
The problem was this: We did not know how many crows were among the crowd. The crowd did not know how many crows were among the crowd. We needed to get the aircrew outside and positioned at the Prerogative Finger (PF), where every single passenger would have to pass through to be identified as friend or foe. There, a passenger manifest would also be present.
I was given back Sam to tend to. I stayed with him while he came back to sense, sucking on ice cubes wrapped in a napkin to coax his swollen lips down. The din was ridiculous; my hammer was pounding my anvil with a feverish passion. My head buzzed.
The Grinch shoved his way through the lunatics lined up to exit: “I swear to God if these fuckers don’t shut up, I’m going to gas this plane!” he promised. The Grinch had a staunch reputation as a man of his word, though he was a sensible brother of immense patience.
“Chik, you and Sam bail out; get to the search corridor.” Sam was pretty much ‘with it’ again, as he bulldozed his way to the front of the exit line; me riding his wake. In the doorway was the most amazing and inexorable panic. Yelling, screaming, oaths, old ladies, kids, roller boards, purses… all petrified to jump down the slide.
“What these people need, is a sound throttling!” suggested Sam, using that buzz phrase of his that he used so often. But a sound throttling was indeed what this throng needed. Sam, being Sam, did what only Sam would think of doing: he scooped up two children, one in each arm, and hit the slide with a jump and a “Wheeeeeeeeeeeeeee!!” What can you say about a guy like that?
“You guys alright? You got this?” I asked insincerely of the two brothers who were trying to help the flight attendants manage the panic.
“Are you shittin’ me? Bro just shoot me; kill me now!’
“Roger! I saluted and shot out down the slide. Something caught the slide toward the bottom and turn me sideways, allowing me to roll the last few feet down the slide like a run-away log. I stood, feigned brushing dust off of my sleeves, and moved through the corridor.
At the PF, the pilots and flight crew were gathered with our Squadron Command Group, fussing over papers nervously. Two brothers kept the peace with assault rifles, high-power gun lights, and the wrath of God in them. One unidentified man sat with his back to the action, his wrists tightly flex-cuffed behind his back, his head drooped low.
“Crow” winked a gunner. I nodded and moved to a position in a three-man search team. The passengers were all sitting in ‘dirty’ rows with their backs to us search teams. Once all teams had three men, that commander ordered the search to begin.
One at a time the passengers were brought to their feet by the cover man. The passenger was handed off to the two men who searched them for weapons, while the cover man locked eyes with the passenger the entire time, weapon at high ready. Searched persons were finally taken and set down in ‘clean’ rows, facing away from the search corridor.
It was over now, and we moved back to the hanger lugging our ladders and corollaries. The passengers were turned over to airport/airline authorities for reunification. Crows were taken by agents from the FBI. It had been a helluva night, yes it had… or had it yet?
(continued in part III)
Featured image courtesy of Bundesarchiv