“Terrain Terrain” 

The speakers from Zaharie’s Simulator headphones blurted out, making him jump out of his seat and focus on the screen. The Boeing 777-200 ER flew over the South China Sea and reached cruising altitude. 35,455 Ft!

A faulty Terrain Avoidance and Warning System (TAWS) again on his customized Simulator. However, it was the first time he was experiencing this on his Simulator at this altitude.

He set the course of the aircraft 100 degrees East toward Air Route B 219, hoping to avoid the TAWS false alarm and increased the altitude. No luck there.

“Terrain Terrain”. “Terrain Terrain.”.

Altitude: 37,688 Ft! 

“Terrain Terrain”. “Terrain Terrain”. 

The alarms became continuous and louder driving him crazy. He gave up and activated the Safe Abort Process.

The B777 instead, stalled. Unlike a car engine stall, the aeroplane stalls with engines running. A breakdown of the smooth airflow over the wing into a turbulent one, resulting in a decrease in lift and the aeroplane starts losing height.

The descent was rapid. He still tried to control it to land on the South China Sea, possibly, the best option next to a crash-landing.

In a trance, Zaharie watched in disbelief the aircraft gliding on autopilot, a smooth glide between rows of pine trees, into a valley of lilies, fireflies flickering as the guiding lights, taxiing as smooth as silk on a fairy-tale runway. The fountains lining the promenade suddenly sprung into life erupting into water cannons welcoming the aircraft, as the Boeing finally halted in a mysterious paradise land, so serene, so sublime, so mystical. Heaven, indeed, just like the way Ammi used to describe it.

The incessant knocking on the door brought him out of the trance.

Aishah’s faint voice filtered through the near soundproof room.

“Abbu, the car is here.”

***********

Fang Xiamo dismissed the babysitter and sat beside the sleeping boys. Mirav and Miles. In about another eight hours, Muktesh and Bai would be back, and then she could go back to Sangyu. Beijing was already making her nauseated. She longed to be back at her small house at the idyllic and serene Sangyu. She had to prepare for the Guangui Temple festival.

She never assumed in her faintest imaginations that Bai would return from Canada for good. A pang of guilt engulfed her. All of us die anyways. Cancer or not. Would they stay around or go back after her death? 

************

He looked at the mirror one final time and admired his reflection with a lot of self-reverence. Captain Ahmad Zaharie in a speckless Malaysian Airline regimental attire. He ignored Faizah who was glued to the TV. He looked at their honeymoon picture on top of the television panel. Their courtship was then so magical, enviable, unreal. “The inspiration behind many couple goals they had said”. But then the magic began to wear off soon after Aishah was born. And then a year later Ahmad. 

Zaharie’s aviation skills were unmatched. Soaring heights, he was now just not an ordinary Pilot. He was Malaysian Airline’s Type Rating Instructor, and Type Rating Examiner, on the B777. He was addicted to flying. 

He couldn’t stop flying at home too. He refurbished a Microsoft Simulator by himself and was locked inside hours together exploring the skies in his studio, flying his favourite bird. He used just one B777 and never bothered to toy with other models, unlike other Flight Simulation enthusiasts. 

The family began to see less and less of him. The only moments he came out were for prayer and some food. And the arguments became heated and frequent, which he usually abandoned midway without resolutions. 

No, he wasn’t the first pilot to have a fling at work. Why did his own family judge him based on one exaggerated scandal, on a few leaked text messages?

His son Ahmad became more detached. He dropped the idea of becoming a pilot himself and enrolled in a second Masters’s program at the university. Aishah was more forgiving and kinder and the only one who ever enquired about his well-being. She met him at the doorway.

“Safe flight, Abbu.”

“Thank you, Jewel, Ma’ a Salama.”

************

Fang did not know much about the Mukherjees other than what Muktesh explained about the family tree and lineage. One of his uncles used to be a minister in the Indian Government in the 80s. The family-owned a major steel conglomerate. Muktesh was eventually expected to join the business at some stage.

Muktesh had a brother Mohan who looked after the Dubai business operations. Mohan’s wife Uma was the only one Fang interacted with in recent times. Uma loved to talk to the boys on Facetime and even taught them to call her Jethima.

************

The chauffeur opened the rear door of the sedan and Zaharie slid into the seat.

The mobile phone buzzed. Zaharie went cold. He read the coded message a thousand times on the way to the airport. It was one of those days he wished he didn’t have to fly. 

What was the urgency from the brothers, now? They caught him off guard. Real bad timing. The target coordinates looked bizarre, impossible and a high-risk deviation from the normal flight path. This was the height of stupidity. Any layman with a flight path application could detect the changed course. The Royal Malaysian Air Force Bombers could scramble in no time if he had no real answers for the detour. That would be a catastrophe. 

Zaharie was sure that the Holy Order must have thought about it. 

As if the Holy Order read his mind, a new Message arrived on his mobile phone from a VoIP-enabled source. 

“Don’t worry, Son. You will be not alone. A brother will be at your side, always, till the END.  Remember, you are a great pilot. Lead us to the destination. God will show you the way.”

But who could be the hitman? He scanned the counter at KLIA MH 370 counters. He wished he could find some way to stop him from boarding.

************

Seyed Mohammed Rezar Delawar went through the immigration process in a jiffy. Just one question and one non-committal answer.

“Business Trip.” 

“Thank you. Have a safe flight Mr. Luigi Maraldi.”

“Next.”

He waited for his young colleague Pouria Nour Mohammad, to pass through. It was a nerve-wracking moment. After a flurry of questions and nodding of heads, he also came through, betraying a few beads of sweat on the forehead. The two Iranians embraced.

“Well done, Herr Christian Kozel! Aber dein Englisch ist nicht gut!”

They broke into laughter as they embraced. They looked back at the immigration counter before they proceeded to Security Check.

The brother had left his seat.

 ************

The staff made way for Captain Ahmad Zaharie as he went through the pre-departure procedures on the ground.

He did not wait for his first officer. He saw him briefly during the procedures. A rookie. That helped a bit. As he walked through the priority security check, he scanned again for the possible hitman amongst the crowd. 

All he could see was humanity, mankind. 

238 souls, including 12 crew members would be at his command. He was their God when they enter the sanctity of the aircraft. 

237, he corrected. Not the hitman. He was out to shock the conscience out of mankind, despite the doctrine of the Holy Order.  

  1. “And neither myself”. He concluded. A wilful accomplice for a systematic and planned attack directed against humanity.

Flings! My foot! He cursed. 

Wish it was just one fling as the media exposed. And as his family assumed, yet another air hostess-pilot affair!

The web of the honey trap was cast much wider around him, there was no escape from it, other than pulling it down together with all the entangled elements. And the People who spun it.

His mobile phone beeped twice in succession. 

New Media Messages. 

Two New Images.

************

“We needed this break, baby,” Muktesh sighed as they settled in the comfort of their Business Class first-row seats.

Muktesh held her face and kissed Bai squarely on her lips. Bai was startled and gave him an admonishing look.

“This is not Toronto, baby, PDA is frowned upon in KL.”

“So, what baby, will they jail me for kissing my beautiful wife?”

“Hmmm… should we call Mama and inform her that we have boarded?”

“It’s quite late, baby She must have slept. Yeah! Missed the boys. Hope they didn’t give her much trouble”

************

The boys surprisingly were quite well behaved, seemingly independent at that tender age like the children she sees in Hollywood movies. Fang slipped her hands under the quilt and felt Miles’ diaper. It was dry, thankfully. The kid had somehow stopped bedwetting. 

She was startled when Miles jumped up and sat on the bed giggling. She wondered if she had tickled him inadvertently. 

Fang went over to his side and held him.

“Oh Miles, you dream, I wake up you. Sorry, sorry, come sleep.”

“Nana, I want to go there too.”

“Where dear? Oh, you dream. Where place you go in dream little Miles?”

“To Papa and Mama’s place, Nana.”

 “They will come morning, Miles. I go Sangyu. You come Sangyu in Chinese New Year”

“No, Nana, let us go to Papa and Mama, in fairyland. It is beautiful, I want to go.”

“Ok, I will tell Bai. Next time they go, you both go also.”

“Nana, I want to go now, let us go now,” Miles looked at her pleadingly. “It has a beautiful garden, and children playing happily.”

“Miles, my baby, Ok. Let Papa and Mama come tomorrow. I tell. I promise.”

“But they are not coming, Nana”

“Shhh.. child. No tell like that. Sleep now. We talk tomorrow…”

After Miles went back to sleep, Fang kneeled and touched her forehead on the miniature idol of Nezha and prayed for the safe return journey of her only daughter Bai Xiamo and Muktesh.

************

Fariq Abdul Hamid had about just 2700 Hours of flying experience. But this was his first on a Boeing 777. Also, his first with the revered yet scandalous Captain Zaharie. He was excited but nervous. 

Zaharie seemed to be a cold guy. He half greeted; half smiled as they waited at the boarding gate. The Chief seemed to be quite occupied with the messages beeping non-stop on his mobile phone.  

************

 Zaharie looked at the pictures he had received. 

Two different locations.

Two black limousines.

One was parked outside the Student Housing complex where his son Ahmad resided.

The other one was parked outside the iron gates of his duplex Villa.

He zoomed over the images. There were people inside.

The passengers inside were hooded but they made no effort to conceal the weapons. 

He considered giving himself up to the Police. That could probably stop larger-scale mayhem, but he would lose everything he had, loved and unloved.  The solution must be in the skies only. He was an ace pilot for nothing.

He ruled the skies.

God will show him a way. HE always did

He opened his pocketbook and read silently.

*“He who ignores the will of God for the sake of his inner self will never enter heaven. Strive hard so that not even a single dot or iota of the Holy Quran may testify against you and cause you to be punished. For even the smallest particle of evil is punishable. Time is short and there is no telling how long one shall live. Make haste—for twilight will soon descend”

 ************

“Bai, are you certain you don’t want to come to Kolkata for the Puja?”

“Should we go over this again, dear?”

Muktesh dropped the subject. 

He had chosen Beijing over Kolkata. The Mukherjees were not happy with his decision. A lot of water flowed under the Hooghly Bridge after Miles and Mirav were born. They had invited them over for Dusshera this year. 

************

Zaharie called up Andrew, the chief Steward.

Andrew promptly came with a green tea dip.

“Andy, who are we waiting for?”

“Two Europeans, Captain. The Ground staff located them in the Prayer Room, and they are already at the gate. We should close doors in about five minutes.”

“Good, Thank you, Andy.”

“Anytime. Captain”

Two Europeans, in Prayer Room. Things didn’t add up.

Zaharie excused himself to the washroom. It was occupied. He watched the last two passengers walking unhurriedly down the aero bridge. And froze.

“Europeans! I will be damned.” He cursed as he made his way back to the Cockpit.

 ************

Muktesh closed the Gita and opened his eyes. Bai was still praying. The plane had reached a cruising altitude of 25000 Ft as displayed on the inflight screen. The seat belt signs were still on. The take-off was bumpy. No wonder Bai was still in prayer. Muktesh smiled to himself.

************

Captain Zaharie steered the plane heading on course to IGARI, the imaginary point over the South China Sea. He could notice the clock tower and flow of traffic below on the expressway before the cloud cover masked all objects on the ground.

Somewhere down, people were tracking his flight path.

He maintained the prescribed course on the Air Route R208, wobbling through a series of white Stratus clouds.

************

Andy, the Chief steward, was walking toward the cockpit, trailed closely by a passenger. Nothing about this seemed right to Muktesh. The passenger walked with his arms clumsily folded, as if hiding something. And he was following the steward when the fasten seat belts light was on. 

Andy picked up the intercom phone outside the cockpit, spoke briefly, and hung up. He exchanged a few words with the guy. The cockpit door opened. 

The passenger stepped into the cockpit. Andy closed the door behind him. Andy did his best to look non-puzzled. He smiled at Muktesh, a feeble attempt to reassure him.

It made Muktesh more nervous. 

“That guy shouldn’t be up there!” he whispered. Bai opened her eyes and looked at him quizzically.

************

In one swipe of the baton, Nour rendered First officer Fariq unconscious.

“There was no need for that.” Zaharie admonished Nour Mohammed.

“It’s not in the script, but I am better off handling one brother than two.”

“There was supposed to be only one of you in the script. Not two.” Zaharie enquired.

“Don’t worry about that. The Holy order trusts no one. Not me. Not you. Hence the backup. Rezar is a trained pilot too. Not sure if he’s ever flown a Boeing.

Absolutely, not sure if he has ever flown into buildings in Hong Kong.”

Zaharie recoiled “What!”

“This is the updated script, brother. Or maybe ‘The Original’ one too!”

Zaharie urged on hoping to find some plot hole. “The Holy Order is working with the Chinese? And why should I believe you? This makes no sense to me at all.”

“Do you have a choice, brother? Now, maintain the R208 through FIR Singapore and then to the right at waypoint IGARI, along FIR Ho Chi Minh, and change to Route B219 on course to Hong Kong.” 

************

01:01:14 MAS370 Malaysian Three Seven Zero maintaining level three five zero

01:01:19 ATC Malaysian Three Seven Zero

01:07:55 MAS370 Malaysian…Three Seven Zero maintaining level three five-zero

01:08:00 ATC Malaysian Three Seven Zero

01:19:24 ATC Malaysian Three Seven Zero Contact Ho Chi Minh 120decimal 9 Good Night

01:19:29 MAS370 Good Night Malaysian Three Seven Zero

This communication remains the last words ever exchanged in the history of MH 370.

************

Nour Mohammed eased himself into the jump seat. It is soon going to end. 

The Holy Order will take care of the family, he was sure. A purpose finally found its way into his life, the amends coming alive through death. 

Was that even a life anyways? he sighed.

He was desperate to know the situation in the Cabin.

The steward was supposed to go through the motions like any other day’s service on board. Rezar Bhai would have ensured that he hoped.

 Rezar Bhai, a victim of self-created fallacy, a life that spiralled down from riches to rags. How far would he have gone with that tumour? Two months, Three months? The Holy order named them the chosen warriors! 

Chosen preys of doom!

His thoughts were interrupted by a sharp alarm from the TAWS.

 ************

Zahari took a sharp turn about 100° to the left, headed northwest, and travelled a short distance before making another left turn and heads southwest, crossing back over land near the Malaysia-Thailand border. The plane was changing course to Air Route B219. 

They were missing from the skies for 18 minutes. In 2 minutes, he will have to decide. 

Or let God decide….

37,688 ft. Cruising beyond the blue yonder.

And then he felt the stall. Zaharie was jolted up from his cockpit

“Terrain Terrain”. 

************

A year later

Inspector Abdullah Sani consoled Faizah at her home. Aishah held a comforting arm over her shoulder. Ahmad rarely visited them these days.

“Mrs. Zaharie, the search has been officially called off. But don’t worry, people are continuing to look. I’m sorry. The Captain did his best, for sure. For whatever happened to the plane, Inshallah! He averted another 9/11. Good man. Very good man!”

************

Uma had shifted to Kolkata from Dubai.

She was sitting in between Miles and Mirav. They were showing off their new PS3 to Fang.

“Fang, how is your health, now?”

“Yes, better, better. Lived another day. Don’t know tomorrow.” She sobbed. “Poor Bai…. They shouldn’t have come here, Uma. Bai should have listened to you.”

Jethima, can we go out and play now?”, the boys asked in unison.

 

The LORD has made everything for its purpose, even the wicked for the day of trouble. Scientists can study only what God has made……….

 

Footnote:

This is a fictionalized account of the mysterious disappearance of Flight MH 370 on 8th March 2014. The incidents narrated are purely imaginary and fictional.  

Glossary:

  • TAWS- Terrain Avoidance and Warning System
  • Ma’ a Salama (Arabic)- Goodbye
  • Jethima (Bengali)- Aunt
  • Aber dein Englisch ist nicht gut (German)- But your English is not good
  • IGARI, the imaginary point co-ordinates over the South China Sea
  • FIR- Flight Information Region
  • VoIP-Voice over Internet Protocol
  • *- Source: Hazrat Mirza Ghulam Ahmad, Noah’s Ark, pp. 42-43
  • KLIA- Kuala Lumpur International Airport
  • KL- Kuala Lumpur
  • B777- Boeing 777 aircraft
  • Ammi- Mother
  • Abbu- Father

Pic Credit: Emanu @emanuux/unsplash.com

 

 

 

 


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