Cleared by the NTSB of any fault when a mid-flight explosion demands a white-knuckle emergency landing of a Boeing jumbo jet, twenty-six-year-old pilot Samantha ‘Danger Magnet’ Starr heads to the Scottish Highlands for rest and relaxation.
But peace and serenity quickly fade when Sam rescues a boy named Charlie from being abducted by a political terrorist organization.
Arriving at the nearest police station with the intent of returning Charlie to his powerful and influential father, Sam discovers the police are in cahoots with the abductors, and she’s the one being fingered for kidnapping.
Now, dodging terrorists, corrupt police, and haunted by her younger brother’s kidnapping and murder years prior, Sam will do anything to protect Charlie in a thrilling Flight to Redemption.
Publisher’s Note: As a retired airline pilot with U.S. Airways, S.L. Menear brings unparalleled realism and authenticity to this action-packed thriller. Written without vulgarity and explicit sexual content, this thrill-a-minute adventure can be enjoyed by readers of all ages and persuasions.
This story was previously published as Deadstick Dawn in April, 2016 and has been subsequently edited by the author.
Evening June 30, 2013
A thunderous blast assaulted the cockpit door a second before the pressure in my ears went haywire. The Boeing 767 rolled rapidly to the right, causing the autopilot to disengage. I grabbed the yoke and leveled the wings as an invisible force sucked the air out of the cockpit and my lungs. Every second at thirty-one thousand feet brought us closer to death in the sub-zero temperatures and low-oxygen levels.
The cockpit filled with a bone-chilling mist as I turned to my copilot and gasped, “Oxygen masks on.” I pulled on my mask and keyed the cockpit intercom. “Rapid depressurization. Initiating emergency descent.” I spoke the list of memorized commands for a dive to a safe altitude.
Lance pulled on his mask. “I’m on it, Sam.” He selected the appropriate switches to the ON position and keyed the radio while entering the emergency code in the transponder. “Miami Center, Luxury 434 is declaring an emergency. We lost pressurization. We’re initiating an emergency descent to ten-thousand feet.”
“Luxury 434, understand leaving flight level three-one-zero for emergency descent. Turn right thirty degrees and call level at ten thousand.” I shivered and rubbed my arms as the frigid high-altitude air enveloped me like an Arctic blizzard. Throttling back our wounded airliner, I extended the landing gear and speed brakes for drag and began a diving right turn to exit the jet route. The flight attendant intercom chimed. When I answered the interphone, I heard noise and screaming in the background.
“Captain, a bomb exploded, and a man was blown out through the hole!” a flight attendant shouted into the intercom phone. I scanned the instrument panel as my heart skipped a beat.
“Where and how much damage?”
“Under the last window seat, left side, four-foot hole.”
“We’re diving to a safe altitude. Everyone buckled in?”
“Yes. Oxygen masks deployed. They’re putting them on now.”
“Okay, sit tight.” I turned to my copilot. “Small explosion in the aft cabin.”
Lance read the emergency checklists aloud to ensure nothing was overlooked as we plummeted to ten-thousand feet above the Atlantic Ocean. I scanned the gauges when we reached our target altitude. “We’re level at ten. Remove your mask and take control. Then I’ll remove mine and check with the cabin.” I called the flight attendants at every seat station for status reports.
“The hole isn’t getting bigger, and there’s no fire, but we’re all freezing,” a flight attendant reported.
“I’ll take us down to a warmer altitude. Any serious injuries?”
“No, that row only had one passenger. He went out with the seat. Several passengers near the bomb were cut up pretty bad. We’ll tend the wounds and hand out blankets now.”
“Good, I’ll talk to the passengers.” I flipped the switch for the public address system. “This is your captain speaking. Now that we’ve reached a safe altitude, everyone may remove their oxygen masks. Everything’s under control. We’ll be landing soon.” I turned to my copilot. “I have the airplane. Grab our jackets.” I took a deep breath and resumed flying.
The air traffic controller’s voice filled our headsets, “Luxury 434, this is Miami Center. State number of souls on-board, fuel remaining, aircraft status, and intentions. Radar shows you ninety miles northeast of Palm Beach International Airport level at ten-thousand feet.”
I pushed the transmit button. “Miami Center, a bomb blew a four-foot hole in Luxury 434’s aft left fuselage. We lost one passenger, possibly a terrorist. Could be more bombs on-board. I don’t want to put people on the ground at risk. We’ll fly over water near the coastline and land south on the old Space Shuttle runway. Notify law enforcement and emergency services. ETA fifteen minutes. One-hundred-and-eighty souls on-board and forty-five minutes of fuel remaining. Request lower altitude to warm up the cabin.” I released the transmit button with numbness gnawing at my fingers. Survival mode kicked in. I spent the next several seconds putting on my uniform jacket.
The controller spoke in a dismissive matter-of-fact tone, “Negative, Luxury 434, turn left heading one-eight-zero. Descend to six-thousand feet. Plan to land at Palm Beach International Airport. Kennedy Space Center is not available to civilian aircraft.”
“Miami Center, that area is too populated. Kennedy is the only safe option. No launches or landings are posted for today. Deal with it!” I tried to keep my voice steady during my shivering. The interior heat was set at maximum to recover from the nasty jolt of subzero air that had invaded the cabin at thirty-one thousand feet.
“Luxury 434, authorities may not have time to secure the area before you land.”
“Call the Cape Canaveral Air Force Station. Tell them possible Homeland Security threat but not to scramble the fighters from Patrick. I want a tight perimeter of military personnel around my aircraft before we evacuate. We’re descending to six-thousand feet.” A deafening explosion rocked the cockpit, followed by loud ringing and a bright-red light. My nostrils were filled with the odor of melted foam and singed leather. Passengers’ high-pitched screams penetrated the cockpit bulkhead.
“Left engine’s on fire.” Lance pointed to the lighted number-one fire handle. The flight attendant intercom bell chimed. “A bomb exploded under the empty front row in first class! Blew a hole in the left side and sent a seat and debris into the left engine. It’s on fire! I’m scared there’s a terrorist. Please send Lance to help us,” the senior flight attendant shouted.
“You know your best chance for survival is if both pilots remain locked in the cockpit.”
I barely understood her words over the sounds of rushing air and passengers’ screams. “Was anyone hurt? Is there fire in the first class cabin?”
“No fire. Passengers suffered minor cuts and abrasions. They’re terrified. So am I.”
“The passengers are depending on you. Suck it up and prepare the cabin for an emergency landing and evacuation.” I ended the call and focused on saving the aircraft. The controls vibrated as air howled through the hole in the forward fuselage and exited through the aft hole, creating a wind tunnel in the passenger cabin.
Lance tapped the glowing red fire light. “Number one’s still burning.” His voice rose slightly but remained steady.
The radio blared, “Luxury 434, the Space Center wants thirty minutes to prepare for your arrival. Hold twenty miles northeast of Melbourne VOR on the zero-six-zero radial at six-thousand feet, right turns, ten-mile legs, until we clear you for the approach.”
“Negative, Miami Center. I repeat, negative. Another bomb exploded. Left engine is on fire. Stand by.” I shut down the left engine and discharged the remote fire extinguisher into the flames.
“Lance, call out the engine-fire checklist followed by the single-engine landing checklist.” As we ran through the checklists, the red fire light went out. After shutting down the number-one engine, the aircraft yawed to the left. I pushed hard on the right rudder pedal to compensate. “Call Miami Center and declare a MAYDAY.”
Lance pushed the transmit button. “MAYDAY, MAYDAY, MAYDAY! Luxury 434 is declaring MAYDAY. We have significant bomb damage, and we’re down to one engine. The fire’s out, but we need to land immediately.”
“Luxury 434, understand MAYDAY. Be advised most of the east coast of Florida, including Cape Canaveral and Kennedy Space Center, is covered in a low cloud base with continuous heavy rain, ceiling one-hundred feet, visibility one-half mile, and wind one-two-zero at thirty knots. State your intentions.”
“Luxury 434 will land on Shuttle Runway One Five. I want fire equipment and EMS standing by—unknown number of terrorists and bombs—expect emergency evacuation as soon as we’re stopped.” I gripped the control yoke and focused on the flight instruments, expecting another explosion any moment. My shivering had lessened, but my hands felt cold and stiff.
“Luxury 434, plan to land on runway two-zero at Patrick Air Force Base. The runway is nine-thousand feet long. Soldiers with emergency equipment are standing by.”
“Negative, Miami Center. I won’t risk a single-engine landing into an eighty-degree crosswind at thirty knots to a wet runway in a severely damaged aircraft. Kennedy’s runway has a better angle to the wind, is six-thousand feet longer, and a hundred feet wider.”
“Understand Luxury 434 needs the shuttle runway at Kennedy Space Center. Stand by.”
As the vibrations in the controls grew stronger, the screams in the cabin grew louder. I turned to Lance. “Miami Center had better stop screwing with us, or this rain storm will turn us into a metal shower.”
“Luxury 434, the Space Center’s Instrument Landing System has been activated. Descend to two-thousand feet. Turn left to one-eight-zero. Cleared for the Runway One Five ILS approach. Contact the tower on one-two-eight-five-five. Good luck.”
Lance called the tower, and I concentrated on the instrument panel as we descended through the storm clouds. I felt my right leg muscles spasm from the constant strain of pushing hard on the right rudder pedal, compensating for the dead engine rolling our aircraft to the left. The only thing preventing our aircraft from rolling upside down was my proper use of the ailerons and rudder. Adrenaline surged through my veins with every fiber of my body tuned to high intensity.
“I don’t know if we have wing damage so I’ll do a no-flap landing rather than risk control issues. Higher landing speed won’t be a problem on that extra-long runway.”
“Final approach, Sam. We’re centered on the localizer and glide slope, but we’re still in the soup. Will we do a go-around if we don’t see anything at decision height?”
“No, the airplane might not survive a go-around. If we don’t see the approach lights, call out our altitude every ten feet below one-hundred feet until we’re on the runway. Signal the flight attendants to assume the brace position.” Rain pelted the windshield, and turbulence buffeted the aircraft. I tried to tune out the screams from the cabin and focus on the instrument panel. Please, God, hold the airplane together a few more minutes.
Winner of the Royal Palm Literary Award for Best Unpublished Thriller in 2011
S.L. Menear’s debut novel, Deadstick Dawn, explodes into action from the first page until the last. Riddled with suspense and fast-paced scenes, the intense plot kidnaps you with the allure of the Scottish Highlands. This adrenaline-pumping thriller will keep you up late into the night. Samantha Starr is your captain on this flight into international intrigue, revenge, and redemption.
Reading this award-winning thriller is like flying at Mach 2 with your hair on fire. Strap in and brace for impact! — Leslie A. Borghini, author of Angel Heat
S.L. Menear, a retired commercial airline pilot, has proven herself to be a woman of action. With Deadstick Dawn, her stunning debut novel, she proves to be a force in the suspense thriller genre. Airline pilot Samantha Starr finds herself stranded in Scotland, accused of kidnapping and murder. She must elude professional assassins, British Secret Service, and Scottish police if she is to survive and prove her innocence. Deadstick Dawn is written with the realism and tension that only a pilot could have written. Strap in and return your tray tables to the upright position. This is one white-knuckled flight. S.L. Menear soars in Deadstick Dawn! — J.M. LeDuc, author of Cornerstone, book 4 in the Phantom Squad series
Deadstick Dawn by Sharon L. Menear is a fast-paced thriller that takes place in the Scottish Highlands. Its main character is Samantha Starr, an airline pilot from America who becomes involved in a murder plot of international significance. The story will keep you engrossed right up to the surprising end. — Joseph F. Alcock, author of Tomorrow Has Wings: The Story of Captain Jack Alcock, First to Fly the Atlantic in 1919.
S. L. Menear’s debut novel is a knockout! The heart-pounding action begins on page one and never lets up. She has just the right touch of suspense, romance, and action. — Fred Lichtenberg, author of Hunter’s World and Double Trouble
S.L. Menear’s debut thriller captures the reader’s imagination from the very first sentence and keeps it prisoner to the last. The plotting is masterful with never a dull moment as the author keeps readers engrossed in the twists and turns of Deadstick Dawn. It’s a must read! —Matina Nicholas, author of Affair in Athens
S. L. Menear’s debut novel, Deadstick Dawn, is a heart-pounding thriller. The action-packed adventures of Samantha Starr will keep readers wide awake until the surprising end, and they will enjoy the delightful mixture of suspense, humor, and excitement spiced with bits of steamy romance. — Walt Breede, author of Snow on the Golden Horn, Altar Stone, and Sanity Check
Deadstick Dawn is an exciting read from the explosive first page to the chilling end. This fast-paced thriller will keep readers turning pages late into the night. —D.M. Littlefield, author of Journey into the Land of the Wingless Giants