No one thing brings down a plane. It’s a series of small events that act like the weak link in a chain. Something small like an aircraft mechanic’s decision to buy a cheap padlock for the backyard gate. Followed by years of rain drops sliding down its shank and rusting the locking mechanism. Or a pilot, indulging in a cheeseburger on nearly every layover for most of his career. It could also be AirWave Charter’s decision to only staff their Pilatus PC-12 aircraft with one pilot.


However, being cheap, unhealthy, or doing exactly what hundreds of other operators of the PC-12 do, in and of themselves, rarely matters. But, when the mechanic’s wife calls to tell him the dog got out — causing him to miss tightening a bolt on the oil pump. And then, the plane departs with an oil leak, leading to a bright red flashing “Master Warning” light and “LOW OIL” annuciator on the pilot’s dash. And sadly, for Captain Cheeseburger’s heart, it can’t take all this excitement, causing him to grab his chest and slump toward the empty first officer’s seat. If luck is when “preparation meets opportunity,” then bad luck is when unfortunate events meet, well, each other.


But flying is so much more complicated than that. Actually, there’s a saying in the industry, by people who actually understand all the moving parts and everything, and they still call flying “Pure Magic.” Because honestly, it’s baffling planes fly even when everything works perfectly! Planes are full of surprises, just like the people riding inside are full of surprises, too.


Real quick, do you, yes you, the reader, remember seeing the viral video of the school bus that nearly careened off the road? The bus driver was having a heart attack. It went viral because the only kid without a phone immediately recognized something wasn’t right and sprung into action. He got the bus safely stopped and told others to call for help. The good surprise today is that in seat 2B sits a 14-year-old named Dylan who’s absolutely in love with planes. He listens to the air traffic controllers online, plays flight sim games on his computer, and even got to fly a couple different type of small planes recently.


Because the PC-12 is also a small plane, there’s no flight deck door, and much in Dylan’s favor, Captain Cheeseburger kept the curtain pulled back. This made Dylan as excited as Captain Cheeseburger is when McDonalds runs the buy one Big Mac get a second for a penny. Dylan even took notes as the pilot started the Pratt and Whitney turboprop engine, taxied out, and launched down the runway.


So, it was Dylan that first saw Captain Cheeseburger slump to the right — and stay there. Flicking the brown hair out of his eyes, Dylan clicked off his seatbelt, and wasted no time rushing to the flight deck.


“Dude! What are you doing,” yelled Lucas, a friend of Dylan’s, also headed to the Big Island of Hawaii from Maui.


“The pilot! Something’s wrong,” Dylan shot back over the roar of the engine, then taking a deep breath while trying to remember the first aid he’d learned during the Maui Hero Project, which is a sweet course that teaches basic survival and wilderness skills to tweens and teens. A few of his other friends jumped up and headed toward what is generously called “the galley.” It was really just some tiny shelving that held the drinks and snacks — seven cans of soda, seven bottle waters, and seven Famous Amos bags of cookies. That’s it. And now, Dylan had to figure out how to get the pilot out of his seat and into this “galley”… which seemed impossible with all the new gawkers.


Dylan took another deep breath, let it out, and squeezed in between the ceiling and pilot’s left side. It’s a good thing Dylan’s adrenaline was in full effect and kept him from being grossed out by the now sweat-soaked shirt of the pilot. He recognized the type of harness that held Captain Cheeseburger, thankfully, from rolling into the flight controls and shoving the plane into a nosedive. He knew he’d have to grab the circular thing, currently being absorbed into the pilot’s gut, and turn it to release the two shoulder harnesses and lap strap. Before doing so, Dylan backed out slightly, turning and nearly bumping nose to nose with his slightly younger friend, Lucas. “Lucas, I need you to first, back up! Then I need you to grab the pilot’s shirt and don’t let him roll forward.”


“Bruh, he’s got like 250 pounds on me.”


“Uh, well, have the other guys hold on to you!”


Lucas turned to Kai and Jayden, “I need you to hold on to me, and then Jayden, you hold on to Kai. Okay?” They formed about a combined 300 pound chain as Lucas grabbed the biggest handful of shirt. “Ewe! Gross!”


“What?” asked Dylan.


“He’s all sweaty,” and under his breath, “and smelly.”


“So he’s like you?” Dylan joked before wriggling his hand back to the circular device and turning it. The latches, under immense pressure, popped off simultaneously and Captain Cheeseburger lurched forward, but thankfully only a little. The human chain worked!


“Now what?” asked Lucas.


Just as Dylan was figuring out phase two of extracting the pilot from the flight deck, a loud bang! jolted their attention to the dark billowing smoke about where the engine attaches to the front of the plane — Oh, and unfortunately, they also accidentally let go of the pilot and one another. Captain Cheeseburger rolled forward onto the controls with enough force to kick off the autopilot. The four boys instantly went weightless as they watched the view outside the windshield change from light sky blue to a deep ocean blue and begin spinning.


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