When I awoke, the house was all quiet except for one of the radios from where I felt a grievious tone reporting a major airline crash. Everyone had perished. Perilous thoughts engulfed me. Any news of plane crashes triggers a part in my brain I had trained to shut off. No matter how much I try to deflect these thoughts, as soon as I hear an airline tragedy, throughout the day I slip in and out of this one particular life changing incident.
Two decades ago, I was travelling extensively and constantly away from home. I had lived with my parents and often needed to change my travel plans as per my mother’s requests. She insisted I come home for weekends. It was usually only an hour flight to my home town so I would gladly obey with the value added incentive of home cooked food.
Being as close to my mother as I was, on one fine October day, twenty years ago, I managed two weeks off work and booked an earlier flight home. I was originally supposed to have traveled with a colleague a week later who also happened to be from my home town. This incident was so unnerving that my brain recollects each minutae like a slow motion film.
I boarded the plane among other regular commuters. In those days shuttle flights between small towns had the same crew. I plopped myself down in seat 2B. The plane model was a seventies 737. Cursing loudly, I leapt up, my pants totally soaked. A puddle of water dripped onto the floor. One of the crew members quickly came to my aid, apologizing for the condensation from the air conditioning system. In those days, all planes used a ladder truck where passengers would have to take the stairs to get into the aircraft. The front and back doors of the aircraft remained opened for some time until everyone was boarded. This would create condensation. I had seen this before but it was mostly around the windows of the plane and it would disappear when all the doors closed for takeoff.
With these jigsaw puzzle memories dancing around my head, I dressed for my regular morning walks with my four legged friends in the village and kept slipping into images of this plane crash.
The crew moved me one seat behind 3B and I was impressed to be sitting next to a world renowned retinal surgeon from my hometown. I had frequently bumped into him on our common commutes. He recognized me as well and pointed his finger to the upper deck on top of 2B. It looked as though someone had turned on a water tap. The water did not appear to be condensation. We both summoned the crew in alarm and were assured it was just condensation.
The flight was uneventful except for the constant drips of water above 2B even during the flight. While landing, the aircraft also made a series of uncommon noises that were compounded by screeches that made for a harder than usual landing. Like any commuter shuttle, no one paid attention and crowded to be the first one out the door as soon as the aircraft came to a stop.
The next thing I remember is getting a call exactly one week later. It happend an hour ago, the morning the commuter plane had crashed outside my home town. The first thought that occured to me was how I was supposed to be on that flight and second that my colleague was to be on that flight. I filled with anxiety.
We had no cell phones those days so the only way to find out was just to go there in person. Small towns have their advantages. Without further information, I borrowed my father’s car and went to the airport. It was chaos. My worst fears came true before my eyes. My colleague was on that flight and now my office manager had formally requested me to act on behalf of the company to gather more details. It is hard to collect information in such chaos. As well, the authorities have to be very careful in their process of what they could and could not say. One thing I found was that the crash occured ten miles west of the airport. I decided to drive down to the crash site.
As I hit the inside country roads, I saw a number of ambulances heading west. I decided to follow them. It seemed pretty obvious where they were heading. Some time later, as I made my way in to the closest point where the tragedy had occurred, I was stopped by the heavy presence of police. As usual, the plane had gone down in an inaccessible area. Authorities were spilling in but were taking help of the locals to maintain control of the situation. This was almost six or seven hours after the incident. I noticed what used to be an electric grid station tentacled with high tension cables and towers. The story was that the aircraft was coming down faster than usual, and hit the high tension cables before bursting into flames. The authorities were guessing the crash had spread out over a few miles. I heard the occasional rumble of helicopters above. It was unreal.
I parked my car and went to the perimeter of the crash site. I saw one of the cops on duty whom I recognized from town. I went up to him to gather some information and he told me their priority was to find out who was still alive and to locate the black box. I asked him where the plane was. He bluntly replied, “in pieces.” He explained the plane was going so fast that when it hit something it totally exploded. I gathered myself to ask him if they found anyone alive. He told me none so far.
“I’m on radio,” he said pointing to his pocket, “no news so far. I got here as one of first responders.” Then suddenly he asked me to leave and called a hotline number. He stated that it was not safe for me to be here. I sank into my thoughts for a second and was about to comply when I quickly turned around.
“Did they find the blackbox?” I asked.
He said in an official tone, “There is group of experts working on it. So far there’s no signal from the box.”
“But there is a beacon,” I said.
“Yes, but it’s complicated to take any equipment down the steep gorge through all these high tension wires. Too difficult.”
“How will they find it then?” I asked.
The cop understanding my anxiety said, “Here, look, scan from right to left and then leave.”
He handed me his binoculars. I scanned from left to right. I was shocked. The crash site was wide. I saw a crowd of people crowding around something. Not leaving the binoculars, I asked, “What are those locals doing?” There was a bunch of locals marshalled by cops.
“That’s the Dowsing Man, he simply said.
“What’s that?” I asked.
“Well, it’s a form of divination. They normally use sticks to locate water but today they are helping to locate the souls,” he said.
I stood there without words.
“Now leave, please,” he says prying the binoculars from my hands.
Lingering in these thoughts from the past, I realized that Lucky and Robby were dragging me. It was still quite early and with this state of goings on, I was in for a day of contemplation.
Suddenly, an old gas company truck pulled up. Skydish rolled his window down. I have known Skydish for years. The old man was called Skydish because when he first saw satellite dishes installed many year ago, he thought they were used to communicate with aliens. The name stuck.
But Skydish’s arrival not only gave me goose bumps but also he had a strange connection with the air crash. My first encounter with him was almost a decade ago. He had pulled up once behind my property line and was walking around with a big handheld electronic gadget. I could hear blips and screeches coming from what looked like a lawn tool. I walked up to him.
“What are you doing here?” I inquired.
“Looking for a gas pipe,” he replied, taking off his big headphones.
“How does it work?” My curious nature went off.
“This ultrasound device bounces back when there is a pipe where I’ll throw down one of these,” he said.
“What are those?” I asked.
“Flag markers,” came his matter of fact reply.
“Why are they different colours,” was my next question.
“Yellow for gas, red for power lines, orange is telecom, blue is water, green is for a sewer line and so on,” he said.
“Are you sure there is a gas line around here ?” I asked.
“This village has all kinds of things underground,” he said.
“Oh?” I was naturally intrigued.
“On your property, you have at least three water wells, a couple of buried Model T’s, horse carts and the structure of an old barn that used to be over there,” he said, pointing to the northeast corner of my lot.
“That machine told you all that?” I asked.
“I have a better way. Give me a minute,” he said, walking back to his truck.
He drove around and came to my side. While getting out he reached in and pulled out a wire coat hanger which he straightened out with one end bent at a right angle.
“Follow me,” he said.
We walked over to the northeast corner of my lot where he held the wire hanger with the angled side pointing upward. As he paced forward, the hanger spun around suddenly pointing downwards. Skydish used a flourescent spray to mark the ground. Within minutes he identified four spots on my property.
“That’s how big the base was,” he said.
“You mean, if we dig here, we will find some kind of a structure?” I asked, unable to hide my skepticism.
“Yes most likely wet limestone and rocks,” he assured.
“What is that thing you did. I am so impressed.”
“It’s called dowsing or what some call divination,” he said giving me the wire hanger. “Try it.”
I walked about according to his instructions but nothing happened. Seeing my disappointment, he explained, “Well, it is an art and it took me awhile to figure it out. It’ll come.” We exchanged a bit of pleasantries then he drove off.
If it weren’t for my friends, I perhaps would have stood there dazed for hours. The chance of Skydish showing up today of all days could not have been a mere coincidence. Life has a strange way of connecting the dots. Every second of your present becomes your past and as you walk into your future you have the dowsing man to remind you of the past. This is what is meant by dimensions.