How had it come to this he wondered? Landing a single engine plane on a disused airfield on a whim. What he was doing carried great risk. He craved breathing space: time and room to think. Malcolm Chesterman knew the airfield well; he'd used it many times flying sorties and re-supplies for the bush fire brigade. The grass covering the field was too long; he knew that. There could be any number of obstacles ready to shatter the undercarriage. But this was secondary. He'd decided to land the plane and right now he was in the middle of doing so.
He cut revs and eased the Cessna Cargomaster nose slightly up, steadying the plane off at 66 knots, flaps fully extended as the main gear touched down and the rush of grass scythed against the fuselage. The plane bumped and jigged along as Malcolm quickly cut thrust and raised the flaps fully to increase drag as he applied the brakes as heavily and safely as he could. As short course landings went it was successful. He came to a full stop: so far so good. If he was going to be able to take off again he needed to taxi to the east end of the field and turn back to face the wind. The plane turned in a bumpy arc and proceeded to taxi back the way he'd come. He retraced the imprint the plane had made before entering the green swathe. He thought to stop the plane and walk the distance to the edge of the field but decided against it reasoning that if anything was going to go wrong it would have already done so.
Malcolm figured he would bring the plane to a ready position for take off then cut the engine and collect his thoughts. So much had happened so quickly that he needed to regroup. The true purpose of his flights to Mt Ismuss being recently revealed, he needed time to consider the dire situation in which he now found himself.
As Malcolm neared the end of the field he increased revs to help him turn the plane in a similar arc to the one made after landing. The plane sped up slightly as it turned but unexpectedly and before he could fully comprehend what was happening the plane's nose dove down as the prop chewed into grass and mud and the engine jolted to a rivet popping halt, screaming at him as it died and jumped. He'd inadvertently driven the plane into a boggy marsh at the end of the airfield. The airfield had always had poor drainage at the western end and as it had not been serviced for years the marsh had reached further and further into the open space of the field. He'd not noticed the changes in grass type and if he had he would have noticed stands of bull rushes and other marsh grasses indicating the change of soil conditions.
The plane, nose stuck firmly down in the mud was slowly sliding forward and sinking. Malcolm sat in the cockpit and began to laugh and cry simultaneously. This situation was totally avoidable and his own entire making. He'd made a poor decision. All his flying training had eluded him in one irrational moment. And now he had to face the consequences.
Malcolm was prevented from falling too deeply into self-analysis by the sensation of his shoes filling with muddy water. He was in no real danger for the moment but decided to act quickly before any further calamity occurred.
He gathered the few possessions he'd taken with him including his survival pack and a weathered anorak he kept on the plane. He removed the plane's safety kit and then considered his cargo, consisting of a selection of parcels and packages from the mine. Most of these he figured were documents or records of some kind and core samples being sent on for analysis. Among the packages was a box approximately the size of 4 reams of paper. The box was intended to appear as part of the consignment coming from the mine. However Malcolm knew enough about the operation to know that the box contained illicit drugs manufactured somewhere near the mine. He stared at the box and considered the contents and all it represented. Malcolm was not normally known to experience emotions such as hatred and deep resentment. He felt them now. And this reviled him even more.
He returned to the task at hand. Thinking too deeply about the circumstances that had brought him to this place only stood to immobilise him. Unsure how far the plane would slide into the muddy marsh Malcolm took action. He opened the door. He decided to throw one of the smaller parcels to test the ground at the rear of the plane. He opened up the parcel's packing tape far enough to be able to grip it with one hand so he could hurl it underarm. It landed with a soft thud. From this he determined he had about 3 to 4 metres to the rear of the plane to get to solid ground. Malcolm proceeded to do the same with the rest of the gear he wanted to salvage. Once he had removed all he needed he sat on the edge of the hatch and allowed his feet to rest on the surface. Carrying the package containing the drugs, he stepped off. As soon as his weight transferred to his feet he sank immediately to his waist. He froze and told himself not to panic sensing that he was stable for the moment. He carefully placed the package beside him on the mud. If it sank into the mud it could be the best thing that could happen to it, however part of him knew it might come in handy later as a bargaining tool but there was nothing he could do about that now.
Fighting against the temptation to panic, he slowly extended forwards. A bit at a time he worked himself into a kind of running position as he began to edge closer to more solid ground. Almost an hour passed. By the time he reached the ground where he thrown his gear, he was exhausted. He looked back and saw the plane had become further submerged. He wondered if it would disappear altogether or would come to a resting position that would signal his situation to any who flew overhead.
Malcolm considered his circumstance in more detail. Almost instinctively his survival training began to kick in. He knew he had to find a place to make camp, clean and dry himself as best he could and locate a drinkable water-source. He deduced the latter would not be too difficult. Malcolm scanned the terrain. He searched for the best spot to create a camp. He needed a supply of wood for a fire and any available material for a shelter. At the far end of the field he noticed a small corrugated-iron shed that had been used to store fire-fighting equipment. Five star accommodation, he thought to himself.
By the time Malcolm had moved all his gear down to the shed the sun had gone over the ridgeline. He calculated he had about two hours of daylight to establish himself. He'd consider tomorrow if it were possible to retrieve the package and not put himself in any more danger.
Groaning with age and rust the long abandoned storage shed offered sufficient shelter and protection from the variable weather conditions. There were no windows and the door that had once kept the contents secure had been removed and used for some other purpose. The shed had a concrete floor and was relatively dry. Malcolm surveyed the area surrounding the shed and discovered an old tarpaulin lying half buried amongst the detritus. Whoever was last there had not been fastidious in the clean up. In addition to the half buried tarp were discarded oil drums, broken timber palettes and other non-biodegradable parts. Some of these items would come in handy depending on how long he intended to remain at the field.
The question of his long-term intentions remained unresolved as he set to work. First he stored the salvaged gear in the shed. He removed a survival knife from his pack and began to look for wood he could splinter to make kindling. Malcolm had always carried a small survival pack with him on every flight. It was an aspect of his service training that never left him, and that training was now in evidence as he set to the tasks at hand. Malcolm was in survival mode. He was well trained and sufficiently equipped to participate in his physical survival yet his ability to effect his own moral survival was in question. The heart of the dilemma was his inability to face Andrew and Deidre. His complicity in Colin's deal with Rocco had undermined the foundation of all he valued and held dear. Whether his decision to land the plane had been conscious or subconscious mattered little now, he was fast reaching a point of no return.
Malcolm toiled without slowing as he established a functioning campsite. As darkness fell he sat beside the modest fire positioned opposite the doorway of the shed to consider his options.
Tomorrow he could set up signals for the search and rescue effort that would be under way by first light. Or he could make use of the mishap, cover his tracks, conceal the plane and disappear into the bush. Numbed and tormented by the harsh and bitter reality of his predicament he stared into the dwindling embers of the fire and sweated the decision throughout the night. All he could see ahead of him was a world of pain and heartache and the abysmal and horrible truth of utter failure.