Chance Carter should have known this last delivery wouldn't go down without a hitch.
A monstrous thunderhead had popped up in a clear morning sky and now loomed directly in his path as if forbidding, or at least challenging, his approach to his destination—a lone airstrip in Nowhere, Montana. As an experienced pilot and courier for an airfreight company, inclement weather didn't concern him as much as the troubled feeling in his chest, which he'd been trying to ignore since takeoff.
Given the cold, hard stone of unease that had settled in his gut, he'd failed miserably.
Earlier this morning, back at the FBO—fixed-based operator—the rhythm of his flight prep had seemed off. Excitement hadn't pumped through his every movement, and the usual bounce to his step hadn't accompanied him while he worked through his pre-flight checks. If that hadn't been enough, dread had replaced the anticipation that had always filled him as he readied to climb into the cockpit of his Piper Cherokee 235, which he affectionately called Ole Blue.
Now, as he neared the airstrip, he shook off the apprehension and grabbed on to the assurance earned from years of experience and hours spent piloting.
A good, strong headwind buffeted the plane, which was preferred for landing. He took comfort in the familiar deafening roar of the Piper breaking through his headset and droning in his ears. He wanted to focus on nothing but landing, delivering, and escaping. But this trip carried him back, and the evergreens of the forest, the winding rivers, the meadows, the crops, and the majestic mountains captivated him, reminding him of all he'd left behind.
Gripping the yoke, he sat taller and shoved beyond the melancholy.
At seven miles from his destination, he switched tanks.
The noisy engine sputtered and then stalled.
Nothing he didn't know how to handle. Chance would quickly remedy the situation. He trusted that forward movement and lift would propel Ole Blue along like an eagle riding in the wind long enough to give him ample time to restart the engine.
Only the engine refused its resurrection. The fuel gauge indicated a fourth of a tank of fuel remained. He switched to the other tank and confirmed it was empty.
As if emphasizing his earlier presentiment, Ole Blue's propeller slowed to a stop.
Utter silence filled the cockpit. Moments passed before the slow cadence of his heartbeat ramped up and roared to life in his ears.
The plane remained in the air, gliding on the current. But not for long. Creating a controlled descent was up to Chance and the tools at his disposal. Sweat beaded at his temples as his instincts took over, and he maneuvered the rudder, flaps, and ailerons, steering the plane through the air currents to maintain lift as long as possible.
Chance had to face the truth.
Ole Blue wasn't going to make it to the airstrip.
And those evergreens he'd admired moments before rushed at him now as the ground rose toward him, much faster than was safe.
He was going down.
Chance pressed the button on the yoke and squawked to a local frequency. "Mayday! Mayday! Mayday!" He detailed what he knew of the expected crash location, which wasn't a lot.
He got no response. Nobody monitoring the frequency today in Nowhere, Montana. Just his luck.
Between evergreen-topped mountains, Ole Blue surfed along a ravine. Not a good place to land. He hoped for a clearing. Something.
Come on, come on, come on...
There. Between the trees, he caught sight of a forest road and aimed for it. It would be close. The trees were dense in places. Worst case, the wheels on his fixed gear plane would catch the treetops and flip him forward. Dead or alive, he'd be stuck in the tops.
Come on, baby, you can do this.