“Atlantic flight 709 this is Morton tower please acknowledge.”
“Morton Tower this is Dover Air Force Base Tower; we are communicating with Atlantic flight 709. They are at 35000 feet 100 miles out, heading 180, transponder is 7700. Radio frequency is 129.75. We will relay for you if necessary.”
“Thank you Dover AFB, stand by please.”
“Dover tower relay to Atlantic 709, maintain altitude and heading, at way point Echo change heading to 220 and begin descent to 4000 ft. Intersect the ILS at point Yankee, contact Morton tower on 128.70. Morton tower over.”
“Atlantic 709, this is Dover Tower, vectors to Morton Field are as follows, maintain altitude and heading, at way point Echo change heading to 220 and begin descent to 4000 ft. Intersect the ILS at point Yankee, contact Morton tower on 128.70.”
“Dover tower this is Atlantic 709,” and then the instructions our tower had relayed were repeated. They were getting close enough that we were getting part of the conversation.
Fire trucks and ambulances were arriving. The gate had been opened and some of them were sent to park over by the super hangar, some on the tarmac and others by our hangar.
The ambulances and EMT’s were split up in different locations as well. Now it was a waiting game.
“Morton Tower this is Dover Tower – Atlantic 709 is 80 miles out on assigned heading.”
“Roger Dover,” our tower responded.
Hanna and her cameraman went outside on the tarmac – with my permission – to do an updated report and then waited out there.
“Morton Tower this is Atlantic 709 at point Echo, beginning controlled descent to 4000 at point Yankee, do you copy,” the pilot said.
“Roger, Atlantic 709 we copy, acknowledge point Yankee and a lock on the ILS,” Morton tower.
“Roger Morton,” Atlantic 709.
Point Echo was 60 miles out, point Yankee was 10 miles out. The world was watching through Hanna. ZNN world news had picked up the broadcast. One of the newscasters there said 709 was being been sent to Morton Field to crash land. Hanna was still outside giving a live report and her microphone was picking up the tower conversation. She was giving a running dialog of all the fire and rescue equipment coming in.
“Morton Tower, Atlantic 709 at point Yankee, no ILS,” the pilot relayed.
“Roger Atlantic 709; set up for landing at your discretion 9 miles out and descend to 3500 ft.”
“Roger Morton,” Atlantic 709.
“Atlantic 709, 7 miles descend to 3000,” Morton Tower.
“Roger Morton,” Atlantic 709.
“Atlantic 709 4 miles, descend to 2500 heading change 221,” Morton Tower.
“Morton Tower, Atlantic 709 ILS is locked. Critical fuel warning alarm; we are running out of fuel. We are running out of fuel. We do not have fuel for a go around heading 221,” the pilot replied.
“Roger Atlantic 709, do you still want distance and altitude,” Morton Tower.
“Roger Morton,” Atlantic 709.
“Atlantic 709 we show you 1 mile and 1000 feet,” Morton Tower.
“MAYDAY, MAYDAY, Morton Tower, Atlantic 709; we have lost number one engine – we are out of fuel.”
Everyone that was inside the terminal was now standing outside in the swirling snow.
“Atlantic 709 you are half a mile out on perfect alignment for runway 22,” Morton Tower, “hang in there you have it made, glide it home.”
It was now down to seconds for 204 people. Flight 709 was still doing 200 miles an hour. Firemen and EMT’s were scouring the sky with binoculars looking for anything. It was useless in this heavy snow fall. Robbie shutdown the pumps; the runway was clear but wet.
“Atlantic 709 we show you 100 feet from the runway,150 feet on the glide slope.”
Seconds later Atlantic flight 709 became an image coming into view in the heavy snow just feet off the runway. Intermittent fire and smoke was coming out of the number two engine as it was out of fuel. I hoped the fuel reserve for the APU would last long enough to power the controls and brakes to get the plane stopped.
“Atlantic 709 Morton Tower, 10 ft, 9 8, 7, 5, 3, contact.”
Smoke came from the main gear tires as the pilot put the Boeing 757 down hard on the tires. Cheers and screaming erupted from those outside to be broadcast live nationwide by Hanna’s channel 34.
Fire trucks pulled out behind the plane as it went by, slowing down as it did. Flight 709 came to a stop 500 feet from the end of the runway.
“Atlantic flight 709, welcome to Morton Field. A tug is on the way to pull you to the terminal. Change to ground 128.60,” Morton Tower.
“Morton Tower, wet concrete never looked so good. The flight crew and passengers send a thank you.”
Hanna was looking to interview me. I pointed and mouthed, “Lorrie first.”
“Lorrie, as executive vice president of JBG’s aviation unit and Morton Field this has to be a major accomplishment. How do you feel?” Hanna asked.
“This has been both ends of the spectrum, fear, anxiety and heartbreak when the pilot radioed that they had lost the engines for those 200 people on board.”
“Then when it came out of the snow still flying, joy and excitement and proud to be part of the success story. This will forever be a great memory,” Lorrie relied.
“BJ, as President of JBG and of all the things that have happened in the last few weeks, where do you place flight 709?” Hanna asked.
“Hanna, there are lots of people who made this possible. First I want to thank all the employees of JBG here today who braved this horrible weather, the worst in a decade. Some of them are going on 24 hours here.”
“Next I want to thank all the volunteers from all the fire and ambulance departments that answered the call today. If you look out there you can see there are dozens of fire and rescue trucks and several hundred volunteers. We have to thank them for the great job they do; not just today but every day.”
“Additionally we need to thank all the people that put Morton Field together. J&J Construction, Bob’s Construction, the FAA, the DOD for surplus equipment, the county commissioners and the 911 center for helping with the emergency plan.”
“Finally pride, I am very proud to be involved with all the fine people of JBG and the country that made today possible. But for as much as we have done there is more to do. Flight 709 will be parked in front of this terminal in a few minutes. There are 200 people who want to desperately get off and stretch their legs, get a hot meal and some place comfortable for tonight and possibly a couple days.”
Fire trucks were turning around and reassembling at the exit gate. I assumed that the mechanics had hooked up and were towing the plane.
“Big Bertha, are you hooked up yet? We need to get the system turned back on,” Lorrie asked into the radio.
“Yeah we are good; turn it on, this thing is so heavy we are going to need clear concrete. You may want to get the stair truck to the terminal before we get there. I am planning on going past the terminal and making a left turn to put the exit door to the terminal.”
“I’m going to open one of the meeting rooms and ask all the people in the restaurant to move to there,” Vicky said as she walked indoors with Jenny.
I walked over to the fire chief who helped with Little Gitmo – as the compound was being called. But I was going to change that real soon.
“Chief, can I get my hands on army cots from the counties emergency supplies stash?” I asked.
“Sure, I will have the ambulance bring them back to keep them dry,” he replied.
“BJ, there is a call from the President of Atlantic Airlines; he wants to talk with you,” Vicky said.
“Lorrie, why don’t you go take that,” I replied.
“He is a president – you are our president – equals need to talk,” Lorrie replied.
“We will both do it,” I replied.
“BJ Jones and Lorrie Smithfield here, I have you on speaker – how may I help you?” I asked.
“I’m Arnold Cross, president of Atlantic Airlines, I and all the people at Atlantic want to thank you for what you have done for flight 709 and all know that you are still going to have to do. We watched it unfold – talk about heart stopping and then the thrill. Bill us for everything. You can plan on a delegation from Atlantic to visit you soon,” he said.
When we walked back out the tarmac the stairs truck was backed into position and bid Bertha was making the swing with Atlantic 709 to position so the exit door was close to the terminal.
With 709 stopped and the chocks in place, the stairs truck was slowly backed into place. It was the first time we had used it. There was a lot of movement to get it in place and set up.
Even thought it was 30 years old, it still had all the features that a new one had and by Lorrie having it refurbished, made it look like a new one. Once in place the canopy was raised to keep the steps free of snow and the platform gently extended against the side of the 709.
I asked the girls who wanted to go make the welcoming speech and laid out how we were going to do things.
“You and Lorrie can do it; we are going inside where it is warm and start the planning for everything else,” Vicky and Ching Lee responded.
Lorrie and I climbed the stairs and then knocked on the door to let them know we were there and ready. The door swung in as all jets did today by regulation. I stepped in followed by Lorrie to meet the captain standing in the center isle.
“Hi, I am BJ Jones, President of JBG and this is Lorrie Smithfield, executive Vice President of JBG Aviation and JBG Morton Field. Welcome to JBG Morton Field.
“I am Captain Ernie Harvick and you have no idea how good it to be standing here at Morton Field,” he said. “Can we get some fuel to keep the APU running?”
“It is on its way. How much do you want and where?” I asked.
Lorrie keyed the mike on her radio, “Robbie, have the fuel truck put a 1000 in each main tank, the fills closest to the fuselage.”
The captain handed me the PA mike.
“Ladies and gentleman, welcome to JBG Morton Field. In a few minutes you are going to disembark the plane. They are setting up extra tables in the restaurant; I am sure everyone could use a hot meal and coffee. While you are doing that we will put the finishing touches on logistics for tonight. Please do not bring baggage to the restaurant; it is going to be crowded enough as it is.”
“BJ, everything is ready,” it was Ching Lee – this time on the radio.
Edit by Alfmeister
Proof read by Bob W.