The publisher provided the following excerpt of "Out of Captivity: Surviving 1,967 Days in the Colombian Jungle" by Marc Gonsalves, Tom Howes and Keith Stansell with Gary Broze to ABC News.
"That, sir, is an engine failure."
From Tommy Janis's tone, you wouldn't have known that anything serious was wrong. He was our pilot on the mission, and he had flown all kinds of aircraft all around the world. Tommy J. was a real larger-than-life guy with more stories to tell than I have hairs on my head -- and I've as full and thick a mane as anybody. His response wasn't borderline sarcastic; it came from a place about as deep into irony country as we were into Colombia.
The "that" he was referring to wasn't so much a thing as it was an absence of a thing -- the steady throbbing pulse of the single 675- horsepower Pratt and Whitney turboprop engine that until a few seconds before had been powering our Cessna Grand Caravan. It didn't take someone like me, a guy who'd been in avionics and aircraft maintenance for all his adult life, to recognize that the relative silence in the cabin was not a good thing.
I closed the biography of Che Guevara I'd been reading and looked over at my buddy and coworker Marc Gonsalves. He'd been busy at his station, practicing with the camera gear and the computer. I wasn't sure if he'd been so involved in what he was doing that he noticed anything at all. The poor guy had only been flying with us for just a few missions and now we had a damn engine failure to deal with. I knew that Tommy Janis and our copilot Tom Howes would instantly flip the switch to figure out if we were going to be able to get this bird over the mountains and to the airport at Larandia, where we were scheduled to refuel.
In my twenty-plus years of flying, I'd had all kinds of training in a variety of different military and civilian aircraft. I'd been in tight spots before and now I slipped easily into a don't-panic-just-focus mindset.
"Marc," I told him, "make the mayday call." "I'm too new to make a call this important," Marc said. "I think you better do it."
I couldn't blame the guy for not wanting to make that initial call. I immediately got on the SATCOM radio to relay our location to the guys back at the base. The first thing I needed to do to was to let our command posts know our location coordinates.
"Magic Worker, this is Mutt 01, do you read me?"
I waited but got no response. I tried them again. Silence.
This was not good. Magic Worker was responsible for our command and control. Normally, they responded almost instantly every time we called in at our appointed half hour intervals. The thought of possibly going in on an emergency landing without anyone knowing we had a mayday was not something any of us wanted to do. I made another call to a Department of Defense group based in Florida called JIATF East.
"Mutt 01. This is JIATF East. How many souls on board?"
"JIATF East, there are five." I listed them and spelled each of the names: Tom Janis, Tom Howes, Marc Gonsalves, Eduardo Cruz, and myself -- Keith Stansell.
I kept calling out the coordinates to them as we descended from twelve thousand feet over the rugged Cordilleria Oriental Mountains, south of Bogotá. A few minutes later we reached Ed Trinidad, who was a part of our Tactical Analysis Team back at the embassy in Bogotá.
He was trying to stay cool and calm, but I could hear the stress in his voice.