The first thing I did was to make contact with the aviation authorities at two nearby airports, reaching the towers at Florencia and Larandia. In the middle, I remembered a brief conversation Keith and Marc had had about today being February 13. Keith had told Marc that he'd have plenty of time when we returned to order flowers for his wife, Shane. I thought of my own wife, Mariana, waiting for me back in Florida; I didn't want to think about our five-year-old son, Tommy, and what my death might do to him.
To keep my thoughts from going darker and make sure we explored every option, I asked Tommy J if we should go through a restart procedure. I'd held off raising the question until things calmed down a bit. Tommy J agreed it was worth a shot. I reset the fuel control, power and prop levers, reduced the electrics, checked the engine temperature, and then tried a restart. As the revolutions climbed I introduced fuel, but the engine stopped winding up.
Tommy J did a flawless job of bringing us down and having us just clear the tops of the trees. I was more concerned that he'd overshoot the landing area than I was that he'd come up a bit short. As we'd gotten closer to the clearing I saw that our landing strip ended at the edge of a cliff. Gliding above the ground, I yelled to Tommy J, "Plant it!" A moment later, my world went dark.
What spooked me the most was the eerie sound of the wind rushing past and through the plane's surfaces. The noise was a lot like the sound you hear when you are driving at a decent speed in your car. When you raise the windows and the glass is just about ready to make contact with the top of the frame, you hear a high-pitched whining whistle.
Keith had instructed me to secure as many of the loose things in the cabin as I could. Any small object could become a deadly projectile in a crash landing. We had a couple of bottles of water and a box of water, our cameras and lenses in hard cases, our backpacks, and some other essential gear. I secured them behind the crash barrier. When I was done, I returned to my station, and using the GPS to track our position, I radioed in our coordinates. Keith checked to make sure that I was strapped in and then he did the same for Sergeant Cruz. I was about to go through my first emergency landing, so I couldn't imagine what Cruz was thinking. I literally didn't know because he hardly spoke any English and I spoke little Spanish. From the looks we exchanged, it was clear that we both understood what was happening and that our outlook was grim.
"We are no longer maneuvering. We are searching for a flat spot to crash-land in," I radioed back to Ed Trinidad.
I could feel the plane banking, what seemed to me to be steeply, to the left. We were obviously making a turn and I felt my guts shifting a bit. I recognized that we were lining up for an approach and took a few deep breaths.
A few seconds after we came out of that first turn, the stall warning sounded. We immediately went into a right-hand turn, a less drastic maneuver, and I shut my eyes and said a quick prayer. I asked Jesus to forgive me for my sins, made a quick promise to reform, and asked that He protect my wife, my kids, and my family. My list was suddenly cut off.
"We are going in," I heard someone yell. I braced myself.