When I felt first contact, I opened my eyes. In the back of the cabin, we could see out a row of windows. I saw slashes of sunlight and dark vegetation for a few seconds, heard the scream of tearing metal, and felt a ferocious thunk followed by a second even more violent impact, which must have been the landing gear being sheared off and the fuselage raking across the rock-strewn terrain. We were sliding and everything in my vision was bouncing. I saw a slit of light pour through the front of the aircraft as the cabin was torn open like a can of tuna.
I don't know how long we slid for, but just as it happened when the engine quit, we settled into silence. I could only make out shadows and flashes for a few seconds -- the sun came streaming in, lighting up the dust that was flying everywhere. I reached for our bag of pistols and looked up to see Keith and Sergeant Cruz kicking and shouldering the door so we could get out. We all had one thing on our minds -- fire. I gathered up more of my gear and some vital paperwork, and after a few seconds with my heart in my throat, I heard the door give way. Keith was gone and Sergeant Cruz stood in the opening, glancing anxiously around.
"Bring this to Keith." I gestured toward the front of the aircraft, where I assumed Keith had gone. Cruz nodded and I was left alone in the back of the plane to gather our other weapons, my survival vest, and my personal backpack with my expense report in it. I wanted to be certain that it got filed.
I worked my way up the pitted hill toward the front of the aircraft. I was surprised to see a cow staring at me. I looked for the pistol bag so that I could arm myself. I didn't see it, and hustled back down the slope to the aircraft, assuming that Cruz hadn't understood me and left it behind.
Glancing into the cockpit from the outside, I saw Tom slumped over in the copilot's seat, his head twisted in such a way that I thought his neck was broken. He was pinned up against the Plexiglas, looking like a bloody tissue sample placed on a slide. Everything around him in the copilot's area was covered in blood. I could see that he had a huge gash above his eye and a flap of skin, like a turkey's wattle, dangling down. I started beating on the glass and calling his name, but I wasn't getting anything back from him. I figured he had to be dead.
Above my own shouting, I heard the Sergeant Cruz shouting and the sound of gunfire raining down from above. Then I figured out what Cruz was yelling; he was shouting, "FARC! FARC! FARC!"
Out of the corner of my eye, I saw Tommy J raise his head and then slump back down. Keith ran around to Tommy J's side to get him out, and ended up pulling out Tom Howes as well.
With Tommy J and Tom pulled safely from the plane and bullets flying all around us, it didn't take long for us to figure out that we'd just landed in the middle of a cadre of FARC guerrillas. I couldn't believe it. We'd survived the crash only to find ourselves in a situation that was arguably worse.
Tommy J and Tom were both in a bloodied daze off to the side of the plane. Tom glanced over at Keith.
"What do you think?" Tom asked.
Keith didn't hesitate, figuring it was better to let me, as the newly minted operations officer, know the reality as he saw it. "We, sir, are f***ed."