Home > Life Flight (Extreme Measures #1)

Life Flight (Extreme Measures #1)
Author: Lynette Eason

 


CHAPTER

ONE


OCTOBER

THURSDAY AFTERNOON

Today was not going to be the day they died—not if she had anything to say about it. EMS helicopter pilot Penny Carlton tightened her grip on the throttle of the MBB Bo 105 chopper and prayed the wind would calm down long enough to get their patient to Mercy Mission Hospital on the other side of the mountain.

Flying in bad weather was nothing new, and Penny often did it without hesitation, knowing it was a life-or-death situation. But today was exceptionally bad, with rain and ice slashing the windshield, requiring all of her concentration to keep them on course. Not to mention in the air as the potential of icing increased.

“Come on, Betty Sue, you can do this. We’ve come this far, we’re gonna make it, right?” Penny talked to the chopper on occasion—mostly when she was worried.

She’d protested the flight to her supervisor, and he ordered her to do it or find another job. With only a brief thought that she should walk away, her mind went to the person in jeopardy. At the time, the weather hadn’t been nearly as violent as it was now, so she’d ignored the weather warnings and agreed, praying they could beat the storm long enough to get in, get the patient, and get out.

Unfortunately, things hadn’t worked out that way, and now she battled the weather while fifteen-year-old Claire Gentry fought to live.

Claire had been hiking with friends along one of Mount Mitchell’s most rugged trails when a gust of harsh wind had blown her off balance and over the side of the mountain onto a ledge below. Once the rescue team had gotten her back up, it was Penny’s turn to make sure Claire lived to see sixteen. “How’s she doing back there?”

“Not good,” Holly Cooper said into her mic. A nurse practitioner, Holly could handle just about any medical emergency that came up. However, controlling the weather was out of their hands. “Raina, hand me that morphine,” she said. “She’s hurting. And get pressure back on her side. She’s bleeding again.”

Raina Price, the critical care transport paramedic, moved to obey. The three of them had been saving lives together for the past twenty months.

Thunder boomed and lightning lit up the sky way too close for comfort. Penny tuned out the familiar beep and whine of the machines behind her, knowing the best way she could help Claire was to get her to the hospital.

A hard slam against the left side of the chopper knocked the cyclic control stick from her grip, sending them sideways. Yells from Raina and Holly echoed in her ears. “Hold on!” Penny grabbed the stick, righted the chopper, and pushed the left antitorque pedal, the helicopter sluggish in response to her attempts to turn it into the wind.

“Penny! What’s happening?”

“We got hit with something! I think it damaged the tail rotor. I’m going to have to land it.”

“You can’t.” Holly’s calm words helped settle her racing pulse. A fraction. “Claire’s most likely going to die if we don’t get her to the hospital.”

The wind threw them into a rapid descent, sending Penny’s stomach with it. The chopper wasn’t spinning, so the tail rotor wasn’t completely damaged, but something was definitely—desperately—wrong. “I don’t have a choice!” They would all die if she didn’t do something now. She keyed her microphone and advised air traffic control of the emergency and their approximate location.

“. . . breaking up . . . please repeat.”

Penny did and got silence for her efforts. “Mayday! Mayday. Anyone there?”

Nothing. She was out of time.

The instrument panel flashed and went dark. “No, don’t do that! You’re not supposed to do that.”

“Do what?” Holly yelled.

Penny ignored her and got a grip on her fear while she tried to make out the fast-approaching ground amid flashes of lightning. The last one allowed her to spot a small neighborhood with a row of houses farther down the side of the mountain—at least she thought that’s what she saw. The storm was now raging, visibility practically nil.

She would have to go by the memory of the brief glances. The top of the mountain had looked flat with a bare area where she thought she could safely land. Or at least not crash into trees—or homes.

The throttle was set, controlled by the governor. Now all she had to do was point the nose of the chopper downward to keep them from entering an out-of-control spin. “Come on, girl, you can do this,” she muttered. “We can do this. Just a little farther.” The trees were somewhere straight ahead. The loose watch on her left wrist bounced against her skin in time with the movement of the chopper.

“Penny!” Holly’s tightly held fear bled through her voice. “Tell me what we’re doing.”

“Just focus on your patient and I’ll get us on the ground. We’re going to be fine.” Please, God, let us be okay. Please. She’d trained for this. Over and over, she’d practiced what to do if she lost a tail rotor or had engine issues or whatever. The engine was still good, and a Messerschmitt-Bölkow-Blohm could perform amazing aerobatic maneuvers when called on. For a brief moment, her panel flickered to life and she quickly checked her altitude and airspeed. So far, so good. For now.

“I can do this,” she whispered. “Come on, Betty Sue, please don’t quit on me now.”

They’d all trained for situations like this. Mostly, focusing on how to keep the patient stable in the midst of an emergency landing. Landing, please. Not a crash.

When her panel fluttered, then went dark once more, she groaned and squinted through the glass. More thunder shook the air around them, but the nonstop lightning was going to be what saved them.

The landing spot she’d picked out wasn’t perfect, but it would have to do. At least it was mostly flat—and big. “Brace yourselves,” she said. “It’s going to be a rough landing, but we are going to walk away from this. All of us.”

The tops of the trees were closer than she’d like, but the small opening just beyond them was within reach. “Almost there!” A gust of wind whipped hard against her and debris crashed into the windshield, spreading the cracks. Penny let out a screech but kept her grip steady. “Come on, come on.” She maneuvered the controls, keeping an eye on the trees through the cracked windshield. Okay, the tail rotor was responding somewhat. That would help. “We’re going to have a hard bounce! Be ready.”

She whooshed past the trees, their tips scraping the underbelly of the chopper, but she cleared them. Her heart pounded in her ears. Down, down . . .

The helicopter tilted, the right landing skid hitting first and sliding across the rocky ground. A scream came from the back and supplies flew through the cabin. Something slammed into the side of Penny’s helmet, and she flinched and pushed hard on the collective, angling the rotors, desperate to get both skids on the ground. They bounced, rocked, then settled on the skids. Upright and still breathing.

She’d done it. She was alive. They were alive. With shaking hands, she shut down the engine and took off her helmet. Thank you, Jesus.

She turned to see Raina and Holly unbuckling their safety harnesses. Holly dropped to her knees next to the patient while Raina dabbed at a cut on her forehead.

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