Runway at the Ghaleh Morghi Airbase
Colonel Nazemi is standing in the falling snow. With his right hand, he is holding the collar of his navy blue coat tight against his freezing neck. He is holding a radio in his left hand. Standing next to him are the military police major and lieutenant who had shown up at his office earlier. There are about a dozen other men, officers and maintenance men, standing behind him. They are all gazing at the sky. Lt. Parsaa has radioed in, and they are awaiting his arrival. They know that his aircraft has been hit and is severely damaged. Two fire trucks and an ambulance are standing by as well. This is all that the rescue equipment that the base’s skeletal crew has been able to muster up.
His radio then goes off. It is the tower. “You should be able to see him now. ”
Nazemi looks up. In the distance, his professional eyes can make out the blinking red light on the belly of the aircraft that Parsaa has turned on so that he can be located. He continues to calmly look up. Thick, black smoke is rising from various parts of the aircraft.
Inside the cockpit of the approaching Mig-29, Parsaa is trying to land the plane, but he has a hard time controlling the badly damaged aircraft. All kinds of lights and alarms are going off in the cockpit. He pulls the joystick hard toward himself in an attempt to pull the Mig’s nose up, but the aircraft still does not respond.
“I can’t control it…it’s going to crash” shouts an exasperated Parsaa into his radio.
The tower responds. “Eject then, eject!”
Parsaa let’s go of the joystick, grabs the ejection seat handles with both hands and pulls them up. The canopy flies away and his seat rockets to the sky. His Mig then nose dives into the runway below and crashes into a huge fireball below him. Parsaa’s parachute then deploys and he falls to the ground with a big thump. The landing is much more intense that he had anticipated. His legs and ankles hurt, but he struggles and stands up…limping…and cuts his parachute loose. He looks over at the burning wreckage of his aircraft and the fire crews that are racing toward it. An ambulance is speeding toward him, followed by a small jeep. The ambulance stops next to him and the crew jumps out.
Parsaa holds his right hand up in a “stop” motion. “I’m fine” he shouts to the crew.
The crew shines a flashlight at Parsaa’s face, which causes him to blink. He is right. Aside from a couple of superficial cuts and a soot covered face, he seems to be fine. By this time, the jeep has arrived as well. Parsaa can now see the occupants. It’s Col. Nazemi and two MP’s. They exit the car and Nazemi ordersthe ambulance crew to leave, and the follow the order.
“I’m glad you made it back safely, lieutenant…and I am sorry to hear about your comrades…we are sending a rescue crew to locate them” says Nazemi with a somber look on his face.
Parsaa nods. He is curious about the two MP’s who he had never seen before.
Nazemi seems a bit uncomfortable. He wants to say something, but is a bit hesitant. He pauses and then looks at the MP Major. The major nods and Nazemi collects his thoughts and faces a rather bewildered Parsaa again.
“Lieutenant, this is Major Keyvan Akhavan of the Military Police, and that is his assistant, Lieutenant Mahdavi…. they would like to have a word with you. ”
Parsaa looks at a stone faced Akhavan and nervously nods.
Interior of Ahangar’s Cockpit
Ahangar is not very surprised at Rahmati’s comment, but he is disappointed and needs to come up with a new plan. He grabs the control stick and pushes it forward. His aircraft begins to nosedive.
Rahmati is nervously watching Ahangar’s aircraft from the cockpit window of the 727. His assistant is standing next to him. They see the plane diving below, which brings asmile to Rahmati’s face.
“Good work there,” says a confident Rahmati to his assistant. “I did not know…but from what you told me, I don’t think that he will come around to bother us anymore. ”
Ahangar’s plane keeps diving into the stormy skies below. It is a risky move given the low visibility and the high mountain picks. His aircraft’s onboard computers, although old, figure out the perils of this dangerous descent and begin to give him warnings. Red lights begin to flash on his instrument panel and an audio warning begins to break the eerie silence in the cabin. “Pull up,” keeps repeating the speaker in the cockpit. Ahangar is still contemplative, but at right about 20,000 feet he pulls the control stick hard toward himself. In response, his Mig begins to reverse course and in a remarkable maneuver that can only be a testament to Ahangar’s great piloting skills, begins to climb again at an almost vertical angle.
Inside the 727, Rahmati and his assistant have exited the cockpit and are walking toward the passengers in the rear of the aircraft. The passengers are scattered about the cabin.
Ahangar’s plane approaches the 727. He can see the underbelly of the aircraft. At about a 1,000 feet distance, he puts his right index finger against the trigger that is located on the control stick and prepares to fire. He adjusts the aim of his cannon and targets the starboard engine of the 727. He then presses the trigger for a split second, and a small burst of cannon fire begins to pierce the dawn sky. The few rounds slice right through the 727’s engine, causing flames and black smoke to shoot out of the engine in all directions. He then steers the Mig away from the 727 and flies up and a 45 degree angle next to the hapless passenger plane, overshooting it and ending up at a higher altitude on top of the aircraft. He then lowers his altitude, brings himself parallel to the 727 on the starboard side, and begins to survey the damage that his bullets have done to the plane. In addition to the damaged engine, he can see a broken window on the aircraft. He knows the implications of that kind of damage, and becomes concerned. He wants to deliver the passengers alive.
Inside the 727, the moment of impact is even more horrific than what Ahangar had witnessed from his vantage point. The plane shakes violently when the rounds go through the engine and then stalls for a split moment when the engine stops running. Rahmati and his assistant, who are still standing in the middle of the aircraft’s aisle, are thrown about and end up on the opposite sides of the aisle, face down on the seats. Rahmati’s satellite phone and his and his assistant’s Kalashnikovs are thrown about the cabin.
In the back of the aircraft, a small metal part of the engine is dislodged and it crashes through the one of the plane’s rear row windows, entering the cabin and landing with great force in the neck of one of the guards who, to his misfortune, is sitting directly across from the starboard window. The man grabs his neck with both hands, screams in pain and rolls on the floor. In panic, he pulls the piece of metal out of his neck, causing blood to gush out from where the piece of metal had been lodged.
Freezing air rushes into the passenger cabin, and at the same time, cabin air and loose objects begin to get sucked out of the broken window. The howling sound of the wind is frightening and other passengers try hard to pull themselves away from the damaged area. Oxygen masks drop from the overhead compartments, but no one seems to have the presence of mind to put them on in the chaotic situation.
A couple of other guards try in vain to help their injured comrade, but it seems to be too late. The man is choking on his own blood. He tries to speak, but his windpipe is slashed and he cannot make a sound. His eyes fixate on one of his two colleagues who are kneeling down next to him, and his left arm grabs the one of the men’s arm, as if to convey a thought. But it is too late. His eyes roll back and he his arm falls, lifeless, onto the floor of the aircraft.
Rahmati is angry. He struggles up and tries to make his way to the cockpit. He finds his satellite phone and picks it up. But just as he regains his balance, the 727 begins to descend, causing him to fall forward. He grabs to bulkhead next to him and manages to maintain his balance, and then inches his way back to the cockpit. By the time he reaches the cockpit, he is so furious that he wants to kill the pilot on site, but knowing the perils of that unintelligent move, he instead channels all his anger into his throat and begins to scream at Nasseri.
“What in the world are you doing?Why are you lowering your altitude now?”
Nasseri doesn’t even look up from his instrument panel. “If you haven’t noticed yet Commander, we have been hit, and we are losing cabin pressure. I must lower the aircraft’s altitude before we all suffocate to death. By the way, your friend in the Mig is back. He is flying next to us. There he is. ”He points, with some pleasure, to the starboard side of the aircraft.
Rahmati takes a quick glance, and sees Ahangar’s plane flying alongside. He also notices Nasseri’s mockery of his command and his desperate situation, but decides to control himself. He purses his lips until they are pale white, but says nothing.
The co-pilot, Izadi, interrupts Nasseri. “I think the fire is out…for now. ”
Nasseri is not impressed. “Good, we will have a few more minutes to live!”
From his cockpit, Ahangar can see the 727 descending. He follows suit and matches the plane’s altitude, still flying by its side. He can see that the engine fire is out, and is pleased, at least for this moment, to see that he may yet have a chance to deliver this cargo in one piece. He turns on his radio.
Back in the 727’s cockpit, Izadi turns to Rahmati. “We are being hailed. It is him again,” pointing at Ahangar’s aircraft. He then extends the headset to Rahmati, who grabs it with force.
“What do you want now? You killed one of my men. ”
Ahangar pauses for a moment. Deep down inside, deep within his being, he cannot stand the thought of a human being suffering. He has always had the ability, and the luxury, to compartmentalize his feelings, and to justify them…but this time it is different. He detaches his mask. It is suffocating him. He feels as if he is losing control… but he collects himself. He must. He cannot show weakness, not here… not now. He reattaches the mask.
“A lot more people will die if you keep disobeying my demands commander. You have an important decision to make within the next few minutes, Mr Rahmati. As you can see, I will not allow you to escape. So, the way I see it, you have very few options left. You seem to be in charge of the aircraft. That places you personally in the highly advantageous position of saving your own skin. Your empire has collapsed. You, and the other passengers on board your plane, are the last few remnants of a failed experiment in brutality and oppression. This is the end of the line for you. I am sure that you have a family. Do what is right so that your nation can reward your cooperation, and maybe, just maybe, you will have the opportunity to be with your family again instead of being blown to pieces in the sky tonight or be condemned to death for your crimes when you are finally captured. But we will not have much time. Your aircraft is damaged, and mine is running low on fuel, and I must complete my mission. You must make your decision quickly. ”
“What can you promise me?”
”Nothing, commander. But I can tell you that the authorities will be looking kindly at you if you cooperate in bringing your companions to justice. ”
“I need a few minutes. ”
“You have three minutes commander. ”
Rahmati motions to the assistant to come to the cockpit. The man grabs his Kalashnikov, leaves the first class area of the cabin-where the passengers have congregated-and walks over to him. Rahmati pulls the man inside the cockpit and shuts the door. He whispers a few words in the man’s ear.
Nasseri, who has his back to the men, tries to listen in on the conversation, but all he could hear are the final few words uttered by Rahmati: “this will end now. ”
The man nods. The pair then check their machine guns and exit the cockpit with a deadly determination on their faces. In their rush, they leave the cockpit door open.
The two men walk to where the passengers are waiting. As they get close to them, and on Rahmati’s nod, the two men raise their weapons, point them at the passengers and begin to fire at the guards. Two continuous bursts of the pair’s Kalashnikovs echoes through the aircraft, mixed with screams of the victims. The unsuspecting guards, caught by surprise, do not get a chance to react. They are killed instantly, their bullet ridden bodies scattered about what would be the aircraft’s first class cabin. Moans of the dying and the screams of the survivors of the shooting rampage fill the freezing cabin air.
Having heard the gunshots and the sounds of the carnage, Nasseri unbuckles himself and stands up, looking into the cabin to see what has happened on board the aircraft that he is piloting. The cabin air is filled with smoke and smell of gunpowder. There is blood everywhere…on the bullet ridden seats, on the interior walls of the plane and running down the plane’s center aisle. All the guards that he had seen before lay dead in pools of blood. The only passengers that are left alive are the government officials-the four clergy and the civilian. Rahmati and his assistant are standing right next to them, still pointing their weapons at them and staring down at the dead bodies and the carnage that they have just caused. The surviving passengers are terrified and are helplessly waiting for Rahmati’s next move.
“If you want to stay alive, you will do exactly as I say. ”
The passengers nod in response to Rahmati’s command.
“You will sit here and will not move until this plane lands. Is that understood?”
They nod again.
“Good. ”He then turns to his colleague. “Stay here and keep an eye on them. ”
“Yes, commander. ”
Back in the cockpit, Nasseri grabs the headset from his copilot and calls Ahangar.
“Major…you’re a major, right?”
“Yes” responds a confused Ahangar, not knowing with whom he is communicating.
“This is Captain Nasseri. I am piloting this aircraft. There were shots fired by the commander in charge of the group. He has killed many people. I think that he has shot all the guards dead…I think that some of the bullets may have penetrated the aircraft, but I am not sure…”
Ahangar interrupts him. “How many are dead?”
“I don’t know…nine, ten…I am afraid that we may be next. ”
“Don’t worry. He is not going to harm you. He is just tying up some lose ends. Keep flying that plane. He needs you. ”
“I’ll try…thank you major. I want you to know we had no part in this escape attempt. ”
”I know captain…I know…”
As Rahmati turns around to return to the cockpit, the young cleric who is among the surviving passengers, stands up and begins shouting at him.
“After all these years, and after all that we had done for you, this is how you pay us back?You were a nobody…a volunteer hoodlum whose only skill was to beat protesters up on the streets. We made you a Commander!A Commander…and trusted you…and this is how you pay us back…you coward!”
Rahmati stops, pauses for a second and turns around. He pulls his sidearm out of its holster and begins to walk back toward the passengers. His assistant tries to stop him, but he pushes him aside. He reaches the young cleric, raises his arm, points the gun at his forehead and fires a single shot. The bullet enters the young man’s forehead and exits from the back of his skull, knocking his turban off his head. Blood pours out of the exit wound, and the man’s dying body falls back unto his seat. An older cleric cries in agony, stands up and embraces the now lifeless young man.
“You killed my son, you bastard…. you killed my son…. ”
Rahmati is furious. His blood red eyes are filled with rage. His face and his shirt are splattered with the young clerk’s blood.
“Shut up!Shut up…. . before you join him” screams Rahmati. He is on such a psychotic rage that even his companion is concerned about what his commander will do next. Is he the next one to be eliminated?
Rahmati then turns around and walks back to the cockpit, where he finds an anxious Nasseri clutching the headset. Nasseri can smell the powerful odor of gunpowder on Rahmati, and he can see the drops of sweat, mixed with the victim’s blood dripping from his face.
Rahmati then reaches for Nasseri’s headset with his blood splattered hand, yanks it away from him and puts it on.
“Can you hear me Major Ahangar?”
“I can hear you” responds a somber sounding Ahangar.
“It is done major. We will follow you to the airbase. ”
Ahangar pauses for a second. “Follow my lead. ”
To be concluded in Part IV.