On March 8, 2014, Malaysia Airlines Flight 370 left Kuala Lumpur on a six-hour trip to Beijing. But not long after takeoff, air traffic control lost contact with the Boeing 777. It never landed. Or, more accurately, we don’t know where it landed after running out of fuel seven hours later. It’s one of the most compelling aviation mysteries of our time.
It is this event — and a possible explanation of what happened — that forms the kernel for Eric C. Anderson’s what-if scenario in his thriller, Final Flight (Dunn Books).
Among the most popular of the theories posited by experts is this: the cabin rapidly decompressed. Incapacitated in the moments between being alerted to the problem and hypoxia setting in, the pilots lost control of the aircraft, veering wildly off course over the Indian Ocean. But, according to Anderson, that doesn’t fully explain things. Why? Because less than 24 hours before takeoff, the systems that would be involved were inspected and the oxygen tanks replenished. Usually warning signs of such an issue would appear early enough for the the crew to don their masks before unconsciousness overtook them.
What if, Anderson asks, that oxygen wasn’t available, though? What if the entire system in place to deal with such an emergency were sabotaged? From this idea, Anderson reverse-engineers a situation that takes air disasters into an imaginative new territory — a fiction that diverges from its real-life inspiration not long after it takes off.
AMORAL COMPANIES AND THE HAPLESS JOES WHO WORK FOR THEM
Jason Montgomery is just trying to do his job. And make money, of course. He’s an ex-Air Force maintenance officer who now contracts for the airline industry installing and maintaining aircraft navigation systems. It’s a tough job with long hours, short deadlines and often less-than-desirable working conditions. Oh, and now there’s the occasional yakusa showing up to kick his ass — or worse.
Fortunately, he has Rob “Ski” Kalawski. The renegade ex-Special Forces soldier plays muscle in this one-two punch of a team. Just why Japanese organized crime is involved in aircraft maintenance is rather complicated, though.
The yakusa are working for Kawasaki Heavy Industries, manufacturer of the hardware and software system Jason is installing. If this seems like an unusual business practice, oh my, does Anderson have a story for you!
You see, Jason’s current client is China Air, a semi-state-owned enterprise looking to save money by stealing Kawasaki’s technology through reverse-engineering. And Kawasaki knows better than to trust China Air. That’s why Kawasaki executive Sako Nishita has devised a clandestine plan to ensure that the airline will be sorry it ever tried to pull a fast one — and make it serve as an example for any other customer who thinks they can get away with patent infringement. Kawasaki has brought in the yakusa to ensure the installations are up to spec. The yakusa don’t seem to care what their assignment is and mainly show up to ruin Jason’s day.
What unravels is a tale of powerful people with few morals and the hardworking (and somewhat hapless) regular guys who work for them. It’s a world of hard-drinking negotiations, hard-won contracts and hard-bodied heavies, where members of the yakusa and the Russian mafia team up with egomaniacal company execs to commit mass murder in the name of enforcing corporate dominance.
And, yes, by mass murder I mean passengers on commercial flights. Those that disappear without a trace. Except in this case, we get to find out where they end up. And it ain’t pretty.
AN ENGAGING TALE TOLD BY A MASTER STORYTELLER
Reading Final Flight is like sitting at the bar with the author over beer as he regales you with stories about a guy he knows, lingering over juicy details like the custom motorcycle he rides or the guns he owns. Anderson’s storytelling is a cascade of one-upmanships. Just when you think things can’t get any wilder, they do. And then he catches you on the upswing to reveal the irony in it all. The result is enthralling to witness.
Sadly, we’ll never have that beer with Anderson. He passed away while this novel was still in manuscript form. Anderson was a masterful storyteller with an imagination matched only by his encyclopedic knowledge of the topics on which he chose to write. I raise a pint in his honor. I can think of no better legacy to leave the world than his Final Flight.