In West Texas where Jacob Trace made his way toward a dry camp after a fruitless day trailing a mountain lion, September dusk brought little relief from the heat and his mule kicked up dust from the parched, cracked earth. In Houston where Randolph Morgan, assistant director of the North American Zoological Association, and bored reporters awaited the arrival of World Air 17, dusk was hardly noticeable in the warm blanket of fog that wrapped the city.
At 24,000 feet and holding, World Air 17 was at last out of the storm. The flight across the Atlantic had been rough, even for the experienced crew aboard World Air 17. Storms had forced a detour, and severe turbulence had placed the DC-10 at the edge of control. A downdraft had dropped the wide-bodied jet several thousand feet. The altitude loss took seconds but gave the passengers time for screaming, vomiting, hyperventilating, and discovering suspect hearts.
The plane had groaned like a woman in labor and bottomed out with a jolt that tested every weld in the airplane and destroyed some electrical circuits, none of them crucial. The passengers had been belted down, but one stewardess, Claudette, had been assisting a sick child just aft of the first-class cabin when the aircraft went into its Jesus Christ mode, and she had been slammed against the overhead and knocked unconscious. The passengers wanted their feet on the ground. However, World Air 17 had arrived at Houston to find the airport wrapped in dense fog.
“World Air 17, this is Houston Center. Do you wish to declare an emergency?”
“Negative, Houston.” Captain Robert Hansen had never declared an emergency in a long career, and he had no intention of