“Eden 224,” came the air traffic controllers smooth voice, as the plane climbed above the hills and mountains of the mainland. “selemat pagi identified. Climb to flight level one eight zero.”
One Eight zero, Eden 224” the pilot responded. “Quiet night,” he remarked to the copilot, a young man with a round face and a natural deep bronze complexion.
“God willing,” he replied in Maylay without looking up as he checked and reset course corrections. Samar Saaduddin wasn’t Malay by birth, but had been born thirty-six years before in Banda Aceh. Though his family had emigrated when he was young to Kuala Lumpur, he always maintained a deep passion for that homeland. When the tsunami devastated the city in 2004 he asked for leave from the Maylay military to give assistance, not understanding until he arrived the historic devastation he was to find. Devoutly Muslim, Samar was shocked and outraged as Western Christian missionaries flooded into the region to take advantage in proselytizing to desperate and frightened Muslims, most of whom had lost everything. And it made him appreciate even more the life he had in Malaysia. But the anger never left him, and though he had many Western friends after nearly a decade with Eden Air, Samar found that he could never fully trust a Westerner. Drone strikes in Pakistan and across the Mideast, the constant rhetoric of Islamic terror, the anti-Muslim sentiments layered on the Western psyche, like sediments on a river bed only affirmed and secured that mistrust.
Rezak was a bit concerned about the amount of fuel onboard. For a trip that was a shade under four hours it was odd that the ground crew had nearly topped her off. He checked the weather reports once more, but could find nothing but scattered clouds approaching Hong Kong. Certainly nothing to warrant a full load. With a maximum range of better than thirteen thousand kilometers, or seventy-four hundred miles, they could fly almost half way around the planet.
“We’re going to land heavy with all this extra fuel on board,” he remarked. “Comfortable bringing her in that heavy?”
“I think we’ll be fine.”
“We could take the long way around Manila,” Rezak managed a joke. “Burn off some of this fuel.”
Samar didn’t respond, but only smiled. The radio crackled to life. They were nearing the limits of Kuala Lumpur ATC. The controller’s voice sounded distant and the feed was breaking up a bit with static.
“Eden 224 contact Lumpur Radar one three two six. Good night.” This was Ali Razak’s first flight with the young copilot, but he was fully at home with the A330. He still wondered over the excess fuel. That weight at this destination risked a terribly heavy landing that wasn’t good for the aircraft of those on board. Still, he had faith in his skills as a pilot, and was growing more comfortable with Samar’s as well, almost to the point of true admiration. Samar could see the thoughts moving in Rezak’s expression.
“We could have asked for a refuel,” said Samar, knowing full well it was a lengthy process, one the airline would not take kindly to. Settling him was the confident hum of the aircraft’s twin Rolls Royce engines, driving them through the sky with better than seventy thousand pounds of thrust and a cruising speed of four hundred and seventy knots.
“The delay would have been prohibitive. I have an excellent on time record, but I’ll want maintenance to give it a thorough going over before we leave Hong Kong.”
Razak was a Malaysian air force veteran, trained by the US military before landing the job with Eden Air a shade over 21 years earlier. At 55, Rezak was still in exceptional condition. Small but powerfully built, he had a sort of professorial appearance, with thin silver hair, small thin mustache and square glasses.
It was just two months since his wife had left him and filed for divorce. Their two sons had taken their mother’s sude, at least as far as they believed in her right to make choices over her own life and happiness. He was taking it hard, the shock and confusion still potent and almost debilitating when not in the cockpit or filing flight plans. Rezak felt alone, and it was not a place he ever recalled being before. Normally gregarious and optimistic Rezak was now notably quieter and more reserved now. And it might have been simpler if it had been over something concrete like infidelity or something else. That she had simply packed up and moved back Sungai Petani to help her sister care for their mother. And so Rezak went mechanically through the day, melting a wounded heart into the regimen of the job, and struggling to fend off much darker thoughts.
The lumbering airbus crossed the coast at Dungun and headed out over open sea. The lights, the sparse traffic of the coastal roads, the snow-white waves breaking at the shoreline slipped silently behind the airbus as if they were the edge of the world, and the dark see the endless abyss of space. Behind them, behind the locked flight deck door the flight attendants were just starting with the first beverage service. Samar and Rezak looked out into the midnight-blue waters of the South China Sea. The sea was perfect and smooth as a mirror, seeming to extend into eternity. The Milky Way blanketed the sky. The moon was still more than an hour from rising, and it was still too early to pick up the lights of the Vietnamese coast some 500 miles distant. By this light it was easy to mistake or second guess the aircraft’s altitude. As they climbed steady towards thirty thousand feet a tired mind could easily have believed they were flying so much lower than the instruments indicated.
“Would you like to make the first address, Captain,” said Samar dutifully.
“If you care to,” came a stoic reply from the veteran pilot.
“No worries,” Said Samar before speaking into the aircraft’s public address system. “Ladies and gentlemen, on behalf of Captain Rezak and myself I would like to welcome you onboard Eden Air Flight 224. Apologies for a late departure, but we anticipate clear weather and should land in Hong Kong on time. Our flight is three hours and thirty minutes. Despite the clear weather it is advised that everyone keep their seatbelts fastened securely and that you remain in your seats…”
Rezak glanced over at the young man and thought it a bit odd that all passengers should remain seated for the duration. Samar met Rezak’s eyes for a moment. Rezak managed a smile and nodded respectfully.
“…I will update you on weather conditions as we near our destination. Relax and enjoy your flight.”
“Keeping them in their seats, huh?” Rezak couldn’t help but remark, his gaze trained through the cockpit windows into the darkness ahead.
“Three and a half hours. They’ll survive,” Samar said hollowly.
The radio crackled to life again. Rezak glanced expectantly to Samar. Samar keyed the microphone.
“Eden 224,Good evening,” came the controller’s voice. It had the quality of a seasoned professional. “Climb to flight level two five zero.”
“Eden 224, copy, flight level two five zero,” Samar said, confirming they were at the prescribed altitude of twenty-five thousand feet.
Five minutes later came new instructions from the Controller, “Eden 224, climb to three five zero.”
Samar keyed the mic again. He looked over at Rezak, his brow deeply tortured by a thought.
“Eden 224, climbing to three five zero.” Samar punched in the command and let the onboard computer do all the work. Samar frowned. Rezak looked to be a million miles away.
A moment later the controller said. “Maintain three five zero.”
A bright shooting star swept across the sky. Neither of the pilots noticed as they went over their instruments and checked the weather to destination once more. Samar’s hands were sweating. He wiped them on his navy blue slacks and took a deep breath. Rezak noticed the tension in the young man’s face.
“Everything okay?’ he asked.
“Fine,” came the answer. Samar started to say something, seeing that Rezak wasn’t satisfied. Kuala Lumpur ATC interrupted him an instant later.
“Eden 224, contact Ho Chi Minh at 120 decimal. Good night.”
Samar felt a shiver come over him, and was suddenly anxious. He keyed the mic once more. “Good night, Lumpur, Eden 224.”
Those would the last words that anyone would hear from Eden air. That realization would come reluctant and slow at first as controllers in Malaysia and Vietnam both tried in vain to contact the suddenly silent jetliner. All that remained was the final radar signatures showing the jet’s sudden and precipitous climb before banking hard to the left. Seconds later it disappeared from civilian radar screens. Following some 25 miles behind Eden Air 224 was Korean Air 747 freighter headed for Seoul. They were just reaching Eden’s last known position.
“Korean 341, Lumpur ATC, please advise if you can see anything. Is there anything in the water?”
In those first desperate minutes ATC control rooms fell deathly silent but for the persistent calls to the missing aircraft.
“Eden 224, please report,” said the Lumpur controller several more times, ignoring a garbled transmission from the Korean freighter. The controller sighed and rubbed his tired eyes which refused to leave the radar in hoped that Eden Air 224 might suddenly reappear with apologies from the chagrined flight crew.
“Korean 341, can you report anything?”
“Lumpur ATC, Korean 341,” the pilot replied. “Negative. Do you want us to go around for a closer look?”
“Korean 341, negative. Thank you. Remain level at three five zero.” The last thing he needed was to have giant aircraft flying off course and creating more confusion…or worse. he knew the Korean pilot knew better as well. The airlines were akin to something of a global family. The pilot had to ask, wishing that others might care as much if he was lost.
“Korean 341, you’re su…okay Lumpur, level at three five zero.”
An impending sense of doom fell over the various control towers from Kuala Lumpur to Bangkok, Ho Chi Minh to Brunei and Palawan. Freighters running those still waters reported nothing unusual that night. On land, in the air or at sea the answer always came back the same; Eden Air 224, a huge Airbus 330 with two hundred and twenty two people on board had seemingly vanished from the face of the earth…
Use Facebook to Comment on this Post