another pSecret pSociety pshort pstory
Yep, That was Me by Mike Bozart (Agent 33) | APRIL 2017
Yep, That was Me
by Mike Bozart
© 2017 Mike Bozart
Keith Sapsford, a 14-year-old, rambunctious, hyper-adventurous, wanderlust-filled Australian lad, has just slipped through a gap in the chain-link construction fence on the perimeter of the nearing-completion international terminal at Sydney Kingsford Smith Airport. It is the early morning of February 24, 1970. And, Keith has run away yet again; this time he has absconded from a troubled-youth facility.
The daring adolescent spies a Japan Airlines DC-8 docked at the existing terminal and dashes towards it. He crouches and darts under the right wing in the predawn dim light. Once at the wheel well, he looks up. That’s plenty big enough. I can easily fit in there. No problem.
Keith then hops on one of the large tires and climbs up the main landing-gear column. He uses a strut to get his body into the four-wheel storage compartment. Amazingly, his stowaway maneuver goes unnoticed.
Once ensconced in a snug yet tolerable position, he awaits takeoff for Tokyo. Keith hears the sounds of luggage being loaded into the cargo hold. And then, a baggage handler almost spots him. Whew! That was way too close. Need to reposition myself. Need to get completely out of their sight.
Keith leans back some more, so that none of the airport’s runway workers can possibly see him in the wheel well. But, he still feels anxious. His mind races. Must not be seen. Must not get arrested. Have already got into enough trouble. Wonder when this plane leaves. Should I really do this? How safe – or unsafe – is this? What to do when the plane lands in Tokyo? Oh, just figure it out upon arrival. Will need to get food and drink soon after landing. Will have to enter a store. Hope I have enough money. Do they take Australian dollars? Maybe just catch the next flight back.
Thirteen long minutes later, Keith hears the cargo doors being slammed shut. Then he hears the four jet engines coming to life. The pilot revs them for nine screaming seconds. It is extremely loud. Hope it’s not this loud the whole way. Might go deaf. Darn! Should have brought earplugs. Those old earmuffs would have been perfect. Wonder how cold it will be. Probably should have brought gloves, too. Oh well, it’s too late now.
When the pilot decreases the RPMs of the turbines, the noise level drops considerably. Next, the jet airliner is pushed away from the terminal. Keith sees the tarmac slowly passing beneath his feet. Soon the McDonnell Douglas jetliner is taxiing to the 16R/34L runway. Well, this is it. Wonder if it will be hard to go undetected at the Tokyo airport. Is their security tighter? Wonder if anyone knows English over there. Should have memorized some Japanese words. Guess I’ll just point when ordering.
The DC-8 makes a couple of quarter-turns and stops. Then the four engines are throttled up. The plane starts rolling … faster … and faster … and faster down the runway. Here we go! Must keep a firm grip on these pipes. [hydraulic lines] Getting kind of bumpy. Woah! We’re now off the ground! Goodbye, Sydney. I’m off to see the world. First stop: Japan.
As the airplane nears the end of the airspace above airport property, it is at an approximate altitude of 200 feet (61 meters). The wheels begin to retract. A horizontal landing-gear part that Keith thought was permanently stationary suddenly lurches laterally. His feet slide off as his left arm is bumped by a piston. In just two seconds he has gone from all-good secure to hanging on for dear life with his right hand. Can’t hang on much longer. Must try to swing my feet up. There’s too much wind. Can’t do it. Should have listened to dad. Can’t hold on.
Poor Keith is now in freefall. He flaps his arms in a seated position. Oh, shit! This is it! I’m dead. Why did I ever do this? Ok, maybe if I hit some tree limbs I might survive. No luck. Green grass coming up fast. God! I’m finished.
Mr. John Gilpin was an amateur photographer. This Australian shutterbug had just bought a new lens and a roll of black-and-white film for his favorite camera. On a mild Tuesday morning, he ventured to the vicinity of the Sydney airport and settled at a good vantage point for takeoffs and landings: the beach that paralleled The Grand Parade.
John snapped off a series of pics over the course of thirty-five minutes. Then he went to work, dropping off the film for processing along the way.
A routine week later, John stopped by the photo-lab to pick up his prints. He checked the first one, a photo of a Boeing 727, to make sure he had received the right set. Satisfied, he proceeded back to his domicile.
After dinner John started to examine the prints – one by one – on his light table. He wanted to see how well the new zoom lens performed – the clarity, the details revealed, the brightness and the overall enlarging. When he got to the eighth print, his mind shrieked in terror and utter disbelief. Oh, my God! Who is/was that young man? What happened? What led to this?
Just below an ascending Japan Airlines DC-8 was a juvenile male in mid-air. He was obviously once on the airplane. Did he jump out of the cabin? Doubt that. Was he a stowaway hiding in a wheel well? Oh yes, this was in the news. Need to alert the authorities. Wonder if they’ll think that I had something to do with this. After all, what are the odds of randomly taking a picture of someone falling to their death from a commercial jet? Has it ever even happened? So bizarre. And so tragic. Won’t be forgetting this photo. I know that I’m going to be haunted by it. Already feel like it’s me in the air, staring at impending death. Can feel myself falling. And with nothing to grab onto. No rip cord to pull to activate a parachute. Futilely grasping at thin air. Completely hopeless. Time must have stopped for that doomed teenager. Guess I should brace for the media onslaught. So many questions will be coming. ‘Sir, why did you photograph that particular airplane at that exact moment?’ Yeah, I’ll probably get that one over and over. Wonder what that most-unlucky young fellow would say if he were somehow able to comment. ‘Yep, that was me.’
John Gilpin’s photo (LIFE, March 6, 1970)
Back in 1970, an unmanageable Australian lad can't wait to see the world. After fleeing from adult supervision once again, he decides to hitch a ride on a DC-8 jetliner docked at the Sydney airport. It all starts off real well in the wheel well. But, then ... Closely based on a photo-captured real-life tragedy. Approx. 1100 words. If this little bio-piece were a movie, it would most likely be rated G (ok for all ages).