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Race To Mystery - Chapter 7

After what seemed like an eternity, there was an announcement that flight MH220 was boarding at gate 16. Brett, Chris and Hamza gathered their bags and started to line up. The boys from Tasmania and the two sister from Adelaide were also on the flight. No sign of anyone else from the show however. Brett and Chris were seated towards the back, with Hamza two rows in front.

“Mate finally. I was getting bloody sick of sitting around” said Chris.

“Not wrong. Now we get to sit down for another six or seven hours”

“Haha, thanks mate, I needed that. How are we doing cash wise?”

“I think we have spent just under two thousand all up. Not too bad, but the expensive places are yet to come”

“Still we saved a bit here too, which is a bonus”

“Yeah but we lost our lead. Anyways we can do it mate” said Brett, giving Chris a friendly punch on the arm.

Soon they were taxiing down the runway and turned around in preparation for take off. The engines roared into life and they finally took off, destined for Beijing. Soon after taking off, there was a voice on the intercom. “Ladies and gentleman welcome to Malaysian Airlines flight 220 to Beijing. I am captain Naim Aziz and my co pilot tonight is Younus Ared. The flight time tonight will be six hours and thirty minutes and we will be flying at an altitude of 40,000 feet. The weather looks clear and we expect a smooth journey. Light refreshments will be served shortly and then we will dim the cabin lights for your comfort. I would like to take this opportunity to thank you for flying with us tonight and I will make another announcement before we descend into Beijing. Goodnight”

About six rows ahead of Brett and Chris, Simon, Brenton and Heng were sitting down, acting like any other traveller. There was still over an hour before they needed to do anything. “Everything ready?” Brenton asked Heng, who nodded his head.

“I will jam the mobile signals first” he said. “Then turn of ACARS, then turn off engine data. We will be nearly there before they even realise”

Brenton and Simon smiled and relaxed. It was just about game time.

The flight attendants started to serve some refreshments, drinks and snacks shortly after the seatbelt sign was turned off. After around an hour of flying, there was a message on the intercom.

“Passengers this is your co pilot, Younus Ared. We would just like to inform you that due to some unexpected bad weather, we will be making a turn towards the west in order to miss the turbulence. Please also note that flight tracker is malfunctioning and will not be active until we reach Beijing. Thank you and we hope you enjoy the rest of your flight”

Simon, Heng and Brenton all looked at each other and nodded their heads. So far the pilots were following instructions. They felt the plane bank slightly to the left, and then continue to do so for a fair amount of time. Heng then took out what looked like a tablet, and pressed a few buttons. He kept pressing them for about 5 minutes.

“All done” he said.

“Excellent” replied Brenton.

In the cockpit, Naim and Younus had the information which Brenton had given them in front of them. “Do you think they can really turn off the ACARS and the radar? It seems impossible” said Naim.

“They seem pretty confident. We will soon find out. I have set the coordinates for Diego Garcia. Just over 5 hours, we have a slight head wind. We are going to have to do a manual landing. I wonder if it is even lit up?” replied Younus.

“I hope so, or we may just end up in the Indian Ocean”

Brett had drifted asleep when the co pilots message came over the intercom. Damn, he thought. He hated turbulence. Maybe the slight change in direction would make them miss it, although it felt they turned left for ages.

“Mate, did you do some research on what we need to do in Beijing?” asked Chris.

“Yeah mate, it's all on my laptop. We are booked into a place near the airport. Then we just have to go to the Golden Temple, which is on the other side of town, but we have plenty of time”

“Cool. I have never been to Beijing, it should be cool”

“Just lots and lots of people I assume” replied Brett, laughing.

Meanwhile, at Kuala Lumpur airport, the flight operations manager was having coffee in his office when his mobile phone rang. It was one of the flight traffic controllers.

“You need to get in here quickly” said the controller.

“What's up?”

“MH220 has disappeared from the radar. ACARS too”

“Ohh shit” he said, running towards the tower.

He quickly reached the tower, and there was already a crowd of people standing around the main radar screen. He quickly took control of the situation.

“Ok, everybody out. Only the flight traffic controllers, engineers and Malaysia Airlines officials in here”

Most of the crowd dissipated and there were only a few people left in the main control deck of the tower.

“Ok, talk to me”

The flight controller spoke first. “At approximately 22.45, MH220 disappeared off the screen. It was flying at 35,000 feet, and was one hour and fifteen minutes into it's flight to Beijing”

“Was there any communication with the pilots?”

“Yes, last confirmed contact was at 22.41, the co pilot signed off from our air space and was to get in touch with Vietnamese air traffic controllers. They never got the call”

“How about ACARS? Any signs of mechanical or electrical failure?”

“Negative sir. It just disappeared. No mayday, no call, nothing”

“Ok”. He turned to one of his assistants. “Call the National Aviation Authority. Also get the airport police. Right now”

He turned to one of the engineers. “What are we looking at here? Explosion? Equipment malfunction?”

“It seems to be that way” replied the engineer. “However, if there is an explosion, it will normally leave a radar imprint. Lots of tiny dots, like a shooting star. This did not happen”

“Cabin pressure problems? Hijacking? Surely we could still see it on the radar if that happened”

“Correct sir” replied the engineer. “ACARS would still give us data until it crashed, if that's what it was. We would have got some form of mayday call. This is consistent with massive structural failure which leads to an explosion, however that doesn't fit either. There is no data footprint, nothing”

“Get in touch with Vietnam, Thailand and Chinese air officials. See if they can pick anything up on their radar. Get the boardroom ready to use as a command centre. I need a manifest of the passengers, and the crew. I need it now. Also all of the ticket booking details” He had never had a plane go missing or crash during his fifteen years as flight operations manager. He hoped this wasn't the first.

He received the manifest. 211 people on board. Mostly Chinese. There were some Malaysian nationals, a few Europeans and six Australians. He received the ticket bookings shortly after. Most of them checked out, however there was one oddity. Twenty three people on the plane, all Chinese, had tickets booked and paid for by the same credit card. Interesting. The airport police had arrived along with the federal police. He passed on a copy the ticket booking details and manifest to the officer in charge.

“I need to know who paid for those 23 tickets”

At approximately the same time, there was a hastily organised meeting in the Malaysian Airlines meeting room at the airport. There were approximately 20 people in the room, many looked like they had just woken. All of the staff were briefed and media statements were being prepared. It would not take long for the media to catch wind of this.

In Beijing, General Zou was sound asleep until woken by a phone call. “General, sir, flight MH220 has disappeared” the voice on the other end told him.

“Ok, why are you calling me”

“Sir, the people from Horizon Semiconductor are on that plane. They were returning from the conference in Kuala Lumpur”

General Zou was silent for a while “Call the president” he said, and hung up the phone.

On the plane, everyone was happy. They were cruising along, no turbulence, nice and smooth. Only problem is they were not flying to where they thought they were. Brett was fast asleep, whilst Chris was watching a movie. He still did not feel that they had done another right hand turn after turning left. Maybe they did and he did not realise? Seemed unlikely but if they were banking slightly it could be possible. His train of thought was broken by the intercom.

“Ladies and gentleman, this is your captain speaking. I regret to inform you that due to reasons beyond my control, I am no longer in command of this plane. We are being diverted to another airport. I have been guaranteed you will be safe if everyone cooperates. Please do not panic, there is nothing wrong with the plane. It is just a diverted path. I repeat, please stay calm, I will update you further as soon as I find out more”. Even though told not to panic, many people started getting up, asking yelling, asking questions. The crew were puzzled themselves but did their best to calm everyone. Chris got up from his seat and looked around. Surely not, not now, not again. Amazingly Brett was still sleeping. There didn't appear to be any hijackers.

“Hey mate, wake up”

“What, are we there already?” asked Brett, still half asleep.

“Mate you need to wake up”

Brett was alert now. He noticed people walking up and down the aisles, the noise. “What the hell?”

“I don't know mate. The captain said that we were being diverted. He said he is no longer commanding the plane. I think it's been hijacked mate”

“Shit. What do we do?”

“Dunno mate. He said we will be ok, to stay calm”

“That's what we will do. We aren't the heroes here mate”

In their seats, Brenton, Heng and Simon continued to read and watch movies. In the confusion, no one noticed that they were extremely calm, in fact they didn't even raise an eyebrow.

At Kuala Lumpur airport, the command centre was ready, there were people running around everywhere and there was a hastily organised media conference. The flight operations manager fronted the media with the news of the flight's disappearance, stressing that they did not know if it had crashed as yet.

In Beijing, at three am, there was an urgent military briefing. Top ranking officials from the ruling party, generals and senior politicians were all present. General Zou stood up.

“As you have probably heard by now, flight MH220 from Kuala Lumpur destined for Beijing has gone missing. Now you are wondering how this involves us. Unfortunately there were 23 members from Horizon Semiconductor on that plane. As most of you are also aware, this company provides our military with certain products, most of which I cannot discuss with you here today. All I can say that the engineers and their cargo are of extreme importance for our government and our military. I have spoken to the chairman of the company and he has confirmed that all members made the flight and were aboard. We are monitoring the situation and we will do our best to find the engineers and the cargo. We have boats deployed into the South China Sea as we speak. I trust you understand that we must, I stress must, find that cargo before anyone else does”

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