The pilot's choice (text)
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Klett-Verlag Stuttgart: Learning English - Red Line 5, p.12 f.

The pilot's choice

The rescue seaplane flew down below the rainstorm. Then it levelled out over the angry water of the coral sea, east of the Queensland coast of Australia. Brady looked at his copilot's worried face. What right did he have to risk the lives of his men? It was still more than a hundred miles to the crash area where an Orion had gone down two hours before. With this wind it would be very hard to go back south to their base at Jackson Atoll.

Just then the radio operator shouted, "The radio's gone out. We can't contact the base!" Brady looked back at him. "Try to fix it. We'll need it, " he said. Then he turned to Tyler, his copilot, and asked, "How far off course are we?" Tyler checked the map. "About fifty miles east, I think." Brady knew the position was a guess. Fifty miles now might be a hundred miles when they reached the rescue area. "We'll have to work out a new course," he said.

An hour later Brady had the seaplane over the rescue area. The ocean looked empty. They all stared down at the grey water. They were looking for a yellow lifeboat somewhere below. The plane turned and flew back over the search area, then it turned again, and again. Three more hours of fuel. It would take at least two hours to get back through the storm to the base. Brady sat back in his seat. It was almost over. They'd done their job, they had made the search. Nobody could have done more. Suddenly a red light shone in the sea, then it went

out. Brady sat up in his seat. It could only be one thing - a signal. He flew straight to the place where he had seen the light - down towards the sea. Fifty feet above the waves, the seaplane flew over the boat. One man sat on the boat and waved as the plane circled. The other man was lying down. Brady was ready to drop food and clothes. But he stopped. Those things wouldn't help much. Brady circled lower. After fifteen feet the waves were touching the seaplane. Brady knew that his men were waiting.

It was his choice. Nobody would blame him if he just dropped the things. If he reported the boat's position, a ship could be here in twenty-four hours. There were five men in his plane. What right did he have to land in the angry sea and risk their lives? In weather like this, taking off from the water would be almost impossible.

Brady looked at the boat again. The man below waved. As Brady watched, a wave broke over the boat. The man dropped his hand so that he could hold on. Brady knew then. Two men were on the ocean below, and they didn't have a chance. He had to help them.

The plane dropped onto the ocean with an awful bang. Tyler unfastened his seat-belt and went into the back with a rope. The plane shook as a wave broke against it. Behind Brady the radio operator and the two mechanics were standing in water. They were trying to stop the leaks which had opened in the side of the plane. Brady saw the rope as it flew out to the boat.

Another wave hit the plane, and the engine almost died. The water was getting higher. Brady looked back and saw that Tyler was pulling the second man out of the boat and into the plane. Tyler climbed back into his seat. "Let's go," Brady said. The plane fought its way through one wave. Then a wall of water hit it from the side, and the engine stopped. Now seven men were on the ocean, not just two.

Outside, the water was almost as high as Brady's window. Brady looked back. The others were watching him. He looked at Tyler. Tyler's eyes were fixed on the grey waves. Water began to come in through the window. The plane sank lower. "Come on, Brady," Tyler said.

The first two waves were not very high. Then Brady saw the mountain of water that was moving towards them. He felt cold with terror. Almost instinctively he turned the plane around in the same direction as the huge wave. The water moved down under the plane and then lifted it up. As the plane was riding on top of the wave, Brady managed to start the engine again. Then a side current hit the wave, and the plane was thrown into the air. It hung above the water for a minute, before Brady levelled out and climbed slowly to safety.

At three hundred feet Tyler took over. Tired, Brady went into the back of the plane. He wanted to see if the two men from the boat were OK. Then the job would be done.

In the back, one of the men was lying down. The other was drinking a cup of coffee. "Thanks," he said. "Glad you made it." "Yeah," Brady said. "I'm glad we all made it. Your friend all right?" "I think he'll be OK". "We've got a doctor back at the base," Brady said. "We'll be there in about two hours. Jackson Atoll is our base." The man stared at Brady. "You didn't get the message that you were sent from base radio?" "Message?" "They've been calling for the last hour. A tidal wave hit Jackson - the base is under water. Your other men there got off just in time." "Our radio's out." Brady looked at the man. "But - but how did you get the message?" "On the emergency set in the boat." Brady went back to the pilot's seat. "Give me the map," he told Tyler. "We're going to fly straight to the nearest place in Queensland."

Brady stared at the map - at the little dot that was named Jackson. If he had given up the search, the two men would still be alone on the ocean. He and the others would be somewhere over the area that used to be Jackson Atoll - without a radio. But there would be no base, only the grey ocean. They would have searched for Jackson until their plane had no more fuel. Then they would have crashed into the ocean.

Now the two men from the boat were safe in the back of the plane. And there was just enough fuel to get to Queensland. They were all safe, because the men had heard the message. Brady remembered something which he had heard once. Not about flying. About people and how they need each other. No man is an island.


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