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Friday Features
Friday Poetry

Poetry | Fat chance #8

22 July 1973

 

Pan Am Flight 816 radioed to Fa’a’ā International Airport in Papeete, Tahiti requesting emergency landing procedures due the Boeing 707-321B’s windshield sustaining a crack during its flight from Auckland. It made a routine landing.

Passengers were informed that layover time in Papeete was extended – enough to replace all windshield panels – and that they could disembark and clear customs for a seafood dinner if desired. They were not given a reason for the extension. The name painted on the aircraft read Clipper Winged Racer.

With its windshield replaced, the aircraft took off at 10:06 p.m. on a maximum fuel, non-stop flight to Los Angeles. A Pan American World Airways representative later stated that the crew had not radioed any indication of trouble to the Papeete control tower during take-off and early ascent.

Pierre Angeli, then governor of French Polynesia, accompanied by attaché Aymar Achille‐Fould, secretary of the French Defense Ministry, were transported to the marine crash site aboard a small government vessel five kilometres north of Papeete Harbour. Secretary Achille‐Fould was in Tahiti for nuclear warhead testing that was routinely occurring on outer keys of the archipelago. ‘All Tahiti is in consternation’, he was quoted of the crash.

The site was strewn with clothes, hair, seat upholstery, wires and human tendons, entangling in propellers of the first rescue boats and Governor Angeli’s craft. A fleet of private yachts set out, trailing New Zealand Navy tugs, to search for passengers and to rescue the officials.

90 seconds after take-off, Papeete control tower received a call from the cockpit. No voices spoke. No distress was communicated by pilot Robert M Evarts of Grass Valley, California, age 59, who was on his 25,275th flight hour. The only sound was the catastrophic failure of the new windscreen panels that had been installed hours before. The plane entered the Pacific Ocean at an 87-degree angle where the Moorea Coral Reef ends and deeps begin.

Of 79 passengers and crew, 12 bodies were recovered. So too was James Neil Campbell, a Canadian travel agent who specialised in maritime holiday packages. The impact was so great that remains of the other 66 passengers and crew were never located in the 1000 metres deep water. The flight’s black box was not recovered. Disintegration of the windshield panels likely caused a double gyro-horizon malfunction, retarding autopilot manoeuvres as well as the removal of the pilot’s and co-pilot’s heads from the glass shrapnel, explaining the radio silence.

James awoke floating, buoyed by oil in brackish water. He could not discern up or down. Jet fuel congealed to his entire body, keeping him from drowning. He suffered universal contusions but suffered no broken bones or serious injury. He walked off the rescue boat upon its return, not knowing who he was or anything about his life before impact, and he never would again.

The 41st test ordered by Secretary Achille‐Fould, codenamed Centaur, occurred over Mururoa Atoll on 17 July 1974. Its mushroom cloud drifted in an unexpected trajectory, exposing 110,000 people on Tahiti and the Windward group to extreme levels of ionising radiation – the entire population of French Polynesia. 63 Polynesian civilians received health compensation and additional fishing rights from the French government.

 

26 November 2009

Undeterred, the family again crossed the Rio Grande and settled at 719 N. 14th St. in Council Bluffs, Iowa in 2007. Larry Ely ‘Marlon’ Murillo-Moncada had a lean build 183 cm tall and 63.5 kilograms in weight.

The No Frills Supermarket in Council Bluffs, Iowa shuttered in late 2016. Its assets were liquidated, including a pair of walk-in coolers used to store perishables. They were 3.5 metres high, set 45 cm in front of the rear wall and were accessible to customers and to staff.

‘It was a blizzard at the time,’ Sargent Brandon Danielson of the Council Bluffs Sheriff’s Department stated. ‘He left with no shoes, no socks, no keys, no car.’

Larry and his family were deported – on grounds of insufficient documentation – from their United States home back to Honduras when he was 8 years old. Calls were made. Fliers appeared around the city east of Omaha, Nebraska. Nine years passed. Frequent customer reports of odours were collected in the supermarket office.

Larry was reported missing the day after Thanksgiving. He left his parents’ house upset after an argument, suffering hallucinations. He walked into the snow barefoot at 6.15 p.m. wearing a light blue hoodie, trousers and was never heard from again.

Ana Murillo-Moncada, Larry’s mother, told the Daily Nonpareil that her son had come home after a shift and seemed disoriented. She took him to a doctor. There, he was prescribed antidepressants and anxiety medication to counter his deportation experience.

In depositions, former colleagues said that it was common for staff to crawl atop the coolers and eat expired food, Halloween candy, pet food on dares and off produce during breaks; a known refuge from the job, customers and where a surreptitious smoke could be had.

‘He said somebody was following him, and was scared,’ said Ana. ‘He was hearing voices that said … eat sugar. He felt his heart was beating too hard and thought if he ate sugar, his heart would not beat so hard.’

On 24 January 2019, contractors began to dismantle the coolers. They discovered a significantly decomposed corpse wedged behind them.

Larry walked back to work, scaled the coolers and fell into the narrow space between them and the wall. Their refrigeration compression motors were on at all times. ‘It’s so loud, there’s probably no way anyone heard him’ Sgt. Danielson recounted. He died by dehydration after five days without being able to move and was discovered ten years later.

Children aged seven and eight at a deportation facility in Clint, Texas, were found sleeping on concrete floors and denied soap and toothpaste. Many wore clothes sodden with blood, snot and tears. In 2019, seven children died in U.S. custody, compared with none in the 10 years prior.

Larry’s body then putrefied and dripped onto the floor, mistaken for other seepages in everyday usage of the coolers. Colleagues mopped him up, thinking him juice from spoiled fruit. His corpse ossified into a brittle crust around the coolers’ air intake vent that helped keep its contents fresh. Customers breathed in carbon dioxide emitted by Larry’s decomposing remains while shopping. The customer base slowly dwindled.

A detainee wrote that ‘Our food ration was in quality a starving one, being either too foul to be touched or too raw to be digested.’ However, this is a recount from Andersonville Prisoners Camp in the Civil War era state of Georgia 163 years earlier. Larry was positively identified on 22 July 2019.

 

 

Overland’s Friday Features project is supported by the Copyright Agency’s Cultural Fund. 

Overland is a not-for-profit magazine with a proud history of supporting writers, and publishing ideas and voices often excluded from other places.

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Kent MacCarter is a writer and editor who lives in Castlemaine, with his wife and son. He is the author of three poetry collections: In the Hungry Middle of Here (Transit Lounge, 2009), Sputnik’s Cousin (Transit Lounge, 2014) and California Sweet (Five Islands Press, 2018). He is managing editor of Cordite Poetry Review and publisher of Cordite Books.

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Comments

  1. Nicely worked.

    Never heard of that one before. It’s all over the net though, pretty much as described here.

    ‘Speculation at the time at Pan Am on the cause of the accident also considered a catastrophic windshield failure, as well as gyro horizon instrument failure. No conclusive cause was ever determined.’ Wikipedia

    Plane crashes now appear to be an online freakshow:

    Hey ya’ll! Welcome to Pan Am Pandemonium! This week (May 20-24) I’ll be publishing air disasters featuring Pan Am airlines!

    [Outro]
    What goes up must come down
    What goes ’round must come ’round
    What’s been lost must be found

    (Alan Parsons Project)

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