By R.A. Jetter
Author’s note: This story came about as a result of an Air Force A-10 crashing into Gold Dust Peak in Colorado’s Rocky Mountains, it presented a “What if” story scenario to me.
According to newspaper reports, in early April, 1997, just after refueling in the air, Captain Craig Button’s A-10 was the last plane in a three-ship formation flying to the Arizona desert for a practice bomb run…he veered away from the other two A-10’s, went 495 miles off course and drove the A-10 into the side of Gold Dust Peak. Several weeks passed before the remains of the plane were located and it took several days to find enough of Captain Button to determine, via DNA, he died in the impact…the worst part, not one of the four 500 pound bombs his ship carried were found, either in the wreckage or in the melting, icy terrain where the craft was scattered. The plane was scattered down a 60 degree slope and most of the wreckage had been buried from spring snowfall…it appeared the plane had impacted the peak 100 feet below the summit and the subsequent explosion rained pieces from 13,265 feet down to 11,000 feet on the side of the mountain.
The Captain’s actions are still un-explained to this day.
The camouflage painted A-10 ‘Warthog’ slipped into a lazy bank at 14,000 feet. Air Force Colonel Dan ‘Grizzley’ Adams circled an unseen border above the flat, featureless plain of southwestern Colorado/southeastern Utah. The terrain slowly drifted by as he flew a vast descending oval in an incredibly clear Sapphire sky. Better than a mile below, dust billowed from behind a huge tan and blue motor home traversing a narrow, nearly overgrown gravel road on the high plateau.
He glanced at his watch. They’re right on time, that’s good. Don’t want to be on the ground any longer than necessary. I’ll be damned glad when this is over and done with. Why out here? Why not an old, unused airport somewhere? There are plenty of abandoned strips in Kansas or eastern Colorado that could accommodate this bird. Probably even some in Utah I don’t know about. Besides, putting this ship down on a makeshift runway makes me nervous. It’s a good thing I’m getting the balance of that million dollars cash promised me for this little exercise. Hope they’ve got it bundled up nice and neat.
At nine thousand feet, Grizzley leveled the military aircraft. Directly below, a narrow strip of reddish metal stuck out like a painful wound in acres of green scrub-brush. Squinting into the sun, he lined up the flat-black anti-glare panel painted on the nose of the ‘tank buster’ with the leading edge of the rusty strip. The mid-morning sun glinted off the windshield of the now stationary motor home as he watched one man race from it to the front of the ochre colored metal and hold two small symbol flags level with the ground…’straight and level’ was the signal. Neither Grizzley, nor this inexperienced ‘ground crew’ could risk using radio communication at this time, especially if Petersen AFB in Colorado Springs was to hear from the few irate ranchers out here about this Warthog flying too low, frightening their cattle. I can dismiss that with a simple ‘off-course’, but recorded radio communication with unauthorized persons on the ground would only serve as a noose to be hanged with.
He pushed the flaps of the ungainly stubby aircraft up and slid back the throttles. The A-10’s twin, pod-mounted jet engines howled as if in pain. The loss of forward motion slipped the nose of the green and gray tactical aircraft toward the ground. The gear lever was pushed, the plane shook as the wheels were forced into the airstream from under the wings, they locked into place and the nose wheel slipped from its berth and clunked into position.
Higher on this plateau than I figured, noting the altimeter read just over eight thousand feet. He slid the throttles off again, his airspeed slowed. The single-seat A-10 slipped from the sky, closing fast on the archaic, rusting WW II-era corrugated-metal runway. Hope to hell that thing is bolted together properly. Wonder where they found that piece of ancient history? Who’d have enough pieces of that old metal crap lying around to make it long enough to land this bird? Wonder how many men and how many nights, it took to bolt together?
The aircraft floated lazily in its descent just above the obsolete runway. Grizzley pulled the nose up and the plane sank to the metal track, just past the forward edge. Tires squealed and skidded on the rusty surface, blue-white smoke and red ochre dust swirled out from under the wings. Grizzley released the chute and shoved the air brake up into the wind-stream, feet planted firmly on the plane’s hydraulic brakes. The end of the old track was coming toward him fast and he worried the big ship wouldn’t stop in time. If this baby doesn’t slow, I can surely kiss my ass goodbye right here! His fear subsided as the A-10 scrubbed off its speed and rolled to a stop just before the end of the pieced-together runway.
Grizzley opened the canopy, unhooked the electrical connections, took off his helmet and placed it on the head-up display. He flipped a switch marked ‘Bay Doors’ and shut down the engines. Unbuckling the harnesses, he stepped up on the seat and swung his leg out. Placing one foot onto the rungs of the self-contained ladder, he swung his body around and climbed down. He jumped the last three feet; the metal clunked from the sudden pressure of his weight.
A short stocky man approached, struggling with a large Air Force-issue satchel, apparent to Grizzley it was quite heavy. The handles of the satchel were so long it almost dragged on the ground. He stopped twenty feet from the plane, let it fall to the runway and waved at Grizzley.
“Good morning, Colonel Adams,” he said in perfect English. His Japanese features gave away his ancestry. He pulled a Colorado Rockies baseball cap off his balding head and swiped at the perspiration on his forehead. “I am Thomas Koboda. I trust you have what we want?”
“In the bay,” Grizzley motioned toward the opened doors. He peeled off his flight gloves and unwrapped a stick of gum, put it in his mouth and tossed the wrapper to the side of the metal strip. “You know how to handle them?”
“We do, thank you for your concern. We are prepared.” Thomas pointed at two men removing a 4-wheeled weapons transporter from the back of the modified motor home.
“You bring replacements?”
“Of course, Colonel. They are identical in every aspect to the devices we will remove, except, they carry no plutonium,” Thomas answered politely. “Not one of your tactical weapons handlers will know the difference.” He placed the ball cap back on his head, adjusted it and picked up the wrapper.
“Maybe…maybe not,” Grizzley answered, thinking he knew something more than Thomas did, “Guess we’ll find out when I get back to Petersen.”