The morning sun was touching the peaks
and casting shadows into the fog filled steep jungle canyons in the southern Andes. A helicopter was slowly moving up into the
higher elevations. It stayed low
following the valley floors until the valley ended below a towering peak. It
then rose over the flanking side of the valley and dropped into the next
valley. Rodrigues Valtrone, the pilot,
followed the terrain to nearly 18,000 feet before breaking out over a flat rock
strewn barren plateau that stretched for miles to the north. The western
boundary of the plateau was lined with snow covered peaks rising over 21,000
The helicopter landed briefly. There was no hint that the plateau was sliced
by hundreds of narrow, deep canyons with jungle covered walls. Fifty feet above the plateau surface the
terrain looked like it had sharp wrinkles.
From a higher elevation the view of the
plateau was that of a green labyrinthine maze two thousand feet deep.
Rodrigues took the helicopter to altitude
fifteen feet above the plateau and skimmed along the surface going north. At
this altitude they avoided any radar that might exist.
As the helicopter flew along the flat
surface of the plateau it would pass over a fog filled void and drop twenty to thirty
feet because of the loss of the air under the blades pushing against the
ground. Rodrigues had to increase the engine speed to compensate for the loss
of ground effect and force the helicopter up before he reached the wall on the
opposite side of the void seconds later.
“If we go down in here,” he said to himself out loud, “there is no way
of finding our way out. There are no maps of the area and no communications in
the deep canyon.”
He flew two miles and passed over three
canyons. “We are at the coordinates,” he said.
“We see you on the screen, Roddy. Looks
good. Start down.”
"Roger that Iceberg",
Rodrigues answered and started a slow descent.
At this altitude maneuverability was difficult. Two guns were mounted on the left side. The gun operators methodically scanned the
near vertical cliffs.
The voice crackled in the pilot’s
earphones. We’ve lost two groups in there in the last three weeks. The second was a rescue effort. That is two helicopters and ten men.
The pilot is talking to a geologist at
their home base on the Antarctic.
Mark Stark, Chief Geologist for Global
Oil Exploration, sat in front of two computer screens. “Roddy,” he said into the
headset he was wearing. “The static is building. If you lose me pop back up for
a few seconds so we can coordinate.”
Mark raises his eyes from the computer screens and looks up at the gray
corrugated steel liner of the Quonset hut buried under the ice.
Bob Grant, the operations manager for
the Antarctic base camp for GOE, sat across the room looking through a
microscope at thin slices of rock. “Tell them to stay below Chilean radar. We don’t have permission to be there.”
“Relax Bob, they know that.”
“Roddy, where did you go? We lost your GPS coordinates.“
Rodrigues took the helicopter up to the
ridgeline just below the level of the plateau. “The walls here are so steep and
the orientation is such that once we drop two hundred feet below the ridge line
we lose the Global Positioning Satellite connection. Those satellites don’t look straight
down. We might as well be under
water. Just remember our last position
after you lose our position. I’ll pop up when we jump into the next canyon.”
A mist rose from the trees carpeting
the slopes. The morning sun cast a
chopper shadow onto the mist like a projector.
Something flashed in the next valley. Craig Ehrin the machine gun
operator shouted. “Did you see that, something reflecting, shiny, over there.”
The pilot rises over the ridge and
“A little lower.”
“I don’t see anything except some
patches of wet rock,” Rodrigues says. “Looks like slabs of mica. Only sun reflecting off a wet cliff.”
“Whoa,” Craig shouts. “There is another flash down there on the
shadow side. See it?”
Bart Woldonski scans the area.
“What do you find?” Craig says, “There has to be something
The chopper descended further below the
ridgeline and moved sideways lower to the other side of the chasm. Bart patiently scanned the futuristic looking
device mounted on a gun turret back and forth.
“We don’t scan a thing.”
>“Do you have the right
patterns?” Mark asked from the ice bound
“We calibrated before we
left this morning.” Bart answered. “Ten patterns.”
“Switch over to IR.”
Bart turned a knob and set the lock
switch above the decal that read DNAS/INFRARED to ON and continued the scan.
“Some small signatures moving around
pretty fast, down there, one hundred fifty feet. They have to be monkeys. It’s vertical and covered with trees and
vines. What else could move that fast”
Mark Stark has been listening to the
conversation in the helicopter and turned the headset switch to play through
speakers in the room so Bob could hear.
“Get in as close as you can,” Mark said to Rodriques.
“If I get any closer the blades will
>Radio starts to breakup. The canyon
walls are interfering with transmission.
The chopper descended deeper in the
Bart shouts, “There is nothing down
here. Even the monkeys have disappeared
from the IR screen.”
“What caused the flash?”
Craig shrugged his shoulders. “Maybe it
was reflection off the window projecting onto a shiny leaf or something. Maybe I imagined it.”
“If we go any deeper we
won’t have much room to maneuver except vertical,” Rodrigues says.
The static in Rodrigues's
headset started to dominate.
“Go up the valley a ways,” Mark
says. “Then try the next valley. I think
that is where Wayne’s chopper went
Rodriquez said, “Mark, I can barely
hear what you are saying through the static. Say again, you are breaking….”
Before he can finish the sentence with “up” he looks to his left and was
startled by what he saw. “What the
hell,” he murmured. Then he shouted, “NETS”
Huge nets shot out from the jungle
cliffs. Like those thrown by
fisherman. They flew out from both sides
of the narrow chasm and descend on the helicopters blades. The blades break rocks fastened to the edges
of the nets. The rotor tangled in the
ropes and rocks. The tail rotor jammed
and the helicopter started to spin wildly.
It rotated three times before hitting trees on the sunny side of the
canyon walls. Helicopter number three
started a steep crash into the narrow valley floor two thousand feet below.
At the listening station the crackling
Mark looked at Bob, “With his accent
and static did he say nuts or nets?”