The alarm clock radio turned on precisely at 6:00 o’clock in the morning. I shot out of bed excited to start my last working day at the ranch. Chester padded into my room to make sure I was awake. I smiled at his devotion to his duties as a morning wake up dog.
Today was the first day in a new chapter of my life. I did my morning regiments, showered and joined Mr. Lester, Hank and Earl in the kitchen for my morning coffee and breakfast. The guys surprised me by cooking one of my favorite breakfasts, waffles and bacon. I let them know it was delicious and thanked them.
Mr. Lester announced we had a big job that he wanted to finish while I was still at the ranch. During the last week he, Earl and Hank had been building a garage for the equipment. They wanted to put the roof on today. With four of us working on it we could easily have it completed by the end of the day. After we fed and watered the animals we set to work on the storage building roofing. The day before they had installed the plywood sheathing onto the shed-style roof. Our job today was to install roofing paper and corrugated metal roofing sheets. By lunchtime all of the paper was laid out and stapled down and horizontal slats, on which the metal panels would be mounted, were screwed into the roof. We broke for a quick lunch and started installing the corrugated metal panels. The four of us made quick work of the job and around three o’clock we attached the last panel and smiled at each other. Job completed and well done.
Hank pointed out some clouds forming over the Sierra Mountains and the wind was picking up. “It looks like we finished this job just in time. Another storms’ a brewing.”
We put away our tools and extra materials and I went to my room to change out of my work clothes, shower, and put on some jeans and a sweatshirt hoodie. It was time to load all my belongings into my truck and head to my guys in Reno. I was about ready to pick up the first couple boxes when my phone rang.
I recognized the phone number. “Hi Steven, how are you, buddy?”
Steven was not his cheerful self. “Uncle Chris, I’m worried about Uncle Richard.”
This didn’t sound good. “Why, Steven? Is Richard there?”
“No, and he’s not come home yet from flying. He was supposed to be here before I got out of school. I called his cell phone but he didn’t answer. It’s getting windy and it’s starting to rain here. I’m getting really worried.”
I looked at the time. He should have been home before two o’clock.
“Steven, when did you call him?”
“I’ve called a few times, Uncle Chris. The last time was just before I called you.”
“That doesn’t sound like him to not check in with us. Hopefully he’s out of range with his phone and doesn’t have a signal. Steven, I’m about ready to leave here. I should be there in thirty minutes. We can decide what to do when I get there, okay?”
“Okay, Uncle Chris, I’ll wait for you to come. If you hear of anything please let me know and I’ll let you know if I hear anything.”
“See you in a little while, Steven. You stay inside near the phone and please let me know if Uncle Richard calls.”
I hung up the phone, quickly loaded my ten plastic bins of things I had already packed, into my truck and covered them with a waterproof tarp and strapped everything down with cargo straps. Thank goodness I didn’t have that many possessions. I found Mr. Lester, Earl and Hank in the kitchen, explained the situation of Richard not being home from his flight, exchanged hugs and handshakes and told Mr. Lester I would be back for my Cadillac. Mr. Lester assured me it would be fine in the barn, where I parked it.
I was on my way to my new home as fast as I dared. On the way I thought of many possibilities. Maybe Richard and Kyle ran into bad weather and decided to land in Elko or Winnemucca. Maybe something happened in Salt Lake and they decided not to fly today. I thought of worse possibilities that sent chills down my spine. Tears formed in my eyes. I had just found the man I wanted to spend the rest of my life with and was he cruelly ripped from me that soon? What was going to happen to Steven if Richard perished? I wiped my eyes and mentally disciplined myself. I had to act rationally and responsibly. Steven needed me and together we needed to find out what happened to Richard.
Despite the rain and wind, I arrived at the house in good time. Steven was waiting for me at the front door, came out and hugged me. “Uncle Chris, I am really worried. Uncle Richard always calls me when he will be late.”
“I know. I’m worried too Steven, and we can work together to find out what happened to Uncle Richard.”
I looked around the house for any kind of clue about today’s flight Richard may have left. I located a paper on the kitchen table. It was a handwritten flight plan. It read as follows:
Nevada Department of Transportation Planning Division
Steven looked at the paper. “Uncle Chris, that’s a flight plan. Uncle Richard probably used that paper when he called to file one.”
“Well, we have a problem. I don’t know how to read this flight plan.”
Steven’s eyes got big. “I’ll be right back, Uncle Chris.”
He ran to his room and quickly brought back a small booklet titled “Flight Guide Airport and Frequency Manual” and an aeronautical chart for Northern Nevada.
“Uncle Richard said these are last years but he said they were good for learning how to read maps and stuff.”
He opened the flight guide and found the airport codes. We managed to trace the route from Salt Lake Municipal 2 airport to Wendover, Elko, Winnemucca, Fernley and the final destination, Reno/Stead airport.
“Steven, according to this they should have landed at Reno Stead Airport at 1345. That’s 1:45 P.M.”
I quickly grabbed the receiver from the old yellow phone on the wall and dialed Kyle Sellers’ phone number on the flight plan. A lady sounding middle-aged l answered, I explained who I was and asked if Kyle and Richard had checked in. She introduced herself as Mrs. Sellers, said she had received no word from her husband, and was beginning to be concerned. I told her I would call The Department of Transportation Planning Division and I would call her back to let her know what I found out. She thanked me.
Steven was already ahead of me. He pulled the Washoe County phone book out of the drawer, found the number for the Planning Division, and held his finger under it for me. I made a mental note to tell him what a good boy he was. I dialed the number.
The phone was answered in no time. “Nevada Department of Transportation, Planning Division, John Kerr speaking.”
“Hello, Mr. Kerr. My name is Chris Davis. I’m concerned that my partner and his friend haven’t returned on a flight from Salt Lake Municipal 2 Airport. I have a written copy of the flight plan in front of me and they were to arrive at Reno/Stead at 13:45. Is it possible you can look up the information on the flight?”
“Yes, Mr. Davis. I can search if you can tell me the aircraft tail number.”
“Thank you. It’s November 81990”
Mr. Kerr asked for a moment to search. I was on hold for a few minutes and he returned to the conversation. “Mr. Davis, I see the flight plan was never closed, meaning they didn’t notify us they reached their destination. I’ll need a few minutes to look further into this. Would you care to hold?”
“Yes, I’ll hold. Thank you.”
A few minutes later Mr. Kerr returned. “Mr. Davis, we have some information on the flight. The aircraft was cleared for take off at 10:10 AM. They asked for flight following on route to Reno Stead. We have records of communication with the aircraft until they were approximately at Fernley. They asked to divert around some cloud build-ups and they were cleared to divert northwest, toward the east side of Pyramid Lake. Reno International had them on radar at the time and approved a frequency change to Reno Stead. Reno Stead reported contact with them over the northeast side of Pyramid Lake. The pilot had declared an emergency situation saying they were encountering engine problems and asked for permission to descend to 5,000 feet. They were last tracked on radar near the north shore of the lake. The pilot stated he was going to land on a Jeep trail there and the plane went off the radar and out of radio communications.”
“Has a search and rescue been launched?”
“Not at this time. Reno International has 65-knot winds and the search planes aren’t able to take off in this weather. Unfortunately we’re going to have to wait until this storm blows over to search for them.”
I thanked Mr. Kerr and ended the call. I was upset they weren’t out searching but I understood how the weather could limit the effort. I ran out to my truck in the gale force winds and rain and retrieved my topography map of Washoe County. A tree branch, torn off by the wind, nearly hit me when I ran back into the house. I spread the map out on the kitchen table for Steven and I to look at. We traced the route of the plane to the north shore of Pyramid Lake. A Jeep trail was indicated along the west, north, and east sides of the lake. Somewhere on that trail had to be where they attempted to land the plane. Now the question was where?
“Steven, how would you like to go on an adventure to find and rescue Uncle Richard and Mr. Sellers?”
Steven’s eyes brightened at the thought of having an adventure. He was excited about being an important member of our own search and rescue team. We bundled up in our new hoodies, and polyester filled jackets, put on our hiking boots, locked the house only to find I hadn’t taken in the bins that were in back of the truck. Steven and I had to work fast in the pouring rain. We unhooked the tarp and took the bins into the house, staging them to the side in the living room as fast as we could. We locked the house once more and climbed in the truck to go locate and rescue Richard and Kyle.
I quickly entered the freeway that would take us to the Pyramid Lake Highway. On the way I had Steven call Mrs. Sellers and update her on what we learned and what we are doing. She appreciated the call and said to call her if we needed anything or had further updates. When we arrived at the turn off to the Pyramid Lake Highway, we pulled into a gas station/convenience store, and fast food restaurant. I gave Steven twenty dollars and had him buy four Double-Double cheeseburgers and French fries. I also asked him to get four 2-liter bottles of water while I filled the truck with gas. He ran through the wind and rain to buy the food and water, purchased the items, quickly ran back to the truck. On the way back he was nearly hit by a cardboard box blowing across the driveway. He dodged the box and climbed in the truck. He assured me he was unharmed. With our quick teamwork the stop was brief and we were on our way to Pyramid Lake. We ate our tasty cheeseburgers and fries along the way.
The wind tossed the truck and the rain pelted the windshield as we arrived at the turn off that would lead north, along the west side of Pyramid Lake. I turned on the off-road driving lights mounted to the front bumper. I knew there would be no other vehicles on the road that night so there would be no complaints of me using the lights that were too bright for highway use. The wipers were working full speed as we drove along the paved road for a few miles to where the pavement ended. Tumbleweeds blew in front of a sign posted on the side of the road at the end of the pavement. The sign read “Indian Reservation. Access by non-indigenous people prohibited unless accompanied by a person of indigenous descent. Trespassers will be prosecuted.”
I sighed. “We’ve got to get up this road Steven. The sign says we can’t trespass though.”
Steven shook his head. “Uncle Chris, it’s okay. We can keep going. My mom was Paiute. Dad said I got my blond hair from him and my brown eyes from my mom.”
“Steven, remind me at dinner tomorrow night and you get a double portion of dessert.”
Steven giggled and said he would remind me. I continued driving on the graded road a few miles to where the road forked to the right. I checked the map and decided this was the intersection of the gravel road and the Jeep trail that was along the north side of the lake. Engaging the four-wheel drive and turning on the off road lights and the side facing lights mounted on the roll bar above the cab of the truck, I turned to the right and followed the Jeep trail. The wind blew dust and more tumbleweeds across the road. The dust limited our vision and some of the tumbleweeds hit the side of the truck, sounding as if they were scratching the paint off the fenders and doors.
Steven glanced at his phone. “Uncle Chris, there is no cell signal here. Maybe Uncle Richard is around here someplace.”
“Hopefully he is, Steven.”
I continued driving along the Jeep trail. Several ruts across the road had formed in the road from the pouring rain draining downhill to the lake. The truck crossed them effortlessly. I was glad I had installed the off-road tires and a mild lift kit. I cautiously drove on the trail to a fork to the right. That road appeared to lead southeast towards the pinnacles and north shore of the lake. Not far down that trail, water had eroded a large crevice. I decided not to take that route. If possible, Kyle Sellers would have chosen the better trail on which to land the plane. Steven agreed with that assumption.
With the lights on the truck lighting up the desert around us, I was sure if Richard and Kyle were out here they would see us coming. Hopefully they would not be far off the trail and be able to make their way to us. While I negotiated the ruts and tumbleweeds, Steven kept his eyes peeled outside, looking for a Cessna or people walking along the trail.
We drove along the rough trail for several miles until it began curving south, along the east side of the lake. We knew we had gone too far from what Mr. Kerr at the Department of Transportation told us. I found a place to safely turn around and we headed back the way we came.
After twenty minutes when Steven pointed forward down the road. “Look, Uncle Chris!”
I looked ahead and saw only dust and tumbleweeds blowing across the trail. “What did you see, Steven?”
“I saw a light up ahead.”
I continued driving and focused on the road ahead.
“There it is again, Uncle Chris.”
That time I saw the same light Steven saw. It was dim at first but as we continued it became brighter. Soon we crested a hill, where the Cessna sat nose-down and tilted, resting on its right wingtip in a ravine, located about 50 feet off the trail. The landing light, navigation lights, and strobe light of the plane were turned on, guiding us to it. We could see how the plane was hidden from view from the west behind a hill. It was no wonder we missed it while driving to the east side of the lake. We stopped along side of the plane, climbed out of the truck, walked through the gale force winds and pouring rain to find Kyle and Richard in the cockpit.
Kyle opened his door and climbed out of the plane, his arms around his torso protecting him from the wind and rain. He had to yell over the sound of the blowing wind. “Boy, are we ever glad to see you. Richard is in pretty bad shape.”
Richard remained seated leaning on the passenger door. Faintly he spoke “Kyle, who is that?”
I yelled over the howling wind. “It’s me and Steven, Richard.”
Richard turned to me. “Chris?”
I fought the tears. “Yes, I’m here with Steven. We’ve come to get you.”
Richard slumped over weakly.
Kyle explained the situation. “Richard banged his head hard when the front gear hit that rock over there. He’s been passing out now and then and has been complaining of being dizzy. I think he might have a concussion. We need to get him to a hospital as quickly as we can. First we need to get this plane set down to get him out of there.”
Kyle attached a thick nylon tie-down strap to the left wing of the plane. The three of us put our weight into it and managed to tilt the Cessna back to it’s left main gear. Kyle managed to get Richard conscious and we were able to carefully and slowly pull Richard to the pilot’s door and out of the cabin. Steven and I guided him to the truck and had him get in the back and lie down on the full-width seat. I closed the door to keep him warm and joined Kyle at the plane and unloaded their flight bags and cargo, storing everything in the bed of my truck. I could feel the temperature dropping, as the weather was getting worse by the minute. Once everyone was safely belted in I put the truck in gear and drove as fast as I could safely negotiate the rain-washed trail. Steven gave one of the water bottles, a cheeseburger and fries to Kyle, who thanked Steven profusely. Richard kept going in and out of consciousness. Steven managed to get him to drink a bit of water before becoming unconscious again. I drove approximately eight miles to the graded road, where I took the truck out of four-wheel drive and drove as fast as safely possible the seven miles to where the pavement started. Richard slipped out of consciousness once more and remained so. I was able to pick up a little more speed once we were on the pavement. It was another 40 miles to Washoe General Hospital. I wasted no time covering the 40 miles. When he picked up a cellular phone range Kyle called the hospital to inform them we were on the way. The nurse on the other end of the line told him to keep Richard warm and keep his feet elevated. Steven and Kyle followed her instructions. Kyle also called his wife to let her know he was all right and to meet him at the hospital. She said she would leave right away and be there to meet us. Kyle also called the Department of Transportation and explained the situation. He was asked to come in to the office in the morning and file a report.
When we entered the freeway that was nearly empty of vehicles, the pouring rain turned to blowing snow. Fortunately it wasn’t far to the hospital. When we arrived at the hospital I drove to the emergency entrance, located under a porte cochere. Two nurses with a stretcher were waiting for us and took Richard into the hospital immediately. Kyle’s wife was there to meet him. Kyle introduced us and volunteered to stay at the hospital to be sure Richard was okay. I convinced him there wasn’t much else he could do tonight and to go home with his wife. He nodded and asked that I call him to keep him updated. I agreed.
I went to admissions carrying Richard’s wallet and provided all of the information needed to get him admitted to the hospital. Steven found a nearby chair in the waiting room and sat patiently with a worried expression.
Admitting Richard took a few minutes. I joined Steven in the waiting room and could see he was upset about Richard’s condition.
I pulled him close. “Steven, would you do something for me please?”
Steven nodded. “What do you want me to do, Uncle Chris?”
“Steven, we need to be strong and keep our hope for Uncle Richard. Lets not give up on him, okay?”
Steven began to cry. “But what if he doesn’t get better? What if they take me away? What if there is no one to take care of me?”
I pulled Steven close to me. “Steven, he’s going to get better. If they try to take you away I’ll do everything I can to prevent that from happening. Steven, we’re a family now and Richard and I will always be around to take care of you. Do you understand?”
Steven nodded and hugged me tight. “I love you and I’m glad you are my uncle.”
I kissed Steven’s forehead. “I love you too and am also glad I’m your uncle.”
We held each other close and soon a tall doctor, wearing wire rim glasses and a white doctor's coat, came out of the emergency room calling my name. I stood and waved. “I’m Mr. Davis.”
The doctor came over to Steven and me. “I’m Doctor Keely, Mr. Davis. What is your name, son?”
Steven shook the doctor’s hand. “I’m Steven, Doctor Keely. I’m Uncle Richard’s nephew.”
“I’m pleased to meet you both. Richard has a moderate concussion. He has a nasty bump on the side of his head that is going to hurt for a few days, I’m afraid. We’ve given him a painkiller and a mild sedative. I want to keep him in the hospital for observation. I have him scheduled for some tests in the morning. You two can go home and get some rest. If there are any changes we will call you.”
That night Steven asked to sleep with me in the big bed. Considering all we had been through, I agreed. We snuggled together under the warmth of the thick comforter all night.