Flying remote model airplanes was Lee Hanrahan’s hobby. His basement was his workshop where he assembled kits with wingspans as large as three feet. They were a far cry from the ones he had built as a kid where wires went from your hand to the plane controlling the tail rudder and wing flaps. Now a hand held remote controlled everything allowing the plane to fly freely up to a half mile away.
Since Hanrahan had lakeshore property on Arrowhead, he built mainly seaplanes. He would take one out in his boat and fly it over the lake. Over the years he became so expert at it, that he could land the plane in the water and taxi it right up to the boat. Rarely did he crash even when swells on the lake kicked up a little from the wind.
Today was a perfect flying day. The sky was clear and the winds very light. But he wouldn’t dare venture out on the water in his boat. He hadn’t done that since early last summer. Bigger boats than his had been upended by the shark.
So he flew the plane from his dock which extended about twenty feet into the water. His son Bobby put down his Game Boy video game as soon as he saw Lee heading for the dock.
“Let me fly dad,” he said hurrying after his father.
Hanrahan was a little reluctant to let Bobby fly his Cessna seaplane. He had just built it two weeks ago and hadn’t quite gotten the feel of it in the air. But the wind was light so he would let him.
“Can I taxi it out and do the takeoff?” Bobby asked excitedly.
“No way. When it’s up you can fly it.”
Hanrahan set the bright colored yellow plane in the water at the end of the dock. It bobbed around on its pontoons while he gave the propeller a spin to start the motor. The engine came to life with a steady whine and he made a fine adjustment to the carburetor. Taking the remote he advanced the throttle and the plane slowly moved away from the dock.
When the plane was about twenty feet away, he turned it into the wind with a sideward movement of the controller joystick. Then he turned up the power and it gained speed over the water until the pontoons lifted into the air.
“Okay dad let me take it now.”
“No. Wait ‘til I get some altitude and make some turns.”
The plane was up about a hundred feet now over the lake. Hanrahan banked it to the left and it turned in a wide arc.
“See,” he said holding the remote lower for Bobby, “just a little push left on the joystick. Not too much. See that?”
“Yeah, now let me try.”
“Wait a minute will ya.”
Hanrahan turned the plane to the right and it responded immediately. He loved controlling it, swinging it into tight turns that became barrel rolls. His other favorite manuever was putting it into a dive and at the last minute pulling it out before it hit the water. It was tricky, but he seldom missed, pulling out at the last second.
“Okay, okay here.” He handed Bobby the remote and he took over by pulling the nose up for the plane to gain altitude.”
“Careful damn it. You’ll stall it.”
Bobby leveled the plane off and sent it into a series of wide turns.
“That’s pretty good. You’ve got the hang of it.”
And why wouldn’t these kids he asked himself. Their eye hand coordination was exceptional because of all the video games they played. To see his son’s fingers fly over the keys of a Game Boy was something. Unfortunately like most kids Bobby overdid it by playing hours on end.
Hanrahan looked up. Bobby had the plane in a shallow dive.
“Pull up before you lose too much altitude,” he said quickly.
“I am,” Bobby said pulling backward sharply on the remote joystick. “Nuthin’s happening.”
“Let me have that,” Hanrahan said taking the remote. He tried to give the plane more power. It was close enough now for him to hear the engine rev up, but it didn’t. He tried to turn right, then left, to pull up…nothing.
He had just put new batteries in the remote a few days ago. He covered the top half of it, cupping his hand to see the red power light. It was on. The remote was working but the plane definitely wasn’t responding to it.
He moved the joystick in four different directions. Nothing. The plane was in free fall and out of control. Hanrahan and his son watched helplessly as it plummeted toward the water and then went into it with a splash.
“Shit,” Hanrahan said jiggling the useless remote in his hand. The red light was still on. He pushed the off button, the light went out. On again. The red light glowed. It definitely hadn’t lost power.
“I gotta go out and get the damn thing, you stay here.”
Hanrahan got into his eighteen foot Boston Whaler which hadn’t been used since last summer when the shark was found in the lake.
“Dad, you can’t go out there. What about the shark?” Bobby yelled over the motor as it started.
“I’m not getting out of the boat,” Hanrahan said untying the lines.
He sped away from the dock toward the spot where the plane had crashed about a hundred yards away. As he got closer he could see it bobbing on the water, the right wing broken off. Hopefully it was floating nearby.
But there was something else in the water coming toward the boat from the left. Then he saw it. A dorsal fin. There was no doubt about it. But it wasn’t heading for him, it was heading for the plane.
Hanrahan threw the boat into neutral and watched as the shark plunged into the broken plane, its jaws closing down on the fuselage, crunching it into pieces. It dove underwater circling around to make another pass. Hanrahan gunned the engine, spinning the wheel sharply to turn away from the shark. The boat sped back toward the dock. Halfway there he turned to look back and saw the shark biting into what was left of the plane.
He pulled up to the dock and jumped out of the boat quickly tying it up.
“What happened dad? Where’s the plane?” Bobby asked still holding the remote.
Hanrahan strained to catch his breath.
“The shark was out there,” he said gasping for air. “He ate the plane. Bit it into pieces.”
“You saw the shark?”
“Yeah,” he said hurrying him toward the house. “We gotta call the sheriff.”
A half hour later Piccolo and Tillitson were on Hanrahan’s back lawn looking out on the lake where he had seen the shark. This was the first call that hadn’t been received over nine-one-one so the press hadn’t been alerted. Piccolo and Tillitson were thankful not to have them crawling up their backs this time.
The Hanrahan home was on Willow Point with a good view of the Marbury end of the lake. Unlike some other lake communities, the houses were spread farther apart and there were woods on either side of his property.
Hanrahan, still visibly shaken, pointed to where the shark had attacked the plane. Bobby stood to the side with his mother.
“It was right over there,” Hanrahan said pointing to a spot about a hundred and fifty yards away. “The shark came in from the left and practically destroyed the plane with one bite.”
“How far away were you when he got to it?” Piccolo asked.
“Maybe twenty yards or so.”
“So the shark went for the plane instead of your boat,” Tillitson said.
“Yeah I guess,” Hanrahan said. “Maybe because the plane was just floating on top of the water.
“Did you stop the boat at all?” Tillitson persisted.
“Yeah, I didn’t want to get any closer.”
“Then what happened?” Piccolo asked.
“The shark dove underwater and I took off.”
“Did the shark attempt to come after you?”
“No it went back to finish off the plane.”
“So again it attacked the plane rather than come after you.”
“I guess,” Hanrahan said. He obviously hadn’t thought about that before.
Piccolo turned to Bobby sitting next to his mother with the remote in his hand.
“Do you mind if I ask Bobby some questions?” Piccolo asked Peg Hanrahan.
“You don’t mind do you Bobby?” Peg asked her son.
Bobby shook his head.
“Can you show me on the remote what happened when you couldn’t control the plane anymore? Piccolo asked.
Bobby held the remote out and moved the joystick several different ways as he explained what he did. “I tried to pull the plane up like this and then when it wouldn’t go I tried to give it more power but nothing would work.”
“What happened then Bobby? Piccolo asked.
“My dad took the remote and he couldn’t do anything either.”
Piccolo turned to Hanrahan. “Did you check the batteries?”
“They’re practically brand new.”
“Was that the only plane you have?” Tillitson asked looking toward the open garage.
“No I’ve got one more. It’s a little smaller. Another seaplane.”
“Can we check to see if the remote works on that one?” Piccolo asked.
“Sure,” Hanrahan said. “I have another remote for that plane, but this one should work on it too. Both planes are made by the same company.”
Hanrahan went in through the garage to his work room. He returned with a yellow seaplane, the tail painted bright red. He put it on the grass next to Piccolo and started the engine. Bobby had the remote in his hand.
“Can you turn up the power?” Piccolo asked.
Bobby moved a small lever on the remote and the plane’s engine roared.
“How about the other controls? Do they work?” Tillitson said moving closer to Bobby.
Bobby moved the joystick left and right. The ailerons on the plane moved up and down. He pulled the stick back and the tail flap went down. The remote worked perfectly.”
“These planes fly on a radio signal don’t they,” Piccolo said. ‘What do you know about that?” he asked Hanrahan.
“Only that it’s in the low megaherz range. The recreational channel is seventy-two megaherz.”
“Are any of your neighbors ham radio operators?” Tillitson asked.
Hanrahan thought for a moment then said, “There’s a house about two blocks away with a big antenna on the roof, but I never had this trouble before. Ham radios operate at fifty-four megaherz. That’s a completely different channel.”
“Could the signal from the remote have been interrupted by a stronger one?” Tillitson asked following Piccolo’s thought.
“It would take a powerful signal to spill over from another channel. But like I said I never had the problem before.”
Piccolo didn’t say what he was thinking. The thought was too bizarre, but at the sametime it explained a lot about the shark that had eluded them for over a year. He could seethat Tillitson was thinking about the same possibility. Both of them hurried to finish questioning Hanrahan and his son. Neither could wait to get back in the car to compare notes. The idea was just too crazy. But when you thought about it, it made a lot of sense.
Other ebooks by Bob Neidhardt are
Kill The Author, Mr. Best Selling Author and Tarnished Bronze.
All are available on Amazon.com