Whitby Writers Group

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STENDEC

On 2nd August, 1947,
Two long years since Victory In Europe,
Flight 59 took off from Buenos Aires,
bound for Santiago-de-Chile.
But first it had to cross the Andes mountains —
a lofty maze of snowy peaks and valleys.

What did the members of a crack air squadron
Do for a living once the war was over? —
Fly commercial versions of their bombers
over the world’s most terrible terrain.
No instruments to safely navigate
their fragile craft: dead-reckoning the rule.

They flew under the call-sign: Star Dust.
The company appeared obsessed with stars –
Star Leader, Star Venture, Star Dale, Star Ariel
such were the names they gave their planes.
The air hostess was called the Star Girl…
For what came next, some hold the stars to blame.

Numbered among the passengers aboard:
a Palestinian, with diamonds sewn
into the lining of his tailored suit;
an Austrian, with the ashes of her spouse;
a King’s Messenger, with secret treaties…
none of them would reach their destination.

The plane took off on-time, the routine journey
passed without note or incident.
Four minutes in advance of their arrival
the destination airfield heard the message
in Morse code: ETA SANTIAGO
17.45 HRS STENDEC

The Spanish-speaking flight controller asked
for confirmation of that final word.
It was repeated twice, in quick succession,
as though the stupid listener had failed
to recognise a common catch-phrase…
And star-crossed Star Dust vanished into legend.

No more was heard from the unlucky aircraft
and nothing could be reckoned of its fate.
A thoroughgoing search along the flight-path
failed to disclose the slightest sign
of wreckage. Plane, plus everyone on board
it seemed, had been abducted by the stars.

When half a century had passed, the stars
relented. From a distant glacier
in Argentina, on the Chile border,
emerged some pieces of the shattered plane
and, fingers outstretched in a mute appeal,
the Star Girl’s frozen disembodied hand.

How had the pilot been so ill-advised
as to anticipate his prompt arrival
and begin making his final approach —
having as yet failed to clear the mountains?
It seems the aircraft did indeed fall prey
to a mysterious force of hidden might.

But time resolves the deepest mysteries.
Today the name we give that force is Jet Stream
its wind can reach a thousand miles an hour.
The ground, in snow and cloud, could not be seen.
The unsuspecting crew could not have known
That they were flying in a powerful head-wind.

They’d crashed head-on into a wall of ice
below the summit of Mount Tupungato,
resulting in an avalance which wiped
all traces of the wreck away. So slumbered
aircraft, with its crew and passengers,
within the bosom of the glacier.

One mystery remains: what did it mean? –
that final word, coded in Morse: STENDEC
Rivers of ink were spilt on vain conjecture.
To some it had an otherworldly ring.
But might an English speaker not regroup
the dots-and-dashes to read: Star You-Are?

Ian Clark
2018

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