Monday, June 17, 2013


6/05/13 from HATONN/jonur (ns165)


“NEXUS” magazine, April-May 2013.

“When it stopped its horizontal movement, we were finally free of it.  I looked back at the cloud and was astonished at what I saw.  The cloud was still rapidly building and was enormous.  That small lenticular cloud that we had initially flown over had taken on the shape of an immense squall.”

Unlike most squalls, which form in a line, this cloud curved in a perfect semicircle, radiating out on either side of the Bonanza but miles away from the plane.  Gernon relaxed and continued on toward Bimini.  Then, a few minutes later, another squall appeared to be forming in front of them, and like its twin it was taking on a semicircular shape, its arms shooting toward the cloud that was pacing them.

Gernon estimated that the cloud towered at least 40,000 feet above sea level.  He also noticed something else unusual about it.  Typically, cumulus clouds have a base 1,000 or 2,000 feet above the surface.  But this one appeared to emanate right out of the ocean.

“We couldn’t go under the cloud or above it, and attempting to circumvent it would have taken us considerably off our flight path.”

The cloud didn’t appear too threatening, so after Bruce conferred with his father, also a pilot, they decided to fly into it.  They were about 45 miles east of Bimini when they penetrated the misty edges of the cloud formation.  Once inside, Gernon realized they might have made a mistake while the cloud was white and fluffy on the outside, its interior was as dark as nightfall.  Within seconds, bright white flashes lit up the interior of the cloud.  The deeper they penetrated, the more intense the flashes became.

Gernon realized it was too dangerous to continue on their present course, and he turned 135 degrees so they were heading due south.  All three men noted that it was 327 pm when they deviated from their course.  Upon takeoff, Gernon had engaged an electric-powered clock on the panel that included a timer.  It now indicated that they had been air borne for 27 minutes.  His father turned on the timer on his watch as they altered their course, and using very-high-frequency Omni Range (VOR) navigation equipment he calculated that they were 40 miles southeast of Bimini.  Gernon, meanwhile, contacted Miami Radio on the VHF and told them that they had altered their course to avoid a thunderstorm and were attempting to fly around it.

They reached clear air again, but within minutes realized they couldn’t go around the cloud because its arms were embracing the limbs of the cloud they’d encountered near Andros.  As far as they could tell, they were surrounded by an enormous ring of clouds, trapped inside a 30-mile-wide doughnut hole.


Gernon tried to remain calm as he puzzled over how they’d got into this predicament.  It almost seemed as if the unusual lenticular cloud they’d skirted near Andros had pursued and trapped them, as if it were consciously directed.

They’d flown about 10 miles from the point where they’d turned south when Gernon noticed a U-shaped aperture, a breach in the massive ring of clouds.  He figured it was where the two arms of the cloud formation had not yet joined together.  At the top, on either side, the clouds extended outward, creating the appearance of two anvils, a shape commonly seen in cumulonimbus  thunderstorms.  The top typically spreads outward for several miles at an elevation of about 35,000 feet.  Normally, Gernon would avoid such cloud formations, but their situation called for drastic action.  He turned the Bonanza 90 degrees and headed for the opening, the only way he saw of escaping the cloud.
As they flew toward the aperture, the two anvil heads connected, forming a tunnel, and when they neared it they realized its diameter was shrinking.  Gernon accelerated to maximum power but, by the time they were still three miles away, the tunnel had shrunk to a mere 1,000 feet across.  After another mile, the opening had shrunk to only 500 feet wide, and as they entered the tunnel it was barely 300 feet across.  But they could see blue sky in the distance.

Once inside the tunnel, Gernon was startled by strange spiraling lines along the entire length of the inside walls.  Moments before, the tunnel had appeared to be 10 miles long, and he had estimated it would take them three minutes to pass through it.  But now the tunnel had shrunk to just a mile in length.  Gernon figured it would take them about 20 seconds to pass through it.

“I had to remain right in the center of the tunnel because I was afraid that if the wings ran into the edges of the cloud, I might lose sight of the hole and the path to the clear sky.”

The silky white walls of the tunnel glowed with light from the afternoon sun.  The walls shrank and small puffs of grey clouds swirled counter clockwise around the plane, moving at a rate of several times a minute.  The diameter of the tunnel was now a mere 30 feet, and the tips of the plane’s wings scraped the edges of the cloud as they reached the far side of the tunnel.  The moment they exited the passage, Gernon and his two passengers felt as though they were weightless, that their seatbelts were the only things keeping them from levitating out of their seats.  “I felt the strange sensation of zero gravity and also a feeling that our speed was increasing.”

After about 10 seconds, the weightlessness vanished.  Gernon looked back and gasped.  The tunnel had collapsed in on itself and formed a slowly rotating slit.  He was relieved that they’d made it through, but was acutely distorted and asked his father to check their position.

His dad was an expert at using the aircraft’s state-of-the-art equipment to find their exact location on the chart.  However, this time he fiddled with the instruments far longer than usual.

“Then he told me something was wrong.  That was when I realized that all the electronic and magnetic navigational instruments were malfunctioning.  Even the magnetic compass was slowly rotating counterclockwise, as if the plane were making a turn.”

Gernon immediately notified Miami Air Traffic Control that he wasn’t sure of his position and would like radar identification.  The plane was equipped with a transponder, a new invention at the time that helped radar controllers pinpoint the location of aero planes.

“I told them we were about 45 miles southeast of Bimini and flying at 10,500 feet.  But the controller came back and said that there were no planes on radar between Miami, Bimini and Andros.  That’s when Dad snatched the microphone and yelled at the controller:  “What the hell do you mean you can’t find us on radar?”
The controller apologized, but said that the radar showed no blips in the area where they were flying.

“I wondered how this could be,” Gernon recalled.  “In the past they had always been able to identify us, especially when we were approaching ADIZ [the Air Defense identification Zone].”

His father was becoming more and more upset and kept screaming at the controller.  He and Chuck were starting to panic.  Bruce did his best to calm them down.  He told them that they were through the worst of it, that everything would be okay, and he struggled to believe it himself.

“Something very bizarre had happened.  Instead of the clear blue sky that we expected at the end of the tunnel, everything looked a dull greyish white.  Visibility appeared to be more than two miles, but there was absolutely nothing to see—no ocean, no horizon, no sky, only a grey haze.”

This stuff was darker than the common haze he often encountered on flights.  But the air was stable and there was no lightning or precipitation.
“We seemed to be in some sort of fog.  But unlike the usual fog where visibility is limited to a few hundred feet, we could see much farther.”
[To be continued …]

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