We stare upwards in collective horror.
I bolt across the fields, running towards the plummeting Mosquito aircraft, while the others cling onto one another, shouting unintelligible warnings.
I’m not sure what to do, but every second counts. Pam, my youngest cousin, shrieks towards the sky above. Flames are clearly visible from the broken right wing. Billowing smoke coils as the plane pirouettes, swoops low, and crashes into the field near a grove of ancient fruit trees.
I hurtle towards the burning wreckage, my feet barely touch the damp grass and arrive at the plane crash seconds later. Hot flames eat away at the wing and burning tail, where mangled metal and bubbling body paint melt, distorting the fuselage in the extreme heat. Slumped forward, inside the cockpit, the pilot with a large gash on his forehead has blood splattered on his shirt. I shout for Joan to help me, and we clamber up together onto the left wing. I pull at the cockpit door. It’s jammed. I hear Pam’s screams from the ground. Joan grabs her Plimsole and bashes the door handle with its heel. The cockpit opens, releasing a rush of acrid smoke, heavy with the stench of burning fuel, almost smothering us.
I push the pilot’s bleeding head back against the headrest. Surging flames are everywhere. Terror at being burned alive dominates my thoughts. With a jolt, I see the pilot is still breathing. A rush of adrenalin courses through my body. We only have a few risky moments before the plane will explode.
How can we save him? Breathless with panic, I shout above the noise of the fire. ‘Help me,’ I scream. ‘Help!’ I struggle to undo his safety harness and push hard to release it. I try again. It’s useless. It’s locked. I glance at Joan’s stricken face.
‘Quick. Your knife?’ I screech above the crackling noise and heat of the expanding flames.
Joan’s face is flushed, shiny with a film of sweat. She plunges a trembling hand into her apron pocket and thrusts Aunt Connie’s old paring-knife into my grasp. The direction of the wind changes, forcing more overwhelming smoke into my eyes. I choke and cough, grabbing at the safety webbing on the pilot’s side, roughly hacking at the strap. I tug it loose and Joan helps free his arms.
We hold his weight, one arm under each of his shoulders, and drag his limp body from the cockpit onto the wing before clumsily manoeuvring and sliding him down onto the ground. Pam races towards us and grabs his feet. We jump from the smouldering wing onto the ground below and three of us lift the injured pilot’s unconscious body, dragging him a hundred yards, clear of the burning wreckage.
Suddenly there is an ear-shattering explosion as the mangled aircraft bursts into an enormous ball of fire. A towering plume of smoke rockets into the autumn air. I glance towards the distant farmhouse where two men are running towards us.
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