Angie and everybody else in the firm are glued to CNT on the conference room TV. Everyone gives a look of bewilderment as Andy walks in.
“Are you sure you want to stay here and watch this?” Angie asks.
“Yeah, I want to know.” Andy says.
CNT is reporting live from outside the perimeter of the plane crash site. Natalee Spalding is again reporting from their studio:
"We still cannot get information from Hemispheres or rescue personnel of the number of survivors of this jet crash in Quarryville, Pennsylvania. However, Hemispheres has now contacted all the passengers’ families and released a complete manifest. Among those listed as passengers are Roger Miller, the CEO of software company Omega Computers, and several employees. Also, Ron Michaels, a biologist from Reston, Virginia, his wife Rochelle Michaels, and Amanda Michaels, their daughter who attends Middleburg Academy in Northern Virginia. Greg and Arlene Roberts, and their three-year-old are from Gainesville, Virginia…"
Andy loses focus as Spalding reels off more passenger names and details. He walks out of the conference room, back toward his office. He can feel the stares piercing his back like lasers.
The phone rings in the office of Middleburg Academy private school in Loudoun County Virginia, 35 miles west of Washington, D.C. A reporter with CNT asks to speak with Headmaster Johnson about a senior named Amanda Michaels.
"Mr. Johnson, this is Natalee Spalding with CNT. I don't know if you have heard that a Hemispheres jet has crashed. The flight originated from Washington National airport, bound for New York City, and the passenger manifest has just been released. It shows Ron, Rochelle and Amanda Michaels as passengers, and a quick search shows Amanda is a senior and a member of the Middleburg girls’ varsity soccer team. I'm calling for some comments from you about Amanda Michaels.”
“Wait one second now. That’s a lot of information to digest. How do I know it’s accurate?” Johnson asks firmly, but still politely.
“Well, that’s my job, sir. There are reporters from every network at or near the Pennsylvania crash site and we are covering it live if you want to turn on your TV. Will you allow me to record this conversation?”
"Well, you've caught me completely by surprise. I don’t see any reason why I can’t comment, but it will have to be on things that are considered public information. Are you sure Amanda Michaels was on this flight?" he asks, but he has watched news reports by Spalding for several years and knows she has a good reputation.
“Sir, we are careful. The info is from the airline directly. She and her parents are on the passenger manifest. We don't have any further information except rescue personnel are on the scene and reporters are not being allowed within the crash perimeter."
Johnson ponders a few moments and can think of no privacy issues, and agrees to be quoted.
“I can tell you that Amanda Michaels is an honor student, has been a member of our soccer team and was, or should I say is, one of the starting players on the team that won the state soccer championship last year. You would need to talk to Coach Ricci for more on that. As far as I know she’s well liked here at school. I hope that will do. I better not make any further comment until we know more about this crash and confirm everything."
"I understand, and I may get back to you once we know more about the news at the crash site. Thanks for speaking with me," Spalding says. Within minutes, CNT includes clips of the phone conversation on the air, followed by video footage of the school and its grounds. Next there is footage of formally attired men on horseback, preparing for a Middleburg, Virginia fox hunt.
“Middleburg Academy is the oldest private school in America, located just outside the beltway of Washington, D.C. in Loudoun County, Virginia, the wealthiest county in the country. This is upscale horse country, where polo is played and fox hunts remain a storied tradition.”
Headmaster Johnson is watching the report and considers making a school-wide announcement. He just doesn’t know enough yet. He picks up the phone and pages Coach Ricci, who doubles as an upper-school English teacher.
"Coach Ricci, I just got horrible news from a reporter with CNT. Apparently Amanda Michaels and her parents were on a Hemispheres flight that just crashed. Have you heard anything?"
“What? Oh no! I knew Amanda was going to New York with her mother as a pre-birthday celebration. She asked for her homework the other day since she was going to miss class this morning. Wait—did they survive? What has been reported?"
"Nothing official yet, but I just looked online and they are saying there are no reports of survivors."
"Are you going to make an announcement to the students?” Ricci asks.
"I haven't made up my mind. I'll keep you in the loop."
As Johnson exits Ricci’s office and turns to walk away from the administration office he is met by Iris Bailey, a senior on the girls’ soccer team.
"Headmaster Johnson, I know I'm not supposed to be on my cell phone, but between classes I checked my phone and got a text message that a Hemispheres jet crashed. Amanda Michaels also texted me earlier too, and said she and her mom were flying Hemispheres to New York. I'm totally freaking out because CNT posted an internet article with her name as one of the passengers. She told me she was leaving on an earlier flight with her mom, but got delayed. Maybe there’s a mistake and maybe she really wasn’t on that one, because she texted me about the delay. Plus, her dad wasn’t going with them either,” she finally pauses, but nervously shakes her right foot side to side, awaiting his response.
"Iris, we’ve got to try to remain calm. I was contacted by a CNT reporter asking me for a statement about Amanda. She said that the passenger list was released and the Michaels were listed on the flight. I do plan to make an announcement but I want to know more first."
“How are we supposed to do anything in our classes?” Iris has tears welling up in her eyes. Johnson knows and respects Iris, a top student and star athlete on their state champion soccer team.
Johnson pauses before speaking, and glances down the hall. He sees several other girls down the hall watching Iris’ conversation with him as the bells sound for the next classes. Johnson knows the word has spread like wildfire.
"Iris, I expect each teacher to handle things appropriately."
“Alright.” Iris dutifully turns and walks down the hall, but he hears her softly sobbing. That hits Johnson hard. Moments later, Johnson is back in his office. Surfing the internet on his tablet, he sees the headline: "No Survivors on Hemispheres Jet, Per Rescue Personnel."
He turns back to the TV for a live update:
"This is Natalee Spalding with breaking news on the Hemispheres crash. According to rescue personnel at the Quarryville crash site, no survivors have been found. The jet went down with 27 people aboard, including crew. We do not have any information yet on the cause of this crash but we have learned that this was an Embracer 175 commuter jet. Rescue personnel are sifting through the wreckage and are looking for the data recorders, or ‘black boxes,’ that will tell them more about what transpired. NTSB officials will be analyzing the transcripts of the cockpit communications with air traffic control, and we are advised that Homeland Security is involved. No one is saying that this was a terrorist act. Again, if you have joined us in the last few minutes, rescue personnel at the scene have reported no survivors of this Quarryville jet crash."
Johnson briefly confers with some of the other school staff in his office immediately after this CNT announcement. In the administration office he stands at the counter and relays the sad new about the Michaels’ family. He invites the entire school to the chapel and asks the teachers to handle their classes as they see fit until then.
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