They gathered kindling and soon got a small fire going. Jenni poured some water from her canister into the billy and placed it on the fire. Want something to eat? She asked. I packed some fruitcake.
Sure. Andrew replied, as he rested against his pack watching the flames begin to tarnish and blacken the billy. He ate purposefully, a small piece at a time. If he had reason to stay in country for more than a few days his diet would soon be changing dramatically.
He pondered what lay ahead as he surveyed the forest surrounding the airfield. Walking into the bush would be tough going from this side of the mountain. The slopes that led down to the field were covered in dense sub tropical rainforest. Thick bands of Lantana choked the edges where the forest had been cleared. Further up, the slopes of the forest grew darker as the canopy thickened. In certain places the terrain was precipitous, slippery and covered in twisting vines.
They finished their tea, covered the fire and took their packs to the empty shed.
I'm not sure what I'm looking for, Andrew shared, if Dad was here and meant not to be found he would have covered his tracks and tell-signs. So nothing will be obvious. I guess I just need a clue or something to go on. If he was attempting to land and fell short of the runway…He stopped as he thought for a moment. I want to get up there. He pointed towards a rocky outcrop on the ridgeline that formed part of the base of Mt Warner. I need to get a look at the area from higher up.
They set off with a strong sense of hope and purpose but it was hard work getting through the forest. Before they got half way to the lookout Andrew knew they wouldn't make it in time. The undergrowth was even thicker than he'd anticipated. The forest was different from what he was used to on the southern side of the mountain.
We need to find a tree. Let's look for a strangler fig; Andrew suggested; they reach above the canopy.
It didn't take long before he spotted an old Moreton Bay fig. The seed of the fig tree had long ago been deposited in the host tree, which it had literally strangled. Its roots growing down over the old tree had left a crisscross pattern around what was now a hollow core. In addition were thick liana vines hanging from other trees, which would also aid climbing if needed. As strangler figs grew from the top down they often reached above the canopy of the rain forest and for that reason were excellent trees for spotting. Climbing would be relatively easy however it did mean getting 35 to 40 metres above the ground. Andrew was sizing it up when Jenni brushed past him.
Here, she said, directing him to lean against the trunk. Go like this with your hands. He gave her a quizzical look. I'm a better climber, she insisted. And I can read the forest too you know. She was right on both counts.
Compliant, he cupped his hands and held them out as he extended his arms. Jenni deftly placed one foot into his hands and then another onto his right shoulder. She reached up, found her first foothold and scrambled up with a flurry of feet, sending bits of dirt and leaves down the back of Andrew's shirt.
Great, he said, as he brushed the back of his neck and puffed his shirt.
Sorry about that; Jenni called back, suppressing a quiet laugh.
She began to climb the tree, finding secure holds for her hand and feet. Andrew watched every move. He marveled at her agility and strength. Jenni had long held a passion for climbing since she was young and was recognised in the district as an avid climber.
She reached the lower part of the canopy and called down to Andrew; I can't see down the valley. I'll have to go higher.
Be careful, he replied. He started to think that his idea was not going to work, when Jenni called out again. Ok I can see where we walked and I can see at least half of the old airfield. Hey; she called out with mischievous intent; your washing's still on the line Andy.
Very funny, he replied, quietly amused at her sense of humour at a time when she was balancing on a tree branch at such a precipitous height.
Hey Andy, she called excitedly; it looks like the other end has become a kind of marsh.
Just then Jenni fell silent.
Andrew sensed something, what do you see, Jenni what is it.
Hang on a minute I think I see something. I think it's a… She stopped as if realizing half way through what she was about to say.
At the edge of the marsh she could see the shape of what looked like the tail of a plane. For a moment she thought she was trying too hard to find something. But the more she looked the more she saw. The shape was the same colour as the marsh, a mix of bulrush green and dark mud. Jenni's excitement turned to anxiety.
Hang on I'm coming down; she called.
This had to be what they were looking for, she thought to herself. But if it was Malcolm's plane and he'd come to grief, it could also be his grave.
Andrew watched and waited impatiently as Jenni swung down branch-by-branch, hold-by-hold. Eventually she dropped down and landed lightly on her feet.
What did you see? He pleaded.
Before she could finish describing what she'd seen, he had turned and started the descent back down the slope. Jenni quickly followed. She knew he held the same fear.
It was a tense and difficult walk back. Going the way they'd come was almost as hard. It didn't work if they tried to move too quickly. The forest was thick in places and on several occasions the sharp hooks of the 'wait a while' vine attached itself to their skin or clothes. When this happened they would have to help one another untangle before continuing.
They reached the edge of the airfield and Jenni pointed to the other side where she'd seen the plane. She realised that on the level ground of the field it was impossible to see the marsh. They entered the long grass, which at times went above their waists and continued in silence until the ground underfoot became soggy.
This must be why they closed it down, Andrew said to himself.
Jenni looked for two trees she had lined up on the opposite slope as a marker to find the plane. Let's move around this way, she pointed. After they'd gone another 50 metres she spotted the tail of the plane. There it is, she said.
The front of the plane was submerged below the surface. The wings of the plane were covered and muddy water filled the plane through the cargo door towards the rear.
Andrew moved as close as he could. He was still for a moment. For the first time in two weeks he had something tangible to go by. The guessing was almost over.
It's his plane, Andrew said quietly. That's the insignia of the company he flew for and that's the registration.
Relief and panic surged through him in a cocktail of intense emotions. At last he had evidence but with one answer came more questions. What had happened to his father? Was he entombed here? Did he manage to get out of the plane? Why did he land here as Andrew had suspected? The questions came flooding in.
Andrew took a step forward and began to sink in the mud. Jenni grabbed him and pulled him back.
There's no way he could be… Andrew couldn't say the word; his emotions too close to the surface.
Immobilised by the fear of finding his father's body in the plane, he couldn't go back and he couldn't go forward. He was stuck. Andrew was on the verge of breaking down when Jenni noticed something.
She said; hey Andy the door is open, so who opened it?
In an instant Andrew's inertia evaporated. She was right. Someone had opened the door. It had to mean his father had been able to get out of the plane.
He got out! Andrew exclaimed in a state of jubilation and relief.
Yes he did, Jenni agreed as she reached out to hold him closely.
For several minutes: they hugged and danced, neither one wanting to break the bond of shared joy and the surprise of intimacy.