As Hattley approached the crash scene, she fiddled with her high beams to be sure they were on. The TV crew had stopped to inspect the pouch so she had sped along ahead of them. She looked for other TV trucks and saw none.
She saw the aircraft but little of it was still above water. From the earlier tweet from rescue workers, she knew those must be gray bodies floating alongside what appeared to be a mostly submerged hull. But they were so tall and still they looked like logs on a river awaiting the push of the current.
She looked for survivors and saw none.
Along the shore, the scene confused Hattley. She thought she might have taken a wrong turn until she saw the firefighters and ambulance workers with flashlights. But where was the clear swath of rocky sand? Where was the swimming area? Where was Moonshine Beach?
All she saw was a line of scraggy trees where the beach should be. They were not very tall and some appeared bent or fallen, like you see after a tornado whips along a roadway.
Then, several of the trees moved, some collapsing in the sand and the others embracing each other like lost lovers. It hit her and she ran toward them. They were the passengers, out of water, standing or crouching, for some reason trying to form a line along the beach. Others stood in the low water, grabbing bodies that floated by and checking them for life.
Hattley’s tweets, with as many photos as she could shoot and send, traveled rapidly — around the world.
“Hundreds appear alive after crash. But, hundreds of bodies floating, too. @MissouriLeader #bransoncrash”
“Moonshine Beach lined with, well, survivors. They do not appear to be human @MissouriLeader #bransoncrash”
“Fire, ambulance workers trying to help but wary @MissouriLeader #bransoncrash”
After sending at least a dozen photos and two videos, and being rebuffed by the fire chief when she asked him for comment, Hattley texted her editor. By then, the TV crew was walking the beach, sending video, too.
“Holy Crap! You getting all this?” she texted.
“Yes. Keep it coming. Anything you can. We’re sending Pete and Julie, now. Trying to get others. “
“Want to talk to them. Will try now.”
“Whoa. You feel safe?”
“Yes, they are hurt, not danger.”
“Use caution. I repeat: Caution. Any hostile sign, back away.”
“Hear ya. Caution.”
But Hattley felt like she knew these creatures. She had felt their touch. She sensed, actually felt in her bones, what they had fled.
She lowered her phone as she walked toward the shortest creature she could find along the beach; it had a white beard and was partially bent at the waist. It held tightly to what appeared to be a female of about the same height.
As she got within 5 feet, she recoiled as both of them collapsed at the same time to the ground. Their legs folded like those on a card table and their torsos folded at the waist. They immediately curled their arms around their legs and kept their faces down.
She heard them murmur and saw they were shaking, and she backed quickly away. Moving to the next group farther down the beach, they also collapsed, as if puppets controlled by a common set of strings.
Down the beach, firefighters were having the same problem. She took quick photos and remembered the ship in the water. She had no images of it, yet. She tried for video but worried the exposure was wrong and nothing would be seen. The orange glow was now so faint it looked like a campfire on the opposing shoreline.
With her focus so far out on the water, Hattley didn’t see or hear the FBI agent until he had her by the shoulders.
“Hey, easy! I’m a reporter. I’m just trying …”
“This is a restricted area, ma’am. Please come with me.”
“C’mon, leggo! There’s no tape. This is a public …”
A helicopter swooped in low to drown out the rest of her futile plea, as the agent half pushed and half carried her toward her car.
Dozens of other men, all wearing dark jackets and hats, now scurried along the beach. More helicopters looked for a place to land. Some of the men inside used ladders or cables to disembark; some carried weapons. The TV crew, also being corralled, shouted to no avail as they were also pushed back. Even firefighters and rescue workers were put in their vehicles and moved to the beach entrance, too far to see what was happening with the tall gray creatures and their sinking ship.
… to be continued