The thunderous rumble of the advancing avalanche and the tearing screech of tortured brakes were almost simultaneous. A cascading wall of ice and snow rumbled off the mountainside, blocking the entrance to the tunnel at the far end of the viaduct.
Approaching at speed, the driver of a petro-chemical tanker fought to bring the heavy vehicle to a stop. Unable to keep control, the tractor cabin veered off and smashed through a guard rail at the edge of the towering span and edged towards the abyss.
As the rumbling echoes died away across the Alpine range, silence closed in like a dead weight. The driver’s cabin teetered on the edge of the viaduct, its front wheels and most of the tractor unit suspended in space, with nothing between it and the valley floor but a sheer fifteen-hundred-foot plunge.
Dazedly, the driver uncoiled his fingers from their deathly grip on the controls. His heart was hammering in his chest so ferociously that he could actually hear it. Another few inches and he’d have gone right over the edge.
The avalanche looked to have brought half the mountain down across the tunnel entrance ahead and to his horror the driver saw that the road behind the truck was also completely cut off. He couldn’t count on help from either side and dared not chance moving to the door.
Thinking quickly, he gingerly reached for his radio transmitter and flicked the activation switch. The apparatus crackled into life and in moments he was broadcasting a distress call direct to International Rescue.
High in geostationary orbit, the receivers on board Thunderbird 5 picked up the transmission and forwarded it through to the main auto-relay unit in the control room where John Tracy was on monitor duty.
Sizing up the situation, John instantly reported to his father at International Rescue’s secret island base. Jeff wasted no time dispatching Scott and Virgil in Thunderbirds 1 and 2 and in mere minutes, the incredible supersonic craft were speeding towards the danger zone.
At 15,000 miles per hour, Scott arrived first in the sleek silver spearhead craft and assumed a hover position near the bridge. From his vantage point, he could see that the situation was precarious at best.
Scott thought back to a disaster in South East Asia, where the team had rescued Eddie Houseman from a similar situation. There would be no question of using Thunderbird 1 to steady the vehicle as he had done on that occasion; it was much larger and heavier than Eddie’s explosive tractor.
Soon Thunderbird 2 appeared, moving in low from the horizon. It took up position close to Thunderbird 1. Scott had formulated a plan; one that he hoped would be successful. He radioed Virgil and filled in the details.
Virgil fired his motors and moved higher, keeping well away from the bridge until he was high enough that the downward thrust of his vertical jets wasn’t a threat to the truck’s delicate balance. Next, he opened the forward ventral equipment hatch and began lowering the escape capsule on a long steel cable.
The capsule dropped lower and lower as Virgil paid out the entire length of the winch cable. It stopped short of the target, dangling about twenty feet above the driver’s cabin. Now came the really tricky part…
As gently as he dared, Virgil began descending on Thunderbird 2’s vertical jets. This brought the escape capsule lower, lining it up with the driver’s cabin, but it also put the truck at risk from the thrust of the jets.
Virgil called out to the driver over the radio, asking him to move to the door of the truck, where the open hatch of the capsule was waiting mere feet away. The driver didn’t need telling twice. He could feel the increasing vibrations from Thunderbird 2’s motors and any last remaining restraint he had melted away.
In one swift motion, he slid across the cab, flung open the door and with barely a glimpse at the blood-curdling drop between his vehicle and the capsule, he leapt across, snatching hold of the handrail inside as the hatch slid shut.
The winch had barely started to retract the capsule when a loud rumbling sounded outside. Through the capsule’s view-port, the driver watched dumbstruck as another wall of snow tumbled down the mountainside and swept the truck off the viaduct as if it had been a child’s toy.
In the valley far below there was a huge explosion, the force of which sent the capsule swaying the last few feet as it was drawn inside Thunderbird 2. With the capsule safely on board, Virgil set course for the nearest medical facility to get the driver checked over. It had been a near thing, but once again International Rescue had saved the day.