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Continental Airlines flight 22, piloted by Capt. Jack Savage, crashes after departing Los Angeles, killing all 53 passengers and crew members except stewardess Martha Webster. Sam McBane, the airline's director of flight operations, begins an investigation of the disaster. He learns that Savage radioed shortly after takeoff that his right engine was on fire and requested permission to land. He was told to maintain altitude on his left engine until a flight path could be cleared, but the plane crashed. McBane is baffled because the left engine's thrust should have been enough to maintain altitude. He learns from Martha, who had been in the cabin serving coffee, that soon after the right engine caught fire, a signal flashed indicating that the left engine was also aflame. Savage switched off that engine, too, and tried to land on a secluded beach but was unable to avoid crashing into an old pier. Inspecting the wreckage, McBane discovers that the left engine never caught fire, and he wonders about Martha's story. Rumors are spread that Savage was drunk before taking off, but McBane, who had served with Savage during the war, doubts this and investigates further. Sally Fraser, Savage's beneficiary in his will, insists the crash was just fate. McBane decides to reenact the fatal flight in the same kind of plane and with Martha aboard. When he cuts off the right engine, the plane lurches, causing Martha to spill the coffee she is serving. Shortly afterward, the warning light flashes, indicating that the left engine is aflame. McBane has the panel on which the coffee spilled pried up and discovers that the liquid had shorted the wires that controlled the fire signal, causing it to flash. Savage is vindicated.