Finally, we figured that we must have left the paperwork somewhere at Elmendorf. We made a call, and sure enough, the papers were on a clipboard on a counter.
We compromised with the agencies involved. We could continue to San Bernardino, where we would be met by all concerned and allowed to leave because we had cleared Customs in Alaska. The aircraft would be impounded with cargo on board awaiting the paperwork, and Agriculture would make a new inspection. And we learned there was a flight north that would wait for us for an hour.
The mountains northeast of Los Angeles hove into view. The air was bumpy, as it often was coming across the foothills. And it was not unusual for one of the two passenger doors to get bumped out of its fully locked position. So when the “Door Open” light went on, we weren’t too surprised. “Load, Pilot. Can you check doors please?”
“I’m on it.” And after a minute: “How’s that?”
“Light’s off, thanks.”
Gear down, cleared to land, back on the ground.
Taxiing in, however, brought an unpleasant realization. We had to undergo another Agriculture inspection, and they were serious about not bringing foreign plants into California. And here we were with a live Christmas tree. By the time we explained and had the airplane fumigated and who knows what else, our ride north would be long gone.
As we discussed the situation, the loadmaster chimed in. “Pilot, Load. I wouldn’t worry too much about the Christmas tree. Remember that ‘Door Open’ light 10 minutes ago?”
Somewhere on the West Coast, a woman in her mid-30s is telling her daughter, “Yes, there is a Santa Claus. I remember the Christmas Day when I was a little girl in California and we didn’t have a tree. And then, out of the sky, a fully decorated Christmas tree landed in the yard. It could only have come from Santa.”