Nicolette Scott is an archaeologist with an unusual specialty, the recent past, and an even odder passion: Uncovering lost airplanes. But ancient civilizations are where the funding is, and the New Mexico badlands are where her father is, so Nick bides her time on a dig of prehistoric Anasazi dwellings. When a prospector brings word of his unexpected find - an airplane buried in the shifting sands of the desert - Nick is eager to investigate.
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On a dig at the edge of the sun-seared Sonoran Desert, archaeologist Nicolette Scott witnesses a bizarre plane crash that leaves a young man dead in the cockpit of his mangled, burning Cessna. Federal investigators call it "pilot error", but the dead man's grieving grandfather, John Gault, a man who shares Nick's passion for aviation, is demanding answers.
Since World War II, the people of Balesin have worshiped airplanes and the rich cargo they carry. Hoping to obtain the spoils of the modern world, they have spent decades trying to lure aircraft down out of the sky with a homemade airstrip and mock planes. But for those who know it, Balesin has an even darker side - one shrouded in a legend of death and cannibalism.
Nicolette Scott is an archaeologist whose knowledge of early airplanes has won her kudos as an expert, a reputation for ignoring authority, and a job at the Smithsonian. Shortly after she begins working there, she is thrilled to be included in the museum's latest project. E-Group, a large pharmaceutical company, is equipping an expedition to a remote region of Alaska, where a Japanese "Val" bomber plane was shot down during World War II.
Nicolette Scott and her father are both archaeologists - but with differences. Professor Elliot Scott lives and breathes very early Americans, like the Anasazi. His digs are in the southwest, where the ancient peoples lived. To him, his daughter Nicky's area of concern is not to be taken seriously. Nicky goes for the culture embodied by artifacts from the twentieth century - a crashed plane from either world war is enough to send her senses tingling.