WE NEVER SAW our final goal, the California coast, but through the clouds and darkness below us We caught the unmistakable sound of victory—the roar of surf at Point Arena. Then suddenly we found ourselves caught up in a new and violent storm the worst to strike that coast in 20 years. After skimming above the clouds at 6,900 feet (diagram), we made our first attempt to land. It was very nearly fatal. Approaching the town of Willits through torrential rain, we navigated down through the clouds and saw a valley stretched beneath, with a row of houses directly ahead. But our descent rate appeared to be too great, and we seemed on a collision course with the houses. Dropping all the ballast within reach, we climbed again.