Uncounted kiloteslas of electromagnetic force slashed through the atmosphere like an unseen sword—wiping out microchips, transistors, digital storage devices, and electronic circuits of all kinds. In an instant, Cape Canaveral and the surrounding areas were stripped of every necessity of modern existence. Every building, vehicle, and piece of infrastructure within the footprint of the EMP burst suffered an immediate and total loss of electrical power.
In chronological terms, the passengers and crew of American Airlines Flight 1547 were first to be affected. En route from Baltimore to Miami at 35,000 feet, the Airbus A321 was struck by the pulse about 31 microseconds before anyone at ground level.
The instant it was touched by the electromagnetic wave front, the Airbus ceased to be a flying machine. It became a hurtling assemblage of unresponsive parts that no longer held the ability to challenge gravity. As Captain Griffith worked the emergency checklist, his copilot shouted into a dead radio. “Mayday! Mayday! This is American 1547, flight level three-five-zero over Titusville. Lost engines. Lost electrical power. Flight controls out! Mayday!”
Back in the passenger section, the cabin lights were dark; the ventilation system had exhaled its last breath; and the whine of the engines had been replaced by the shouts of terrified human beings.