On The Line 6.3

by Steve on October 19, 2009

Back to 6.2

The carrier had coasted past the wreckage in a lazy left turn and now one of her destroyer escorts was easing into the area combing the waves with her powerful searchlights. The crew of the helicopter still had not spotted either of the downed aviators. How can two men punch out right next to the ship and disappear? That question tormented many of Reagan’s crew but none more so than the twenty-year-old rescue swimmer hanging out of Red Lion 600’s door. He was desperately searching the waves for any sign of life. He knew that the longer they were in the water their chances of survival decreased dramatically. This was what he had trained for: to jump into a cold black ocean and assist injured or incapacitated aircrew. He was ready and he wasn’t going to let the sea cheat him of his goal. Fifteen minutes had passed since 701 had gone in and the surface temperature of the water was 58 degrees. The combined factor of the air temperature and the surface temperature had not been low enough at the time of the launch to require the use of the dreaded survival suits so the crew had elected to go without in favor of being able to move and breathe. Without the suits to trap body heat, they were running out of time. Red Lion 600 started picking up a radio beacon followed by a short broadcast. Both pilots looked at each other in disbelief.

“Boss, 600. We’ve got a fix on Flash’s position but we can’t get to him. Recommend you take the lead on this one.”

“600 what the hell are you talking about me taking the lead? You two are in the helicopter – go get the man!”

When the pilots quit laughing enough to talk they let the Boss in on the joke: “Boss, Flash claims he’s hanging in the antennas about ten feet above your head. He tried yelling and waving but nobody down on the deck was looking for him to be hanging up in the island so he finally dug out his survival radio. Step out on vulture’s row and you’ll see him. Oh and he requested that you shut down some of the ship’s radars so he can still have kids someday.”

“I’ll be damned,” the Boss said to no one in particular. He turned to one of the enlisted men, “Petty Officer, stick your head out that hatch to vulture’s row and tell me what you see.”

With a puzzled look on his face the young man did as he was told. When he came back in you could see the shock in his face.

“Well? What is it?”

“That would be LT Gordon, Sir.”

“Don’t just stand there, son. Put a crew together and get him down. It’s downright embarrassing having him hanging up there like a puppet.” He chuckled for a moment and then remembered he had another one out there somewhere. “600, we’ve got him. Any sign of Mac?”

“Nothing so far, Sir.”

“Very well. Keep at it. Drop a sonobouy to mark the center of the search area. We’ll spin up 602 to come assist and relieve you. Mother’s turning into the wind to prepare for the last recovery. I need you for plane guard, 602 will take over on the SAR mission.”

“Roger.”

Finding Mac was still a priority but there were fifteen jets inbound with nowhere else to land and no extra gas in the air. The Boss worried about that and so did the squadron Commanding Officers. Night traps were never fun but tonight there was no tanker and they were still missing a man. That could shake the confidence of even the hardest individual. The extra concern was unwarranted in this case though. There were a few bolters but that was expected at night with a pitching deck. Otherwise it was an uneventful recovery on the LSO platform. It was almost as though the earlier mishap pushed this bunch to be that much better. They had to prove to themselves that they had what it took to survive around the boat. After the last jet was aboard 600 and 602 landed for a hot pump then took off again to resume the search.
It got quiet in the pre-dawn as the search continued without success. The short-lived euphoria generated by finding Flash alive was quickly replaced by a sense of urgency for their still-missing brother.

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