The flight crew had been ordered to return to base as quickly as possible. There was a typhoon that they might avoid if they hurried. The co-pilot chuckled “hurry is one thing this baby doesn’t have in her vocabulary.” The pilot looked at the two starboard turbo prop engines and smiled. “She’ll get us home like she always does. This mama has a heart that I sometimes can feel beating.”
The captain called back over the intercom to the crew. “If you were expecting a smooth ride, belay that, we are in for a roller coaster ride.”
I smiled. I loved roller coasters; I’d been flying in storms all my life in my Dad’s Cessna 150.
One of the guys gave me a bag. “In case you lose your lunch.”
I really was enjoying the flight crew and had put in a request to get off the ground and get in the air. The flight engineer (FE) had recommended me to the commander as an asset to the squadron. He had written in his report “her mechanical skills would be an asset to any P-3 crew.” If the request went through, I would be the first female P-3 flight engineer.
We were starting to feel the effects of the storm. You couldn’t see a thing outside; it was as black as night but this was an eerie darkness. At one point, the tail of the aircraft was picked up and it felt like we would do a somersault. Then the tail gently laid down. The sailor, who had handed out the bags, was puking his guts out as were most of the crew. I heard the captain and hoped the co-pilot could hold his together long enough for the captain to finish losing it.
I’d said my prayers before the flight so I wasn’t too worried about the outcome of our flight. There were several hands clasped tightly thinking this was it.
For a long moment, all was still. We thought we were through the worst. A wind grabbed a hold of our craft and spun her. It sounded like the four engines were being yanked off the wings. With all the creaking and snapping , we should have been torn to bits.
Then – silence! No noise. Our interior lights were off and we were looking at each other. I unstrapped myself figuring “what more could happen?” I looked outside the port window. The sea was golden and jewel- like. I held my breath – “this is heaven – how beautiful.” I wanted to open the door and climb on the wing and dance. The others were looking outside as well. Then I saw that the inboard #3 propeller was still turning.
I heard the flight engineer say, “turn up #2 engine – now!”
“What has happened?” One of the crew exclaimed.
“I guess we survived.” The cap said in an audible whisper.
“Are we in Oz?” another chuckled.
The pilot called back and said “we are flying about 100 feet over the Pacific guys.” Then we the welcome audience of nature. A pod of dolphins jumped from the water in dance with the sunshine. A whale spouted off to our starboard side, then another. A fleet of flying fish darted and jumped about the cresting waves. The golden rays filling the sky were magnificent.
Someone asked,” anyone getting shots of this?”
I grabbed the Olympus I had purchased in Japan and shot the dolphins, the inboard motor turning and a picture of the crew. Each face reflected something different- but on each was a sense of contentment, relief, and gratitude for life.
I knew the camera could never capture the glimpse into paradise that day – a place of perfect peace where everything was right with the world. I did know we would carry that sense of glory in our hearts.
As we planted our feet on the tarmac at Agana, International, I handed the neatly folded barf bag back to my new friend.
“Maybe next time,” I smiled.
“Welcome to the crew – sailor,” he saluted.
Though this story is fictionalized- this event happened to our P-3 crew as we tried to skirt a typhoon in the South Pacific. Men and women, in the armed forces,face not only the enemy, each day of their enlistment, but they face the forces of nature. Our crew safely made it through.