Excerpt from “Under Dark Waters”
Now he was in the thick of it. His Beaver had suddenly lost altitude, as if taking on a load of lead fast. Then it reared up like a frantic mustang. Shaking, rocking violently. And then the rain. A gray wall, with nothing behind it.
The ocean was much too close.
Just don’t crash in that shit!
He pulled the Beaver up higher, and the plane vibrated like a jackhammer.
He’d been through a lot, ridden out terrifying squalls, a hair’s breadth away from disaster. But today—it was the worst of the worst, a nightmare.
His adrenaline shot up. Just don’t go down in this goddam hell.
Not him. He always escaped. He knew those infernal traps where crosswinds locked together like mad dogs. He knew the fogs that snuck up on you and swallowed everything up in a flash. But what he knew best was himself.
He could have aborted his flight. If he had to, he could have kept his plane on the ground. He would have listened to his feelings if they told him: You’re not going to land in this storm. It’s stronger than you. It’ll wipe out you and your Beaver in two seconds.
A voice in his headphones: “GQC to JPX… it’s a goddamn fucking merry-go-round, a goddamn merry-go-round, I’m telling you, nobody can get through. I’m going back through Otter Channel and then out around Pitt Island.”
There was another Beaver out there. Another madman risking his life.
He looked at his GPS. Yellow, land, blue, water.
“JPX to GQC…OK…I’ll try Grenville Channel, but it looks from here like lousy pea soup.”
Jumpy static in his headphones. That voice again.
“Got a pretty strong ELT signal.”
So he’d picked up the downed plane’s emergency locator transmitter, too; it was weak but continuous.
“Where are you now?” he asked.
“I’m halfway up McCauley Island, between Hevenor Inlet and Newcombe Harbor. It’s like a washing machine here, a fucking big wind.”
“I couldn’t make it through Grenville Channel, had to go back and follow you. Lemme know right away if you see anything.”
The Beaver was dancing. A dance with the devil. The plane wasn’t gaining altitude. He gave it more throttle.
You don’t want to go swimming, baby. Keep it level. Nice and level. The water down there is cold, like frozen steel. Two minutes and your blood thickens. Ten minutes and your heart screams for help. Ninety and it’s game over.
The other pilot’s voice thundered words in his headphones.
“Getting close. The ELT’s howling like a wildcat. My gut tells me it’s down there somewhere. This hole is pulling everything downwards.”
Most of them drowned, caught in the wreckage. He’d been there often. Sometimes they broke a bone or their back. Or had their skull crushed with the blood pouring out.
The shout made him flinch.
“The plane’s in the water right in front of Captain’s Cove. I’ll see if I can land and work my way in.”
“See anybody in the water?”
“I’m being fucking hammered — hard to say from here. I’ll let you know if I can land.”
Crackling in his earphones, another shout.
“Jesus Christ! What’s that, straight ahead!”
“Can you get any lower?”
“Already low, damn low.”
“Listen, don’t go too slow!’
He’d better watch it. Or he’ll hit the water, too.
“…there they are! Jesus! There they are! Hey man, I can see them!”
“What do you see?”
“…the plane…it’s broken apart, all broken up. Man-o-man!”
“Gotta get down, man, gotta get down.”
“Is the sea too rough? I can see waves.”
“I think I can do it.”
“Be careful, eh! Careful!”
The voice was gone. He waited.
Hope he doesn’t go nuts when he sees what’s there, lose his nerve.
The other pilot was a good one — he knew that. Almost as good as he was. Logged seven thousand hours mostly between Alaska and Prince Rupert. That coast was a death trap, a death trap for lousy pilots.
“I’m down, man, I’m down in Captain’s Cove and getting pretty close. One pontoon’s sticking straight up out of the water. I think somebody’s hanging onto it.”
The voice was softer, as if the vocal cords had been in water too long.
“Good job! I’ll be right there.”
“Jeff’s getting out and climbing up on it.”
So he took a guy with him. Why didn’t he say that before? Never mind. Every hand counts. Especially with a rolling sea like this. He wouldn’t take anybody along and put his life in danger.
“…oh my God!”
“What’s the matter?”
“They’re all dead, man, all dead!”
“Dead or unconscious? Can you see?”
“Dead as a doornail, man, stone dead.”
He stayed calm. Gotta keep calm.
He looked at his GPS. Still a few minutes to the crash site.
“I’ll be there right away. Wait’ll I get there.”
The wind suddenly let up as if playing itself out at last. Then he saw it. His pal’s Beaver, bouncing like a plastic duck in a bathtub. There was a second plane beside it: A broken wing, the cockpit at a crazy angle. A body on the left pontoon, its legs in the water, not moving.
He shouted into the mic.
“Can you see me? I’m coming down. Can you see me?”
He began his approach. A voice shouted into his phones.
“Good God! He’s alive! One of them’s moving! He’s alive!”
He was concentrating on landing. He had the Beaver firmly under control. C’mon, baby. C’mon, c’mon.
He had to land in a light side wind, parallel to the waves. There was a calm spot ahead. The pontoons splashed down.
Taxiing toward the planes, he had but a single thought: Let’s hope the right guy’s still alive.
Text Copyright @ 2010 Bernadette Calonego
Translation Copyright @ 2015 Gerald Chapple
Published by AmazonCrossing, Seattle