It’s nighttime over the Persian Gulf, summer of 1995. The four of us— pilot, copilot, another crewman, and me— have been out in our H-60 Seahawk helicopter doing sonar ops. It’s been a long night, and we need to refuel on a nearby destroyer before heading back to the aircraft carrier we’re calling home. The pilot slows us down to a crawl as we approach the vessel below. Landing on a destroyer’s deck is always dicey, more so on this moonless night. Someone needs to spot the deck as we hover in place high above the ship and talk the pilot down.
Tonight the spotter, the guy strapped into the gunner’s seat down in the belly of the bird, is me. I crack open the door and look down, scanning for telltale lights. There aren’t any. That’s weird. I glance upward— and now I see lights. What? For the span of a single breath, I experience total disorientation. Why are there lights up here at eye level when the destroyer is way down below us? Then the disorientation evaporates as I look down again and see water, right there at my feet. Persian Gulf water— churning, grinning, reaching up for me, curling around my ankles. Oh, shit. We’re not hovering high above the ship after all. Our goddamn pilot has put us right down in the drink. Seawater is pouring into the cabin, caressing my legs, climbing the interior walls, searching for the engine. Hey, baby. I’m here. Come to Papa. This is not good. If the engine chokes and dies, we flip upside down, sink straight to the bottom of the Gulf, and don’t come up again. Ever. “Altitude!” I shout into my comms. “Altitude!” – Brandon T Webb