Against the Current
Sideways rain blew across the windscreen, high intensity searchlights barely penetrating the gathering gloom and the ferocity of the storm that threatened the survival of any imprisoned by its rage. Commander Grant Cooper pushed the collective gingerly, the nose of the H-65 Dolphin helicopter dipping beneath the traffic bed on the Golden Gate Bridge in desperate search of survivors.
“There!” Lieutenant John Manning pointed a forefinger across the instrument panel into the sheeting rain.
“God damned crosswinds.”
Grant gritted his teeth as he struggled with the collective and the cyclic, trying to keep the pitch of the helicopter stable.
“Okay Murphy. Time to hook up and earn your pay.” John said into the microphone embedded in his copilot’s helmet. “He’s there at two o’clock. Getting fucking close to the piling.”
“Bleedin’ idiot. I’ll never know what gets into people to go out when the weather’s been forecast for rain with gale force gusts. Much worse than this and we’ll not be able to stay up.” Grant felt the tension in his shoulders, and a tightening of his gut as he hyper focused on maintaining the integrity of the copter.
John slid a glance toward his commanding officer, approbation warring with worry on his face. But then, this was a hell of a storm that had blow in off the Pacific as a lioness on wounded prey. “It’s too windy for the basket. Murphy’ll have to go it alone.”
“I’ve got it,” Grant answered John’s implicit concern.
“God, I love this job!” Murphy’s voice came through the crew helmets. “Cowabunga.”
Grant knew that exclamation could mean only one thing. Murphy was out the cargo door on his way down to the choppy frigid waters below. “Easy does it, Murph.”
“Piece a cake, sir,” Murphy’s voice was muffled by the roar of the wind cutting under the bridge. “You keep it stable for me and I’ll have this duffuss inside before you can sing the National Anthem.”
“Oh say can you see…” The voice of first class petty officer Sandy Richards sang out in accompaniment to her partner’s descent. They had been a team for eighteen months out of Coast Guard Air Station San Francisco. Murphy the rescue swimmer, Richards the flight mech operating the hoist, they worked in tandem as one cohesive unit. Sandy made sure Murph had safe journey from copter to sea; Murphy, donned in dry suit, secured the victim’s safety.
“It’s a bit brisk out here Commander. Water temp’s gonna keep me from performing my husbandly duties for the next week.”
“You just keep those jewels intact. I don’t want to make any extra stops tonight.” Grant suppressed a shudder at the memory of losing a crewman out of flight school. As Royal Navy exchange instructor for advanced flight training stationed in Alabama, it had been early in the first year of his two-year tour. Well before transferring to finish the second half of his four-year commitment abroad as flight officer out of San Francisco. It hadn’t happened on his watch, but the loss affected the entire class at Mobile.
Every time a crewman was lost, it was as if a family member had passed. The cost of freedom. Not the kind the Department of Defense preserves with soldiers and brute force, but freedom of choice. In the case of this rescue, the choice to take a pleasure boat out on the bay at noon when everything looked calm; the freedom to ignore the responsibilities of a civilian sailor to monitor the weather believing yourself invincible to the whims of Mother Nature, the freedom to be arrogant and unwise.
Every member, from the lowliest petty officer to the Commandant, works to support the Coast Guard mission: Police of the Sea, to preserve life and limb on the waters within the boundaries of the United States. Grant’s drive went beyond this, representing her majesty’s best of the best. As lead pilot, he
was an integral part of the life and death piece of the mission assigned to Search and Rescue (SAR) units.
“Guess it would be ‘God save our gracious queen, our great and glorious Queen…” Murphy’s voice shivered through the noise of the storm. “Suppose the North Sea makes this weather look like a picnic, eh Commander?” His tone changed to one of solicitous authority as he addressed the victim in the water. “I’m a Coast Guard rescue swimmer and I’m here to help you. I’ll secure you, ma’am.”
The sound of a woman’s voice replying was barely audible. “But my boat…it’s gonna…” The rest of her sentence was lost to the wind.
“Geez, that’s a woman out there. What the hell…?” John’s voice tensed with incredulity.
Grant kept his arms and eyes steady performing the delicate balancing act of a helicopter pilot. Autorotation into the bay was bad, losing a blade, lethal. “Have you got her?” he barked into his helmet.
“…the land of the free…and the home of the brave.” Murphy’s voice was winded, the definite thud of bodily impact on the last word, changing ‘brave’ into something more like ‘braumph’. “We’re aboard, sir.”
Grant eased the cyclic forward and collective up. The helo responded, swooping across the frothy grey waters of the bay towards home.
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