Part II of Call a Spade a Spade
The stunned silence in the cockpit was interrupted by a comment from the back. “Holy Shit!” That sort of summed it up for the crew. Pyro was the first to shake it off. “Nav, mark this position, Loads (loadmaster/HF radio operator) you try to raise Kef’s search and rescue. Did anyone see chutes??” The Corporal in the back on the left side said “Sir, I saw two ejections right before it went down through the clouds.” “Those poor bastards,” the Gunny said. “That’s some cold water down there and even with Poppie suits (cold water survival suits) they may have about fifteen minutes to live. The SAR guys would never make it out here fast enough.”
Being fresh out of the AirForce C-130 school in Little Rock, Arkansas, I remembered that the Herc carried a seven-man raft somewhere in the back. “Sir,” I start. “How about tossing out the raft to those guys? It may give them some shelter till the SAR boys arrive.” This idea was pondered for a minute till the young Mech in the back came on the ICS (intercom), “Gents, with all the extra stuff we were bringing along, we had to leave that raft behind since we have the thirty-man rafts in the upper wings.” Well, that great idea was shot down.
Pyro asked, “Any luck getting ahold of Kef Ops?” The Loadmaster shook his head, “No,” and continued transmitting in the blind. Our plane continued to circle the last known spot where the F-14 disappeared in the clouds. As each idea was shot down, the tensions were running high. Short of burning all our gas due to flying lower into a raging storm and with the distinct possibility that we might crash too, our options were running out. It was a feeling of complete helplessness and frustration.
The sound of their distress beacon started blaring over the radio on the emergency frequency. We knew that activated either automatically or manually, but since we hadn’t heard from them, we figured it was the first. A silence fell over the crew as the realization hit that we weren’t able to help these guys without our plane running out of gas and our joining the same fate as Spade 16.
After all options were exhausted and we had loitered over the area for an hour with no luck contacting the crew, Pyro reluctantly ordered a heading back to Keflavic and the giant plane turned around to the North East. With the ICS ominously quiet, Pyro came on and, looking straight ahead, he said, “Gents, we’re in a pickle here.” He sighed and quietly continued, “We gave those guys gas on a bad hose. We knew it was bad and something like this could have happened. They will put the officers before a board of inquiry (they call it the long green table) to find out what we did wrong, and then they will take our wings from us for negligence, not to mention the loss of two Naval Aviators and a thirty-million-dollar jet.” Someone in the back piped in, “Sir, that’s not our fault, they would have crashed with or without us anyway.”
Wang added, “Sir, I think we tried our best. Surely they should understand that.” Pyro looked over at Wang, “For me, I’ve had a pretty good career, but I don’t want to fly a desk! How about you and Taco? You guys have what--200 hours total? Your flying careers in the Marine Corps are over and you’ll never touch the stick of a plane after this.” I couldn’t believe I was hearing this, and the direction it was taking. The Gunny clicked in, “Sir, What are you suggesting?” Pyro was silent for a minute, and then he turned around to look at all of us. “I say we forget the whole thing!! They were going to die anyway so why complicate matters by being involved. I say the crew takes a vote on it, and only if we have a complete consensus among the crew to put this little episode out of our minds will it work. Nobody can ever bring this up again or ever mention it to anyone.”
Wang was desperately searching the faces of the men on the flight deck to gage their reactions as Pyro called out the name of each crew member, from the lowest man to the highest. After he called out each person’s name, there followed a weak, “I’m in.” The Gunny, the most senior enlisted man said, “I’m not looking forward to reading about it the papers and knowing that the families will never know what happened to their sons/husbands if they were married. I hate to say it, but I’m in.” Wang looked back at me, and I dropped my eyes, “Taco” he called, the three of us were the last ones. I clicked my ICS ‘press to talk’ button, “I’m in.” Now it was down to Wang. Pyro looked at him and asked, “Wang?” Wang crossed his arms and didn’t say anything. A minute passed and then he deliberately motioned with his right hand pointing towards Kelavic, “I’m in.” It was very obvious that he was unhappy about his decision, and the weight of what he just agreed to was pressing him deep into thought.
Pyro let the silence continue for a few more minutes, and then finished with, “O.K. Then, it’s agreed upon by the crew, we will never mention Spade 16 again.” The silence was horrible as each person was consumed by his own thoughts. Finally, Pyro ordered Wang out of the seat and to put me in it. As Wang slammed his seat back, and unbuckled his straps, Pyro reached over to touch his arm. “Wang, before you get out of the seat, there’s something we have to tell you…”
Wang looked at him with daggers in his eyes, “Wang, there was no F-14, that was just a little drill we do for all new guys in the Squadron!!!”
The crew erupts over the ICS with laughter, especially when the pilot from Spade 16 came on again in his deep raspy voice, “Hey Lt, do you have any extra gas????” This was the Sergeant in the rear with an O2 mask on talking over the ICS. The Crew deserved an Oscar for their performance over the last hour. I only knew something was amiss when I saw the Gunny let the left hose out, felt the plane yaw to the left and looked out the galley window and didn’t see a hose going out. I had tapped the Gunny and pointed to the wing with a “What-gives-look.” He had put his finger to his lips, and winked.
Poor Wang weakly laughed and then said, “Well, I’m glad it was a joke because I was going to turn you all into the base C.O. when we landed.” All of a sudden all the laughter died away and Pyro keyed in “So…you AREN’T a team player, huh???” This caused Wang to start back peddling some more until Pyro just laughed and said, “Gotcha again, Wang!!!” Another round of laughter erupted over the ICS. Pyro piped in “Yeah, you should have seen Lt. Smith last month when we did it to him. He’s such a self-righteous prick that we didn’t tell him we were kidding till we landed. He didn’t believe us and ran straight to the duty shack to report an F-14 down in the Atlantic and gave them the coordinates.” The Gunny, laughing hard, said, “Yeah, I remember that and the look on his face when the Commander on duty informed Smith that there were no F-14’s based in Kef and no carriers around.”
“Yep, just another case of the phantom F-14 begging for gas.” Pyro continued, “O.K., you’re in the club now, Taco and Wang. You can’t discuss this with anyone or it will ruin our little fun in the future. Beers on me at the MarBar tonight!!!” We both agreed not to let the cat out of the bag for the new guys behind us coming into the Squadron.
Sounds like a cruel joke and it is, but in reality, it was a great training tool because we ran through every scenario that was possible. Funny thing is, later, on another flight, we got a real call to intercept a civilian light twin that was being ferried to Europe from Maine. All the things that we talked about, what we could do to save them, came to fruition. The plane came close to ditching in the rough North Seas, and we were ready to throw him the seven-man raft etc.
Well, I guess you can say that Marines are a tough lot on each other, but like what you just read, you can’t judge a book by its cover and that applies to our Marines in Jail over in California on charges of murder. Sometimes it isn’t what you think…