Saturday, August 29, 2009

Those lost at sea~

Those lost at sea~

The glass falls and in that time when it is falling it has found an uncertain freedom. It floats weightlessly to its destiny turning and tilting this way and that, measured only by the resistance of air. But when it reaches the pavement, its self is shattered, its continuity is no more. It explodes into a thousand pieces, mere remnants of what it once was. It is shattered. Its pieces are shattered. It is no more. It is a violent thing and a thing of great sadness.

I was on the searchlight. The night was as black as it ever could be. There was no surface to the water. No telling the night from the water. I caught her in my light. She floated in space, a black void of no dimensions. Her hair spread out from her like an angel, each strand floating to a different current. She was beautiful, and she was dead.

They had hit an iceberg and sank in twenty minutes. Time enough to make a mayday call and rope together some crab pot floats. There were five of them. The water, of course, was frigid. In another twenty minutes she was the first to die and float away, and her boyfriend shortly thereafter. They made the call at midnight. They had done a foolish thing. They had put the boat on “Iron-Mike” and went below to party, leaving the boat to steer itself. A course unguided is a course foolishly followed.

When the iceberg was struck and the boat sank they could see the lights of the boat still alight, below the berg, below the water. The survivors described it as an eerie ghostly thing. The survival time was rated at about 15 minutes or less unprotected in these waters. She made it to twenty and drifted away. Her boyfriend made it maybe 40 minutes and did the same. After finding and recovering her body it was perhaps another twenty minutes until we found the crab pot raft. “There’s people! I see people!” our engineering chief shouted. I quickly donned a wetsuit and was in the water, helping the first man into the litter that had been lowered over the side. He could not have lasted ten more minutes. He was that close to loss of any strength to hold on. Then the lady, who was in surprisingly good shape despite her heart condition. We got her on board. I thought my task was done. I was climbing back aboard when we realized there was another. A man. The husband of the lady with the heart condition. I quickly made my way back to the raft, really just a thing to hang onto, and retrieved him. He was lightly tied to the rope and unresponsive. We got him aboard and found him without heartbeat or breath. We worked to revive him but were unsuccessful. He was dead. We believe he had been dead less than thirty minutes. Perhaps we were in sight when he passed away. The surviving man said, “Do not believe that dying of exposure is like falling asleep, it is a painful thing. They moaned until they died.” It was 5:30am in the morning, if morning is what you can call 5:30am in Alaska. These people had been in the iceberg laden waters for 5 ½ hours.

The next morning, (when there was light), another 95’ patrol boat from St Petersburg and ours did expanding square searches of the area. They knew all the people, dead and alive involved. St Petersburg is a very small town, a village really. They found the remaining body, a man, and we transferred all to their boat. I will not describe my duties of tending to the bodies during the night. Suffice it to say it is strange to deal with the lifeless.

In Anacortes there is a cache. I only had the coordinates and the name for it. Nothing else. No size, no hint, no text. I went looking for it. It took me to a memorial for those lost at sea. I searched and searched and could not come up with it. It was not by the column, so I searched the nearby statue of a woman holding a baby looking out to sea. Her hair and dress taken by the wind. I search everywhere. Nearby people were watching me. I even reached up the statues dress from below looking for a micro. One old man got up in a huff and walked off. The cache was nowhere to be found. I did not have enough to go on. Only then did I really stop to look at what it was I was searching and the significance of it. It is a wonderfully done work of art. It captures so much. I thought of those searches in my past, of those I found, living and dead, and those loved ones they were connected to. There never were any that we did not find in one state or another… eventually. At least those loved ones had something returned to them. How difficult it must be if that were not so.

Thank God my searches are not so vital these days.

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