This is a true story that happened to me when I was in the Navy.
An announcement pierces across the 1MC Ships loudspeaker, “Man Overboard! Man Overboard!” It’s 11:30PM, December 22nd, 1990. I am in the Red Sea “Toto Station” onboard the USS Saratoga, an aircraft carrier. The ship just anchored for port call in Haifa Israel several hours earlier. I stayed aboard as my buddies went ashore that night. I was tired from the rigorous flight operations from the previous nights. So as they went ashore, I stayed behind and hit the rack for some shut eye. At approximately 11:30PM, I am awakened by the announcement screaming out, “Man Overboard! Man Overboard!” “All crew and officers muster in the hanger for roll call!”I get dressed and report for roll call. After roll call, I can hear jets flying overhead and helicopters. It’s December and the night air is frigidly chilly. I can feel it in my bones! I gather my foul weather jacket and dash rapidly to the flight deck to get a better view of the events.
The night sky is dark. The shore is dotted with sparkling lights off in the distance. Israeli jets are flying overhead and the ocean surface was dotted with flares shot from Israeli jets into the choppy, icy waters that separated the ship from land. The ship anchored 1.5 miles from shore and ferry boats carried the crew from ship to shore and back. This is how we are transported during port call because many ports in the Medditeranean are not equipped to handle ships the size of aircraft carriers.
As jets streaked through the midnight sky, I could feel the cold chill in the night sky chilling my bones through my foul weather jacket. There was a light foggy mist and the smell of salt was in the air. The situation seemed desperate. Soon word spread that one of the ferry boats returning from shore suddenly sank which was fully loaded with seamen! I was astonished at the news and immediately had concern for my buddies that had gone ashore several hours earlier.
The next day, I awakened to an eery silence that was equally chilly as the temperatures in the icy waters surrounding the ship. It was 2 days before Christmas and we were in the holy lands. This silence was different! I could hear myself breathing. This was unusual because as the ship was made entirely of metal, the mere action of walking generates sound; the sound of seamen’s boondockers clacking against the metal deck is not easily silenced. I revisited the flight deck but this time I was greeted by the sightings of body bags lined up across the flight deck. As I looked up, I saw a gurney at the bottom of a rope dangling approximately 100ft below a helicopter. They were plucking the bodies out of the water. The gurneys were black and zipped shut but it was easy to see they were occupied with dead sailors. 23 sailors died that night. Men some of which I knew and worked shoulder to shoulder with during combat. They will be missed but never forgotten.
I often find myself often thinking about how I possibly avoided death that day. You see, my buddies that went ashore that night were next in line to board the ill fated ferry. They missed boarding the ferry by only a few people. Knowing how tired I was, we probably would have returned early and boarded that ill fated ferry. The thought stays with me till this very day and will for a long time to come.