Life sprinkles a few of those absolute sphincter clenching, desert mouth, wide eyed moments of inability to do much more than gather the power to scream in everyone's life. Scary seconds that are terrifying.
Everything around you slows down, your life flashes before your eyes like a movie played at high speed, yet somehow...you have a few moments to yourself to think, regard your short future, and make amends in your mind to those you wronged...and yourself.
At least that is what happened to me on a routine Chopper Flight over some mountains in Hawaii. A simple mistake is all it took to change my day. Don't most really stupid things that turn sour start with a "simple mistake?"
So here is my few seconds where outright fear met terrifying moment.
We had all our gear on, TA 50, backpacks (Not full rucks), full canteens, ammo pouches and, of course, our trusty weapons. We boarded the Huey as squads. This particular configuration had us facing outwards on bench seats made out of canvas. With all your gear on you actually hung over the lip of the Huey just a bit with your boots pushing you back into the seat.
You could see almost straight down between the skid and the body of the Chopper. I am afraid of heights, and of flying (two distinct fears that seem to work well together). I also had a horrible memory from a Chinook Crash in Germany. I wasn't in that crash- but saw the aftermath and lost some friends.
So Choppers weren't my favorite form of transportation by any means.
We load up. Hook up our seatbelts, which were just a "D ring" and a loop link.
I hooked up and off we went. When the pilots hit the ridge line of the mountains the wind was howling. The turbulence -we find out later- was listed as Severe. We were bouncing around like popcorn in a popper. A popper chopper. LOL
The pilot climbed to get "over the turbulence"...that didn't help. It got worse. We were slamming into each other. Weightless for a moment, then heavy, then repeat. The guy two seats over threw up. The guy at the end watched his helmet fly off, tumbling and twisting to the ground several thousand feet below. We all watched it go in fascination. Another giant lurch.
I was thrown upwards, spun around and tossed out of my seat by the next big jolt. Time froze. Fear took over. I was well beyond scared. I was terrified.
Because I was looking back into the Huey. Five guys were staring at me. I was staring back. I still remember all those looks just before tunnel vision set in. When my vision narrowed, my hearing blocked out all sound except for the "thump, thump, thump" of the blades whacking the stubborn air.
I saw a thick tattooed arm flick out like a striking snake. The hand at the end grabbed my TA 50 and a handful of uniform and jerked me with all its might back into the Huey. The Crew Chief reached over the top of the soldier pulling me in, and he used both hands to grab my pack and pull me into the Huey.
Both had adrenaline to spare, I was pulled in like a worn out pike. Flailing, flopping, and finished. All the Choppers turned and flew to the beach, and then around the ridge line...instead of their dogged straight over the ridge track. The air got smoother, I got settled in a seat. I don't remember if I was back in the little canvas rack bench or in the interior of the Huey- I just knew I was safe.
I started laughing. So did the Crew Chief. So did the guy who saved me by pulling me back into the Chopper. Everyone else stared at us like we were a pack of laughing hyenas. It was just the adrenaline, fear, and relief flowing out of our bodies.
I don't know if you have ever ridden in a chopper, then (while still thousands of feet in the air) thrown out of it so that you are outside looking back in...but I can tell you it is one freaky feeling.
It turns out I had hooked my D ring to my TA 50 and not to the loop of the seat belt. So when we got bounced around, it was just long enough to let me fly out of my seat, spin, and hold me a few feet over the skid.
Luckily, the biggest, strongest, and fastest guy in our Platoon was the guy who's arm shot out to pull me back in. I have had a soft spot in my Heart for Samoans ever since.
I don't know if that one side of the seat belt that was attached to my Web Gear would have been enough to hold me in the propwash. It might have just torn my TA 50 off and let me tumble past the skid on my way down to Mother Earth at high speed.
I will never know. The quick hands and reactions of both my Squad mate and the Crew Chief saved me from knowing the answer. The whole Battalion was pissed when all 800 of us had to go looking for my M-16 . It was unlucky and didn't have anyone reach for it to keep it from falling out of the Chopper.
We did find my M-16...most of it anyway. It was scrapped. Nobody was brave enough to try and fire it. I was person non grata for a while. Nobody got a Medal. Although I believe both the guy who snatched me out of thin air, and the Crew Chief should have gotten the Soldier's Medal, or at least an Army Commendation Medal. But sadly, it was just a training incident that didn't even get written up.
The Army didn't write it up, but it is embossed in gold letters in my mind.