It was a simple trip out to a medical ship via helicopter and back again. However, the craft would never make it back to dry land.
The four of us zipped over the near-white beaches, where tourists played and laid in the sand. It was a far cry from the interior less than 20 miles away where Marines were hunting the drug cartels on a daily basis.
It was a Navy craft, an SH-2 Seasprite, originally designed to hunt down Soviet submarines. The Seasprite I was aboard though had been converted to Search and Rescue craft.
As we left the safety of the firebase, we came under small arms fire. It was routine for snipers and those working the coca trails to shoot at any helicopter leaving the fortified compound and they didn’t care if it has a large red-cross painted on it or not.
After we picked up our needed supplies and were in-bound an alarm sounded in the cockpit. I was sitting in a jump seat, further in the rear of the craft and knew the loud beeping meant some sort of mechanical trouble.
In the distance we could see the beach and the tourist enjoying their tropical vacation. I could tell we weren’t going to reach the safety of that sand as the craft drew closer and closer to the sea below.
The pilot, a Captain, pushed the Seasprite as hard as he could in hope of reaching land or at least get close to it. I watched as the water became so close to the craft that I could have easily stuck my hand out the hatch and touched a wave.
Then he announced, “Hold on!”
The helicopter bucked violently backwards then pitched forward with even greater violence as we hit the water. The ocean immediately started pouring in to the craft causing it to sink.
The pilot and co-pilot opened their doors and swam out into the sea. The flight engineer and I popped open the side hatch and did the same.
We had nearly made it — another 25 to 30-feet to go and we would have been able to remain completely dry.