Night Mission

by Art Ladley

Originally Published in the Pterodome - Reprinted by Permission


 The stars gleam brilliantly

Against the moonless sky,

Reflections of the instruments

Dance against the windscreen,

The silence of the flight deck,

Broken only by distant voices

Through the pilots' headsets.

Against the steady background roar,

The throaty turboprops spin their magic.


All seems suspended in space,

No hint of motion anywhere.

A sense of unreality prevails.


Yet ahead the real world beckons.

Down on the surface of the sea

A small ship struggles slowly,

Sinking in the building storm.


A dozen people fighting panic

Work against a time unknown.

Fuel is low, the engine labors,

Water rises in the bilge,

One good pump could make the difference!


"How far to go?" the pilot asks,

"On scene in forty," nav replies,

"That's hoping that their estimate,

Is somewhat closer to our own."


"Call Center now and get us down,

We need to see what's there below."

And soon the clearance echoes back,

"One three four four, descend and cruise,

Let us know when you have news,"


Slowly back the levers come,

The nose begins to fall,

The noises through the plane have changed,

The crew has sensed it all.


Now the clouds are rushing up,

And soon the plane is in them,

With a jerky roll and sudden plunge,

There's no doubt the smooth ride's done.


"Pilot to crew, listen up,

We'll be on scene in ten,

We need to run our checklist now,

And get our gear in place.

This guy ahead is in a stew,

And we are in a race."


Despite the pitching, jolting ride,

The crew goes through its drill,

Pumps and flares, lines and chutes,

Are readied for their spill.


Suddenly the scanner cries,

"I see a light at two."

This through the murky mist,

That swirls the dark night through.


Now the plane begins to bank,

Changing course anew,

"Hey there, Makua Two,

We may have you in view."


"OK Men, let's open up,

We need to drop a flare,

The ship is just ahead a bit

And we've got work to do."  

"Flare away," the first class calls,

And now the darkness fades,

A brilliant light begins to burn,

Turning gloom to day.


There ahead in a boiling sea,

The luckless vessel struggles,

Trying hard to maintain course,

Against the wind and swells.


"Let's turn downwind and set her up,

She needs  that pump right now,

And in fact we'd better rig,

 Another line to trail."


The mighty Herc starts turn to final,

Sinking slowly towards the froth,

"Call three hundred, back me up,

I'm on the gauges now."


 "Straight ahead, there she is,

Just a tad to port,

Through three hundred, airspeed on,

Slow your rate a bit."


Now the distance closes fast,

Figures show on deck,

"Let's hope they're ready to receive,

We've got to make this count."


"Drop, Drop, Drop, " the cry is heard,

The pump begins to fall,

"Pump away" the ramp man calls,

"Looking good so far."


Banking, climbing toward the sky,

Back around again,

"Just in case there is a hitch,

We'll do this one more time."


Minutes pass, the tension builds,

What's happening below?

If this won't work, what will we do,

There's not much time to go.


"Hey there, Coast Guard, Makua here,

We've got your pumps aboard,

And I'm sure you'll want to know,

That one is working forward."


Now the night is fleeting by,

The Herc has climbed back in the sky,

Silence, stillness once again

Was it only just a dream?


Renton, WA        January 1, 1997

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