Skipping Church

I’m skipping church because my daughter isn’t feeling well. I’m not helping her to get better, or taking care of household chores so that Teri can nurse her I’m not really sure what my logic train is, but since Alexa doesn’t feel well enough to go, I kept us all home, and now I’m hiding in the basement blogging.

Okay, it may be that I’m hiding in a more general sense.

We have two lovable puppies terrorizing the house, I owe a semester schedule to my late starting class, who just handed me a truly enjoyable set of first essays (which I gave back last week), and my regular classes gave me their essays last week, which means I owe them graded essays tomorrow. I’m having to take security and file management courses for the job I start in December. Unpaid hours and days of electronic misery, upon which my new job, which won’t quite pay for the creaky Alaska Dream Home/money pit, and our weekly forays to Red-Robin where we live beyond our means, depends.

My space opera lies fallow, badly wounded and perhaps dying on the vine, victim of unkind words by an agent I wanted but who I can’t work with, and by the fact that I must re-rack my thoughts to push writing down to tier two – stuff that I like to do, but shouldn’t obsess about since there’s no sign that I’m ever going to have an income stream from that avocation. I’ve got a bunch of agent queries out, and a whole new list of potential agents to query.

I’m not processing rejections well in two ways. One, I’m not keeping an adequate tracking sheet, so I’m no longer certain that I’ve sent queries or submissions to certain presses. I need to fix that. Two, I’m letting rejections for stupid reasons bother me for weeks, when I should just write them off. A major U.S. publisher can’t even look at Zook Country because I’m without an agent, and it’s being published in German, by a small press. I got a nice note from their slushpile editor and we went back and forth on the issue for a couple passes, but it comes down to she’s not allowed to read the manuscript because somebody in Germany liked it enough to publish a couple hundred copies – even though that version is entirely in German, and my English Language rights are completely unconstrained. Then, an agent who I had really thought would like my work rejects it after a full year for reasons that make it clear he completely missed a sub-text that every beta reader I’ve had picked up on immediately.

I’m whinging. I’m at that stage where I have enough things I ought to do that I’m sitting around talking about how busy I am rather than actually doing the work. And the sad thing is, my whole to-do list would have been minor chores back when I was on active duty.

Acknowledgments and sea stories.

I would like to thank the following people for making possible this blog, and so much more. Without their concerted efforts, I would certainly have died at sea during November of 2003.

Pilots and Crews

The HH-65 “Dolphin” rescue helicopter crew:

  • LT Robert Workman – Aircraft Commander
  • AST2 Scott Gordon – Rescue Swimmer
  • LTJG Steven Charnon – Copilot
  • AMT2 Fred Sullivan – Flight Mechanic

The C-130 “Hercules” search and rescue airplane crew:

  • LT Clint Trocchio – Aircraft Commander
  • LTJG Joshua Fitzgerald – Copilot
  • AET2 David J. Bryant – C-130 flight crew
  • AMT1 Paul E. Thomas – C-130 flight crew
  • AET2 Michael A. Lieberman – C-130 flight crew
  • AMT2 David P. Lane – C-130 flight crew
  • AMT2 Robert Pitchford – C-130 flight crew

Hawaii Air National Guard F-15 “Eagle” Pilots:

  • LTCOL William Ladd – Command Pilot
  • MAJ Phillip Rose – Command Pilo

On November 15th, 2003, I tried to fly my experimental plane from Honolulu to San Francisco. I took off in the early evening, just before sunset, and began a long climb to the cruise altitude I hoped to use during the major portion of the trip to the mainland. The plane was a Cozy canard and was built of fiberglass and foam, much as a surfboard is built. (The Rutan brothers reportedly went to Hawaii to learn surfboard making before designing the first Rutan canard airplane, the VariEze, so the fact that a linear descendant had similar design characteristics shouldn’t be a surprise).

Since I had planned on flying through the night at some point on the trip, I’d chosen to take off just before sunset and fly out the night in the early portion of the flight, when the engine hadn’t had time to do anything unfriendly. That plan didn’t work so well. I got about three hours out on my 18 hour flight, when my oil pressure started to fluctuate.

At that moment, I didn’t know if I had a real problem or an instrument malfunction, but since my oil pressure gauge was a primary indicator of engine health, I didn’t give the next step a lot of thought. I turned around, declared an urgent situation (pan pan pan pan pan pan), and began flying back toward the nearest airport, which by then was Kahului, Maui. Five minutes later, the oil pressure stopped fluctuating and dropped to nothing. Forty minutes after that, the engine threw a rod. (When the FAA finally got to inspect the engine several weeks later, it still had oil, so it was a lubricant circulation problem, not a loss of oil). The engine began to vibrate so violently that I shut it down to prevent it from tearing itself off of the airplane. I was committed to landing in the water, almost one hundred nautical miles north of Maui.

I had radioed in my exact position by GPS when the rod failed. I glided down, maneuvering into the wind and turning on my landing lights about a hundred feet above my landing altitude. Normally if you are landing on water, you land parallel to the swell, so you don’t go skipping across waves, which are hard as rocks if you hit them at 80 knots. Unfortunately, the seas, which had been forecast at 3-5 feet, then upgraded to 5-8, were (according to Rob) at about 9 – 26 feet.

There was no discernible swell or trough that I could see. Just very sloppy seas. I continued into the wind and slowed as much as I could. I don’t remember the next minute or so, but I hit hard. I dislocated my left shoulder on impact, and came out of my shoulder harness, bursting my L2 and L5 vertebrae. The canard, a good chunk of the nose, and the canopy broke off as I hit the water. I used my right hand to support my left, grabbed an attached fiberglass shard in front of me, and pulled until the left shoulder popped back into place. That is when my memory snaps back into focus. My hand held marine band radio, which I had put around my neck, was gone. My emergency bag of flares was snagged under the instrument panel, but I had my life raft to hand, in the right seat.

I threw my raft out and inflated it, more or less simultaneously unlatching my seat belt. I climbed into the raft, and laid there for a moment, hurting. I was still attached to the plane by parachute cord attached to my flare bag, which was truly snagged under the instrument panel in the passenger side. As I tried to move in and clear that, shattered fiberglass from the plane popped my raft, with one of those instantaneous deflations that speaks of a several inch hole in the raft.

I swam back into the plane, which continued to float, and activated a hand held Emergency Position Indicating Radio Beacon (EPIRB). (The marine version of an emergency locater transmitter). I also lit a strobe light, which flashed unnoticed by anyone save me for about forty more minutes.

Eight minutes after I ditched, a pair of F-15s flew overhead and dropped flares. The flares lit up the sea almost like daytime, but the search team missed me. There was an un-forecast scud layer at about 1200 feet, and no horizon below that level. Phil Rose, the F-15 pilot who eventually found me, said it was so dark below that layer that his night vision devices were almost non-functional.

Twenty minutes after I ditched, a USCG C130 Hercules piloted by a friend, LT Clint Trocchio, flew overhead. None of the search aircraft was receiving either of my two emergency locator transmitters, although the rescue coordination center repeatedly assured them that there was an EPIRB. An interesting effect I’d seen on other searches, sometimes the search aircraft doesn’t receive the emergency signal only two or three miles away, while satellites overhead pick it up, no problem. The three aircraft began to fly search patterns about three miles away from where I floated in the cozy, watching them and waving my strobe light.

One of the F-15s broke off because it was low on fuel, but the other pilot decided to stay on scene for a few more minutes. Twenty minutes later, he found me by doing expanding circles. He led the C-130 overhead, and departed, landing on fumes. Phil’s handle is Axl, and in the laundry list of people I owe my life to, he’s first. I owe my life to Axl Rose – now, how many people can say that?

The C-130 called for a helicopter, which had prepositioned from Oahu to Maui and was waiting for that call. Communications difficulties ensued, and it was the best part of three hours before the helicopter was overhead. The crew wasn’t sure I was in the plane, couldn’t see me. Fred Sullivan lowered Scott Gordon into the water with the rescue hoist, and Scott swam over to the floating wreckage. I swam out to meet him, and his first words when he saw me were, “Hell of a way to start your retirement, Mr. Swears.” I knew everybody on both USCG Aircraft, and had been one of Rob Workman’s mentors as he went from Copilot to Aircraft Commander in that unit. Thank God he hadn’t listened to only me: he must have had some good mentors as well.

While I waited for the helicopter to arrive, not knowing if it was really coming, I was fighting shock and in a lot of pain from my back, so I couldn’t maneuver around enough in the cockpit to get to that emergency bag. The cockpit filled with fuel from the two extended range tanks in the back seat, so I sat in a mix of AVGAS and salt water for three hours awaiting rescue. (I spent two weeks in white muslin bandages, having them peeled off twice daily and receiving a coat of silver sulfadiazine for the chemical burns. My outer layer of skin sloughed off and regrew during that period, postponing the spinal fusion surgery).

For three hours, I prayed pretty steadily. Not so much to live as to be able to be a good dad to my four year old daughter and unborn son.

My name is William. My father’s name is William. As I floated in dark so complete that I could see the planes circling three miles away, and stars above, but not my hand in front of my face, and as my body temperature dropped to an estimated 89 degrees, just barely conscious, I had a feeling I had an angel sitting on my shoulder.

I’m a Protestant. I’m not supposed to believe in patron saints and guardian angels. My wife believes that I was talking to the baby who would be born three months later. I know that I was talking to an angel, though I knew absolutely nothing about what he might be patron of. When I saw my six month pregnant wife two days later, I asked her if we could name our son Michael.

Building a mosque and cultural center

Al-Queda is an evil empire on a level that makes Blofeld look like a Bond Girl. That group of misfits blew up a symbol of world solidarity on U.S. soil, and killed more than three thousand people in the one blow. I think that the important issue on that is intent rather than result. IF the WTC had been fully occupied when the planes struck, the body count could have been more on the level of 50,000 people. Al-Queda should be hunted down, root and branch, and get the Guy Fawkes treatment. Any decent human being would feel that way. Yeah, Guy Fawkes was sentenced to be slow hung, drawn and quartered alive, then burned. Osama Bin Laden should probably be skinned, slow hung, etc. I’d like a Bin-Laden wallet or pair of boots, myself. Something I could stroke, and reverently think, “You got off easy, sucker.”

‘m completely unsurprised that an Islamic mullah wants to build a Mosque near ground zero. He probably feels that it is a moral imperative, as decent human beings, for the Moslems of New York to show solidarity with the other decent human beings who mourn those lost during 9/11.

It would be a good idea if we pulled back from the impulse to make 9/11 a black and white event, with Islam the axis of evil, and Christianity or America the noble victims. Although it’s easy to get into anti-Islamic rhetoric after an event like that, the urge is misdirected. Islam did not attack the World Trade Center, a relatively small but very violent group of terrorists did. This isn’t Moslems VS Christians for rulership of the world, it’s recidivists trying to make the world a safer place for their own extreme views, and Americans turning it into a religious war because that is simple, and plays to our very Eurocentric prejudices.

I could make a laundry list of entrenched American prejudices against all things Middle Eastern, but all I’ll comment on is Iran, since I’ve lived there, and have found reason to study its very recent history. People are still complaining about that thug Ayatollah Khomeini causing 54 Americans to be held captive for over a year in 1979-1981, and suggesting that it was caused by some non-specific grudge against the U.S., because we have so much neat shit. That event happened 31 years ago. We’re happy enough to remember that. Look back to twenty-six years prior to that event, though. The Shahanshah of Iran had recently been thrown out by popular vote in favor of a man named Mosaddegh. The U.S. CIA brokered a revolution deposing that democratically elected, anti-socialist leader of Iran in favor of the pro-American but politically unpopular Pahlavi dynasty. We can remember and complain about the evil Khomeini who imprisoned but did not kill embassy personnel, but we completely fail to consider the possibility that, from Khomeini’s point of view, he was securing representatives of a power that had brokered the overthrow of a popularly elected government in favor of a military dictatorship/royalist empire in his country, earlier during his lifetime. That 26 years was so long ago for Americans that it had already vanished into prehistory. It’s probable that Mosaddegh was overthrown by the U.S. at British request because BP was angry with him for nationalizing the Iranian oil industry. It wasn’t intended as an anti-Muslim act, but it has almost certainly been remembered more keenly by the largely Islamic victims of our clandestine action than it has been by us. And the act is emblematic of U.S. actions in developing nations around the world. When you pull shit like that, it comes home to roost.

A mullah in New York wants to show solidarity with the West over a horrible act of terrorism. Considering the overall body count differentials between U.S. actions in the Middle East, and all Middle Eastern actions against U.S interests, that’s an act of forgiveness that could be seen as almost Christ-like.

Somebody wants to shout me down, lay claim that I think the WTC bombing was somehow justifiable.I don’t; see my first take on a favorable outcome for Bin-Laden. But I can’t help noticing that the U.S. hasn’t made much effort to take a position on the moral high-ground in the Middle East, which must lead irrevocably to a lot of Middle Easterners not placing much faith in our good intentions. Maybe it’s our own lack of good intentions that cause so many of us to deny the possibility of good intentions on the part of a group who wants to build a place of worship near the sight of a great tragedy.