1A True Story

(reading time 7 ½ minutes)

 “Today, I know I am going to find them”, Brian said at 3 AM, as he jumped out of his bed.  “What are you talking about”, asked Maegan, his wife.  For the last four days, Brian’s duty with his crew had been on a P-3 Orion Navy plane searching for two lost fishermen, in a Boston Whaler craft.  It had disappeared in the Pacific Ocean, off the coast of Hawaii.  Calculating that survival of five days at sea, in an open 18-foot whaler would not be feasible; this was to be their last day of the search.  Brian had a premonition and a vision in a dream that he would find them today.

The search strategy was to use a ladder-flying pattern. They would fly for a given distance in one direction, then reverse the direction, parallel but slightly off of the former route flying back and forth.  Either they would find the boat, or give up on this final day.

The Navy’s Orion search plane is perfect for such assignments since it’s a prop propelled plane, and can fly slowly.  The P-3 is used for finding objects or vessels in, or even under, the ocean surface.  This type of aircraft is seen frequently in the Florida skies, particularly in the Jacksonville area, where they have the training programs.  They’re equipped with the latest search equipment.  They can detect such things as heat, light, noise, motion, metal, or anything unusual that should not be floating or moving in or under the ocean’s surface.

The target was an 18-foot outboard boat for fishing, which may have already sunk, leaving nothing like flotsam or jetsam to detect.  With only enough fuel for two more legs of the ladder pattern for the plane, they were about to turn back.  Brian thought he saw something on his instruments. Almost indistinguishable, what he saw was an object approximating the size of the craft.  There was a curious black object, moving quickly and repeatedly from front to back.  When the plane moved closer and lower, the high powered observation equipment determined that is was a black dog, running up and down on a blue object.  Was it the boat?  There was no mention of a dog in the report, and the boat was white. The closer they got, the more convinced they were that it was a black dog in a blue boat.  And there may, in fact, be another boat.  How did a dog get on board this boat, and where were the two fishermen?  This was the last pass of the search.  They radioed to base for a helicopter to come to their coordinates with swimmer and rescue equipment.  Brian’s plane, now low on fuel, returned to base.

A Coast Guard rescue helicopter was dispatched.  When the copter arrived at the coordinates, sure enough, there was the boat and the dog.  The blue was actually a plastic tarpaulin that the fishermen used as a shielding cover from the sun.  In their weakened condition, after four days adrift, they had drifted off to sleep.  The noise of the barking dog and the rescue squad revived them. The copter crew dropped a line with a basket and a rescue swimmer, to lift the men aboard. The crew radioed the base and reported that they found the boat with two men and a dog on board.  The orders were men only, no dogs.  When the fishermen heard that they couldn’t take the dog, they refused to leave the boat without the dog.  The base was radioed again, and again refused. The order was, NO DOGS!  The pilot of the helicopter reported unusual radio interference, reporting that the orders were garbled.  The swimmer continued the rescue of the men.  They also included the dog, a big 70 pound black Lab.  But, the dog panicked.  He was finally forced into a basket, lowered, tied down, and lifted to the copter.  The dog was extremely anxious with the airlift and basket.  In his attempt to hold on to his rescuer, he dug his claws into the swimmer’s flesh, actually pulling some skin off of the rescuer’s back, neck and arms.  Ironically, the only injury in the rescue mission was from the dog’s claws on the Coast Guard rescuer, while being lifted to safety.

Since the helicopter pilot claimed he could not copy the transmission from the base, denying the request to save the dog, there was a routine check of the helicopter’s radio and headphones when they returned.  Strangely, the problem seemed to have corrected itself and was written up as atmospheric interference.

After this most exciting rescue, called “one for the books”, the rescue swimmer finally healed from his claw wounds. He was none the worse for the experience.  The few scars left behind all made for good conversation over a few beers with the guys, in the non-com bar on the base.

But, that’s not the end of the story.

Brian received a letter from the father of the boat owner, thanking him for finding his son and saving his life.  About two months later, Maegan, the wife of the Navy crewmember Brian who spotted the boat, was leaving her place of employment.  Next to her car was a pickup truck parked in front of a Montessori School on the parking lot.  In the truck was a black Labrador dog.  Maegan, a lover of animals, went to the truck window to befriend the dog, who had a broken leg.  When she did, she noticed that the dog’s ID tag bore the name LUCKY.  When the owner returned to the truck with her child, Maegan asked about the dog’s injuries.  The owner explained that the dog was recovering from being hit by a car and broke his leg. “Perhaps,” she said “you may have read about the miraculous sea rescue last month, where the dog and two men were adrift in a Boston Whaler and found by a Navy plane and a Coast Guard rescue team?”  “Oh yes,” said Maegan. “As a matter of fact, it was my husband on the search team who found them.  At 3 AM that final search day, I was awakened by my husband, Brian. He said that he knew he was going to find them that day.  And he did, along with one big black Labrador retriever, named LUCKY.”

Oh yes, as another footnote: Maegan is this author’s granddaughter, and Brian is her husband, the father of my great grandchildren, Brigid Lulani and Henry Christopher.  At that time they resided in the Hawaiian Islands.

This story was related many times to new recruits, back at the Coast Guard base.  The rescuing sailor’s name was Joshua, which means Jesus, and also means the savior.  The dog’s name turned out to be LUCKY, and that means just what it sounds like.  Lucky. One LUCKY dog.