I walked through the family room. Julie, redhaired and petite, laughed with her husband Okie, named for his accent and attitude. Blonde, tall Elaine listened, smiling with her husband Packrat while a mustached Burner told some kind of funny story. There was young Flash--last name Flood--with Lucy, his very young wife. She wore loose pants, a Guatemalan woven hooded shirt and dangly bead earrings—a late-to-the-scene hippie surfer chick.
Diane whispered in my ear. “I’m told the video of his ‘taking a nap’ is making the rounds at the squadron.”
Flash had just survived an unconscious ejection near San Clemente Island. The accident had been the main topic of conversation for weeks.
He’d been flying against another fighter. Flash--trying to look good at the field and impress Fog, the other plane’s veteran pilot--made a very quick turn at least a G or two above his tolerance. Neither Flash nor the G-suit could compensate quickly enough when the blood pulled out from his brain down to his feet. Flash checked his six--looked behind the plane--over his left shoulder and promptly ‘took a nap’.
“Is Steamboat Willie here yet?” I asked Diane.
“I saw him in the backyard with a beer. He’s been drinking more than usual since--”
I could believe that. Steamboat had been Flash’s RIO. With an unconscious pilot in the front seat, the fighter came off the turn doing odd things, like rolling over and falling out of the sky. Steamboat Willie, stuck in the back with no controls, tried to get Flash on the intercom. No response. The plane continued doing weird things and Steamboat Willie saw his front-seater’s head flopping from one side to the other. He called out, “Flash? Flash!” As the plane pointed nose down, passing 10,000 feet above sea level, speeding toward the center of the earth, the wise backseater yelled, “Eject! Eject! Eject!”, command-ejecting both of them. Flash didn’t come to until he floated in his chute, about to hit the water, with absolutely no clue where he was or how he got there.
As part of the accident investigation, they put Flash in a centrifuge, spun him up to a certain amount of G-force, told him to look back over his shoulder and he blacked out. In the interest of scientific inquiry--and maybe to mess with him--the investigators had the centrifuge cranked up twice more. Flash turned his head and it was, “Say sayonara, baby” all over again.
“I’ve heard the tape’s a cult hit,” I said. “Easy to believe the guys love watching Flash’s eyes roll back in his head over and over. Simple minds. Simple pleasures.”
Diane and I both laughed.
“I just can’t believe Lucy’s reaction the day of the accident,” I said, then wondered if I should have kept my mouth shut.
“What reaction?” Her eyes lit up. She loved hearing stories about other people. Any gossip she heard spread faster than germs from a sneeze.
“Never mind.” Yep, I should have kept my mouth shut. “She can’t help being nineteen.”
Diane grabbed my arm and pulled me down the hall. “We can talk here without being overheard. She’s nineteen? I thought she was still in high school.”
The party behind me had kicked into another level of laughter, beer bottles clinking and people arriving. I knew I should go do my ‘hostess with the mostest’ thingy but I also knew Diane wouldn’t let me until I told her the whole story.
I looked around to make sure no one else listened in. “Once the helo had plucked the crew out of the water and flown them to Miramar, Alex called Flash’s wife.” The guys tried to contact the next of kin before the story came from unreliable sources--like other wives.
“Fog never tells me anything,” she said.
“Alex calls me whenever anything happens, so I’ll know he’s okay even if I hear there’s been an accident. I worry more since my brother’s accident.”
Diane patted my arm, her eyes serious. She knew.
“Anyway, when Lucy answered the phone, he told her Flash’d been involved in an aircraft accident and had to eject over water. He said, ‘He’s okay and uninjured.’ He braced himself for the cries of panic, or the silent thump if she fainted following the words ‘accident’ and ‘eject’.
“I would have.”
“Cried or fainted?”
“Both,” Diane said. “I get hysterical when reminded how dangerous it all is. And ejecting’s more dangerous than flying. At the very least, both Fog’s knees would be smashed if he’s rocketed out.”
I nodded. My brother used to talk about the hazards of being six-three in a fighter jet. Unfortunately, he never got a chance to pull the handle. “Alex told her Flash’d call as soon as he could.”
“And--?” Diane prompted.
“She said, ‘Oh. Okay. Tell him I’ll be at the beach.’”
“Oh my goodness!” A laugh burst from Diane before her face softened as she looked over my shoulder toward the very young wife of the youngest lieutenant. “She has no clue.”
I nodded my head. I read somewhere that ignorance is temporary, unless it proved fatal. Now thirty years old, my last seven years of marriage, children and surviving one tragedy after another had taught me a lifetime of lessons. Maybe I could help her find her way through life with a pilot so they both survived. I vowed to get together with her soon. Maybe we’d walk the beach together and talk.