Trina Lane

Northern Currents


"Now put the ready 60 on the line! Put the ready 60 on the line!" the paging system blared. Jacob ran through the hangar to where the watch captain bellowed instructions as the linemen latched the small yellow tractor, affectionately known as Big Bird, to the tow bar of the MH-60 Jayhawk. A line crewman held the button that opened the hangar door while the pilots charted the position of the ship that had called in the Mayday. Tomas, the flight mechanic, and Jacob raced with their gear toward the helicopter's open door, the pilots dogging their heels. Tonight, the aircraft commander was Lieutenant Dixon. Jacob enjoyed flying with her. Their copilot, Lieutenant Marcello, was new to the crew, so he would act as primary navigator and troubleshooter. Venturing out to the gulf, they faced a challenging night for the case. The storm raging all along the Alaska coast was one for the record books. The four of them jumped in, strapping the five-point harnesses around their bodies. Through the ICS, Jacob heard the pilots run through the checklist. Then the whine of the engine and the thump of the blades became as steady as his heartbeat. He ran through his own checklist of equipment.

What they would find when they got on site was debatable. Jacob's experience in most search and rescue cases, especially in weather like tonight, was that there could be a significant difference between the reports they received and what was actually happening. He looked through the windows as they sped toward the last known location of the vessel. The air was choppy as hell, and the chopper got buffeted by wind gusts. Typically, a call went out over the airwaves for any other ships in the area to help an endangered boat, if possible. But tonight, there was nobody out there except the desperate or insane. It took them nearly forty minutes to arrive on scene. Jacob saw the fishing vessel below. It was listing to port about forty degrees, and waves broke over the pilothouse.

"She's going down, Sanders," Tomas said.

Jacob nodded. Waves that at last report were topping out around thirty-foot swells rammed into the boat. Her crew had already abandoned ship and were out in the water.

"I'm going to make a low, slow pass overhead," Dixon announced over the communication system.

There were ice floes on the surface, which made his descent into the water more treacherous. Normally, they would use the hoist to lower him when there was any debris in the water, but with the way the waves collided against each other, Jacob was afraid he would get pulled away from the target area.

"I know you don't like it, but I think I need to drop in," Jacob said.

"Fuck. I was afraid you were going to say that. Are you sure?"

"You know I'm good, Sanders, but that's going to be about a twenty-foot drop in these swells," Dixon warned through the ICS.

"I put my extra ass-padding on tonight."

Dixon put the aircraft into a hover. Tomas activated the searchlight, and Jacob did his best to spot the tiny forms of humans clinging to life in the churning waters. Jacob opened the sliding door of the MH-60 Jayhawk. The gale force winds screamed through the air, drowning out the sound from the rotors only feet above his head. Tomas directed him to come forward, and Jacob assumed a sitting position in the doorway with the gunner's belt attached to his chest. He adjusted his mask to sit more comfortably on his forehead; he hated it when the thing slid around during a jump. The churning waters of the Gulf of Alaska below looked as if they were already trying to reach up and grab him. The thirty-foot inky swells, capped with white water, gave the water the appearance of a creature foaming at the mouth. Jacob released the gunner's belt after Tomas tapped him once on the chest. He checked his equipment one last time and gave the thumbs-up signal indicating he was ready to deploy. This was the moment he loved. Adrenaline pumped through his veins. A swirling combination of fear, excitement, and confidence. The moment he learned about Coast Guard rescue swimmers, Jacob had decided it was the only job he'd be passionate about. Ten years in and he still loved it. Well, most days.

Tomas gave Jacob three taps on the shoulder. He spied the angry ocean to make sure there was no debris directly beneath him, said a quick prayer, then jumped. Gravity carried Jacob directly toward the fathomless, heaving waves. Overhead, the sky threatened to unleash another torrent of rain, snow, and ice. He hit the water with his heels first, then his ass. Despite being in the best position to prevent injury, his body hit the water with a force that rattled his bones. The bitter temperature leeched through his dry suit, stealing his breath. Above him, the blades of the Jayhawk sliced through the air, keeping the aircraft and its three remaining crew members aloft above him. The chopper had to drop him off from higher than an ideal altitude because of the height of the waves. It wasn't the first time, and probably wouldn't be the last. Jacob used hand signals to let Tomas know he was all right.

Jacob sliced through the water toward where he'd seen a sailor clinging to an ice floe. A wave crashed over him, and Jacob's lungs worked to expel the intruder while maintaining his forward trajectory. Somewhere in the icy gulf, five others waited to be rescued or had already succumbed to Mother Nature's power when their trawler capsized. But he couldn't think of them right now. For now, he had to secure the one man within his sight before whiteout conditions forced the pilot to call off the search.

A swell nearly pushed Jacob past the ice floe. Fear of the man being swept off consumed him. His vision cleared, and Jacob saw that the man still clung to the craggy edges of the berg. He finally reached the floe and came up behind the nearly unconscious man who was clinging on for life. This put his back to the waves, shielding the other man, and he hoped it would break the force of the water that rushed around his body. He immediately reached around the man's waist and grasped his belt, so that if he lost his grip, at least Jacob could support him with his forearm. He dragged the quick strop through the water and forced it around the man's chest. The horse-collar-like device gave the sailor some buoyancy in the surging waves. To keep the man from sliding out of the quick strop, Jacob put a crotch strap between his legs. Suddenly, the man thrashed, his body fighting to live as his mind panicked, unable to maintain coherent thought in its hypothermic condition. The searchlight from the helicopter blinded them from the midnight sky and undoubtedly appeared to be the only saving grace from a watery grave. Jacob doubted the sailor was even aware of his presence in the water behind him.

"Stay still. I will get you out of here."

Zero Control


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