I’m in the United States Coast Guard and used to be stationed in Oregon, where I’m actually from. Being on the Pacific, there’s trials and tribulations that your average human being would break down at the thought of. We once rescued the broken body of a 3 year old little girl who’s mother threw her off the bridge because of her schizophrenia. I’ve pulled more water logged corpses out of the ocean than I care to admit, but someone has to do it.
The city where I was stationed in is steeped in local legend from ghostly figures standing on the massive bridge, peering over the side, like they’re debating whether or not their ethereal body should take the plunge. (Spoiler alert, if you’re dead, then you jumped.) Spirits on the boardwalk and hitch hiking specters are also pretty standard town lore. However, I had my own brush with the final calls for help from someone beyond the grave.
Back in 2013, when I had first joined the CG, we got a ‘mayday’ call from a sailing vessel that was making its way from San Diego to Seattle. This was in November, the coast was a breeding ground of bad weather and awful life choices, especially for sailboats, which were notorious along the west coast. So, like any good Guardsman, we loaded up in our Motor Lifeboats and headed towards the man with the now capsized vessel, a mere 10 nautical miles away from our bay.
However, when we got there, there was nothing but debris. A couple of coolers, a life ring and some rigging was the only thing left of the sail boat, and because of the incoming hurricane force storm, we had to turn around and head for home, vowing that we’d send helicopters and boats out as soon as the storm had passed. However, we knew that his chances of survival were zip to nil, since the waters were no more than about 48 degrees Fahrenheit.
With heavy hearts, we turned around and headed back for land. There’s always that ‘what if’ question in your head that makes you wonder, but at the end of the day, you know you can’t go back in time. So, later that same evening, I’m sitting in our communications center, monitoring the marine band radios, talking with my boss and best friend. Suddenly, a voice comes over the radio and to this day, typing it out or even thinking about it gives me chills.
“Help, mayday! I don’t know where I am!” the voice was so quiet and sounded like it was coming from the bottom of a well. It didn’t help that the storm was probably interfering with the radio. I picked back up, asking the vessel what his position and nature of distress was. There was never any response. My boss came into the room and replayed the message. Now, on our electronic chart, we can pull up the caller’s position. That’s what he did now. I watched as his eyes grew wide with horror and he pointed at the chart. There was the sail boat’s last known position before he had went down to rest on the bottom of the ocean floor. I can say with certainty that this was the man’s final cry for mercy before the great Pacific swallowed him up for the last time.
We searched for this man for 72 hours with life boats, helicopters and local police and fire departments and never found any other sign of this man. I’ve been in the service for over 5 years and this is still the scariest thing I’ve ever had to deal with in my life.