|Ramrod to Munster|
Tom answered him. "He said he's bailing out!" For the first time there was a note of concern in his voice.
Archie didn't answer. Then complete silence.
I raised myself to jump and the slip stream knocked me back in the cockpit. I rolled the plane over and started to drop out.
Just as I left my seat, I looked back and saw the radio antenna and stabilizer just behind me. I was afraid of hitting the tail section. I pulled back on the stick a little as I fell and cleared the stabilizer.
I pulled the rip cord. My oxygen mask went floating past my face... falling... falling head first spinning toward the water... Pop! The chute opened... Whitey (he was our parachute man) once told me every chute packed at Fowlmere, had opened... I'm glad the record was still intact!
Then a strange thing happened. My dinghy floated in the air past me. This dinghy, if you remember, is stowed in a canvas pack that you sit on. It was secured to your Mae West* by a line aptly called an umbilical cord.
The procedure for a water landing, is to loosen your chute harness, and drop out of your chute ten feet above the water. The canvas bag is carried away by the chute. The dinghy is pulled out of the pack by the umbilical cord. You hit the water. Splash... inflate your Mae West... inflate your dinghy... climb in, and wait for rescue. Simple! Right???
Wrong! I hit the water almost as soon as the chute opened. Once the harness was wet it was impossible to unfasten the buckles.
Fortunately for me, when the dinghy floated past my nose in mid air I reached over and pulled the CO2 inflation cartridges and inflated the dinghy! The whole thing took place in a matter of seconds!
I hit the water and bounced from the top of one wave to the next. I was skimming off the top of the waves like a flat rock bounces off the surface of a lake. My chute aided by the heavy winds, was pulling me for a roller coaster ride!
*Mae West: Endearing term for ones' life preserver.
When inflated it made you look like you had Mae West's figure!
Thus it was called a Mae West.
I was flat on my back, struggling to dump the chute, and swallowing the North Sea like a pint of Half and Half at the Checkers (the local Pub back at Fowlmere)! I was in real trouble and on the verge of drowning.
Then this P-51 starts to Buzz me. It was Tom! What was he doing? He made another pass and then I understood! Having seen my predicament he was trying to spill the chute with his prop wash! On the third or fourth pass he succeeded. I think he hit the chute, at any rate it worked.
I don't remember too much after that. I could not climb into the raft because the chute went down and started to pull me under. I just hung on to the raft for my life.
According to Tom, the P-47s from Air Sea Rescue dropped their four life rafts as soon as I hit the water. This caused some confusion, because there were now five rafts and five dye markers spread over twenty square miles of the North Sea. One of them was me, but which one? Tom said when they finally located me, I looked like a drowning mouse hanging on to a doughnut. I tried to wave once and let him know I was alive, but I nearly drowned.
Things were getting worse! The water was cold. I prayed, and I spoke to God. "It's up to you God. I can't think of anything else I can do." God didn't answer. He probably agreed with me.
I knew Tom would be running out of fuel soon. besides, what else could he do? He must have been reading my mind. His plane passed overhead and wagged its' wings. He was wishing me well and headed for home. The P-47s having more fuel were still there...... but for how long?
I looked up at the circling Thunderbolts (P-47s). They could not have had too much fuel left and would have to go home too. Then I would be alone. What could they do anyway? What were they waiting for?
I became aware of a change. It was a sound. An airplane engine. Different! Then there it was! A Walrus! It was an Air Sea Rescue flying boat. A twin wing, Flying Bathtub! Now he started to circle about. There was one thing I knew. He could never land in this wind nor on this water with ten foot waves! If this was Air Sea Rescues' answer to my problems, I was in deep trouble! God it's up to you!
I think that I passed out then. I was aware of the sound of a plane taxiing on the water toward me and came to. As I rose and fell on the wave crests I caught sight of the Walrus. It had landed and was heading right at me! Standing up in the hatch was an R.A.F. airman with a big smile on his face. "Here Yank catch this." He threw me a line. Don't know how I managed to grab the line, but I did! He hauled me toward the plane and grabbed me with a boat hook.
A water-logged pilot is a heavy load under normal conditions, with a parachute and heavy seas I was an impossible load. "Don't worry, " he said. "There are two ships on their way."
A few minutes later, I saw the trawler with the Union Jack flying from the stern. Then I was being pulled into a life boat. Someone gave me a rum to drink. It was warm. I realized then how cold I had been. A seaman put a blanket around me and held me in his arms, like a father holding a son.