Adrift but unbroken

June 12, 2011

Some of you may remember a couple of disturbing lost-at-sea stories I linked to a couple of months ago, namely The Castaways and Story of the Tokelau teenagers lost in the ocean for 51 days.

This story is in a very similar vein, except that these three US Army men, whose bomber plane has crashed into the sea, are counting on two 4' by 6' inflatable rafts to keep them alive. They're constantly fending off sharks and bullets--and sometimes both simultaneously--not to mention starvation, thirst, delusion and each other.

The three men were at sea for 43 days. Two survived.

Louie set up ground rules. Each man would eat one square of chocolate in the morning, one in the evening. Louie allotted one water tin per man, with each man allowed two or three sips a day. Eating and drinking at this rate, they could stretch their supplies for a few days. […]

Louie decided to divvy up breakfast, a single square of chocolate for each man. He untied the raft pocket and reached in. All of the chocolate was gone. He looked around the rafts. No chocolate, no wrappers. His gaze paused on Mac. The sergeant looked back at him with wide, guilty eyes.

The realization that Mac had eaten all of the chocolate rolled hard over Louie… Curbing his irritation, Louie told Mac that he was disappointed in him. Understanding that Mac had acted in panic, he reassured him that they'd soon be rescued. Mac said nothing. […]

The smallest [sharks] were about six feet long; some were double that size. They bent themselves around the rafts as they swam, testing the fabric, dragging their fins along the bottom and sides, but not trying to get at the men on top. They seemed to be waiting for the men to come to them. […]

The equatorial sun lay upon the men, scalding their skin. Their upper lips burned and cracked, swelling so dramatically that the flesh obstructed their nostrils, while their lower lips bulged against their chins. Their bodies were slashed with open cracks that formed under the corrosive onslaught of sun, salt, wind, and fuel residue. Whitecaps slapped into the fissures, generating an agonizing scalding sensation. Sunlight glared off the ocean, sending barbs of white light into the men's pupils and leaving their heads pounding. The men's feet were cratered with quarter-size salt sores. The rafts baked along with their occupants, emitting a bitter smell. […]

The [Japanese] bomber circled back for another go, and Louie tipped back into the ocean. As bullets knifed the water around him, two sharks came at him. Louie hung there, gyrating in the water and flailing his arms and legs, as the sharks snapped at him and the bullets came down. The moment the bomber sped out of firing range, he clambered onto the raft again. Phil and Mac were still unhit.

(I just can't get enough of stories like these.)

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