When the helicopter started to spin out of control, she said it did exactly what you have seen them do in any number of war movies, whipping around in desultory spirals. She was bounced from one end to the other, helplessly flung forward and ripped back again by the very belt she had worn for safety.
I have imagined her back breaking each time she was thrown violently, like a rag doll against the hard, heavy metal surface of that helicopter. Twice, she said her goodbye to this life. Twice, she stared straight into the eyes of death. The first time was when she braced herself for the initial impact of crashing into the side of a mountain and the second was when the wreckage began to dislodge from the peak of the Split Mountain area of the Sequoia National Forest. As it started to plummet downward, knowing there was a 6,000 foot drop beneath her, she quickly made her peace with the world, but then it came to rest and she was still alive.
Unfortunately, two of her mates on that mission were not so lucky. They gave their lives that day.
I asked this beautiful girl, my cousin, my newly adopted niece if she ever sits at her daily office job in the oil and gas industry and laments the exciting, yet obviously dangerous life she left behind? After all, she had traveled the world and now she's in Oklahoma, having been back for three years since she first left at the age of 17. Here's what she said:
Yes! I miss that life every single day. I miss being part of something bigger than me. Going to work, not knowing what I would be doing but knowing I could go out and save a life. It was exciting and the camaraderie you have working in such a close knit group is really one of a kind. I loved putting on my flight suit every morning and just remember the thrill and pride I had each time I walked across the flight line to head out for a flight. Always hoping for a chance to use my skills and training to save someone. I knew what I was doing was dangerous and that not just anyone had what it takes to go for it, yet I was never scared. Sure in the back of my mind I knew each time I went out on a flight could be my last, but I never actually really cared or feared that.
Beyond all the fun and crazy search and rescue stuff, I also had the opportunity to be the one to take the school kids around the squadron when they came over on career days. I would take them to the F-18’s and let them get up in the cockpits and pretend they were fighter pilots. We would climb into the helicopter and set them up in our harnesses and rappel a few feet from the cabin to the ground just to get a small glimpse of what we did. What was really cool was seeing the little girls realize they could do something like that and it wasn’t just a boys world with them there just for decoration.
I am happy with where I am now. I’ve experienced so many different crazy things that most people can’t even dream about. Although I’m sad my navy life was cut short…I know it all happens for a reason and I’m happy with where my life has led me to this point. I’m glad to be close to family again even though I miss traveling. It’s nice to know that if something happens or family needs me for some reason…I can be there no problem. My body may be a lot worse off, but I know I am stronger and can make it through anything. They didn’t give me the call sign OTB (One Tough Bitch) for nothing. I also know that a bad day of work at the office….is never really THAT bad and we make our minds up to be happy.
Imagine how flattered I was when she read my blog and told me she admires MY strength. She was 21 when she crashed in the line of duty, serving her country. I don't know if I could ever compare my fortitude with hers. I have been referred to as one tough bitch at times, but it was survival of a different kind. My hope is that this brave girl and I will learn from each other. Maybe one day, she'll even teach me how to swim.
She will never have a bad day at the office like the one she did so many years ago and she has made up her mind to be happy. I love her style and I love this last photo of her as she is heading toward the starting line of her first triathlon. Sure, she is nervous but do you think a little nerves are going to get in her way?
Walk tall my precious Megan. I simply can't wait to see how the rest of your life unfolds.