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Posted: Dec 8 2005, 09:25 AM
Special Projects Director
Group: CCForum ADMIN
Member No.: 1
Joined: 20-February 04
Another great story, this time entered by mcfolks
Missing… Presumed Lost
July 3rd, 1998
Traverse City Michigan
The sun was high overhead as he stepped outside for a break from his class, and it was hot. He looked at his watch, and then out over the lawns and grounds of Northwestern Michigan College. The college sat squarely at the base of the Mission Peninsula, between East Bay and Bryant Parks of Traverse City, Michigan. The buildings that housed the Great Lakes Maritime Academy were small and older, but they were proudly staffed with dedicated people.
He looked forward to the day when the promised classrooms would actually be on the water, and not stuck inland with the closest water being the lake breezes that blew in from the twin bays.
He edged up under a large umbrella at the outside break area, and watched as an employee mowed the lush green grass. He thought of how he would like to do that, having only to mow, trim and then see his results. It all looked so simple. As the mower scurried back and forth, he could smell the workers cigarette smoke as he passed by. He had quit smoking several years ago, but still allowed himself that little pleasure of the smokes aroma, and he sat quietly in the shade and breathed it deeply, along with the fresh cut grass.
The west arm of the Grand Traverse Bay stretched north for several miles, and the luxurious homes that dotted the beaches and rising slopes were only a hint of the year long activities. Winter skiing, summer boating and diving, and fall colors were only the beginning of the attractions. Old Ford Island sat squarely at the far north end of the expanse of blue-green water, where he had more than once taken his jet-boat and spent the day on its quiet shore. The island was now public, having been passed on to the county by the Henry Ford family.
When the mower turned the corner, he could hear the far off summer boaters and jet skiers churning the bay, with all of the excitement of Northern Michigan vacationing. He was anxious for his last class of the day to be done, and thought only about getting to his part time job at the airport. His part job of fueling and helping service the planes at Cherry Capitol Airport also allowed him to get to know the pilots and instructors. His love of flying and just being near the aircraft was enough to hold him between his occasional flight lessons. He felt like a kid near the airplanes- especially the WWII warbirds. He couldn’t explain it. It’s just the way he was put together, and his working at an airport now was a dream come true.
After the class ended, he grabbed his class materials, got into his faithful pick up truck and made his way out to the main artery to the bountiful waterfront.
The traffic in town at 5 p.m. was bad enough, but this was the first week of July, and the National Cherry Festival was in full swing. “Look at this” he said low under his breath. Of all the days to be late for work, this was NOT the day.
A traffic accident had brought the traffic to a standstill, and nothing was moving in any direction. He was scheduled to work as soon as he could get there, to help fuel the various aircraft, and put them in hangars overnight for the annual air show the next day. The Navy’s Blue Angels were making their traditional 4th of July appearance, along with a Russian MiG 21 Fighter, and a jet that he wanted to get a flight in, an Aero L-39C ‘Albatross’. They were doing a check flight in a little while, and if he timed it right, he could take a hop in the Czechoslovakian built trainer, and add the flight to his student pilots log book.
Damn! He muttered- ‘this will take forever’. It wasn’t forever, but it was long enough.
Just before 7 o’clock he drove past the north gate of the airport and into a parking space close to the air service. As he got out of his truck, he heard the unmistakable roar of a military jet engine reaching full take off thrust. Moments later after straining to get a glimpse of the runway between the hangars, he could see the tell tale exhaust rising north over the Mission Peninsula, and the MiG was a receding dot in the sky. If the Russian fighter had taken off as scheduled, the L-39 would already be in the air, having been scheduled to take off 30 minutes earlier. Now, they were BOTH in the air and long gone.
He had no way of knowing it, but the traffic snarl that made him curse and pound his steering wheel had just saved his life.
At just under 8,000 feet, the L-39C Albatross pilot Jack Bergmann throttled back the power and asked his passenger in the front seat how he was managing. “Outstanding” was the grainy electronic response over the helmets intercom.
“We’re below 10,000 feet, so no oxygen for now”, Jack relayed. “We’ve been approved for a sightseeing flight. Anything in particular you want to see?”
“Head northeast, and follow the shoreline. There’s something you shouldn’t miss” he replied.
The steady rushing hiss heard inside the cockpit masked the noise that everyone else on the ground was hearing, making them stop to look up. Even though he had flown in jets for several years, this was still a treat, and since the scheduled passenger didn’t show, he thought himself lucky, and relished the last minute offer to take the ride.
Modern day jet engines lack the torque that was so dominant in WWII piston engine powered fighters. It made them tricky and an outright challenge to fly. He admired what fighter pilots did during the war. He remembered stories of F4U ’Corsair’ pilots in the Pacific that would jam the throttle forward, and actually snap roll their planes and lose control because of the massive torque from the twin rowed radial powerplants.
The acceleration and response to the controls of the L-39 were flawless and straight-forward, and he grinned. Manufactured by Aero Vodochody, the Czech built trainer was a steady and solid airframe ‘platform’ for teaching intermediate pilots the skills necessary before letting them near the advanced aircraft in the Russian arsenal. Bergmann was a skilled and competent pilot, having hundreds of hours in this type. Having flown for the same owners since the ‘Albatross’ came to the United States, it afforded him an intimacy with the graceful bird.
The tower at Traverse City Airport came over the speaker, and called for a location. Bergmann replied that ‘November 7868 Mike’ was less than 30 miles northeast of the field.
Traveling at over 300mph, they approached the landmass of the lower peninsula of Michigan in a matter of minutes.
“See the bridge?” the passenger asked. “There, off to the right”. Jack turned his head slightly, and banked the agile trainer, dipping the starboard wing gently.
There in full view was the Mackinac Bridge. Finished in 1957, and spanning over five miles, it linked Michigan’s Lower Peninsula “mitten’ to the Upper Peninsula. “I’ve been over that bridge a hundred times…. it never ceases to amaze me”. Occasional reflections could be seen winking skyward from the windshields of the tiny cars, trucks and motor homes as they inched north and south in the afternoon sunshine that now bathed the west side of the superstructure.
“What’s next?’ the passenger asked.
“How about some stick time?” Bergmann knowing he was dangling a carrot.
“I thought you’d never ask.”
After switching a few toggles to read for dual instruction, the aircraft easily responded to the second pilot now flying her. This arrangement had the second pilot or student in the front of the aircraft, and the instructor seated to the rear. The rear seat still offered a fantastic view.
“Let’s make a slow turn to the left, and head back along the north shore. Remember to keep your nose up in the turn”.
The passenger thought to himself and grinned. ‘I couldn’t have said it better myself’.
Almost 7,000 feet below, the 42 foot First Edition, a 1952 Chris Craft cabin cruiser was making its way east across the Straights of Mackinac. At a leisurely 8 knots, they would be under the bridge in a few moments, and the skipper glanced at the gauges for the twin Chrysler 6 cylinder engines. The restored wooden classic had departed with 5 onboard from Charlevoix for a 4th of July rendezvous with friends on the popular Mackinac Island.
One of the passengers looked up at the bridge, and observed the jet, not being able to hear it over the steady drone of the engines and wind rushing over the deck.
“Hey” she said, as the aircraft began to bank westerly. “I didn’t know jets left a trail flying that low”.
The skipper eased his head back and around the bridge canopy and squinted in the late afternoon sun. “They don’t… I think its smoke”, and then the jet disappeared, fading into a light cloud cover.
They all concluded that the smoke must have been part of the jet’s air show display and turned their thoughts to preparing for putting in at the island, and where they would go for dinner. Only later did the skipper think it unusual that the smoke trailing the jet was black.
As the jet turned west over Brevoort Lake, the passenger came over the intercom.
“Yeah?”, as he enjoyed the grandeur of the sky.
“The stick felt a little heavy in the turn…is the gauge correct on the hydraulics, or does this one here read a little low?” knowing they should read identical.
With the afternoon sun, the trailing smoke had been hidden from view, and the jets shadow was directly behind and below them. As he switched the controls back to single pilot command, he turned the aircraft to the south heading out over open water, and as he looked back behind them, the hair on the back of his neck bristled.
Smoke! And it was getting thicker.
He snapped back to the myriad of controls and gauges in front of him. The temperature gauge now showed in the red, and hydraulic pressure had plummeted. He knew there was trouble, and had to get down…NOW! He had no time to curse the glitch in the systems that were failing them.
His altitude would be his best friend, allowing him to descend gradually, but with no hydraulic pressure, he would have to figure out where to put down… and it would be tricky. The jet had the ejector seats ‘pinned’, and were non-functional. This was common is the civilian versions of military jets now in private owners hands. And there were no parachutes.
He couldn’t tell for sure as the gauges were spitting and jumping sporadically, but his experience told him about 6,000 feet. Good! What about his speed? 200mph… Maybe?
Not great, but his estimate would have to do, as the open water gave no landmarks or mile markers to gauge it.
He badly needed all the airspeed he could get, and it had been gradually bleeding off. The turbojet temperature climbed higher and higher, and he knew too, that at lower altitudes the jet burned more fuel, and the engine ran hotter.
From the preflight and area charts, he knew that Beaver Island was ahead, but it had no strip long enough to land the gradually slowing and sinking Albatross.
It would be Traverse City or nothing. He needed as much straight line distance as possible to land, and the available emergency vehicles would be a Godsend.
If not Traverse, then give him some dirt, grass, ANYTHING!
He put the jet in a shallow descent, and let gravity give him back the speed he had been losing.
OKAY! Almost 300 mph, as near as he could figure!
They passed over Beaver Island and it disappeared beneath them in a few seconds, and they faced the open water again.
The gauges were now completely useless, and the unknown gremlins had all but gobbled up and fatally crippled the aircraft.
A momentary silence surprised them, and then came shaking and shuddering. A sickening grinding erupted aft, as the groaning turbojet engine seized and entered its death throes. The impellers that had spun faithfully for the last desperate minutes began to shred to pieces, and then more vibrations. Red hot shards cut through the thin aluminum skin all around the top of the fuselage behind the cockpit, and all that remained was a charred and burned out mess.
Not an ounce of thrust remained.
The once graceful trainer was now a stone in the air, and they braced themselves for the inevitable… all within sight of land.
Traverse City Control Tower (ACTC) reported they spoke with the pilot at 6:44pm, and he gave his location as 27 miles northeast of the airport, and that he would call when he was within five miles of the airport.
He was never heard from again.
After the brief radio message, the plane was tracked turning west traveling 300 mph, and ACTC tracked N7868M to just over 30 miles out.
Radar contact was lost for a few moments, and then a fast moving ‘primary target’ appeared, believed to be the L-39. It was tracked to a position nine miles north of South Fox Island, and then there was nothing…. it just wasn’t there.
Just before 8:00 pm the U.S. Coast Guard initiated search and rescue procedures, along with the Navy, Michigan State Police, local law enforcement, and Canadian air and sea rescue resources.
Over 2,300 square nautical miles were searched, from the southern shore of the Upper Peninsula, to as far south as Frankfort. The islands northwest of the Grand Traverse Bays, including the waters near and around the Fox, Manitou and Beaver Islands yielded nothing.
There was no trace of them or the plane …. anywhere.
The exhaustive search lasted until 10:30PM the next night, 28 hours after the plane had vanished from the sky.
There were reports of sightings from as far east as The Mackinac Straits and west to Manitou Island. Even a sighting near Brevoort Lake, northwest of the Bridge in the Upper Peninsula was investigated.
The next day, an oil slick and some debris were reported in Lake Michigan, and a 41 foot Coast Guard rescue vessel out of Charlevoix responded, and found no traces. It was determined to be seaweed.
The following summer, a sonar expert claimed to have found an object near the last reported location. He reported that his side scan sonar search detected a ‘cylindrical object’ in 120 feet of water, but it could not be confirmed as the crash wreckage of the missing jet.
In June of 2000, a U.S. Navy mine hunting ship, the USS Kingfisher spent 12 hours searching again, this time with more powerful equipment, and still no results.
The state governments of Michigan and Wisconsin responded to petitions they received for more action, but nothing could be located.
The plane and occupants were STILL missing and presumed lost.
On December 2, 2001, the National Transportation Safety Board added the final entry on the L-39’s fate simply as: Undetermined.
The NTSB had closed the books on them.
There was one person left to try again, and he could not close the book just yet.
End Part 1
Posted: Dec 8 2005, 09:26 AM
Special Projects Director
Group: CCForum ADMIN
Member No.: 1
Joined: 20-February 04
It’s been said that people in law enforcement have described their job as 99% routine, and 1% sheer terror.
He was continually haunted by that analogy every time he thought about what people must experienced just before a crash or sinking, knowing what was coming.
He knew, too, that families needed facts, and to have closure.
Even if it’s years later.
In researching ships, sailors and families from documents, it can only be imagined what the faces looked like and what their lives meant. Maybe an occasional daguerreotype or drawing surfaced, or maybe an obscure passage in a diary or a long lost letter to a loved one was all that remained.
This was different.
These were faces from the here and now, and they were here only moments ago.
He could not let their moments pass unnoticed.
The phone rang and rang on the night stand, and it finally ended with a forced “Hello?”
“Hey, Skip….This is C. W. I got your message!” he half shouted.
“Glad you could call … it’s been two days. Where have you been?” he responded sleepily.
“Been south, helping my boy move in to his new house. Have the arrangements made?” he asked.
“Just waiting to hear from you….is Max coming?”
“You bet! We can shove off tomorrow morning if you want” he boasted. “Be there by late afternoon”.
“Okay, I’ll finalize everything” he said yawning.
C.W. Sweetland, and Gene ‘Max’ Maxwell had been with him in the Michigan State Police, and they had served together for many years.
After graduating from the Academy, they were assigned to the same post, and it was inevitable that they would become close. Even to this day, they could count on each other, as long as it wasn’t illegal.
They always joked that if it was illegal, they would only have to think about it for a little while.
A man could have no better friends.
These excursions were no different. With both of them retired and in their different realities, a ‘water weekend’ was another reason for the three of them to get together, and this time would be no exception.
NUMA had been requested through channels to use their tremendous talents and resources to search, but any attempts were continually postponed. Their limited time and experts were needed for bigger and more sensitive government and international matters. Since the Navy and local agencies exhausted their efforts and found nothing, this particular request was not high in NUMA priorities.
It wasn’t that they wouldn’t help, they couldn’t help.
The three of them knew that they would be on their own this time out.
C.W. was a veteran of 4 outings, and this was to be Max’s first. He had heard enough of the stories, and wanted to see for himself what all the hoopla was about.
He was game enough, but still a little shy of water.
In lieu of the exotic aqua turquoise NUMA planes, ships and vehicles Pitt had unlimited access to, these ruffians pulled up to the new brick building in a rough looking pick up truck, and it fit them perfectly.
Meeting at the new Great Lakes Maritime Academy, in Traverse City, Skip Mentzer was waiting for them.
They exchanged the standard barrage of non-genuine salutations and insults.
It was a grand reunion.
“The message said we‘re heading to Fox Island?” C.W. asked.
“A jet went down in 1998, the day before the air show at the Cherry Festival”, he replied.
Max piped in “I remember that. It was a MiG wasn’t it?”
“Close…. it was a Russian trainer. It vanished off the radar, and both occupants with it.
“Radar reports give a decent location to start, but it could be a couple of days on the water. You got anything else going on?” he quizzed, knowing they were eager to help.
C.W., the taller of the two replied “Our feet have wings for you, sahib” as he grinned and bowed his head. Max just rolled his eyes skyward and sighed.
They made their way past several academy boats on display, some like new and others in various states of disrepair, having endured the endless cycle of being taken apart and reassembled again for academy classes.
They walked down the pier, making small talk about families and lives as they went.
“Wait a second…” Max quizzed as he eyed a half built and questionable hull.
“What kind of boat are we using? A big one?” giving Mentzer a prying, sideways glance.
“That one, of course” Mentzer said proudly.
Both looked up, and for a moment it looked as if their knees would buckle.
“THAT? You’ve got to be kidding? How big a ship is that? What is it... a DESTROYER?” with their jaws hanging.
The former Navy surveillance ship USS Persistent loomed in front of them. Now named ‘State of Michigan’, the refurbished training ship was moored at the north pier, broadside to their disbelieving eyes. With her 225 feet pristine green hull and white bridge deck reaching 50 feet high, it was an impressive sight. She carried a standard compliment of 15 crew and officers, and with only two instructors it could handle up to 80 cadets on weeklong academy training ‘missions’.
“Well, that would work, but I had something a little smaller in mind…. this way, guys”.
The 30 foot Defender had been delivered two days earlier from the factory in Quebec, and was the latest design in rigid bottom inflatable boats. Being a civilian version of what the US Coast Guard and other overseas rescue services were currently using, it was a design that was tried and true.
It looked like a hull with a raft and cabin sitting on top.
“Direct from the factory, but it’s only a loaner”, and Mentzer beamed. “I still have some pull around here, you know”, having secured its’ use from its manufacturer that was eager for a favorable review.
Even if this latest search attempt did not pan out, the PR would be priceless to the company, and they were more than happy to let them use it.
It would be ideal. With a beam of just under 10 feet, and a draft of less than 3, it could reach plane in 3 seconds.
Powered by twin 225 HP Yamaha outboards, it would top out at 65MPH. On top of the hull was the long Kevlar inflatable tubing that gave it the look of a raft. The tubes were actually 9 separate air chambers, allowing that if one of them got punctured and lost air, it would not affect it.
An appreciative Max figured it was just that much more air to keep them all afloat, but still eyed the bigger ship ‘State of Michigan’.
The side scan sonar was new too, and was a 500 KHZ unit. It had a higher frequency than other units, but was limited to a narrower ‘look’. The lower bands of 50 to 200KHZ were decent, but the resolution was not as sharp.
It was a trade off.
With a narrower ‘look’ pattern or ‘beam’, and being towed at 20 to 30 feet down, the unit would scan to a depth of more than 200 feet easily.
The factory representative that delivered the boat gave him a check ride, and the boat and sonar unit tested perfectly.
If they couldn’t find anything, it wouldn’t be because of the boat.
C.W. and Max looked steadily at the slowly bobbing workhorse.
Max interrupted and asked if it had a refrigerator.
“It does, as long as you bring your own ice” Skip answered.
They laughed, and at that point, Mentzer knew he had the right crew for the job, and they would be alright.
They climbed on board and duly fawned over the various mounts, radios and navigation installations, and were convinced that this was going to be a serious endeavor.
“This is loaded for bear” said Max.
Then Skip paused and said “This is important”.
After passing instructions on to a nervous cadet duty officer, Mentzer gave his two companions directions to the local accommodations just on the edge of town.
He had offered them rooms at his own humble abode, but they graciously declined. He had the inclination they would be better suited to a motel if they wanted to try a little local night life. There was still lot of days and nights to go if they wanted to stay with him.
Actually, it was more likely they would have to stay with him after they got booted out of the motel and black listed. He shook his head and grinned. They climbed into their truck, and he could hear the two of them chipping at each other. He swore that Groucho and Chico Marx were alive and well, and as he waved, they were off to the motel.
Mentzer was tired, but couldn’t sleep. The analogy kept playing back to him in his mind. As he finally dozed in that place between sleep and awake, the alarm started its’ incessant beeping, and all too soon, daylight was streaking in.
He knew that what he was doing today was important.
They were a few minutes late, and stowed their gear forward, trying to balance their weight to keep the boat in trim. C.W. had his arms full and dutifully asked “Where’s the ‘fridge?”
A last minute trip to the local supermarket yielded a variety of refreshments, along with a bag of ice.
Mentzer had provided the sandwich fixings.
Then he saw it.
“Bottled WATER?” he said incredulously.
“I guess we’re getting older and smarter” Max smirked.
“Don’t worry. We’re covered for the return flight” C.W. said reassuringly.
Before getting underway, he laid out the trip, and informed the academy of the plan and coordinates.
To see them off now on the dock was Captain Doug Scott. He reminded them to be sure to follow the plan, “and if it changes, notify us ASAP.”
The seasoned instructor and diver grinned as he thought of what a rescue by his cadets would do to their aging egos.
With all on board, Skip opened the chart book, doubled checked it, and punched in the coordinates for the GPS. The weather was clear, and the water was like glass.
The west bay had a new weather buoy, and atmospheric and lake conditions being relayed to NOAA every few minutes. The forecast was for clear skies and light winds.
The twin engines started easily, and the boat eased out smoothly, leaving only a gentle hint of movement on the glassy surface.
A gentle forward, turn, then throttle, and the boat planed faithfully, as if on cue.
Max shouted over the twin outboards.
“Tell me again why we can’t take that BIG one!”, as the T/S STATE OF MICHIGAN fell behind them, and they were off for the open waters.
As they passed the Mission Point lighthouse, C.W. had to shout over the rush of wind and outboards.
“Where do you want to start at?” as he sought the refuge of the cabin and helm.
He motioned to them, and they both squinted and bent over facing a small chart.
“The tower at the airport got a radar track just before they went down, right here”, pointing to the same location he’d programmed in to the navigation earlier.
“I figure we’ll start there- in the middle, and start a NNE to SSW series of lanes, always keeping Beaver and North Fox Island in sight. If one island is in front of us, the other will be behind us. That’ll help us keep a reference besides the GPS. If the jet was on a southerly heading, we might get something sooner with this pattern, instead of running the search lanes east to west.
“A later side scan reported what could have been some possible wreckage not too far from the radar point, at 120 feet. Since we’ve got more time, we’ll start where he left off.”
“Did anyone check out the wreckage?”
“The marine archeologist that located it passed all the images and coordinates to the State Police. It had the shape of an old railroad tank car. A ‘cylindrical object’ I think he said”
Max quickly asked “How in the world would a railroad car end up way out in the middle of a lake?”
Mentzer told of the early days, and the Pere Marquette Railroad, how they would ship an entire load of railroad cars complete with the engine across the lakes by ferry.
“Remember, that before the Mackinac Bridge was built, there were only the ferries to get things across the water. Large facilities like at Ludington were a main loading point to get across to Wisconsin. Now, they mainly handle car and truck traffic. Their ferries are still running to this day, crossing in 4 hours. There’s another new high speed one gets you across in 2 ½ hours, but if the lake’s rough, it can be a real corker!”
Max felt a little squeamish, but continued to be attentive.
“The ferries moved a lot of traffic, and now have the benefit of years of design improvements to make them even safer.
Mentzer continued, entrancing his odd couple.
“In the early days, they didn’t think so much about the design of the loading doors.
“There was one particular ferry that sank, the ‘Pere Marquette’ #18 that’s never been found. In the face of a storm and high waves, they believe that the loading doors gave way, allowing waves to swamp the lower levels. The crew actually managed to roll off and dump the railroad cars overboard, in an attempt to lighten the ship. If one of the tanker cars was sealed up tight enough, and had nothing in it, maybe it was buoyant enough to gradually get to where it now sits… appearing as the ‘cylindrical object’ seen on the side scan.
“The sonar expert said it could have been a railroad car, but he never heard back after passing on the information. They may have eliminated it as being too big for jet wreckage after comparing it with the Navy results from the ‘Kingfisher’.
“Either way, I figure that’s as good a place as any to start”.
Once they arrived at the pre-fed coordinates, they methodically performed the task of sweeping the lake bed, lane upon lane, always having the two solid landmasses for reference.
The side scan worked flawlessly, and lived up to expectations. The oversized LCD display screen was hooded, and had been turned to face out, so they could all see it.
First north east to Beaver Island…. then turn to port and to a reverse heading, adjusting out 100 yards, and then back again.
On the third pass, the screen made out the image of the object scanned a couple of years earlier.
“There’s something”, and the three of them sat mesmerized as the shape materialized on the display.
As before, the object appeared to be sitting upright in 122 feet of water, and had a slight disc shaped bulge. The image grew to full size.
“That’s’ where the fill cap would be”, they surmised, and they stared for several more minutes, hoping that something else would show up to change their minds.
After 6 1/2 hours with sandwiches and cold beers all around, the constant drone of the engines was becoming mind numbing. They would alternate running on each engine, switching on the hour to save fuel, and keep a steady 4 to 5 knots. They knew that instead of letting the speed creep up, it was easier to run on one outboard than to hold back two.
Turn after turn, with one at the helm, and one on the monitor. It was an efficient system, but they were still coming up short.
An occasional rise in the floor and large rocks made for an interesting look, but it’s not what they had come for.
“If all that’s left of the jet are little pieces, will this thing pick them up?” Max asked, having finally gotten his sea legs.
“It should if the pieces are big enough. The resolution is high, the beam is right, and it’s metal. Wood can absorb a lot of the sonar signal … maybe half to three quarters of it, and we could miss something. Metal should reflect it all back, or most of it anyway.”
C.W. stretched and sat up from his snoozing on the long bench inside the cabin. Mentzer thought of how his great frame and talent had earned him his scholarship to play defensive tackle at Arizona State, and he could probably still hunt bear with a stick.
“Any luck, there Little Joe?” C.W. drawled in his best Hoss impression.
“What would keep it from NOT reflecting?” Max continued, showing a renewed interest.
“If the wreckage is under a lot of silt it would”.
C.W. yawned and replied “It would read just like that” and he tapped on the display screen. “Lots of nothing”.
“What about one of those gizmo metal detector things?”
“Don’t have one. Besides, magnetometers are designed and built to detect ferrous metals like iron and steel. Our bird is mostly aluminum. If the engine and some other components survived in big enough pieces, the magnetometer could work. We’ll just have to use what we have for right now”.
The day was a bust, but it was good to be with his friends.
Their initial queasiness had settled down, and they were all just a little pink from the August sun. The last turn at the southern end was documented and logged, so that it could be resumed from the exact spot.
Wonderful invention this thing called GPS.
The loose gear was stowed, and the sonar tow fish was reeled in and secured. Mentzer opened his cell phone and speed dialed a number from the tiny screen knowing that they were close enough to shore to connect to a tower. After the brief conversation, he closed the phone and put it away, and the two sat wondering who he had called.
Mentzer gave them a polite smile.
“Next stop is dinner for three. It’ll be ready in an hour. I think you’ll like it” he said.
Max and C.W. smiled at each other, knowing that Mentzer again was true to his word, and really had made arrangements.
With his companions seated, he adjusted his hat, started the second engine and headed for home.
He was already thinking about tomorrow.
In the same building that contained the Maritime Academy, was a second wing to the east. The three levels were divided by a large floor to ceiling expanse of ultra-violet blocking glass, to protect the various maritime and lake artifacts that were proudly displayed in the massive slate foyer.
The east wing was the new home of the NMC Culinary Institute, and was staffed by nationally renowned chefs and staff, who were now passing on their world class skills. There was nothing in the world of restaurants and fine dining that could not be matched here.
From elegant catered dinners for 500, to a romantic evening for 2, it was here.
And it was waiting for them.
Having been alerted by phone to the trios arrival, the head chef and longtime friend had prepared a window table for them, giving them a view of the gorgeous locale with its’ prerequisite deepening sunset.
Normally staffed by the culinary students that were learning worldly cuisines, the institute was closed for the semester break, and they would have free run of the top floor restaurant and bar.
After refueling at the neighboring marina, Mentzer returned to the ample slip across from the T/S State of Michigan. They secured the boat in stern first, and made her ready for the morning. Satisfied that all was in order, Mentzer located the chart book, and they made their way to the institutes’ rear foyer doors.
There they were met Karen Mohr, who had earlier received Mentzers phone call, and they were pleased to see each other.
“We appreciate this, Karen.” Mentzer said, being genuinely happy to see her pretty face. It was just the boost they all needed after the long day on the water with only each other to look at.
“It’s nothing. The students are gone, and there’s plenty of food leftover from their final exams.”
He introduced C.W. and Max to her, and was pleased they presented themselves as perfect gentlemen, the kind their mothers had always hoped they would be.
As they made their way up the foyer staircase, they paused to look at the displays and charts adorning the walls.
She continued up the stairs in front of them.
“Actually, I’m getting ready for a local catering job for the college. I’ve got a few students here from in town on break. They’re helping me get things ready.”
After a short hallway, they opened a set of heavy oak doors, and stepped into the institutes’ luxurious dining room.
They were immediately struck by the impressive size and charm. At the west end was the lounge, complete with nautical theme, model ships, and a bookshelf displaying classic works of the sea. The table she had waiting for them provided the premium view of the bay.
And it was all theirs.
“You’re in luck… we had a cancellation” she said jokingly, and they all looked around the empty room, as they seated themselves.
Feeling right at home, they immediately relaxed.
“What do you feel like this evening, gentleman?”
As if on cue, Max and C.W. looked around, not believing that she could be talking to any one at the table.
“Gentlemen?” they replied in unison.
“Do you have any of your famous prime rib?” Mentzer asked.
“As a matter of fact, I do. All around, I presume?”
The three eagerly accepted, and Mentzer ordered a local microbrew for all of them.
She made her way to the bar, and returned to them with a tray of beer, and they toasted to lost loves, and better luck tomorrow.
Max silently gave thanks for getting back safe and dry.
Clearing a small spot on the large table, Mentzer pulled out the chart book, and tapped his finger on their days work.
“Tomorrow we’ll finish the western edge of the search area, then go back and start to the east from the original location.”
The two looked at the chart to confirm what they had searched earlier, and in looking up, they caught Mentzer looking out at the first low stars of the evening.
They each looked at him, and they knew he was now lost to the world in his thoughts.
They were right.
His mind kept playing that scene over and over, and it was just as intense as when he was trying to sleep.
He knew the water was hiding something, and it was out there waiting for them.
They savored their ice cold ale, and before long Karen reappeared with three large dinner plates. The two inch thick prime rib was fork tender and immense. The local morel mushrooms were prepared to perfection, complimenting the large steaming baked potatoes.
It was a meal fit for a royalty, and Mentzer knew that his deserving friends were royalty.
After finishing, they thanked her profusely. As Max and C.W. were making their way to the double doors, they realized that Mentzer was missing. As they turned back, they saw the two exchanging a warm hug.
Mentzer caught up with them, and they all paused and looked at each other.
As they neared the bottom of the stairs, Max asked “What was that all about?”, and Mentzer kept staring down, concentrating on the steps.
C.W. glared at Max and reached around behind a blushing Mentzer, and smacked Max in the back of the head.
“What’s the matter with you? Have some consideration.”
The two tired musketeers climbed into their waiting truck, and C.W. rolled down his window.
“By the way” he asked “Does she have any sisters?”
“Yup” he replied, in a ‘as matter of fact’ tone.
They started the truck, and Max leaned out his side.
“Are they pretty like her?”
And they were gone.
The second day was as clear as before. After breakfast, he tuned to the NOAA forecast, and weather would start to close in later, as a low front was barreling through the Upper Midwest.
The Defender performed its’ job, and they arrived on location, picking up at the last logged location. Again, they again returned reluctantly to their previous tedium.
After tracking to the west, they began new lanes, working east away from the original spot, still having the islands for additional reference.
For the second days’ efforts, they had another 9 hours of empty screen, and sinking hopes. But he wouldn’t let it show.
“How much area do you think we’ve covered?” asked a bored C.W.
“As best as I can figure about 30 square miles.”
As they finished their final lanes, he plotted their final location. Just then, another warning tone started on the weather frequency, and the small craft marine warning repeated itself for the umpteenth time. He started the second engine and brought the boat to plane, only this time headed towards the now blackening sky to the west, and to South Fox Island.
“Where’re we headed NOW?” Max nervously asked.
“There’s an abandoned light house on the south end of that island”, and they approached and then slowed for some shallows.
“I wanted to get some photographs of it against the incoming clouds. I want the ‘calm before the storm’ type background. It won’t take long.”
He positioned the boat as to get the best unobstructed frame for his digital camera, and he took several shots from over the top of the cabin, and then from the bow. Mindful of the light rain and swells that were now lapping the hull, he looked at Max and could see it was taking a toll. Two days on the water was a lot for him, but to add this was testing his limits.
Mentzer put the camera away, made his cell phone call, and turned the boat east, pushing the double throttle forward. The boat quickly reached 45, then 50MPH, and they finally enjoyed the much needed smoother ride rather than the mindless bobbing they had endlessly endured earlier.
They easily outran the now black sky, and he was thankful for the large engines and horsepower he had on tap.
So were an appreciative Max and C.W.
Storms on the Great Lakes can be just as intense and dangerous as on any ocean in the world. The lake bottom was littered with the proof.
They finished fueling and returned to the safety of the slip. They sealed the boat up tight, and tied if off securely, anticipating the onslaught of the oncoming weather.
As they the reached the back of the institute, Mentzer turned and saw the wall of rain walking across the bay, completely obscuring the west slopes from view.
The black sky could no longer hold back the wind and torrents of rain the stormed had gathered, and it cut loose.
Safe inside, they stood at the upstairs dining room window, taking in the fury of nature.
Karen came up next to him. “Just in time” she said, thankful that Mentzer and Co. were now safe.
She felt a gathering warmth knowing that she was warm and secure, watching the lightning and hearing the rumble of the thunder.
And there was plenty of food.
She brought them the same brew as before, and she stood next to Mentzer, watching the rain pelt the glass.
As the rains and wind continued to sheet down the glass, he turned and checked the chart again to see if he had missed anything, forgetting she had been next to him.
“Don’t worry. He gets like that, you know” C.W. said watching, as he walked over.
“He gets all caught up and consumed in what he’s doing. Don’t worry about being ignored. WE’RE used it, right Max?”
Max ignored him. He was caught up in his own thoughts, realizing just how close they were to getting pummeled by the raging weather.
Karen disappeared into the kitchen and returned. “C’mon. Dinner’s ready.”
The appetizers consisted of huge portabella mushroom caps, layered with shrimp and crab, broiled and browed in garlic butter. The entrée was a generous Lake Trout filet, with a lemon butter and caper sauce, and wild rice pilaf. Steamed broccoli then filled the plate to near overflowing.
C.W. lifted the wine glass, first sniffing, then swirling his glass, and sipped.
“This is wonderful wine. Where is it from? France? California?”
“Right here, actually. It’s only 10 miles up the road on the Mission Peninsula. The twin bays make for some of the best growing conditions and seasons for the grapes. It’s a Special Reserve Riesling, from Chateau Grand Traverse”.
The institute specialized in showcasing the local wines and food unique to the area, and everything was delicious.
Again, they finished and thanked her for the sumptuous meal and her hospitality.
Mentzer left with them this time, as to save their hostess from any prying questions.
Tomorrow was another day, and his thoughts were already there.
After the dynamic duo left, he sat for a while in his truck, pondering what it was that he could have possibly overlooked.
He turned on his dome light, and opened up the chart book again.
The rain had stopped, and the front cleared as quickly as it had come. The damp air had the aroma of earthworms, and he walked down the wet pier to check on the boat for tomorrow.
After reassuring himself that the sturdy craft survived the storm, he walked back to his truck.
The Coast Guard had searched. The State Police, the local sheriff, the Navy had searched.
Then a little light grew brighter in the back of his mind.
Yes, there was a massive search. And the area they covered was considerable. It really was a tremendous effort.
He quickly turned to the page in the chart book and his mind raced.
Mentzer produced his cell phone, called the motel, and told C.W. to sleep in, and to not bother getting to the boat until 1PM.
“What gives?” He quizzed.
“I’ve got to get some gear together in the morning, and we’ll let the lake bottom settle down a bit before diving”.
“Diving, huh?” He paused, turned his head and listened to Max crooning in the shower.
“If you don’t mind, I won’t tell Max. Not just yet, anyway”.
He put down the phone, and turned up the volume on the television remote, trying to cover a gurgling, alien rendition ‘I’ve Got The World on a String’.
Mentzer disconnected, then made a second call and closed his phone, and double checked the chart.
They hadn’t looked everywhere.
The rains and winds were gone, and only the clouds remained. With the cloudy skies the temperature was noticeably cooler, and the churned lake bottom was starting to settle.
As C.W. and Max got closer to the boat, they could see scuba tanks and dive gear already on board.
A late night call to Doug Scott had secured his help, and he was always up to getting wet on a day off.
Max glared at C.W.
“Did you know about this?” he said almost in a panic.
Max’s respect for the water had been apparent, but now he was serious.
C.W. stammered, “Well, I was going to tell you cause I know how you are with really, really, REALLY deep water. Besides, you may have to go in” and they all watched as Max turned an ashen pale.
Skip and C.W. both roared with laughter, and Max’s colored returned to him, knowing he’d been had.
Doug started to wonder what in the world he had gotten himself in to.
Mentzer continue to joke with Max, as he shoved off and eased out of the slip, pushing the throttles forward.
“C’mon Max, lighten up. You act like it’s the end of the world” Mentzer teased.
“Maybe it’s not, but you can see it from here.”
End Part 2
Posted: Dec 8 2005, 09:28 AM
Special Projects Director
Group: CCForum ADMIN
Member No.: 1
Joined: 20-February 04
The boat sliced and passed through the slight swells easily, and they headed north, past Northport with the luxury homes occasionally visible, with only their extensive docks giving their locations away. Once clear of the Leelanau Peninsula, they turned north west, and directly for the shallows of the Fox Islands.
Doug looked at C.W. and asked “How long have you known Skip?”
“Too long”, he joked and laughed.
“Mentzer couldn’t hear them as they talked.
“There are still days that I DON’T know him. He’s different now. He…” and C.W. paused. “He cares again.”
“What do you mean?”
“You know he trooped before he cameto the college, right?”
“Yeah” Doug replied, having to raise his voice.
“ Troops tend to get pretty thick skinned and calloused about life in general. We worked all of our own cases. All of the fatal accidents, rotting bodies, murders, stabbings, family fights, child abuse. We have our detectives, but unlike the other departments that have separate detectives to turn cases over to, the troops do it all. In many rural counties, we’re the only police presence, and the closest help is miles away. That’s old school trooping… you have to take care of everything. That’s a lot of decision making for other peoples problems.”
Max moved out of the safety of the cabin and sat next to Doug.
“Towards the end, he was getting ‘burned out’. With all of the retirements, we got shorthanded almost overnight. They couldn’t replace the retirees fast enough and the work loads seem to double. At our first post, we started with twenty-two troops. Now it’s down to eight. Eight people doing the work of twenty-two. Then figure in vacations and details that needed filling, and presto-chango: you’re burned out! At least that’s what I call it. Then he had his accident. He should’ve been killed, but he was off work a long time. A semi truck clipped him while he was on a traffic stop. Peeled the entire patrol car and pinned him inside. He spent a couple of months in traction, then another year getting back on his feet. He couldn’t work the road anymore, and had to take an early out. Getting the job as an instructor up here was a blessing.”
C.W. still had to half shout over the wind and his flapping windbreaker.
“But THIS…” pointing to the deck of the boat…. “This has him getting up early, staying late and he’s got a passion I haven’t seen in him for years. He’s got that fire again. He cares about this”.
The boat started to slow as the islands grew closer, and Max finally spoke, changing the subject.
“Yeah, and after a day of all the crap you had to put up with on the road, the sergeant would still ask you ‘how many tickets did you write today?”
C.W. shook his head and feigned being insulted.
“What’s wrong with him?” Doug asked.
“C.W. turned to the Dark Side.”
“The Dark Side?”
“Yeah….. see our C.W. here?” thumbing at the passenger sitting opposite of them who was now glaring at him.
“He was a sergeant!”
Doug braced himself for what he was certain was the opening bell to mortal combat between the two.
Max and C.W. both stood up, steadying their feet, then erupted in to laughter. Mentzer turned around, then returned to his course shrugging his shoulders.
Doug eased over next to Mentzer and said “Don’t ask.”
“What are you thinking?” Doug asked.
“In the charts, the lake is deep up to… here”, and he pointed to a spot just north of the North Fox Island.
“There’s a series of sand bars, and then a deeper lagoon area just off shore, that’s about 60 feet deep, but about a ½ mile out from the waters edge.
“The Navy’s KINGFISHER had all the right gear, but couldn’t get close enough without running aground. I don’t think her skipper was too interested in having to ask the Coast Guard for a tow. Not to mention damaging his underwater array of sensitive gear.
Besides, they may have thought that it was too far out of the primary search area.
“Sixty feet deep is still deep enough to keep from being seen by aircraft, too” Doug added.
After weaving through the sandbar, some of them visible and exposed, they eased the side scan over the side, and lowered it in.
“Ten feet will do it. Nice and slow, and they crowded the screen and let the sonar work.
They didn’t have to wait long.
In 45 feet of water, the unmistakable outline emerged on the screen.
They passed over it several times, in differnet directions, all producing the same images from different angles on the monitor. He steered the Defender aside, and dropped the anchor, on the edge of a small debris field and a large section of what had appeared to be a now detached wing.
“No sense notifying anyone just yet. We need to make sure and see for ourselves” Skip said in a low tone, almost as if he was afraid he would disturb something or someone.
Skip and Doug were seasoned divers, and the indicated 45 foot depth would be relatively straightforward.
They both suited up with 7MM wetsuits, and performed the necessary pre dive checklist used each time. Their gear wasn’t new, but it was good.
They hadn’t scrimped on the buoyancy compensating vests. They were new, and filled with disposable weights that could be dropped if a fast ascent was needed. At forty five feet they would be relatively safe from the dangers of nitrogen narcosis, or ‘the bends’, and they made their way to the ladder Max had made ready.
A second weighted line was dropped in the water, and with just enough slack it was looped and made fast to a ‘D ring’ mounted on the boats Kevlar tubing. This would give them a guide besides the anchor line.
They signaled an ‘okay’ with the finger and thumb making a circle and nodded to each other. After a short set of instructions to Max and C.W., they entered the water.
The usual exhilaration of getting wet was short lived, and gone in a few moments, knowing the job in front of them. As they passed 10 feet, they slowed and held their noses, equalizing the pressure in their ears. They continued to drop slowly using the second guide line, and let their vision adjust to the depths.
The bottom soon spread out in front of them, and they each looked at the other, and again signaled ‘okay’.
They had planned to stop at the bottom, to again do a visual on the others gear each takings turns in front of the other.
‘Plan the dive, and dive the plan’ was the golden rule.
At this depth and the relatively clear visibility, any problems with leaks in the tanks and hoses would be readily visible. After they checked each other, Mentzer checked his trusty Seiko dive watch and set the outer dial to indicate the start of their bottom time. Scott set his, too, and they started toward the sonar reading.
They were both apprehensive too, about what they were about to see. They slowly and smoothly kicked, staying at each others elbows.
They did not have to travel far.
Looming ahead and slowly appearing, the blurry shape of an aircraft sat on the lake bed. The sediment could not hide the once proud and refined lines that had once graced the air. It was getting more distinct as they closed on it.
Mentzer started at the rear, descending on the fuselage from the exhaust and tail and moved slowly forward a few feet.
He could see that it was sitting in almost a foot of sediment, and the elevators were in the up position. He recalled that ‘up’ was the default position for it, and it was opposite of what other planes were designed to do.
He opened a pouch and retrieved an LED underwater flashlight, and slipped its cord around his wrist.
He slid a bit deeper, and just under the port side of the stabilizer, he wiped the silt and sediment from the surprisingly smooth surface, and turned on his light.
“EXPERIMENTAL” was emblazoned in bold and distinct lettering. Beneath it read ‘N7868M’.
He heard a metallic tapping, and looked down the fuselage to the front of the seemingly content aircraft.
Scott was rapping his dive knife on his air tank to attract Mentzers attention, and he was waving his light to get his attention. He was motioning for him to come forward. As he moved forward, Mentzer kept his hands on the skin of the fuselage, as if to pet and stroke the bird as it rested. His hand felt a sharp metal edge, and he looked down to see a large gap in the surface. His reading the manual on the L-39 returned to him, and this would be where the turbine would have ejected automatically if it were to ever fail.
Mentzer observed that Scott had already wiped a circular opening in the seven year sediment, and the sediment was beginning to clear from the water around his gloves.
With the two lights combined now, a pilots’ helmet could be seen inside the murky rear of the cockpit, near the canopy.
The forward portion was cleared enough and the faint but distinct shape of a second helmet could also been seen.
It was all there.
End Part 3
Posted: Dec 8 2005, 09:29 AM
Special Projects Director
Group: CCForum ADMIN
Member No.: 1
Joined: 20-February 04
A Final Peace
August 6th, 2005
After the discovery of the missing jet, the Coast guard was notified, who in turn notified the local State Police post.
As soon as the aircrafts identity was verified, the investigation was reopened by the NTSB. It was now a crash sight, and protocol was maintained.
The State Police dive team was requested to assist in the removal of the pilots remains, and to help them raise the major pieces of the airframe.
A local salvage barge equipped with a crane was hired, and gradually all the pieces that could be found were taken to a small hangar at Cherry Capitol Airport, and reassembled. The bits and pieces were only half of what the ‘Albatross’ once was.
After the release of both pilots, a memorial service was held, and it was a moving turn out. All who helped were present. Mentzer, C.W., Max and Captain Doug Scott was resplendent in his Academy Uniform. The college closed for the afternoon.
It was a tragedy that brought the local and extended community together, remembering their
lives, and giving friends and family of those lost a chance to say their goodbyes.
It was time for closure.
A reception was held at the Maritime Academy, and catered by the Culinary Institute.
As the lines wound down, Karen had an opportunity to walk up next to Mentzer as he stood looking out over the blue green water.
She bumped shoulder to shoulder “How are you holding up? You’ve been pretty busy these last couple of months.”
“Fine…tired, but I’m okay. I feel like a great weight has been lifted”.
Mentzer was deep in thought again, reflecting on the words from the service.
“I wanted to… no, had to find them, and now that I have, I feel kind of…. empty.”
“I can understand that. You’ve put so much into this. It’s been months. You should be proud.”
“Yeah….. only…. it’s been longer that just a couple of months” looking down reluctantly, not knowing if he should say anything more at all.
“What do you mean?” she asked.
Just then, she was brought back to the present when tapped on the shoulder by a grateful mourner that wanted to speak with her. She left him standing looking back out the glass.
A moment later, Mentzer felt a tap on his shoulder, and he turned.
In front of him he saw an older couple, in their 70’s he thought, and the man spoke.
“Mr. Mentzer?” he asked.
“Yes sir” he replied.
Mentzer could see Karen standing behind the both of them, and she was smiling at him.
“We want to thank you for all you did.” he continued, as he extending his hand with a surprisingly firm handshake.
“We’ve talked with so many people this last week, and haven’t stopped hearing your name. I understand you are the one who found him.”
The elderly man continued to shake, now with both hands not wanting to let go.
“Thank you so much. I had a lot of help. My friends came through for you and me both. So did a lot of other people.”
Mentzers’ curiosity now began to grow.
He could see C.W., Max and Scott gathered up next to Karen, and they were smiling, too.
“Yes. We’ve talked with them, too” the elderly woman said, now extending her hand. Mentzer extended his other hand to her, taking her warmth in his palm. There was an awkward silence between them.
She began to nudge her husband to let go, as they had to leave.
“We just had to say thank you” she said, “and tell you how much it means to us that you found our son.”
They turned and walked away, leaving Mentzer standing dumbfounded.
Silently, the heavy weight that had lifted returned briefly, but was then replaced by a sense of relief.
He was sure now that their son was not just a passing article on a newspaper page, or passage in an obscure diary.
Karen still stood in front of him as the couple made their way back to other tables behind her. She walked over to him and she eased her hand into his, and they turned their backs to face looking outside.
“Quite a day, huh?” she whispered to him.
“I didn’t see that one coming.”
They didn’t talk for a few moments, his head spinning still trying to absorb it all, then everything faded away, and he could feel the warmth of her hand. Not heat, but another source…a radiant connection from within.
Mentzer finally spoke.
“Seven years ago, I was hired by the college, to be a student teacher with the Maritime Academy, and before that I was just a student, remember?”
“I heard you talk of it, but I wasn’t here then”, still thinking and wondering as to where this was leading.
“A lot has happened since I first got here. There was my recovery and then the classes. Then I got my pilots’ license, and back then- after class, I used to trade working at the airport for flying lessons, with him.”
“With who?” she asked.
“The passenger….. the one in the Albatross.”
He now raised his head and looked at her.
“The passenger was my flight instructor, and he took the ride at the last minute because I couldn’t get there in time….. I was the one that was supposed to be on that flight.”
She stared in disbelief.
He stared out at the MICHIGAN just outside, but it might as well have been a thousand miles away.
“I was the one that would have died if I had gone flying that day, but he went in my place, and he’s the one that died. That’s why I had to find him. I couldn’t let him stay out there.”
She squeezed his hand, as she understood the missing pieces now falling into place.
This was the closure that he needed.
End Part 4
Posted: Dec 8 2005, 09:30 AM
Special Projects Director
Group: CCForum ADMIN
Member No.: 1
Joined: 20-February 04
Great Lakes Maritime Academy
August 20th, 2005
It was Saturday, and Mentzers’ cell phone rang.
“Skip, are you busy” Doug Scott asked from the other end, sounding a bit out of breath.
“Just got done changing the oil in the ‘Vette. What’s up?”
“I know its Saturday, but I need some help here at the office. Can you give me a hand.” He asked.
“I don’t know…. I was going to count out my change jar and clean the microwave later, but… okay…sure. Let me get cleaned up, and I’ll head down there. What is it that….? but Scott had already hung up.
What was he doing there on a Saturday, anyway? The events of the last few weeks had been busy. But the new semester had already started, and the sensation and media attention had passed. Things were finally getting back to normal.
‘Well, I guess I’ll find out soon enough’.
He showered and decided not to shave, saying ‘it’s the weekend… leave it alone’.
Dressed in cargo shorts, deck shoes and a favorite flowered shirt, he felt that he was dressed good enough, but grabbed a pair of tennis shoes and gloves just in case he had to move something.
His 1995 Corvette Hardtop was a joy to drive. He had sold several of his unfinished projects he had sitting around, and paid cash for it. When he was looking for one, he wanted a 6 speed manual, and the Polo Green Metallic exterior with light beige leather seats. He had opted for the coupe, over the convertible, having the removable hardtop allowing more room under the hatch. The sloping lines and performance was like a thoroughbred. It had some miles on it, but it was the kind of car that he could drive as hard as he wanted, not having to worry about getting it dirty, or not getting parts if something broke.
He had waited for years to get just this car.
The traffic was light, and he was lost in the smooth shifting gears of the German designed gearbox. The constant shifting was nourishing to his soul, and he felt one with the rise in the rpm, then clutch, and shift again. It was a tireless process that always renewed him. This is what was missing from the automatic equipped cars that made getting here and there so plain. This was the way he wanted to experience driving. With the top off in the sunshine and a place to go where he wanted to be. It was a part of his life on his own terms.
Just after noon, he pulled into the staff lot of the college, and he thought it odd that the lot had several cars and trucks in it.
Must be a fishing tournament and they’re fishing off the pier, he deduced.
He did not notice the familiar looking pick up truck he had seen so much several weeks ago, nor did he pay any attention to the van parked next to the building. Only when he saw the US Government license plates did he stop and pause.
“Some big meeting, probably”, he mumbled, or a VIP tour, which was not uncommon for out of town visitors. “Oh great”, he thought. “They probably want me to give the tour, and I’m unshaved and dressed like this? Oh well, serves them right for a Saturday.”
He walked across the remainder of the parking lot, and the reality of his surroundings caught up with him. He reveled in the sunshine, then grumbled about how he could be somewhere on the open road with the top off.
Not too many days like this left.
All too soon, the ‘Vette would be stored for the winter, and the winding roads overlooking the bays and open water would be covered with snow and salted slush.
“Took you long enough!” he heard Scott shout out.
Mentzer looked up to Doug’s corner office window, which afforded him a view of the water, and more importantly, the cadets as they worked on the class project boats.
“Nah, you’re lucky to have me show up. I’m probably the only one in town answering their phone on a Saturday!” he sarcastically countered.
“Meet you on the pier” and he ducked back inside, as if he someplace else he needed to be.
Mentzer grumbled again as he walked, just knowing that his nimble ride was calling to him, begging him to put in some CD’s, and blow out some of their self imposed cobwebs.
‘Soon enough’, he sighed.
He turned the corner on the pier, and he saw a familiar shape in the water, moored to the colleges dock. It really was almost derelict with her peeling paint, rusted rails and superstructure and the general lack of maintenance. But yet it seemed a familiar shape.
Could it be?
Yes! IT WAS!
As he got closer, he could see the faint remains of the familiar Coast Guard stripe that was the standard paint scheme.
Designated as MLB, the 44 foot long motor life boats were the back bone of the rescue function of the Coast Guard. Countless stranded boaters had been saved, and hours of patrols were done in these boats, and she was a beloved favorite. Her design allowed that if she rolled over, she could right herself in 30 seconds or less.
These were being phased out by the new 47 foot design that was faster, and had more range. It was touted they could right themselves in under 10 seconds. They were the new breed and standard of the fleet.
The one in front of him was none the less a beauty, or rather she could be.
Mentzer was lost in the moment, then detected someone moving near the bridge.
“Not much to look at is she?” said the unknown voice.
“Yeah, but you can’t keep a good girl down” Mentzer replied, half shouting back, taking her all in from stem to stern.
“Permission to come aboard, sir?” taking a chance as his curiosity got the better of him.
“Granted” came the reply, the voice sounding closer now.
Even though the once proud ship was in sad condition and decommissioned, he saluted aft. A new national emblem was in place, but didn’t think anything about it until he stepped onto the solid, but flaking deck. He turned looking back a moment later, and watched it rippling in the light breeze.
‘That’s odd’ he thought.
The main deck was just as much in need of paint and attention as the rest of her. He wondered how many times over the years they had been meticulously prepared for the inspections of her different crews.
“Yeah, not much to look at, but she’s got heart” said the voice now materializing from a hatch. The tall figure made his way to where Mentzer was standing.
Mentzer extended a hand in appreciation to the stranger.
“Hello! I’m Skip Mentzer. I’m an instructor here at the academy.”
“Hello. I’m Dirk. Dirk Pitt.”
“Well, do you think a coat of paint will make a difference? Or is it a lost cause?” Pitt asked.
“A classic is never a lost cause. Just needs the right TLC….. maybe a little more than that, in this case”, Mentzer grimaced as he looked around.
“You’re right.” Pitt replied. “There is nothing like a timeless design. It makes the heart beat faster, and it always gets the girl in the end. You’re definitely going to have your work cut out for you.”
Mentzer thumbed towards the academy. “I’m sorry, but I’ve got to help a buddy inside and….” and his words trailed off.
They both paused and looked at each other across the awkward silence.
“Have you had a chance to talk to Captain Scott today?” as Pitt finally said something.
“He called me this morning, and told me to get down here and help him with something. He didn’t say what exactly”
“It’s after noon… is there anyplace around here to get a drink?”
“I know just the place, and it’s close” said Mentzer, now completely befuddled.
Moments later, Mentzer and Pitt were settling into oversized chairs in the reserved dining room of the institute. Mentzer asked Pitt if he could order for both, and took the liberty of ordering two of his favorite beers.
Pitt was apologetic. “I’m sorry. I thought that you were informed of my coming. I hope I’m not putting you on the spot.”
“Why?” his head reeling from the chance encounter that now seemed to have been well orchestrated. ‘Damn… did I miss another memo?’ he thought to himself.
“That was a hell of a job on finding the Albatross. Well done.
“Thanks. I appreciate that coming from you” Mentzer said almost blushing.
“In the last seven years, we received numerous requests to search for it. Frankly, we can’t be everywhere at once. We just don’t have the manpower…. not yet. If it was feasible to get the equipment here, we would have done everything possible to help.”
A student waiter brought their beers, and then returned to the bar through the swinging half door. They clinked their long neck bottles and toasted to faithful ships that bring their sailors home, and the crews that sail them. They both took a long drink of the cold sweating bottles, savoring the sweetness, and Pitt continued.
“The Great Lakes area precious resource, not only because of the fresh water, but they’re so vital. These lakes are really a part of the world’s oceans. They’re irreplaceable. There is nothing else like them on earth. Not to mention the hundreds of shipwrecks, many of them still undiscovered.”
Mentzer nodded, and remembered the ‘Pere Marquette 18’.
Pitt pulled up his briefcase, and placed it on the large table.
“I never thought I would be carrying one of these things” he said low under his breath.
Mentzer heard him, and chuckled.
He pulled out a large folder and slid it over to a suspicious Mentzer.
“What’s this?” he asked, raising an eye brow.
“NUMA wans to help. What the search for that plane gave was hope. For the families and for history, and that’s what NUMA is. We’re dedicated to finding these significant pieces of history all over the world.”
“And right here at home” Mentzer added.
“NUMA fields requests for research constantly, and there’s such a renewed interest in the Great Lakes Region, that we’re overwhelmed.
“My son and daughter are in the field too, and I’m behind a desk… save for the occasional really special job that I can help with.
“NUMA wants people in the field that can be relied on. I want people that can handle the research, searches and shipwrecks properly. To be able to catalog the artifacts and that have the patience and the respect to do the job properly…. not go charging in…. though I may not be the one to lecture you on that point.”
Mentzer sat staring blankly, waiting for the other shoe to drop.
“I want to hire you. I want you to be our NUMA person here. Call it the position of a ‘Regional Director of Special Operations’.”
“You said…. ‘here’?” a stunned Mentzer asked.
“Here… the Great Lakes. All of the Great Lakes waters and the navigable waterways. You’d work in conjunction with the DNR, State Police and local law enforcement authorities. They have the final authority, but you’d be our arm that works locally with them. It’s been cleared from Vice President Sandecker, all the way down. Your governor is the greatest supporter, and is eager to help. We’ll supply NUMA research people for the oceanographic end of it when needed, but we need someone reliable that knows the waters. And you’d also have the equipment needed. That’s where the MLB comes in.”
Mentzer squirmed, but still listened.
“Take a look in the folder” Pitt said.
Mentzer, recovered now, opened the package and thumbed through several pages of documents. A NUMA credit card slid out on the table, dropping on the carpet.
“The MLB was picked up after the Coast Guard deemed her surplus, and we saved her from being scrapped. The paperwork is in the folder. It’s in our name, but the academy will maintain it. You have absolute control to oversee her refitting and use, and yours is the final say so. It’s been arranged so that after 5 years, ownership is passed to the college. If NMC ever decides they don’t need it, or gets a newer 47 footer to replace it, then this one goes to you, free and clear. That’s the deal.”
“WOW”, said Mentzer, finally taking in the scope of the meeting. He looked outside at the MLB moored at the pier.
“Not to sound ungrateful, but the cost of refit will be astronomical! I can see the college buying gas and changing oil, but the work and money needed to get it up to speed and specs would be a burden. Doug doesn’t want his cadets in something unreliable.”
“Agreed. I managed to latch on to some brand new turbo diesels that can be retrofitted without any problems. New pumps, electronics, radar, GPS are in the boxes waiting to be installed. Some of it’s military stuff…. some off our own shelves and a couple of years old, but all of its in great shape, and serviceable. There’s even a third turbo diesel for a spare. I was below checking the gear when you came aboard. I’ve even got you some turquoise paint, but you’ll have to paint it yourself.”
Mentzer paused, and took another look at the aging workhorse outside.
”I don’t think so” Mentzer responded, in a lower, more deliberate voice.
Pitt was taken aback, and disbelievingly moved back in his chair. ‘Unbelievable’ he thought to himself. Was there anything else to offer to sweeten the deal? Hell… even I would do this deal!
Mentzer leaned forward.
“They can paint it… I think it’ll make a grand restoration project for the Academy. What better way to familiarize them with restoration techniques, and carry on the traditions of the sea. It’s what the school is all about. Of course, I’ll need to watch them make sure they do it right.”
Pitt recovered, and beamed, knowing now the information they had on Mentzer was accurate. He was looking at the right man for the job.
Pitt smiled. “They say that hard work is good for the soul, right?”
Mentzer mused… “Then they’ll all be turquoise angels by the time they get the painting done.”
Pitt leaned forward and extended his hand.
“What do you say? Will a handshake do, or do you want time to read over the fine print?”
Mentzer extended his hand and locked eyes with the slightly taller Pitt.
“How can I say no?”
They shook hands, both knowing their words were all that was needed, and Pitt closed his briefcase as he got up.
“Oh….” Pitt added. “One more thing about your equipment…. you got a minute?”
Mentzer and Pitt made their way down the rear stairs and out into the bright sunlight, squinting after having been behind the tinted glass.
Summer vacations were in full swing on the bay, and it was another glorious day in the northern paradise.
As they boarded the old MLB to check out the endless boxes of equipment, Mentzer heard the unmistakable purring sound of twin outboards.
The sound traveled through the ship, and was distinct even through the hull.
“That sounds familiar” a wondering Mentzer reflected.
“Really? That sounds like a bad thing?”
“Not at all. I wish I could have kept her”, thinking of the DEFENDER.
Just then, they heard a padded ‘bump’ on the hull, and they scampered topside, and looked to see what had just come along side them. They looked out and down over the starboard rail.
Looking down, Mentzer started to speak, but didn’t know what he could say, or if he should.
“Hi there, Skipper! What are you doing?” a joyous C.W. shouted.
C.W. was at the helm of the Defender boat, which was now decked out in a brilliant aqua turquoise color. He could see a partial ‘NUMA’ on the sides of her Kevlar tubing.
It was a stark comparison: the new paint and engines of the Defender, and the sad state of repairs needed on the MLB.
Next to C.W. was Doug Scott, Karen Mohr, and then Max emerged out of the cabin. All were dressed to enjoy the beautiful summer weather.
Scott was edging back out of sight, feeling guilty about being part of the plot, and Mentzer saw him trying to hide.
“I suppose you had something to do with this, didn’t you Doug?” he shouted down.
Max interrupted “How does it feel you being the last one to know something for a change?” The Defender bobbed, and they all smiled back at him.
Pitt glanced sideways at Mentzer.
“Don’t ask.” Mentzer sighed.
“Don’t worry… I won’t.”
A man could have no better friends.
As they made their way down to the pier, Pitt turned to Mentzer, then handed him a small turquoise plastic buoy keychain a set of keys attached, with the word ‘NUMA 1’on it.
“What’s this” he asked.
“The factory rep owed me a favor, and we bought it at the right price. It’s yours. The paperwork should be arriving at your house in a few days. Call it your signing bonus.”
He didn’t know what to say, except for “Thank you.”, then adding: “I guess I’ll read the fine print next time.”
After helping to secure the Defender, they all left the pier and returned to the upstairs lounge. Karen retrieved her keys, and opened the bar again. Mentzer sat near the window, and began perusing the material in the large envelope Pitt had given him earlier. He watched as Pitt talked with the gruesome twosome, and how they sat enduring the gestures and gyrating motions that came with the telling of tall tales. Doug Scott sat in amazement as he listened to tall tales of trooping and NUMA.
Karen slid in to the seat next to Mentzer, and watched him as he gazed at the graceful lines of the aged workhorse below them. She knew he was caressing the MLB in his mind, and envisioning what she would finally look like when completed, bristling with new antennas, masts and loaded with the latest electronics.
“What are you thinking about?” she asked, already knowing full well.
“Huh?” letting his gaze slip from the boat and then focus on her.
“What are you thinking about? “
“I’m thinking of….” and Mentzer paused, taking in her eyes, and the features he never grew tired of seeing. Max, C.W. and Pitt were all occupied.
”I’m thinking why we aren’t headed for a picnic at the Point Betsie Lighthouse to watch a gorgeous sunset.”
“I thought you’d never ask. Let me get a sweater”
End Part 5
Posted: Dec 8 2005, 09:30 AM
Special Projects Director
Group: CCForum ADMIN
Member No.: 1
Joined: 20-February 04
Two Weeks Later
The more Mentzer thought about it, the more he knew he had to know, and to see for himself. It wasn’t like the scene that had played in his sleep for years, but more of a nagging curiosity. After doing a survey dive, he arranged for the same barge and crane to salvage a mysterious cylindrical object 120 feet down.
Upon diving, Mentzer and Doug Scott confirmed what was below. The object was huge, and what was at first thought to be a railroad tank car was found to be something else entirely. It was no wonder that the magnetometers were silent.
The small disc shape that was seen on the sonar screen was not a tank car fill spout at all. It was what remained of a huge limb that was cut from the trunk of monstrous log, and only the base of the gargantuan branch remained.
After attaching lift bags and crane cables, the massive 9 foot diameter by 29 foot long White Pine log was brought to the surface, seeing the light of day for the first time in over 100 years.
The appropriate permissions had been obtained and legalities were observed, and the giant piece of timber was returned to shore, finally completing the last leg of its long ago journey.
Mentzer remembered seeing old photographs from the great lumbering era in Michigan, showing the prized woods, destined to become buildings and homes for hundreds of distant waiting customers.
Each of the massive ends were trimmed off, then cut again, yielding a clean one foot thick section showing the age rings and it was determined to be over 200 years old. One section was sent to be displayed at the State of Michigan Museum, for countless school children to touch and see. They marveled at the tiny pointers that showing the year the Declaration of Independence was signed, Michigan was admitted to the union, achieving statehood in 1837, and The Civil War had been fought.
The ‘oohs’ and ‘aahs’ of class field trips would bring thousands of children closer to history.
The second example was given to the Maritime Academy, as an example of the early logging industry that plied the vast waterways. The pointers on this piece showed when John Paul Jones and the Bonhomme Richard battled the British Frigate Serapis, and the Monitor and Merrimack fought at Hampton Roads.
Mentzer was in charge of the rest, and it was used to adorn and trim many of the academy classrooms. A superb conference table was turned out by the colleges shop, and is now in the NMC boardroom. A second large table was built for the Culinary Institute’s dining room, and presented to Karen Mohr. Two inch thick slabs were used to construct and replace the bar in the lounge along with new shelving as well. A thankful Michigan Governor now has several hand crafted and museum quality reproduction pieces at the summer residence on Mackinac Island, not far from where the original wood was located and salvaged.
The Pitt family and NUMA also received several unique pieces, and the MLB that was to be restored now has a custom chart table just waiting to be installed.
A specially constructed foot locker is now given to the top cadet graduating each year, with enough wood to make one each year. That tradition would continue for the next 87 years. The first ever made was given to Captain Doug Scott.
The wood that was originally harvested so long ago had now come full circle in its journey, and was where it was destined to be. The woods strength now serves guests, adorns museums and cradles the classic works of the sea. Having been felled so long ago, it was older that the authors of the books and works they had penned.
And in the lounge, the new rich paneling proudly holds the photographs of the lost pilots, and like the warm wood that now embraces them, they are no longer lost to the sea.
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