Nelson's Plane is Missing
Lou Ann Steele
The phone's harsh ringing rudely woke him up from a sound sleep. Keeping his eyes closed, he rolled over on to his side, grabbed the phone receiver without turning on the lights and placed it against his ear. "Yes?" he asked yawning at the same time.
"May I speak to Lt. Commander Morton?" a male voice asked.
"I'm Lt. Commander Morton." Chip opened his eyes and glanced at the time. It was 2:30 A.M.
"This is Steve Richardson with the FAA. I have some bad news for you. Your Admiral Nelson and Captain Crane's plane went down in the Colorado Mountains during a severe snow storm."
Forty-five minutes later in Lt. Morton's office at Nelson's Institute for Marine Research, Chief Sharkey, Patterson, Kowalski and Doctor Jamison were seated around the Exec's desk. Chip Morton was sitting behind his desk obviously very upset to the men who knew him so well.
"The FAA just called a few minutes ago. On their way back from Washington, D.C., the Admiral and the Skipper's Piper hit a severe snowstorm over the Colorado Rocky Mountains. With the combination of heavy blinding snow, rough air turbulence and ice on their wings, their plane lost control and altitude. Admiral Nelson sent out a mayday that was heard by air traffic control. He only had enough time to tell them that the plane had lost power in both engines and that he had to make an emergency landing. Then communications was lost and the plane disappeared from radar once it dropped within the mountain range."
Chip got up from his chair and turned to the map pinned up on the wall behind him of the Colorado Mountain area. He used his right hand fingers to circle a wide area on the map. "The FAA feels the plane went down in this area. That opinion is based on the Admiral's flight plan, the last known location and other information that they had on hand. Search parties are being organized right now. They'll start searching as soon as it's daylight. I've informed them that we'll be joining them as soon as we can get there. I've already arranged for a naval helicopter to pick us up here within the hour. Doc, I need you to collect what medical supplies you think we need and two stretchers and bring them to the helicopter pad."
Doc Jamison got up from his seat, "Consider it done." He nodded in Chip's direction and made his way out the door.
Chip then looked at Chief Sharkey. "Have Cookie make up coffee and some food to take along." He then directed his gaze at the two crewmen. "Kowalski..Patterson, I need you to collect rescue equipment and winter gear for all of us. Don't bother with tents. The rescue crew will have everything ready when we get there. Meet us at the helicopter pad. I want us to pack up and get on our way as fast as we can."
Patterson and Kowalski made a fast exist out of the office. Sharkey had followed right behind them until he reached the door. He stood still for a couple of seconds mentally arguing with himself and then after making a mental decision made his way back to Morton's desk. "Mr. Morton?" he said nervously.
Chip was studying the map when he heard Sharkey's voice. He turned to face him surprised. "Yes, Chief?"
"Sir, we're going to have a hard time finding the Admiral's plane in those mountains if his ELT isn't working. Everything is going to be blanketed in snow and ice and the weather conditions are going to be severe between the cold temperatures and the snow. If the Admiral and the Skipper are still alive, they need to be found as soon as possible before they freeze to death or die from their injuries."
"And your point is, Chief?" Chip's voice displayed his impatience.
"I know someone who is an expert in search and rescue. She works for the park service and does volunteer work with the police and park services nationwide to find missing or lost people. I have seen her perform miracles when everyone else had given up. She is an expert tracker and rock climber. She and her dog have done rescue missions in those same mountains. I really would feel better if we had her helping us."
"Now what are you not telling me about this paragon." Chip asked.
"Uh," Sharkey mentally searched for the best way to express what he needed to say and couldn't find the answer. It was just better to state the unvarnished truth even though he knew Mr. Morton was going to go ballistic on him. He stiffened his body for the explosion he knew that was coming and looking straight into Morton's eyes. "She is a psychic ."
"SHE'S A WHAT?" Morton roared as he slammed his hands flat on his desk. To Sharkey he resembled a jungle cat ready to pounce on his prey.
"She's psychic." Sharkey repeated dutifully and before Morton could get another word in, Sharkey raised his right hand up toward the Exec in a stop motion. "I know what you are going to say. I thought it myself when I first met her, but I have been with her on a couple of rescue missions and she is not a phony. She's never asked for any money to help. Let me call her and see if she is available. You can check out her references before we take off."
"How well do you know her, Sharkey?" How the devil did Sharkey met this girl?
"We've gone out a few times, and are good friends. I have known her for a couple of years now and she can be trusted." Sharkey pleaded. "Please sir, I really would feel a lot better if she came with us."
Chip sighed and gave in. "Okay, if you feel so strongly about it, go ahead and call her."
Sharkey pulled out his little black address book, looked up her phone number and dialed it. She answered on the third ring. His voice became soft and affectionate. "Hi, it's me Sharkey." He paused to listen to her return reply. "Honey, I desperately need to ask a favor. Are you free for the next couple of days?" He paused to hear her response. "My boss Admiral Nelson and my skipper have had a plane accident in the Colorado Mountains and the search parties are starting out at first light this morning to look for them. Can you join us? We really could use your help." He listened again. "Yes, I told Mr. Morton about your abilities. Yes, he would like some references if you don't mind giving me a couple of numbers." Sharkey wrote down her name and under lined it on the paper and then proceeded to write down names and numbers of her references. "What do you need to help you?" He wrote down the items on other piece of paper. "How soon can you get here to the Institute? We need to leave within the hour. I am sorry for the short notice. When you get to the front gate ask for directions to the helicopter pad. We really appreciate this. See you soon."
Sharkey hung up the phone and gave Chip the piece of paper he had just wrote on. "Call these two police officers for her references. I wrote her name at the top of the paper. She said they are both on duty right now at those numbers. She will be meeting us at the helicopter pad within the hour. I'll go now and get the food and the other things we need."
"Okay Sharkey, I just hope you know what you are doing." Chip sighed and picked up the phone to dial the first number.
"You won't regret it sir and we could use all the help we can get to find that plane," Sharkey said as he hurried out of the office.
By the end of the hour, Doc Jamison had loaded the helicopter with medical supplies, Kowalski and Patterson had brought winter gear for everyone, ropes, flair guns, knives and other necessary items. Chief Sharkey, the last to arrive, brought a large picnic basket filled with food, thermos of coffee and soup and a gym bag.
As the last item was being stored in the helicopter, a State Park Service jeep pulled up. A tall slim woman climbed out and gave a fast "hello" wave at the men at the helicopter pad before ducking back into her jeep to grab her gear. She appeared to be in her early thirties possibly a Native American.. She wore her State Park Service uniform, baseball cap and hiking boots. Her long black hair was tied into a pony tail and she was wearing non-regulation native jewelry. She placed her backpack and coat on the hood of her jeep and let out a large German Shepherd wearing a Red Cross backpack.
Sharkey left the helicopter pad to meet her as soon as he saw her. When he reached her, he grabbed her in a tight hug and noticed how tired she looked. "Oh, man. I'm so glad to see you. Thanks for coming." He gave her a fast kiss on her closed lips not caring that his crew were watching this unusual public display of affection with surprised amusement. "Are you sure you are up to this? You're exhausted."
"Man, Sharkey obviously has good taste in women. She is a looker." Patterson said in amazement to Kowalski and Doc Jamison.
"I wonder where he met her?" Kowalski answered back amazed.
Back at the jeep, the lady smiled fondly back at Sharkey and gave him a return hug. "I'm fine and glad to help out in any way that I can."
"We just finished loading the helicopter so let me help you with your gear and we can get going." He reached over and grabbed her parka and backpack.
She looked over at the men who were standing next to the helicopter watching them. "This is all I have other than Geronimo." She grabbed her dog's leash and together they made their way to the chopper and the awaiting crew.
Patterson grabbed her gear from Sharkey and stowed it as Sharkey helped his friend and her dog into the chopper. He handed her a headset and then strapped himself in next to her.
Doc Jamison, Patterson and Kowalski took the seats across from Sharkey and his friend. Chip joined the naval pilot in the front cockpit. Once everyone was strapped in and wearing their headsets, Chip told the pilot they were ready for take off. The pilot nodded and called air traffic control for flight instructions as he turned on the engines. After receiving his instructions, he brought the bird to full power, lifted the helicopter into the sky and aimed the craft in a northeastern direction towards Colorado.
"Everyone, this is a friend of mine, Diane Leaphorn. She works for the State Park Service and in search and rescue. Diane, this Doctor Jamison, our ship's doctor.
"Hello." Jamison said as he reached over and shook her outstretched hand.
Sharkey continued, "These two guys are Seamen Patterson and Kowalski."
"Ma'am." Kowalski gave her a polite smile as he reached over and shook her outstretched hand.
Patterson gave her a shy "Hi" when it became his turn to receive a handshake.
Sharkey continued, " Lt. Commander Morton is sitting next to the pilot and the pilot is Chief Harrison on loan to us by the Navy Department."
Diane was felling totally exhausted and her voice revealed her weariness. "Hi. I know you probably have questions to ask me, but to tell you the truth, I just got back from a search and rescue mission when Sharkey called me. I have had only three hours of sleep of sleep in thirty-two hours and I am in desperate need of a catnap before we get to the Colorado area. When do we reach our destination?"
"ETA in two hours depending on the weather and head winds," the pilot answered automatically as he kept his eyes forward.
"Who else is involved in the search?" she directed her question to the cockpit.
From the front, Chip answered, "There will be a search and rescue team from the Park Service as well as the local law enforcement. They have set up a command center already and we are to meet them there as soon as we arrive. "
She nodded and turned her face to look at her friend. "Sharkey, did you bring those things I requested?"
"Yeah, they are in the gym bag. Everything is separated so the scents won't get mixed up with each other. Diane, take off your headset and rest your head on my shoulder. You'll have to keep your safety belt on" Sharkey instructed as he reached out to take the headset.
Diane laid her head down on his shoulder and gratefully closed her eyes. He put his arm around her to support her against him and then looked defiantly at the three men in front of him half expecting a teasing comment from them, but they too had closed their eyes to catch what little rest they could before landing.
An hour and a half later, Sharkey nudged Diane awake while Doc Jamison passed around cups of coffee to everyone.
Diane put her headset back on to communicate with everyone. She waited until Jamie had returned to his seat before starting the lecture that she had given so many times before. "Gentlemen, I have worked for the State Park Service for many years and as part of my job, I participate in search and rescue. I am an expert tracker, mountain and cliff climber. I'm certified in first responder first aid by the Red Cross. I'm also a psychic. I volunteer my services to nationwide police agencies and park services to find missing people. I know you are not used to working with psychics and therefore you might be skeptical and I don't blame you. There are a lot of phonies out there taking advantage of people. I'm not one of them. I do this on a purely volunteer basis and do not charge for my services. Now what I'll be doing is holding a personal possession of one of the missing persons to get an mental images and feelings as well as trying to get an idea of where they are on the map when we get to the search command center. I'll be doing some unusual things as far as your concern, but please again try to keep an open mind." She turned to Sharkey. "May I have one of those items you brought with you from the missing person?"
Sharkey nodded and reached behind the seat for the gym bag and placed it on his lab. He opened it and handed her a cuff link.
She held it in her hand and closed her eyes for a minute before speaking. "I think this belongs to a man who's short in stature, has a chunky build, age…around middle fifties. Red short hair…I see him in a tan naval suit with four stars on his collar. He's highly intelligent…on the genius level, a heavy smoker and very moody." She opened her eyes to stare at some scene being revealed before her eyes. "He's still alive…I see the plane crashing…He is worried about his companion who is with him…Lee?" Diane handed the cuff link back to Sharkey. "They're okay for the present. I see them covered with blankets."
"How do you suggest we start looking for them?" Chip asked as he continued to watch the landscape ahead of them. Everything was snow covered. The more landscape he saw the more worried he became. Would they be able to find the down plane in this snow and would the Admiral and Lee still be alive when they do finally find them?
"First we must join the search group at the command center. We'll be given updated information from them. They will tell us if the plane's ELT is working. If it is, then finding the plane will be a lot easier. If the ELT is not working, then we need to pick an area of search and keep in contact with the command base. I will try to find the best area to search on their map. Because of the recent snowfall, the new snow is going to be covering both the wreckage and the land damage. So from the air we are going to have a lot of difficulty trying to spot the damaged area. We need to look for abnormally shaped trees or any signs of recent damage. If the plane went down in a heavily wood area, we will have to go in on foot and bring them back out to the chopper and with the snow it will be pretty hard going."
"What if they are no longer in the plane, by the time we get to them?" Patterson asked concerned.
"Then we will use Geronimo here." She petted and scratched her dog on the head and behind the ears while closing her eyes briefly. "Geronimo is a trained tracker and Sharkey has brought clothes from both men so my dog can track them their scent." She frown in concentration and then shivered as if cold. She then reopened her eyes. "I'm getting impressions that they are too weak and injured to try to walk for help. They'll both need medical attention and hospitalization and we need to get them before sunset. I'm not sure they'll last another night in this cold weather."
The pilot contacted Air Traffic Control and was soon in contact with the search command center stationed at the Arapaho National Recreation Center Area. Within a few minutes, the pilot and Morton spied the search command center that had been set up at Cutthroat Bay Group Campgrounds. In its flat snow cleared area were several tents, many terrain vehicles, three helicopters and a couple of ambulances as well as a large group of people dressed in various uniforms and civilian clothes moving in and out of the tents and vehicles.
Chip directed the pilot to touch down in the area where the other helicopters were settled. "As soon as we land, we need to stay together and go to that large tent and find the person in charge," Chip instructed.
Patterson, Sharkey and Kowalski all answered with an "aye, sir" and as soon as the helicopter had landed and the power was turned off, Chip gave the order to get their winter gear on.
The group, including the dog, disembarked from chopper wearily and made their way to command center.
As they entered the tent, they immediately spotted a large map that was propped up on an upright board. A large fortish black man wearing a park service uniform had a pointer in one hand and was giving orders to groups of volunteers on where they needed to search. He noticed the new group coming towards him and noticed the naval uniforms Morton, the pilot and Chief Sharkey was wearing. He finished his instructions and dismissed the group and made his way through the crowd to meet naval group. As he drew closer, he held his hand out toward Chip.
"Lt. Commander Morton?" he questioned with his voice and his facial expression.
"Yes and you are Matthew Wilson with the Colorado Rocky Mountain Park Service?" Chip replied with a smile as he gave the other man a friendly handshake.
"Yes, I am. I am sorry we had to meet like this and I hope we find your people soon. We have groups out looking already." He gave Chip a friendly smile in return.
Chip turned to his people to make introductions. "Mr. Harrison, this is Doctor Jamison, Chief Petty Officer Sharkey, Seamen Patterson and Kowalski from the SSRN Seaview, Chief David Harrison is our pilot on loan from the Navy Department and Diana Leaphorn who has volunteered her services to help us."
Matthew's face lit up as soon as Diana appeared from behind Kowalski. "Diana, what a pleasant surprise. I haven't seen you in months!" Matthew and Diana went into a friendly hug.
"How are Linda and the kids?" she answered back with a big grin.
"They are thriving and you would not believe how tall the boys have grown since you saw them last." Then Matthew realized that this was not the time for personal chat and that they needed to get back to business. "Diana has helped us off and on for years in searching for missing people. She used to work for the park service here until she transferred to California. As for what we know right now, I need you to follow me to that map."
He turned and walked through the crowd to the map and started to update them on the latest information that they had.
"Admiral Nelson was flying in this direction at the time of his mayday. His last known location was at
this point here." He pointed to a marked spot on the map that had a plane on it. "There was a lot of heavy snow by that time as well as high wind gusts. They could have easily been blown off course right after that last confirmed location. Their plane's ELT is not working. Probably damaged in the crash. So we have started our search groups here" he pointed to a yellow flag on the map. "Here and here" pointing to a green and orange flagged area, but as you can see by this map, we have a large area to search. Their plane could be hidden within the trees, in a ravine or on a side of mountain. "
"Sharkey give me one of those personal items again, please," Diane said as she made her way up to the map.
Sharkey pulled out of his pocket of his coat an envelope with cuff links in it and handed it to Diana as he joined her at the map. "They could be anywhere. Do you think you can pick them up?"he asked in a low voice for her ears only.
" I'll know in a moment. I just need to be alone with the map for a couple of minutes," she said with a reassuring smile to her worried friend. She turned to face everyone behind her. "Could everyone step back about eight to ten feet from me so that I don't pick your energy as I am doing this." She didn't bother to wait for them to comply. She turned back to the map and raised one hand up toward it while keeping the other hand on the personal item. She moved her hand slowly across the map searching for an area of energy until she felt drawn to a certain area on the map. "Matt, let me have the pointer."
Matthew gave her the pointer and she circled the area where she was feeling the energy. " I am feeling a lot of energy in this area of the map. She was circling the area between Cameron Pass and Neota Wilderness. We need to search there first." She lowered the pointer and returned it to Matthew.
"No one is in that area yet so you can have it." Matthew put a navy blue flag in that area and handed a walkie-talkie to Chip. "Stay in touch and if you find them, yell and we will call off the search teams and provide any help you need. When you get tired come back here for food and rest. We will have a gasoline truck here shortly to keep fuel in the choppers."
"Thanks we appreciate everything your people are doing for us," Chip said gratefully as he shook Matthew's hand again.
"We are happy to help out and hopefully your people will be found soon. There is a lot of snow out there. Their plane and the crash landing damage will be covered so take it slow and easy. Diana is an expert and she knows what to look for in the air as well as on land so be guided by her and keep in constant contact with me. I will let you know if anyone finds anything." Matthew dismissed them with a smile and a nod and returned to the next group of volunteers who were waiting for orders.
"Okay, let's take a fifteen minute break." Chip said to the group. "Get something to eat and stretch your legs and then meet back at the chopper." He lead the way out of the tent. Everyone including the dog fell in behind him and followed him. Everyone returned back to the chopper with in ten minutes impatient to start the search. Chip opened the front passenger door and looked at Diana. "Since you are the expert, you are in charge of the search. You will need to ride up front so you can have a better view."
"Fine, let me secure my dog first," Diana answered back with a nod.
The men allowed her into the chopper first with Geronimo and waited until the dog was secured and she was in the front cockpit before they took their seats. Everyone belted in and put their headgear on so that they could communicate and Diana grabbed the binoculars and placed them around her neck. The pilot, after getting the go ahead from Chip Morton, called air traffic control for flight instructions, raised the helicopter up to a safe altitude and directed it toward their destination.
Twenty minutes later, the pilot notified everyone that they were entering their search area. Diana had closed her eyes for a minute to clear her mind and then concentrated on picking up what she could physically. At first she felt nothing, so she kept her eyes peeled on the scenery below them looking for any signs of the plane or damage. After two hours in the air with the helicopter moving in a slow search pattern, she slowly started feeling energy that had been left in the air. It was like playing hot and cold. As soon as she felt the energy decreasing she told the pilot to go left or right until she felt the energy strengthen again.
The crew was curious but afraid to say anything that might break her concentration. Chip, being cynical, went ahead and asked, "What are you picking up?"
"Energy from the plane left in the air," she replied with her eyes glued to the land below them. "It is like standing in front of a fire. You feel the heat of the flames. This is similar. I feel an electrical charge in the air and it is recent, so it must be the plane."
"If it is the plane, then it is off course from the original flight plan," replied the pilot.
"Remember they were fighting strong head winds, ice on the wings and blinding snow. They are going to go off course, but the question is how off course and where are they now…turn a couple of degrees to the left again," she said as she continued to look at the ground. After a few minutes she muttered, "It's getting stronger by the minute. We are getting closer. Look for tree breakage or evidence of the plane."
Chip Morton and Kowalski who had the window seats looked out the window as instructed and watched for anything that might look damaged. The earth was blanketed in a thick coating of snow. Even the trees were carrying snow clung to their branches like false leaves almost making the trees look invisible from their altitude.
Diana started feeling the energy in the air getting intense. "The energy is getting stronger. " She kept her eyes focused on the formations of the trees for anything unusual. " We need to get lower," she told the pilot.
The pilot nodded and lowered the helicopter to a level closer to the trees but still in safety limits and slowed the down their air speed. He flew the chopper over the tree tops, over ravines and up the mountain sides as causiously as possible.
Diana started feeling the energy becoming stronger with every second. "They have to be just ahead of us." She muttered under her breath.
Kowalski was first to see several trees that were broken and laying on the ground to their right. He practically yelled into the mike with his excitement. "Hang right at two o'clock…there is recent tree damage there."
The pilot, who had been keeping watch on the left side of the chopper, swung his gaze at two o'clock along with everyone else and then swung the helicopter in that direction. Chip and Sharkey noticed the tree damage and where it stopped in a deep rocky ravine between two mountains.
"I am going to follow the tree damage in and see if we can see the plane from the air." Harrison said as he nosed the helicopter up the damaged path and lowered the chopper as low as he dared over the treetops. At
the end of the path the damaged plane was barely visible amongst the rocks in the bottom of the ravine due to the snow on top of it. "It will be a good walk in. Maybe a fifteen to twenty minutes depending on how deep the snow is on the ground in this area. We will also have to be careful of those rocks. "
"I agree," Diana added.
"I can land at the end of the damaged path." Harrison stated.
"That sounds like a good plan. I will call command center and tell them that we have located the plane and what we are doing." Chip grabbed up the walkie talkie and reported in to the command center while Harrison directed the chopper to the end of the damaged path and searched for a safe area to land away from the damaged trees and out in an open area.
A couple of minutes later, the chopper made a safe landing in a clear area of the forest. The snow was two feet deep. Everyone grabbed gear, medical supplies and Diana's dog and ducked from the chopper's twirling blades. Harrison had cut off the engine and elected to stay behind with the chopper. The group sorted the supplies and medical equipment and packed what they could on their backpacks, the dog carried medical supplies and two military shovels and Kowalski and Patterson carried the two stretchers. Once everyone was organized Diana, being the tracker, took the lead with Chip, Doc Jamison and the others following close behind.
The forest seemed wonderful and eerie at the same time. Snow and ice covered everything making it look like a fairy wonderland. There were no animal sounds. Just the sounds of their feet stepping into the snow, their heavy breathing and the wind making a roaring sound through the trees. Everyone looked at the damage caused by the plane and they were a little worried about what they would find. Diana felt confident that they would find those two men alive. She was still feeling the energy from the plane crash, but was picking up a very positive vibration that told her that things were going to be all right during this rescue.
The party had a slow difficult walk due to the knee high snow, hidden tree roots and rocky ground. Occasionally Patterson or Kowalski, who were burdened with both the bulk of the collapsible stretchers and their back packs, would stumble over something they could not see and were scolded by Chief Sharkey to move more carefully. He claimed he didn't want to have any more injured to carry out.
Thirty minutes later they arrived at the crash site. They found the Piper minus its wings trapped between two trees. From the back of the plane, it appeared to be intact body wise and there was a strong smell of gas. Patterson and Kowalski handed the stretchers to Doc Jamison and Sharkey and took their back packs off. They proceeded to grab the shovels off of Geronomo and started digging the snow away from passenger door. Diana and Chip went to the front of the plane to look at the damage and to try to see inside the cockpit through the plane's windshield. The nose of the plane had taken a beating on the forced landing. The glass to the cockpit was broken and someone had stuffed the opening with a parachute to keep the cold air out of the cabin.
Chip hated to ask, but found himself doing it anyway. "Are they alive?"
Diana gave him a smile knowing how much it took him to bend toward her in this fashion. "I don't sense death. They are hurt, but they will be okay when we get them back to the command center." She put her gloved hand on the nose of the plane to keep her balance. "The dark haired man has the worst injuries, but…" She stopped midsentence and looked around like she was searching the air around her for some unknown reason. "They're not here. "
"What do you mean they're not here." Chip asked sharply.
She answered in a dazed voice. "They left the plane hours ago. Your Admiral decided to move to a safer place because of gas."
"Mr. Morton, we're through and we're opening the door now." Patterson announced as Kowalski grabbed the door handle.
Chip made his way to the door with Diane following close behind him. As Kowalski opened the door and stood back, Doc Jamison moved forward and stuck his head into the plane first and then pulled it back out a couple of seconds later.
"Chip, she's right. They're not here." Doc said worriedly.
Chip stuck his head into the plane to survey the inside cabin. He saw that there was blood on the broken windows, on the seats and some evidence of blood in the back of the cabin on the floor. To him it looked like they had packed up some of the supplies and left the plane. "Chief, you were the last one to see the plane before they took off yesterday. What supplies did the Admiral have on board?"
"The Admiral kept camping gear stowed in the back in case he wanted to camp out or in case of an emergency. There were a couple of sleeping bags, blankets, medical kit, some food and mess kits." Sharkey answered behind Chip's shoulder.
"It looks like they took the gear with them. All the supplies are missing from the back of the plane."
Chip said as he finished taking in the view from the inside cabin, pulled his head out and turned to face the group.
"Sharkey, were there any flare guns in the plane?" Diane asked.
"Yeah, two of them, in case one didn't work. I put them in there myself a couple of weeks ago." Sharkey answered.
"Chief, where were they stored?" Chip asked as he stuck his head back into the back part of the plane to look for them.
"In the back of the plane, behind the passenger seat on the side wall next to the medical kit." Sharkey replied. "You can't miss them."
Chip saw the side wall was empty of the flare guns and the medical kit. Most of the important camping gear had been taken along with emergency supplies. "The flare guns, medical kit and flash lights are gone as well as most of the camping supplies." He pulled his head back out of the plane to look at the group.
"May I have access to the plane for a moment to see if I can pick up something?" Diane asked Chip.
"Go ahead." Chip answered as he and the others backed away allowing her access to the broken craft.
Diane told her dog to stay and then walked up to the passenger door and placed her hand on the cockpit seat to get an impression. A couple of seconds later she doubled over gasping in pain.
"Diane!" Sharkey shouted as he made a move toward her.
"Stay back, Sharkey!" She ordered without looking in his direction as she slowly straightened up and regained her breath. "I'm fine. Just stay back." She answered with her voice shaking. She kept her hand on the seat and stood still staring in front of her for a couple of minutes before breaking off her concentration and backed away from the cabin. She turned and looked at Chip. " I need some information about both men. Have they been in this area before?"
"Yes, Lee comes a couple of times a year. They both were here last year for a survival course. Why?"
"Let me see what I can find around the plane first and then I will tell you what I've just seen." Diane walked away from the group and started tracking.
The snow on the ground had erased all the evidence of foot prints she discovered as she circled around the plane first looking for clues. After being satisfied that she saw all she could see around the plane, she walked in a direct line from the plane into the woods from the passenger side of the plane. She looked at the snow covered trees and the white blanket of snow all around her. The heavy snow had covered everything as it had done down at the plane.
"Where are you?" she muttered under her breath not expecting a reply. The wind blew through the trees giving an erie moaning sound as the freezing wind bit into her face. She found evidence on the tree branches that someone had recently pass through. She walked about hundred feet from the plane and then returned to the men who were still next to the plane moving around trying to stay warm from the freezing temperatures and biting cold wind.
She walked up to face Chip and Doc Jamison who were standing side by side. "Your captain was also injured in the crash. I felt immense pain coming from his right side from his shoulder down his right leg. I'm also feeling some internal damage. After the crash, you Admiral was strong enough to move around, bandaged his wounds as well as your Captain's and then they traveled in that direction." She pointed at the direction where she had been. "Your Admiral packed supplies in backpacks and helped the other man to leave the plane. He felt they could not stay here because of the gas spill and they needed better shelter from the cold. He hasn't gone far because of the weather, their injuries and because he knows that the search parties were coming to look for them. He knows to stay close to the crash site to be found. They are nearby in some kind of shelter."
"How did you know that Crane had been injured and the direction they took off in?" Doc Jamison asked puzzled on how she came by her information.
"When I touched the seat, I saw and felt him being injured in the crash. I also felt your Admiral's concern for the other man." She turned to Sharkey. "Sharkey, I need clothing from your captain now."
She turned to Chip and Doc Jamison for an explanation to what she was about to do as Sharkey dug into his gym bag. "The snow has covered their foot prints but has not covered their trail. I found broken tree branches, traces of blood marked on the trees and rocks and pieces of their clothes as they brushed by the trees. Since they have survival training in this area, they know where to go for shelter in this area. Now it is a matter of finding that shelter. There is a couple of small caves in this area and a maintenance shack a few miles away that these men would know about. It's a matter now of finding their shelter."
Sharkey handed her a brown sweater that was Lee Crane's and she called Geronimo to come to her. The dog immediately obeyed by walking up, sitting down and waited patiently for the next command. Diane put the sweater in front of the dog and allowed the dog to get a good memory of the smell. Then in Navajo she told him to "find". The dog got up and started smelling the ground where they were standing and then took off running for the forest.
"Geronimo will be able to find their trail by scent of your captain's sweater and he will lead us to their location." Diane said as she gave Sharkey back the sweater to be placed back in the bag.
"Okay everyone, gather everything up and follow the dog." Chip ordered as he adjusted his back pack on his back and followed Diane up the hill.
The others quickly grabbed their gear and followed closely behind.
As they slowly climbed the hill stumbling over hidden tree roots and rocks, Diane continued to do her own tracking by checking tree branches and tree trucks for evidence of damage as they followed the dogs tracks.
Chip watched her with interest. He never saw anyone track before and she was spotting things he would have immediately overlooked. "How long have you been tracking?"
"Since I was seven. My grandfather taught me on the Reservation. My family was poor so we had to hunt for our food if we wanted meat. My grandfather also wanted to make sure his granddaughter didn't forget her heritage. I used to go hunting with him and he taught me everything he knew. Tracking isn't hard to learn. It is just a matter of being observant and patient."
"Wilson said you used to work here. Where do you think they are?" Chip asked breathlessly as he looked out at the white forest and the snow covered hill in front of them. They were coming to the top of the hill and it was becoming more difficult to climb up the incline.
"Since both men have had survival training here, they know about the small caves in this area. It would be my guess that they might have made it over to a small cave over on the next hill." She answered just as breathless as she struggled to keep her footing over the rocks and snow. "That is the closest shelter and the closest for them to travel to."
"What if they aren't there?" Chip felt the cold air burn his lungs as he struggled to take in air to breath as kept pace with Diane.
"Whether they are or aren't, Geronimo has the scent and will find them. He will signal us by howling when he finds them."
Chip and Diane made it to the top of the hill and waited for the others to catch up with them before making their way down the hill. They took the opportunity of surveying the terrain before them as they tried to catch their breath. Below them was the same terrain as they just left, trees, rocks, a valley and a lot of snow.
Diane used her binoculars to try to spot Geronimo's tracks, since the dog was not in sight, but lost the tracks amongst a group of rocks. Just as they others caught up with them, they heard an eerie howl followed by two gun shots and a startled yip of a canine. Diane, concerned for her dog, took off running toward the noise as fast as she could.
Chip turned toward the others. "Sharkey, come with me and you three follow at a slower pace and be careful. If it's them, we will shoot three shots in the air."
Chip and Sharkey descended down the hill following the trail Diane left in the snow. They saw her moving in a clumsy fast pace toward the next hill. At the next howl was again followed by a couple of more shots and another startled yip. Diane seem to move even faster toward the sound until she was out of their sight over the next hill. Chip and Sharkey continued to follow her trail slowly up the next hill.
About five minutes later, three rapid shots rang through the air and a dog's continuous barking gave the men the message that Diane had found the shelter. Chip and Sharkey gave each other a relieved grin and then made their way toward the barking.
As they came to the top of the hill, they saw Diane and her dog outside a small cave entrance just a few feet below them. They turned and looked back down the hill and saw the others were just a few minutes behind them. They made their way down the hill and a couple of minutes later they joined Diane at the cave entrance.
"They are lying just inside the cave entrance safe but in bad condition." Diane stated.
"What were those gun shots and howling?" Sharkey asked as he glanced over at Geronimo who was in good shape and calm.
"Your Admiral thought Geronimo was a wolf or wild dog looking for an easy meal for dinner. He was shooting at him to scare him off the first time. When he heard the second howl he thought "the wolf" was calling for reinforcements and off more shots in his directions to scare him off. He now knows that you are here."
Chip turned and looked at the terrain. "We can't walk them out of here. It would be too hard on them and would take too long and there is no place for a chopper to land. Can they be air vac'd?"
"Yes. There is a life line unit waiting right now at the command center. Give me the walkie talkie and I'll set it up." Diane reached her hand and Chip placed the walkie in her hand. "Be careful when you go in. There is only room for one person to go in and the ceiling is very low. I have it lit inside." She knew by both men's expressions that they were dying to go in to check on the victims.
"I'll go and check on the others." Sharkey volunteered with a smile allowing Chip to go in alone into the cave.
Chip nodded and a ducked into the cave. He had to enter on his hands and knees to avoid the ceiling. Inside, once his eyes adjusted, he saw the cave was only big enough for two bodies that were right in front of him. Diane had placed a lit candle in a tin can on a cave shelf to create light for the cave as well as some heat. He crawled over to the nearest body encased in a sleeping bag and removed the parka that laid over the man's head to retain his body heat.
Feeling cold air hitting his face, Nelson opened his eyes and took a couple of minutes to focus his vision before croaking out a weak, "Chip?"
Chip looked down at the Admiral and notice that Diane had bandaged his injuries the best she could. "Yes, Admiral, it's me."
"So good to see you, Lad." Nelson whispered.
"We have an emergency team coming to air vac you out of here. Just hang in there a little while longer."
"Worried about Lee." Nelson said with an exhausted effort. "Please check on him."
Chip nodded and crawled over Nelson's body to get next to Lee who was also encased in a sleeping bag and had a parka over his head. Chip pulled off the second parka and studied Lee's face and checked his neck pulse. Lee's bandaged face was extremely battered and his complexion was very white with shock.
Chip got a pulse rate and then put the parka back on his friend's head before returning to the Admiral.
"How's he doing?" Nelson asked weakly.
"His breathing and pulse has me worried, but he'll make it." Chip answered hoping what he said was the truth.
"Lt. Commander Morton, the emergency team is already here to take them out of the cave." Diane announced from the mouth of the cave over the noise of a helicopter's motor and blades.
"They're here to take you to the hospital. I will see you later." Chip told his boss as he patted the area of the sleeping bag where Nelson's hand was lying and then he put the parka back over Nelson's head to protect his body heat. He then slowly crawled out of the cave and was helped up by Sharkey and moved a side while the life line technician went in to the cave and the other stood just outside to help drag the sleeping bags out to the stretcher basket that was waiting within a few feet of the cave entrance.
Diane leaned over and yelled into Chip's ear. "Matt sent them out in our direction as soon as he heard we were looking for them on foot. That is why they got here so fast. They have practiced air rescues from this cave so your men will be in good hands. The techs will have your men as well as your doctor in the helicopter within minutes. We need to move out of the area so they can work."
Chip nodded and waved at Sharkey, Patterson and Kowalski to follow him away from the cave and back up the hill. Doc Jamison was already in the helicopter and so were the stretchers that they brought with them. Chip walked up to the top of the hill and then stood there to watch both men loaded into the helicopter's basket and loaded safely into the chopper. It only took ten minutes and then the hovering chopper rose higher in the air, turned and flew in the direction of the hospital. Leaving the naval group and Diane alone again in the snow.
"Now what?" Chip asked as he realized Diane was still holding on to the walkie talkie.
"Your chopper is waiting for us over there". Diane waved her gloved hand to a spot where there was a clearing at the bottom of the hill and a chopper was patiently waiting for their return.
"Well, I don't know about you gentlemen, but I am ready to head back. Let's go." Chip said with a tired smile.
The group, including Diane and dog, returned his smile and made their way down to their ride home.
As they were airborne, Chip contacted the command center with an update on both men's conditions and their ETA back to the base. He could hear cheering in the background from the response to his news. Then he closed his eyes for a silent prayer of thanks. When he reopened them, he realized he owed their success to a lady who he was very skeptical about. No matter what he thought about psychics, she had been totally honest with them at all times and showed sincerity all along. He knew he owed her one big apology.
Within fifteen minutes, their naval chopper landed gracefully back on the command center, and as they piled out of the chopper to stretch and wait for Chip to tell them what to do next. Chip could see by their faces and body posture that everyone was exhausted. Chief Harrison had been flying since early that morning and desperately needed some rest. Patterson, Sharkey and Kowalski had been up for over thirty-four hours with only a couple of hours cat nap. Diana and her dog had been going for longer than that since she had done a search and rescue mission before theirs. It was a wonder that she was still on her feet. He could tell she was totally drained. He suddenly realized he had been up for over thirty four hours himself and between the emotional roller coaster he had been on since he heard about the crash and lack of sleep he has about dead on his feet too.
"Okay, this is what we are going to do now. I want you all to go get some coffee to wake you up while I check in with Matthew Wilson. I will ask him where we can keep the helicopter over night and where the closest hotel is. We are too tired to go back to California today and we need to be close by to hear about the Admiral and the Skipper anyway. So we will all stay the night at a hotel and go back home tomorrow."
"Ask him if we can stay at the park lodge. That way we can park the helicopter right next to it." Diana suggested as she grabbed her dog's leash and followed the men toward the tent that was the canteen area.
"Thanks for the suggestion. I will ask him," Chip replied back as he made his way to the command center.
Fifteen minutes later, arrangements had been made to accommodate the Nelson's group and Diana at the park lodge that was five minutes away by helicopter. Matthew Wilson got permission for the naval helicopter to be parked on the grounds.
Once everyone was given a room for the night, Chip had grabbed a fast dinner and then went to his room for the rest of the night. He stripped, deposited his clothes in a bag for the housekeeper to pick up for cleaning and took a long relaxing shower. After drying himself off, he crawled gratefully into bed and grabbed the phone to call the hospital. He was patched within a couple of minutes to a tired Doc Jamison who had just lain down on a sofa in the doctor's break room.
"This is Dr. Jamison," The man on the other end said with a tired sigh.
"This is Morton, Doc. Tell me what is going on."
"The good news is that we got to them in time and that the Admiral was strong enough after the crash to put both of them into sleeping bags and cover them completely in blankets to keep from freezing to death. The Admiral has minor skin damage due to the cut glass, a concussion and his left side is pretty banged up from being slammed against that side of the craft." Jamison took a sip of badly needed coffee before continuing. "The Skipper has a concussion, whiplash, broken right leg, broken ribs and some internal bleeding which is being taken care of by surgery right now."
"When can we take them home?"
"The Admiral can be released for transfer in a couple of days. As for Lee, I want to wait and see how he does before having him flown back to the Institute."
"We are staying at the lodge at the State Park here. Take down this number where we are staying." Chip then gave him the phone number and room number where he was. "Keep me informed on what is happening there. We will be flying back tomorrow morning. I will have to cover for the Admiral at the Institute. I will call you before we leave to check in with you. I need you to stay with them until they can be released for transfer. I will reserve you a hotel room close to the hospital and a rental car while you are here. Get some sleep, Doc."
"I will as soon as we hang up. Lee will be in surgery for several hours yet and the nurses will notify me of any change in his or the Admiral's condition. You get some rest too! Night Chip."
"Night Doc." Chip lowered the phone back into it's cradle and with his last ounce of energy he grabbed for the blanket, threw it over him and finally allowed himself to surrender to sleep.
Next morning, the housekeeping service brought everyone in the Nelson's group freshly laundered clothes. After the much-needed sleep, fresh clothes, hot showers and hot breakfasts, everyone felt renewed. Doc Jamison had reported that Admiral Nelson was awake and doing well, but visitors were not allowed yet. Lee was recovering from surgery nicely but not in any condition for several days to be moved. Jamison was going to see to the Admiral's transfer in a couple of days and stay until Crane could be transferred as well.
After breakfast, Chip decided it was time to fly everyone back to Santa Barbara. The pilot could return to his regular duties, Diana needed to get back to her job with the park service, Sharkey, Patterson and Kowalski needed to get back on shore leave and he needed to cover for the Admiral's duties at the Institute. So they checked out of the lodge right after breakfast and flew back to Santa Barbara in better spirits then when they came.
Two hours later, the helicopter landed back at the Institute. Chip had radioed ahead to make arrangements for his and Sharkey's cars to be brought to the helicopter pad so that they transportation when they landed. The men got out of the chopper first grabbing gear as they went. Diana waited to be the last one out because of her dog and her gear, but as she tried to collect her things Sharkey and Patterson grabbed her gear from her and took it over to her jeep before she could protest. When she finally left the chopper, all the men where standing outside the chopper waiting for her, except for Harrison who was lifting off as soon as everyone cleared.
The chopper lifted, cleared the pad and made its way back to the naval base as the group of men converged on the lone woman and her dog. Chip waited until the chopper was gone to speak. He put his hand out and waited for her to put her hand in his for a handshake. She automatically placed her hand in his knowing that he was about to say something that was going to be very humbling for him.
As he held her hand in a firm grip, he said "I have to confess when Sharkey told me he wanted you to come with us, I was very much against it, but I am glad I was wrong and that you were with us. All of us appreciate what you did. Without you, we might have found them, but the question would always be would it have been in time to save their lives. Doc thinks they would not have lived another night out there."
"Commander, I understand what it took for you to say what you just said. My payment is for those men to come home alive and for those relieved looks on all of your faces. I have been paid in full. Now I need to get home and get back to work."
"Will you need me to call your boss to explain why you weren't at work today?" Chip asked.
"No, Matthew has already done that. They are used to me flying off to do rescue missions. It has been a pleasure meeting all of you." Diana gave Chip's hand a friendly squeeze before releasing it, then proceeded to shake Kowalski's and Patterson's. She gave Sharkey a friendly hug and a fast peck on his cheek before going to her jeep with her dog following right behind her.
Chip looked at all three men with a relieved grin on his face, "Thank you gentlemen for volunteering for the search. Your help was much appreciated. Now stow the gear and then get back to your shore leave what is left of it." He slapped each of the men on the shoulder in a friendly gesture as they made their way to the awaiting cars with their gear.
Chip wasn't going to be so lucky. His shore leave was now cancelled because he had to go immediately to the N.I.M.R. office and cover for Admiral Nelson and Captain Crane until the Admiral was well enough to take over the administrative part of the Institute again.
Three days later, Chip Morton came into the Institute's clinic to visit Admiral Nelson. The Admiral had been transferred the night before and Doc Jamison had stayed with Lee in Colorado. Frank, the corpsman, was overseeing Admiral Nelson's medical care that included an enforced rest. The Admiral was still too weak to give Frank any trouble. As he approached Nelson's bedside, he saw that Nelson's face had minor bruises and swelling from being tossed around during the crash. The Admiral appeared to be a sleep, but as soon as he stood over him, Nelson's eyes opened to look up at his visitor.
"Chip, I am glad to see you. How is everything at the Institute?" he croaked in a weary voice.
Chip leaned down bracing his hands on the hospital bed bars. "Everything is fine. Angie is helping me with your paper work, the crew is still on shore leave and according to Doc, Lee will be transferred in a couple of days so you will have a roommate to pass the time."
"We were lucky you found us in time. How did you find us in all that snow and forest? It couldn't have been easy."
"Actually, we had a psychic helping us. It cost us $3.99 a minute but it was worth it." Chip joked. "Don't worry. I charged it to your credit card for the Institute. I would love to see your accountant's face when he gets the bill."
"YOU DID WHAT?" Nelson bellowed almost coming off the bed.
"We had a psychic find you," Chip said with a smile. "I was joking about the $3.99 a minute. Sharkey knew someone with the gift for finding people and convinced me to use her to find you. Thanks to her we got to you in time."
"How did she find us?"
"By holding your cufflinks in one hand and putting a hand over a map. Then while we were in flight she could feel energy from the plane and followed the energy to you. It was amazing. She lead us right to you and even knew that you were still alive and that you had covered both yourself and Lee up to keep your body heat. I was skeptical at first but she made me believe that there really are unique people out there with special abilities."
"I hope to be able to thank her in person when I get out of here." Nelson said happy to be alive and back home.
"I think that can be arranged. Right now get some rest and take it one day at a time," Chip advised as he patted Nelson's hand.
"Yes, Dr. Morton." Nelson said as he closed his eyes and fell back to sleep. Chip smiled down at this boss and then walked lightly out of the room.
*A note to the reader, this story is based on two tragedies in a friend of mine's life where her husband and years later a cousin were missing and there were searches made to find them by law enforcement, fire department, search and rescue, volunteers and physic advisors. (Both were eventually found.) According to one of my friends, who has been on many search and rescue missions, the searches are not as easy as I have written in this story. I deliberately simplified this search for this particular story.