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by BobCurby 

Posted: 06 June 2010
Word Count: 2796
Summary: Diving from the SeaWitch Kurt and Analise recover the downed helicopter's black box flight recorder.

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CHAPTER 21 – Black Box

The translucent waters were lit in an eerie blue by the lamps strapped to the two divers’ arms and on their headbands. They were 27 metres down and 15 metres north of the dinghy. Kurt tapped on Analise’s arm and pointed to the twisted metal on the sandy seabed before them. It was the wreckage of the gunbus helicopter that had been shot down earlier. She nodded and gestured to him to head for it, which he did immediately, kicking out and stirring up sand as he did so. Analise was about to follow him when something caught her eye, glinting in the sun. She reached down and scooped up the sand and then she saw it. A diamond about the size of a golf ball shaped like a small egg. She could see the light on her headband dancing about inside it. She deposited in her sack. Margie could look at that later.

They reached the wreckage. There was very little left that was recognisable as any part of the helicopter. The ATA missile from the Impala fighter had seen to that. The undercarriage and part of the lower fuselage were almost intact though and Kurt knew exactly where to look. He was amazed how quickly the sand was beginning to take over the wreckage as it shifted about in the tide. The wreckage of hapless ships all along the coast, half buried in the sand, some even several hundred metres inland, bore testimony to that fact. The ‘Skeleton Coast’ is well documented globally. Kurt followed the line of the fuselage and found himself alongside a smooth cylindrical object, the control console. He was grateful that the explosion had been so forceful that there was no pilot’s seat and therefore no body to stare at him blankly from above the console. The gunbus was a Hughes helicopter, Kurt had flown in these a few times. He knew that the flight recorder was in a case a metre below the control box of the console and half a metre to the rear of it.

Kurt ran his hand along the body, smooth and black, avoiding the sharp edges where the missile had torn through the metal as if it were tissue paper. He was feeling for the small door to the compartment holding the heat resistant case. Suddenly his hand felt a void. He had found the compartment but the door had been blown off. He felt inside, the case he was seeking was not there. The explosion had blown the flight recorder out of its seating. Torn wires were all that remained as a reminder that it had been there. He gestured to Analise; she began examining pieces of metal in the sand. The wreckage had spread over a wide area. She shook her head. She had not found it either. She tapped her watch, they had 15 minutes of air supply, but they needed 5 minutes to surface.

Kurt nodded and held up 5 fingers whilst mouthing round the air tube mouthpiece ‘give me five minutes more’. Analise nodded, she knew Kurt wanted that box. They both returned to searching the sand. The tide had turned and it wasn’t helping them as it pushed the wreckage about and piled sand on it. Kurt had to think it through, either the missile had blown the flight recorder out of its compartment, or the impact with the water had done so. He decided it was the missile, and calculated the way it would have travelled and how far. The missile hit from the left front of the gunbus, so the case would have been blown backwards and to the right. He went in that direction and came across one of the rotors sticking out of the sand. “It’s got to be around here somewhere,” he thought himself as he felt about in the sand. He was about to give it up as a bad job, the five minutes being almost up, when his hand hit something square in shape. He dragged it out of the sand and held it up in the light from his headband. He could see an anxious Analise a few metres away and waved, gesturing at the box. She reciprocated his gestures and pointed towards the surface. He nodded and pointed upwards also. They slowly began their ascent, allowing the nitrogen in their blood to disperse.

Margie came back out on deck, she was anxious about Kurt and Analise, she could see the dinghy in the floodlights of the cutter as they reflected off the sea. It was empty. She looked at her watch, they had been gone over 40 minutes. Rafi appeared alongside her. He too looked at his watch and out to sea.
“Where are they, we need to get moving in the next few minutes?”
“I don’t know, I hope they are OK, they’ve been down there a long time.”
“How long?”
“I can’t be sure, I’d say about 30 maybe 35 minutes.”
“Shit, they’re running on nothing, those tanks hold 30 minutes maximum. I’ll have to go and get help.”
He was about to go and fetch the signal lamp to call the Coastguard for help, when he saw two black shapes pop up next to the dinghy. “THERE, they’re up!” he exclaimed.

Kurt grabbed his mouthpiece and pulled it from his mouth.
“Phew!” he gasped, “We were getting a little low on air there.”
“You can say that again,” replied Analise as she too pulled the mouthpiece out. She looked at the tank gauge and noted that it read ‘0’, any longer down there and they would have suffocated or drowned. “You and that box!”
“Let’s get back, we are behind in time.” Kurt replied, side-stepping her comment.
A few minutes later they were back on the platform protruding from the side of the Sea Witch. Rafi was there to see to the internal loading of the dinghy and retracting the platform. “I thought I was going to have to signal the Coastguard to go in and get you.” He scolded, “You really should not stay down that long, what if the tanks were under-charged!”
“We had to get that flight recorder box,” Kurt replied as he held up the box, “The Coastguard will be glad of this.”
“Yes, Rafi, Kurt wouldn’t come up until he had that box in his scruffy hands. It wasn’t where it should have been, the missile blew it 15 metres away from the helicopter.”
“Admit it Lisa, you wanted us to find it almost as much as I did.”
“Yes I did, but not at the risk of our own lives.”

They were now at the steps to the bridge so she ascended them with Rafi and Kurt finishing off the securing of all loose objects and making sure the side of the boat was aerodynamically correct. Once in the bridge, Analise reached for the hailing microphone, “Coastguard cutter Admiral Ashbourne, this is Sea Witch, do you read, over?”
“Roger Sea Witch, we read you ma’am, how may we help?”
“You are probably aware we just dived to the north of our position. We have recovered the flight recorder from the SMC gunbus, we thought you might need it for your report, over.”
“Sea Witch, standby one, over.”
“Standing by, over.”
“Sea Witch, this is Commander Hermanus Politzee, we appreciate your work on that, we will despatch our launch to you in the morning. Over.”
“Good evening Commander, I am sorry, we need to make a manoeuvre this evening and pick up supplies, we shall be leaving in a few minutes and not returning to the Rock for a few days. I suggest you send your launch now sir, or wait until we come back. Over.”
“Sea Witch roger, we cannot send the launch out now, we will wait until you return, I’m sure it will be worthwhile. Over.”
“Damn! I didn’t really want them here when we come back!” hissed Analise, and then back on the microphone, “Roger sir, that will be fine, we will keep it secure until our return, over and out.” She slammed the microphone down on the desk top as Rafi and Kurt arrived at the door.

“What’s up Annie, “ Rafi asked as he went to look at the dent made by the heavy base of the microphone.
“I wanted the Coastguard to come over and get the black box, but they wanted to come in the morning. I told them we’re going for supplies and they said they’d wait until we got back. I don’t really want them here when we get back!”
“Well, why don’t we take it to them then?”
“But you’ve stowed the dinghy now.”
“Yes but the Sea Witch is ready to move.”
“What get alongside and throw it at them?”
“No Annie, our top deck will be the same level as their torpedo loading deck, we can hand it in through the window so to speak.”
“Brilliant, big man, I love you!” Analise hugged Rafi and grabbed the microphone again.
“Admiral Ashbourne, this is Sea Witch are you receiving, over.”
“Roger Sea Witch, we receive, go ahead.”
“Please advise Commander Polizee that we are bringing the flight recorder now, the Sea Witch will come alongside your starboard torpedo deck, please have a member of your personnel there to receive it. Over.”
“Roger ma’am, your message understood, standby one. Over.”
“Standing by, over.”
“Sea Witch, roger on that request, we shall await your arrival, be aware there is a slight swell and our heavily armoured hull can do severe damage to a fibre glass boat, please try to maintain a safe gap between us, Over.”
“Roger, we are on our way sir. Over.”

Rafi started the engines, just the outer two for the time being, and began to turn the boat towards the cutter. Then he made a long sweeping turn and brought the Sea Witch parallel to the side of the Naval vessel. Throttling back, he brought it to within a metre of the side of the cutter and maintained that by careful use of the throttles to one engine or the other. A figure appeared on the deck just a metre above them, Kurt was already up on the sun deck and he reached out as far as he could. The man on the cutter used a net on a pole to take the flight recorder from Kurt's hand.

“Thank you sir, the Commander will appreciate that, it will contain the information we need.”
“We thought that, please give the Commander our compliments and thanks.”
With that Kurt descended back to the bridge and Rafi eased the big boat away, dwarfed by the cutter quietly rolling at anchor. There was a look of consternation on his face.
Analise looked across at him, “What’s up big man?” she asked, tapping his arm.
“Well, Annie, I’m trying to think through the events of the last few hours. First, the Coastguard chopper comes, then the gunbus comes and fires on the Coastguard chopper; then two fighters arrive and blow the gunbus out of the sky. Next the Coastguard cutter arrives and the captain comes to visit us. Then you come out here and dive, nearly kill yourselves running out of air to get the gunbus’s black box. Then you just give it away. I puzzled!”
“You forgot to mention the three men in the boat that you blew away with the flare pistol.”
“Yes, I know – and that.”
“Well Rafi, we decided that SMC have got just a bit too powerful here, even taking on the South African Coastguard and that little black box will establish beyond a doubt that the gunbus was in SA waters and definitely out of order. When the Namibian government decides to make a fuss about this incident – which they will – the SA government will have this concrete evidence that the gunbus was in violation of SA airspace, was advised to turn back, refused and fired upon the Coastguard first.”
“I see, so it would be no value to us then?”
“Yes, indirectly, we keep them sweet and they’ll provide us safe cover until we need to go, tonight. Then, when we come back, if they’ve gone and we get any hassle before we strike at the dredger, SMC will get the jitters if they hear us get on the radio and call for assistance again.”

Rafi nodded. He seemed content with that explanation. He checked all systems and looked at the guages for the batteries supplying power to the comfort areas. They showed 30% charge. He flicked the switch labelled ‘GEN1’ and depressed a red button underneath it. From deep down in the bows came a throaty rumble from the 5 litres 8 cylinder diesel engine, big enough to pull a large truck and a 20 tonne load up a hill. Rafi nodded contentedly as the dials moved into the green charging zone. The Sea Witch was equipped with 10 24volt batteries in series, providing 240volts at 100 amps, adequate for their needs for several hours. The generator provided 1 Kilowatt of output, so would not only provide the charge for the batteries, but take care of all their needs at the same time. Rafi smiled and turned away from the console. A few minutes later has was back in the lounge. Tom was on his own, lounging on the long settee.
“How’s going Big Man, are we all set?”
“Yes, she’s ready to go.”
“Who were those people in the boats I saw earlier?”
“Fishermen, catching Tunny.”
“Don’t you mean Tuna?”
“No, Tunny, bigger brother of the Tuna, nearly as big as a porpoise. Nice soft meat, lighter colour, more like salmon to look at.”
“Well, I learn something every day.” Tom laughed.

Rafi laughed, here they were on the verge of the biggest heist in history and what were they discussing? Fish.
A few minutes later Analise and Kurt returned from stowing their diving gear. She was dressed in black trousers and a white knitted jersey top, lightly ribbed with one single rose bud knitted into the left side of the crew neck. Kurt was in jogging bottoms and a singlet vest. He felt hot after the dive.
Analise stepped into the galley.
“High Margie, I’m sorry to have left you for so long, I see you are cooking, I didn’t take you on as our cook.”
“I know Annie, but I was here and I know you want to get under way by 7, so I thought I would get something for us all while I had the time, so we can eat before we set off.”
“That’s very thoughtful of you Margie, so what are you cooking?”
“Just a simple rice dish and some beef dumplings.”
“Sounds delicious. Zulu recipe?”
“Ha Ha, no, American!”
“So, how long before it’s ready?”
“Well, all the preparation is done, the rice has will take 20 minutes and the dumplings about 25, is that OK?”
“That’s fantastic, so can you leave and come back into the lounge?”
“Yes, it’s just the cooking time now.”
“OK, set it going and let’s go back to the others.”

Margie set the two saucepans on the low heat and turned to follow Analise.
The two women returned to the lounge and Analise called for everyone’s attention.
“Just so that everyone knows what’s gone on today, how it affects us and where we’re going from here, I’d like to bring you up to date.”
She looked around the room at the four faces turned toward her, their eyes looking intently at her face, awaiting her next words. She continued.
“As everyone’s aware, today we had a few scares and one or two moments when we thought that the whole thing would have to be called off. It seemed a long way from our plans to hit the dredger as soon as they’d called in at six o’clock and be on our way to St Helena by six fifteen. Well, we’re still in the running, everything’s still very much in our favour and the SA Authorities are on our side. Today Kurt and I dived to the wreckage of the gunbus downed by the SA fighters and recovered the flight recorder. We delivered it to the Coastguard. It will prove that they acted in self-defence and in our defence as SA citizens. SMC will have no case, the Namibian government will have no case. This means that on our return, we will be left alone, and if the dredger’s out in that field, we’ll carry on with the plan. In the meantime, we’ll eat Margie’s delicious rice and dumplings, and then we’ll go to St Helena.”
FA©T © Steve Goodings 2010

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Comments by other Members

BobCurby at 23:31 on 20 June 2010  Report this post
This book looks very set to be a film in the future - all the editors and proof readers have done their bit - but for the exercise here, I will keep adding the chapters.


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