Above and Beyond: Adventures in the South China Sea
- By Tracy Wilkinson
- Air & Space magazine, January 2010
Courtesy Tracy Wilkinson
(Page 3 of 4)
Screaming along the deck, I suddenly saw a churning wake. "I see him!" I squealed as I brought the camera up. Just as I squeezed the trigger, the sub came into view.
At 170 feet I could almost see the color of the eyes of the three People's Liberation Army (Navy) crew in the sub's conning tower looking up at me. I can still see the white position light on the stern and the water foaming on the sinister black hull as we zoomed overhead.
"Zim, did you get him?"
"Oh yeah, I got him!" The Agiflite required film processing, but the camcorder was right now. We passed it around the cabin and watched the few seconds of footage. We'd scored big for our squadron, the U.S. Navy, and the Republic. We climbed to patrol altitude and continued to track the sub with radar and the occasional buoy until it was time to head back to Okinawa.
By now we were all dreaming of food. We'd not had anything to eat since dinner the night before, close to 24 hours ago, and I am not one who misses many meals. The coffee was long gone, as was the last of the stale corn chips someone had passed around. We were exhausted, sweaty, filthy, and hungry.
Then the fighters showed up.
I was dozing in my chair when somebody hit me in the leg. "Hey man, we're being intercepted!"
Crap! I pulled on my headset, peered into the blackness, and saw the flashing strobes of a fighter a mile off our right wing. Our Chinese friends had scrambled interceptors, and they'd been tracked coming after us. The two fighters in close formation a few feet from the window were in fact Japanese F-4 Phantoms that had come to deal with the threat, but we'd not sorted that out just yet. The Phantoms escorted us toward friendly airspace, but it was a very tense few minutes waiting for the communist missiles to arrive. This was the same area in which a Chinese F-8 Finback fighter would collide with an EP-3 Aries II—the electronic reconnaissance version of our airplane—less than two years later.