Above & Beyond: The Undertakers
- By Gary L. Harris
- Air & Space magazine, January 2001
(Page 3 of 3)
They had just left Mangrove Cay, 10 miles from ground zero, when the Cape notified them that the first Redstone had left the pad. Knowing how long it took the rocket to reach the predicted impact area, the air crew started timing the flight. Flying straight into the impact zone, the B-17 crew, with Nealy on board, passed the telemetry barge and dive boats too early.
Realizing too late that he was inside the three-mile predicted impact area, Nealy, the hair on the back of his neck rising, was about to ask the B-17 pilot to turn around when the Redstone’s reentry shock wave shook the aircraft. Less than a mile in front of the B-17, the warhead’s massive impact splash blossomed up from the ocean. The pilot veered hard to the right; nevertheless, water droplets struck the airplane’s port windows.
Vern Nealy now lives in quiet retirement not far from Biscayne Bay. As I listened to him reminisce, I came to doubt that the modest diver or his Undertakers would lay much claim to having helped launch the Space Age or win the cold war. But they did both.
—Gary L. Harris