Part 6 and Part 7
YV-411, airborne SE of Martinique.
There is a saying in aviation that if everything seems to be going perfectly, then look out, for something really bad is about happen. These were the thoughts of the Beechcraftâ€™s pilot as the plane was inbound to its illicit rendezvous.Â Cockpit lights turned so low that they were almost off, he flew through a moonless, hazy night â€“ few stars, no horizon to speak of and he was uncomfortable and growing more so by the minute.
â€œSomethingâ€™s not rightâ€ he announced to his copilot, who at the moment was busily engaged with binoculars, looking for the faintest of lights below, â€œIâ€™m going to make a slow turn to see if weâ€™re being followedâ€
â€œNo, not now â€“ I think I see somethingâ€ the copilot replied
â€œYeah, I think I have itâ€ the WSO said to his pilot â€œLooks like YV-411, but somethingâ€™s not right about it â€“ it looks like itâ€™s been taped or painted over something, but I canâ€™t tell for sure with the NVGsâ€
â€œOK, you ready to call it â€“ I need to back off here so we donâ€™t spook himâ€ the pilot replied.
â€œSteeljaw, Viper, letâ€™s go secureâ€
â€œOK Steeljaw, Viper 2.Â Contact is a Beech King Air, either a 200 or 300, lights out.Â Registration is YV-411.Â At least two occupants canâ€™t tell if anyone is in the cabin section or not.Â Weâ€™re dropping back to 1 mile in trail.â€
And there, for a fleeting second he felt a stirring, an unease that he couldnâ€™t put his finger on.Â Others have identified the sensation as â€œsomeone walking on their graveâ€ â€“ whatever it was, it was causing the hairs on the back of his neck to stir.Â Just as he was getting ready to state his intention to make the turn, the copilot picked up the hand-held VHF
â€œÂ¿Azul, Azul, este es Rojo, usted estÃ¡ listo?â€
â€œSÃ estamos listos. Pensamos que oÃmos aviones a reacciÃ³n antes, pero no vimos nada.â€
â€˜I knew itâ€™ he thought and began to look harder around the outside of the aircraft, still seeing nothing.
â€œDebe ser los americanos que se van volando a sus portadores en ejerciciosâ€ said the copilot with a shrug, turning to the radio he passed a single word command and a small, dull light appeared just off the nose.
â€œThere is our drop point, I will go back and get the cargo ready to dropâ€ he said getting out of his seat.Â Moving to the back of the aircraft he called for the pilot to descend and start his run.Â A gentler popping noise was followed by a rush of noise as the boarding door was opened in preparation for the drop.
â€œSkipper, target is descending â€“ now showing 10,000 ft and droppingâ€
â€œOK, look for a small surface target in that area â€“ that will probably be his drop pointâ€ the CICO replied, all the while wondering where the helicopters were.
â€œSteeljaw, Omaha 21 and 22 checking inâ€
â€œOmaha 21, roger, your steer 270 for 28 miles.Â Single surface contact that vicinity. Suspect aircraft is below Cherubs 9 and orbiting that area.Â Busterâ€
â€˜Itâ€™s always hardâ€™ he thought, â€˜These night drops â€“ so easy to misjudge your altitude, bank a little too steep and then youâ€™re fish foodâ€™
The hand held VHF the copilot had left behind was squawking something, but he couldnâ€™t make out what they were saying above the cabinâ€™s ambient noise and was concentrating too hard on keeping them from becoming fish food to pick it up.
Just as quickly the door was closed and all was quiet (relatively) again â€“
â€œThere they are, clear as dayâ€ the copilot said from the left seat â€œLeft, 11 oâ€™clock, probably 3 miles out.â€
â€œSteeljaw, Omaha â€“ we have a tally on the suspect vessel and aircraft and are inboundâ€
â€œOmaha 22, left, 3 miles, drop is in progress â€“ follow meâ€ and with that the helos banked sharply left and began to pick up speed.
â€˜Wonâ€™t get the plane without the Slick tonightâ€™ he was thinking, â€˜Maybe we can nab the boat insteadâ€™
MB â€˜Cabeza de Martilloâ€™ (Hammer Head)
Â¡RÃ¡pidamente, agarrÃ³n lo que dura la bala … tenemos que salir aquÃ! Â¡Mate la luz!
In one swift motion the last dropped bale was dragged onboard and the light extinguished.Â The first person issuing the commands slammed the throttles forward and the speed boat surged forward, knocking the others off their feet.
Wheeling around to starboard they began the run into Martinique.Â Off to the left the sun rose suddenly, brightly from the port side
â€œTheyâ€™re runningâ€ the plane commander passed to the crew, â€œAny word on the cutter?â€
From the back of the helo came word over the ICS that the cutter was on the other side of the island helping a boater in distress and probably wouldnâ€™t make it.
â€œ21 from 22, no cutter tonight â€“ letâ€™s see if we can get them stop anyway.Â Weâ€™ll spotlight them if you make the low pass and callâ€
â€œGO, GO, GO!!â€ yelled the co-pilot as he jumped into his seat
â€œÂ¡SALGA AQUÃ â€“ AMERICANOS!â€
AÂ bright light appeared at his right, 3 oâ€™clock, temporarily distracting him.Â The aircraft briefly dropped its right wing, righting suddenly as the co-pilot yanked the controls to the left, over-controlling the input.Â Suddenly the pilot found himself fighting an aircraft that was on the edge of controllability and a copilot who was more intent on getting away from the sudden appearance of the DEA helicopters than being concerned about their proximity to the deep, black seaâ€¦
Â¡Cerrar y dejan van del yugo de mierda! he yelled Â¿Lo tengo – lo tengo, OK? Â¡Deje van de los mandos malditos ello! Leaning over he lashed out with his right arm, breaking the co-pilotâ€™s hold on the controls.Â The aircraft banked steeper to the left momentarily then leveled out on a southwesterly course.
Fire walling the throttles he held the altitude just below a thousand feet for a few minutes while he re-gained his wits and opened distance on the scene of the busted drop.
MB â€˜Cabeza de Martilloâ€™
The sound of a helo passed closely overhead, but they didnâ€™t see it, blinded or nearly so by the spotlight.
â€œOIGA BARCO DE VELOCIDAD, PARE SUS MOTORES Y DISPÃ“NGASE A SER ALOJADOâ€
The command was repeated again, but the boatâ€™s driver just laughed and raising a finger in defiance, held his course and speedâ€¦theyâ€™d make the island easily and since there was no cutter out here (or so it seemed) they wouldnâ€™t be stopped.
â€œDamn, theyâ€™re going to get awayâ€ said the RO to no one in particular, but echoing everyoneâ€™s thoughts in the plane.
â€œOK, this one got away but letâ€™s continue tracking the planeâ€ the CICO said, trying to get everyoneâ€™s head back in the game.Â â€œHeâ€™s got to be marginal on gas as it is and will probably try a direct route home.Â Flight, letâ€™s take a gradual turn to the south-west and follow this guy.Â Iâ€™ll make the call to Panther.â€
â€œ22, 21 We canâ€™t hold this course much longer, looks like this oneâ€™s going to get away.â€
â€œ21, roger â€“ wonâ€™t be much of a haul though as he left a couple bales in the water and looks like he had only 3 or 4 onboard.Â Someoneâ€™s going to be unhappy tonightâ€
â€œPanther, Steeljaw up SATCOMâ€
â€œSteeljaw, Panther go ahead.â€
â€œRoger, suspect go fast appears to have successfully fled, but without a complete load.Â We are still tracking the returning King Air before having to recover â€“ heâ€™s heading strait for the Colombian/Venezuelan coast.Â Any word on our overflight OK yet?â€
â€œSteeljaw, Panther, negative overflight tonight, but looks good for tomorrow and subsequent.Â Continue tracking suspect aircraft until forced to RTB.â€
â€œSteeljaw, wilco, outâ€
â€˜Not tonightâ€™ the CO thought, â€˜but soon enough â€“ youâ€™ll try it again soon enough and luck wonâ€™t be with you thenâ€™ as he continued to follow the faint trace that was Beech King Air, YV-411â€¦
To Be Continuedâ€¦