01 Feb I Ejected Out of a Plane in the Desert… Something was Hunting Me
My name is Calvin. I’m an Air Force pilot, but if you want to understand this story, you should know that for the entirety of my twenty-seven years of life on this Earth, my love life has been a wreck. The only part of that which requires detail was my relationship with a girl named Faith. We went to school together, and she was three years younger. I pretty much knew that she saw me as an older brother figure, but I had come to see her as more than a friend. In perhaps one of the bolder moments of my life, I told her that I truly liked her, and it won’t come to a surprise to many of you, that we have not spoken since that miserable afternoon. Every detail of that event is burnt into my memory, and that’s going to be important when I describe the incident in which I was forced to eject from an Air Force plane in the South Texas desert. There was something out there, and it was telepathic, I believe. It used my memories of that awful day against me as it tried to hunt me.
The Air Force flies a lot of training aircraft in Southern Texas for the simple and macabre reason that student pilots have very few important things into which they can crash. To give you an idea of how close we are to the US Mexican border, the country of Mexico is closer to the West than to the South of the training base out there.
I earned my Pilot Wings several years ago and I got the unlucky lottery ticket to continue as an instructor in the same base (I need to reiterate that there is nothing close by, so no one wants to stay here after they finish training). I was sitting in the back seat of one of the Air Force’s T-6 training planes while my student strapped into the front seat. This was a more advanced training mission, so we were flying from our Main Base to El Paso, but we never made it.
My student leveled us off at 22,000 feet and after a few standard in-flight checklists, we were good to cruise for the 40 minute cruise to our destination. I asked my student several general knowledge questions but he was performing very well, so I decided to relent on what was supposed to be a simple practice run for his Navigation Checkride (think of a driveling examination but much longer).
Things fell apart when we were cleared to descend from 22,000 feet to 8,000 feet to start our approach into El Paso. The subsequent investigation of the crash revealed the student’s throttle guard lever had worn down. There’s a safety on the plane’s throttle that keeps you from killing the engine in the middle of the flight, but this safety had degraded over years of time. It’s also possible my student accidentally leaned on the lever as well, and he contributed to the catastrophe that was about to unfold, but my student did not survive the crash so that will remain a mystery.
I heard the engine wind down and my fight or flight kicked in right away. I took control of the aircraft and started to go through the process of restarting the engine mid-air, and I instructed my student to get the paper checklist out to make sure we did not miss any steps. I was mad as hell and my student was probably freaking out and knew full well that I had every intention to fail him for this flight, but the fact remained that a plane without an engine could only glide so far, and we were over a barren enough patch of Texas that it would take some time for first responders to find us.
My attempts to restart the engine in-air failed, and this was where my gut began to ache. The engine starter was cracking sparks to ignite the fuel but it wasn’t working. My training kicked in and I knew I would conduct a forced landing on a nearby airstrip (despite what you may see in movies, landing on unpaved surfaces in jets is a terrible idea. The ejection seat is there for a reason). Fortunately, the navigation GPS was not tied to the engine and I executed the function to tell me what the nearest airfield was and how long it ran.
Inexplicably, the GPS died out. I blinked in disbelief and asked my student if he had turned off the GPS even though I knew that both of our GPS modules were separate. Even if he had turned off his own, it would have done nothing to mine. My experience told me that a more serious malfunction had occurred. We were still at 21,000 feet so I had at least fifteen minutes to glide somewhere, but as stressed out as I was, somehow I knew that something strange was happening. The T-6 is build with a ludicrous amount of redundancy, and I had reviewed all the different combination of emergencies that normally occurred. For example, if the battery gave out, I knew which gauges would not operate. Same goes for if the generator failed. But I had never seen the GPS fail by itself. Even so, I still had a few ideas of where we could land (mission planning forces you to have an idea of where you go if your engine fails)
I got on the radio next.
“El Paso Approach, Texan 2-4. Emergency. Engine Failure In Flight. Flight Level Two-Zero-Zero. Two souls on board. Intentions are as follows: Forced Landing at ICAO identifier Kilo-Whiskey-Alpha-Tango. We are nine-zero miles away from target destination at inbound radial-“
All of a sudden I could not hear my own radio voice. I mumbled out the last few words and the outside wind drowned it out. For half a second I stunned with surprise. I called to my student through our interphone radios in the plane and heard nothing. I dropped my oxygen mask and shouted at him the old-fashioned way. He yelled back and confirmed that both our radios had failed. I turned on the emergency battery and tried the back-up UHF Radio.
Nothing. Not even static.
This was starting to look like worst case scenario, but my first thought was that this was weird rather than terrifying. Most of pilot training is learning how to deal with in-flight emergencies, but this combination of setbacks was utterly foreign to me. It seemed like something, some higher power, was messing with us.
As I paused for no more than five seconds in complete awe of how strangely bad things were going, I got a Fire Light Warning.
First off, engine fires in the T-6 are extremely rare. They’re built for that express purpose and sacrifice some efficiency for redundant safety. Second, the fact that the engine was already off was distressing. What on Earth could be burning if the engine was off already?
I yelled at my student to pull the Engine Cutoff handle in the front cockpit. The jet only has one of those, and it manually stops fuel from entering the engine. My student complied with my instruction and pulled the cutoff lever, and it guaranteed that no more combustible material flowed to the engine to feed the fire.
The fire warning light did not go out. Smoke was already starting to bleed through the dashboard and burn my eyes. There was no more time for checklists or radio calls.
“Uncontrolled ejection!” I screamed, coughing through my command. I secured my oxygen mask on and then I yelled the three words that every pilot dreads. “Bailout! Bailout! Bail-“
Per training, I pulled my ejection handle in the third bailout. In a fraction of a second, the canopy fracture system detonated a small electric charge that shattered the glass bubble above me. An instant later, a rocket ignited at the bottom of my chair and kicked my ass out of that plane straight up at ninety knots. It took seven seconds rocket ride to reach its peak. I’m sure most of you have seen that one ride at the amusement park where you sit in a chair and drop a hundred feet or so. You see, the parachute for this type of ejection seat does not go off right away. It’s got a pressure detector…you can probably see where I’m going with this. As soon as I stopped going up, I started falling straight down strapped to the ejection seat, waiting to reach at the altitude at which my chute would open. The reason for that is because at high altitudes, the temperature can lead to frostbite or other afflictions. That was part of the reason why I wanted to descend earlier, but the fire left no choice of that.
I eyed the pressure detector strapped to the seat, and it took every bit of restraint I had not to pull the emergency chute release switch (the pressure detector can malfunction in mountainous areas and you always have the choice of actitivating it early). I blankly looked in front of me and saw the plane continuing on at 120 or 130 knots ahead of me. I looked around to see my student’s chute but I saw nothing.
I checked the pressure sensor again. It said I was about 15,000 feet high and I knew the chute was designed to open at 8,000 feet. You can’t really describe the sheer terror you feel falling through the sky, hoping that your equipment will do what it’s designed to do. But I eyed my altitude detector as it passed 12,000 feet, 11,000, 10,000 feet, and 9,000 feet. The whole time the emergency oxygen bottle crammed 100% O2 down my throat at about 10 PSI. I doubt most people have had to breath pressurized air before in their lives, but I can tell you it’s like trying to breath while someone else is already trying to do CPR on you.
The chute opened a hundred feet or so below 8,000 feet. My ejection seat disconnect and continued plummeting toward the ground beneath me. I instinctively dropped my oxygen mask and took a few panicked breaths of cold but sweat un-pressurized air. I could not see the jet in front of me anymore and I desperately looked around my student’s parachute, but saw nothing. Below me an emergency kit of supplies dangled from my parachute by a strong cable. I somehow knew that my student had not ejected and felt a deep despair. It was possible to push a switch to make it so my ejection lever activated both of our ejection seats. All it would have taken was a flip of a switch on my part, but I had not done that. Everything had happened too fast…
I had a ninety second wait as I parachuted down, and I spent that whole time looking at my survival kit in complete despair. I landed well enough and collected both my emergency kit and my parachute. The chute itself is designed to act as a blanket to keep you warm in cold climates and protect you from the sun in deserts.
I don’t know what you expect the first thing a downed Air Force to do once they get on the ground, but remember this happened in the present day. First thing’s first, I checked my phone. I wasn’t surprised to see that I had no service in the Southwest Desert of Texas, so I turned on airplane mode to save power and would check again later.
I ripped out the emergency locator transmitter: it’s a beacon that transmits and emergency tone to any nearby aircraft and sets of an impossible-to-ignore sound (I’ve flown and heard it when a plane accidentally turns on theirs; it’s a painful sound to listen to).
Then, I pulled out the emergency radio from the emergency kit and immediately tried to get on the standard SOS frequency. While I did that, I tuned the portable GPS toy that gave me some rough coordinates to my location.
“Emergency. Downed pilot. My name is Calvin Meredith, United States Air Force.” I was abbreviating most of the standard radio calls. “Tail Number Zero-Seven-Five-Two-November. If anyone can hear me, please respond. GPS coordinates are as follows…”
Awaiting any reply, I observed my surroundings. I knew for a fact that I still on the American side of our border with Mexico simply because it was not possible to parachute that far. However, there was nothing around me except a few patches of expected desert greenery. I exhumed the sun block and the lip balm from the emergency pack and applied them both to keep the sun from damaging my body. Most of me was covered by my green flight suit, but the back of my ears and my bald head made premium targets for the sun. I removed my anti G-Force pants and my harness and set up camp.
Even as I was building my makeshift camp I knew none of this made sense. Why hadn’t I been saved already? I was a very insignificant distance from both El Paso and my home base, and my flight plan was both very common and published back at base. As the hours dragged on and the sun began to set, the growing anticipation in my heart started to evolve into subtle panic. It had started in the plane and now the prospect of spending the night in the desert seemed horrifying. Either more than one person had completely botched what should have been a simple recovery of down personnel…or something was very truly wrong with my position.
I covered myself with thermal blanket and my parachute and prepared for the long night ahead. I found it impossible to sleep so I kept making half-hour transmissions on every frequency in the radio.
“…Zero-Seven-Five-Two-November.” Somehow I had managed to bored after the sun went down and the stars came out. I was more than a little pissed off that I needed to wait this long. “If anyone can hear me, please respond. If anyone can hear me, please stop sucking each other off and get me out of this god damn desert. Now, please and thank you.”
Nothing. It was an open secret which channels my radio had saved on it, but none of them had anyone trying to reach me. That was until I heard, her voice. That girl I mentioned in the beginning. Faith. It wasn’t her, but it was her voice.
“…I can hear you.” The radio crackled and I did not recognize who it was at first. I held the plastic box close to my face.
“Oh, thank God, finally.” I was relieved but in the back of my mind the words I heard did not match any script I had practiced this conversation with before when I went through rescue training. “My name is Calvin Meredith, United States-“
“I know who you are, Calvin.” The monotone female voice made my blood freeze. I was stunned. “I know everything about you.”
A few seconds passed before I responded.
“Who is this?” I asked nervously. “Who am I speaking to?”
The uncomfortably familiar voice on the radio ignored my question.
“Does it make you sad?”
My better judgement told me answering that question was stupid, but I did so anyway.
“What are you talking about?” The rational part of my mind was still not quite ready to accept what was happening. The voice was so familiar it put me on edge. Surely it couldn’t be who I thought it was, who I knew, deep down, it belonged to. “Who the hell is….Faith?”
“You’re going to die all alone out here. Does that make you sad? Being alone has always made you so sad. I’ll come be with you.”
I winced, stared at the radio, and promptly changed the channel.
“That won’t work,” the female voice flatly told me on the new channel. It was like it was waiting for me to do that.
I cleared my throat and spoke to the thing on the radio is as severe a tone as I could muster.
“Is this some sort of sick joke?”
“Classic Calvin,” the radio made it sound like the one on the other end was chuckling. “I love bad jokes.”
Whereas everything else freaked me out, that truly hurt me. Before it had just been speaking in Faith’s voice, but that was something Faith had actually said to me. All at once it scared me and filled me with cold hate and anger. I didn’t understand who or what or why, but this thing was playing with me.
I clicked the transmit button on the radio and spoke quietly.
“Fuck. Off.” I turned the radio off and stared at the night sky. My mind continually replayed that conversation and I was in too much awe to make anything of it right away. Sometime our sense observe things they can’t take in right away. I can’t say how long I stared at the stars before I felt that I was in danger.
My weapons included a survival knife, two flare guns. No firearms…I had opted to not include that so I could bring more water, which I was regretting then.
I was tempted to start a fire, but something told me I was in enemy territory despite being in my home country’s backyard, and I was not eager to give away my position. As it turns out, that did not matter.
I heard Faith’s voice again, and it was not through the radio.
“Shame about that friend of yours in the plane.”
I swore and whirled around, holding the knife in one hand and my flare gun in the other. A flashlight with a strap was around my shoulder and i turned it on, realizing giving away my position meant nothing at this point.
“Stay away!” I barked, unsure of which direction the voice had come from. “Whoever you are, do not come closer!”
“He had wife back home in Nebraska. He didn’t think twice when he heard her voice.” There was an amusement in the ethereal voice around me. At some moments it sounded like it was to my side and others when it came from behind me. “But not you, Calvin. You’re all alone. Always have been. And you always will be.”
“Shut up!” I yelled, still trying to determine the source of the voice.
“The only reason I’m hiding from you is because Faith hid from you after you told her.” It sounded like it was truly enjoying saying this as matter-of-fact as it was. “She hates your guts.”
“I said shut up!” Deeply repressed feelings of resentment sprang up from somewhere deep inside me. I was frantic and I didn’t care if this thing was human or not; I wanted to rip its head off.
Suddenly I remembered the radio. It mentioned my student, and before that moment I had not actually thought about how this thing had been able to talk on the radio. It occurred to me that this thing had found my student after he ejected. I was sure I had not seen his chute but maybe he had stayed with the plane longer before ejecting himself. Maybe this thing had taken the radio from the emergency kit of my student after her had landed on the ground. Maybe it still had the radio with it…
I made my way back to the radio by my parachute, still scanning all around me in case thing thing tried to jump me. I knelt down beside it and momentarily dropped my knife to turn it back on. I clicked the transmit button twice and my heart sank as I heard two static clicks come from the receiving end.
My student’s radio, and whatever was holding it, was behind me. And it sounded close.
I turned and fired my flare gun directly behind me and screamed when I heard it come into contact with a membrane-covered beast twice as tall as a normal person. The fiery projectile came into contact with it and it let out a piercing shriek that drowned out my own yelling. I could have reloaded but this thing was an arm’s length away from me at most so I charged at it with my survival knife, stabbing at its wailing head. In the dark I glimpsed sunken red eyes and razor sharp teeth and a tongue that moved like a deranged snake. It smacked at me with its its clawed hands but the flare had embedded itself somewhere in vicinity of the beast’s shoulder. Sparks bounded off my flame-retarded flight suit but the light was so bright I had to look out the corner of my eye as I planted my knife into this thing’s head again and again before it finally stopped attacking me.
Blood was leaking out of my torso from where this thing had managed to swipe at me, and I felt cold laying upon the sand. I collapsed and passed out without being able to get a good look at it.
I woke up in the hospital. It turns out I was unaccounted for for at least sixteen hours, and my emergency beacon had only begun to transmit after I had killed the creature. I had been discovered and the creature’s body had been taken off somewhere, I can say safely, I and all of you will never see it again. There were men in black suits waiting for me to wake up with questions. I asked them what the creature was but other than telling me they could not discuss it with me, they appeared like they knew about as much as I did, probably less. They did tell me the official story for my student was that he died in the crash, but they only got away with that because his body was so mangled that he looked like he had been through a plane crash.
No one ever gave me an explanation for why my plane had malfunction so unusually when it did. Now, I think the creature was doing something to it. Or maybe it just got lucky that two pilots had ejected over a blank bit of desert that it used to hunt. I still have nightmares of the glimpses I got of the beast, but the most terrifying thing about it was that it spoke in Faith’s voice. I’ve had a bit of time to reflect on why that got under skin the way it did. Sure, it was unnatural, but the anger it provoked in me was all too real. I wonder how many others it lured into doom by reading their minds and mimicking their loved ones’ voices. I think I’m going to see a counselor to try to work through some of these issues I think I’ve got under the surface.
One last thing. I went to my student’s funeral and his wife gave a eulogy. As sad as his death was, all I could imagine was how horrible it was that the last thing he had heard was his wife’s sweet voice coming from that monster.