March 31, 2010

Texas Tower 4

There is a position between hope and no hope, an extremely thin place where two certainties meet.

80 miles southeast of New York City, 30 fathoms above the ocean floor stood Texas Tower 4. It rose above the Atlantic’s waves like a giant spider. It’s three radar domes waiting for menacing signals that would never appear. Perhaps it was aware of its own obsolescence and even shamed by its recent nickname “Old Shaky”.
It’s mission like the structure’s soundness were already past. Months back in September the tower was weakened by the 130 mile an hour winds and 50 foot waves of hurricane Donna. Repairs had been attempted, but not finished. The United States Air force wanted it manned till its equipment could be removed. A reduced crew of 28 men remained on board the radar tower platform.

At latitude: 39-48 N, Longitude: 072-40 W, on the night of January 15 1961, the USS Wasp found nothing but oil slick and debris where Texas Tower 4 once stood. At 7:25PM in stormy seas, a mayday call went out from the tower. At 8:01PM the tower vanished from radar.

80 feet down in the dark cold Atlantic water, James Calhan, one of four divers, felt that familiar sense of otherworldliness.

For James who was a civilian, the past six hours had already been just as otherworldly. A phone call at 2am, the helicopter flight to the aircraft carrier, and then the dive from the ship’s motor launch. All this movement, leading to what would now be a moment of release from the hours of urgency. James had found nothing. Floating motionless he listened to the sound of his breathing. The repeated sonar signals of “shave and a haircut, two bits” had ceased twenty minutes before. Maybe there had been tapping, but no one living or dead had been found. Looking up he saw the morning light filtering down from the water’s surface. Above him the navy boat waited. Once again from the darkness below a metallic echoing sound reached up to him. James turned his flashlight back on and swam ten feet down. He directed the beam of light onto the submerged platform’s side. The elliptical spot from his light framed two dark windows that seemed to stare back up at him. He listened to the sounds from below again. Shifting, cracking, rubbing, Texas Tower 4 was settling down onto the ocean floor. Switching off his light, James began his ascent to the surface.

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