Every summer Richard Chosset III would take a month off from work and go out on the company research ship, the Voyager. Voyager is a state of the art vessel measuring over two football fields in length. It has a helipad, moon pool, two unmanned ROV’s, one deep sea submersible, and more technology and hardware then most countries navies.
For that month, the Voyager team and would tirelessly search the coast off of Florida searching for one particular lost ship, USCGC Lewis Morris. His grandfather’s vessel that vanished without a trace with all hands began consuming Richard. They had a lot of leads but each hit, each dive never turned up what they were looking for. What it did do was continue to narrow the search and document nearly three dozen uncharted plane crashes and ship wrecks. The Voyager probably would have spent every summer endlessly searching the Atlantic but sometimes fate intervenes in a complicated yet deliberate fashion.
As pirate attacks around the world increased the need to know exactly where every ship was at any moment became essential. Pirates were becoming increasingly bold and well equipped threatening the shipping empire his father had built. With a fleet of 200 ships from cargo containers to bulk carriers, the need to rely on conventional navies to protect maritime shipping was not enough. The first step was to equip every ship with two GPS transponders. One was located in plain sight in the wheelhouse for the pirates to find. The other was hidden in varying locations around the ship. This was usually enough to make sure the ships didn’t disappear but not enough to protect the crews.
The pirates were by no means stupid and would disable the GPS locators and some industrious ones even carried jamming devices. The last line of defense is to put armed personnel on ships in hot zones and keep a small force at a security base in the United Arab Emirates for rapid insertions. Each ship traveling through a hot zone whether it be the horn of Africa or the South China Sea, would have a security person inserted whose primary role was to protect the ship and crew.
Crews were instructed to aid security personnel but to in no way endanger their own lives. This was the one order that no crew heeded from his father and he knew it. They would rather die on the ships they served then be taken as hostages to be used as bargaining chips. In return his father paid better than most and provided insurance policies on every crew member including the cooks.
The security team based in the U.A.E were equipped with the best weapons and technology, so good the company often contracted their services out. The most versatile weapon system at their disposal being a specially outfitted Bell Boeing V-22 Osprey that was brought back to life from crashed and scrapped planes. The $70 million price tag for a brand new plane was a little rich for the company and a plane designed for military use in private hands would draw more attention than the company desired. The Osprey was outfitted with extended range fuel tanks to give it a range of 3000 miles, capable of carrying twelve armed security persons, complemented with a belly mounted Vulcan cannon and a .50 caliber machine gun mounted to the drop ramp.
The breakthrough of finding Dick Chosset’s cutter came from the security chief, Zeus. Zeus is a former Navy SEAL and a CIA intelligence operative. He admits most of his time at the CIA was behind a desk but that does not mean his time was not well spent. Zeus brought to the company top security agents, organization, discipline, leadership, and a knowledge of the latest in technologies that found unique applications in the civilian world.
The best yet is Magne-STAR, Magnetic Satellite Tracking And Reconnaissance, a Cold War by-product, it identifies fluctuations in the Earth’s magnetic field. It was used to track Soviet subs even when they thought they were hiding under ice caps. With this technology a ship could be tracked no matter what counter measures were taken, even if the ship was on the bottom of the ocean the Magne-STAR would pick up its magnetic signature.
It is not exactly easy to acquire military technologies but without a hot or cold war the military does not pay the best. So his father bought the parent company and all technologies and patents they held. Once the satellite was in geosynchronous orbit the research team began collecting data on each pass. Richard waited months as it compiled data and more months for the team to process it.
It turned up hundreds of anomalies. Luckily some coincided with previous searches, eliminating them. As good as the satellite was it could only identify points of interest, sonar with visual confirmation would still be the only way to be certain what was sitting on the ocean floor.
So as Richard had for the previous four summers, he set out on Voyager. For two weeks they trolled the ocean in the areas Magne-STAR identified possible targets, each turning up nothing. Then one day under the searing summer sun the sonar registered a hit. They swung the ship around and scanned the area again to confirm it.
A group of them huddled around a screen pointing at squiggles. The printer began spitting out the hit and the first to grab it was Murray, the team’s sonar operator. Murray, like the Magne-STAR, is a product of the Cold War. He was a security chief with the Integrated Undersea Surveillance System. He spent two decades monitoring for Soviet boomers in the Atlantic on man-made islands. When the Cold War ended Murray’s unique skills were not in the highest demand but he found a home in the booming industry of off shore drilling.
Richard first made contact with Murray when the oil company he worked for was looking to drill a new shallow water well and their company had the contract to get the crude to market. Every time Richard spoke with Murray, he could hear the yearning in his voice for something more. So Richard made him an offer he couldn’t refuse, exploration and money.
Murray starred at the print out through his round bi-focals. He announced “It’s not intact whatever it is.” He pointed at several lines, “It’s spread out over several hundred feet and I don’t see any distinct structure. It’s worth investigating.”
That was all the motivation the team needed. Everyone was anxious to get the equipment in the water. Crewmen ran screaming from the room. “Somebody start going through the prelaunch checks on Dixon and get Mason in the water.” Mason and Dixon were the names of the two submersibles, the pride and joy of the Voyager capable of depths up to 9,000 feet.
Dixon was the manned submersible, sporting enough lights and cameras to host the Super Bowl. It also had the first of its kind robotic hand of five fingers that could be positioned in any configuration allowing for greater dexterity and manipulation of submerged objects. It could carry two occupants a maximum dive of three days, though they longest was 8 hours.
The top side crew was already lowering Mason into the water, it would save valuable time for Dixon on the bottom. Mason was much smaller, able to get into tight places and had an innovation of its own. A micro-ROV, it was deployable from Mason via a tether and was about the size of a child’s toy.
Dixon was sitting on the deck being poured over by swarming technicians. Before Richard could start his prelaunch checks Mason was descending. Twenty minutes later Dixon was in the water.
Richard descended alone as the team radioed what Mason was seeing. Mason was sent to the far edge of the debris field working back toward the manned submersible. Scattered remains of several airplanes were strewn about the bottom. Wings and tails were sheared off. The wreckage was aged and mostly degraded beyond recognition. It was not what they were looking for but the wreckage was intriguing and needed to be documented.
None of the wings were intact leading to the belief they were not a fixed wing airplane. The engines were mounted directly in front of the cockpit. The evidence was helping them narrow the list of probable candidates for the planes.
The ROV found four planes in varying degrees of condition. One was no more than the a few pistons of the engine, the second engine was nose down into the silt and though complete was missing the rest of the plane. The third was attached to a good portion of the fuselage, a majority of the canopy and cabin was missing revealing the instrumentation and the crew configuration. The pilot and co-pilot sat forward facing but from the co-pilots chair and back half were gone. To add further mystery the second plane was surrounded by what looked like scaffolding. There were long lengths of tubular steel. It clearly was not from the plane wreckage but it was impossible to identify.
The topside crew used Mason’s micro-ROV to investigate one intact open cockpit. The fourth plane was barely distinguishable except for the trained eye. There were pieces of it spread over a wide distance. It had suffered massive trauma most likely from a high speed water impact.
Finally Dixon reached the bottom near the largest sonar hit. Though Richard had been to the ocean floor more times than he could count and knew that it teamed with life it still felt like a graveyard. It is where planes, ships and submarines die, where the dead carcasses of everything that swims makes its final resting place.
To conserve battery the lights stayed off until a few meters from the bottom. The full array came on and the blackness lit up like a sparkler on a summer night. The sub had its own short range radar to help direct to the hit seen from the surface.
Out of the darkness came upon an unexpected sight. There sitting under 400 feet of water was an intact airplane as if it were placed there. The submersible slowly approached so the thrusters would not have to be used that may disrupt the fragile wreck.
It took about twenty minutes to circle and meticulously document the plane. Mason had already seen the massive amount of radio equipment the plane carried. Now they starred at the armaments. One of the wings was pealed back revealing a M2 Browning machine gun, fifty caliber bullets still waiting to be fired. Behind the cockpit sat a distinct spherical turret with another Browning.
Murray radioed, “It looks like a Navy Avenger.” A few minutes passed before Voyager radioed back down Mason found a serial number on one of the engines. “It’s Flight 19.” Then there was silence.
Richard radioed back up. “Didn’t Flight 19 disappear on a practice bomb run and they were assumed to have crashed or ditched at sea?”
Murray came back with a snap answer as if he were still in the military, “Yes.”
Richard paused then began panning the camera and zoomed in on different sections. “Then why are there bullet holes in the plane?”