Mark was awake now and up in the pilothouse with us. We had tried everything we could to free the sub, but it hadn’t worked and now was the time for more desperate options.
“Open up the tanks, put it on the bottom and cut the cable,” Mark said. “It’s two in the morning, sunrise is at six, we need to cut our losses and go. We’ve got the video we came for, and as much as it means to you, it’s replaceable. Let’s get out of here.”
“Wait, I don’t want to give up just yet,” I said. “What else can we do?”
“Two things I can think of,” James said. “One is we drive in there and pick it up. We can get it on the winch and cut the cable free.”
“And the four of us violate Iranian territorial waters with a minisub on the back?” Ben shook his head. “No way. They’d sink us on sight.”
“All right, then we do it the hard way. You and I suit up, take the scuba sled out there and follow the line down. We free it from wherever it is stuck, then you pull us all back to the boat. We already have a dive plan and the tri-mix.”
“I don’t want to go near those things if I don’t have to,” I said. “Any other ideas?”
“We lock the reel, gun the engines and pull it free,” Ben said.
I thought about it for a minute. “The problem is that if it doesn’t work, we snap the cable and now it’s floating above the entrance like a buoy saying ‘come check this out,’” I said.
“We could do a combo platter,” James said. “Fill the ballast tanks, then when it’s sinking we try pulling it free. If it breaks free, it swims back here, right?”
“Maybe. Whatever happened damaged the thrusters, and I’m not confident it will return.” All efforts to get it to follow my commands had not worked, it just went in circles. We talked in circles for five more minutes, then we went with the combo platter. “Come on, let’s scuttle my baby,” I said.
“It’s all right, we’ll get you another,” James said as he hugged me by the controls. “You want me to do it?”
It was my baby, but it was my responsibility, I couldn’t let another one kill it. “No, I got it.” I reached up to the switch and flipped the ballast tanks vents to the “FLOOD” position while we watched the cameras.
Nothing happened. “Try again,” he said. I cycled the switch, and nothing changed.
“Shit,” Ben said. “So much for that plan.” We talked about it for a few more minutes, then James left. “Where are you going?”
“To get my wet suit on,” he said. “Look, it’s the only decent option left. Charlotte and I will dive down, free the sub and you can pull us all out of there. Come on, there isn’t much time.”
He was right, there was no other good option. “I’ll get my suit.” I went below, changing into a bikini, then met James back topside. He was already suited up and was moving the scuba sled to the stern. I got my gear on and strapped on the tanks. We went over the dive plan one last time, then we were in the water.
We stayed on the snorkel, letting the sled pull us as we followed the trail of the cable east. The cable went below the water, and didn’t return, so we turned around and clipped the sled to the last buoy. James grabbed the waterproof walkie-talkie out of his diving pouch, and turned it on. “On the fish,” he said.
“Good luck,” Ben replied. He turned the radio off and clipped it to the sled. Going on tanks, I gave him a thumbs-up and we dove to twenty feet for our safety check. We turned on our lights and continued down to our next stop depth, then continued until we reached bottom at two hundred and ninety feet.
It only was a few more feet until we found the problem. A rock formation jutted up from the muck, and the thin cable was wedged underneath. James and I swam around, the cable had been pulled tight and was in the muck, emerging again ten feet later and forty degrees left. The cables were both slack, and following the other side it went about fifty feet before it lifted off the seafloor again. The last five hundred yards of cable had no floats on it because we didn’t want to hinder the diving, and that was why we’d gotten stuck. Our great idea to loop around had bitten us.
I checked the dive computer, we had another twenty minutes. I signaled the plan; we would work from the boat side, grabbing the cable and pulling it free. Once it was over the rock formation, we’d go up topside and use the radio on the scuba sled to tell them to haul us in.
We moved to where it disappeared under the rock, and each of us put a hand on the cable and started to swim forward. It didn’t want to move, it was pulled in tight. We moved closer, and James put a foot onto the rock and pulled. It moved, and he worked his way around as I held the cable up and away from the bottom.
I heard the sound of diesel engines roaring, and reflexively looked up. Before I could react the cable pulled out of my hands.It snapped across my hips, and suddenly I was pinned to the rock as the cable bit into my flesh.
I was in the pilothouse as Mark tended to the cable line. Charlotte and James were swimming into danger, and I kept the family-band radio close to me. They would only call at the beginning and end of the dive, unless there was an emergency. Both were carrying emergency beacons, and if they hit those, we were cutting the cable and racing to pick them up. I hoped to hell we didn’t have to, because the last time? We barely escaped with our lives.
“On the fish,” the radio crackled.
I smiled as I picked it up. “Good luck.” I set it back down, started a stopwatch on my watch, then yelled to Mark. “They’re starting their dive,” I said.
He looked at his watch. “0342, we’re cutting it close.”
“They’ll fix it.” I had what I needed, the data from the video cameras had been encrypted, then copied to portable memory cards. I had dipped them in nail polish, then swallowed them after it dried. A tried and true method, and there was no way I’d forget it or lose it.
I focused on maintaining position, checking my watch every few minutes. Their dive plan gave them fifteen minutes to reach the bottom, thirty minutes bottom time, and twenty minute ascent with a safety margin.
I had just looked at my watch, twenty-three minutes and 38 seconds, when Mark yelled the warning. “HELICOPTER!”
He was pointing off to the southeast, where the aircraft lights were visible just over the horizon. It was coming in fast and low, and from that direction, it wasn’t good. “Cover up the reel,” I yelled to Mark. With the submarine off the deck, that was the most incriminating thing in view. He ran to get a tarp and cover it up.
He got it done about a minute before the helicopter reached us. Instead of passing over the top as I had hoped, it started to circle, and a spotlight shone down onto us.
Mark tried to be friendly, shading his eyes and waving up to them. I couldn’t see to pick up a tail number or identification, but figured it was Iranian Navy. They circled us for what seemed like an eternity, but probably was only a few minutes. My heart was racing, and I started to think about what to do.
“HEAVE TO AND PREPARE TO BE BOARDED,” a voice ordered from above.
“SHIT,” Mark yelled. “What do we do?”
“Get in here,” I told him. “In the locker there.” He opened it up, pulling out an AR-10 rifle, similar to an M-16 but using the much more powerful .308 round. He put a couple extra 20-round magazines into his pocket. “Take cover, and aim for the transmission, just under the rotor on top of the fuselage. Wait until they start to lower people down, that way they’ll be stationary.”
The helicopter kept circling, making me wonder what was going on. It wasn’t until I saw the lights on the horizon I figured it out. “SHIT! Speedboats!”
“Probably Iranian Revolutionary Guard,” Mark said. “Those fuckers like to shoot first and question later.”
“I’m not waiting for them. Go out there and cut the cable, and I’ll lead them away from our divers. As soon as you’re done, get back in here and man the gun.”
He grabbed a pair of bolt-cutters we stored near the port door and ran out while I gunned the engines and started to turn to port. “HEAVE TO OR BE FIRED UPON,” the helicopter said.
“FUCK YOU!” I straightened out the helm, heading west. “DAMMIT, MARK, CUT THE FUCKING CABLE!”
He was trying to get the cable cut when gunfire erupted from the helicopter, it sounded like an AK-47 being fired out the door. Mark took a round to the chest, knocking him back from the cable until he was on his back in the center of the main deck. I set the autopilot and grabbed the rifle, heading out the starboard side just as the cable snapped taut. There was a groan and screech of metal before the cable parted like a rifleshot.
I took a firing position and opened up on the helicopter. The four-power Trijicon riflescope could pick out the outline of the helicopter fuselage, and the illuminated reticle made it easy. The helicopter was only forty yards out, making this an easy shot even from a moving deck. I timed my shots with the bouncing of the boat as it sped westward, sending three shots out with every wave.
The helicopter made a horrible grinding sound as the shots found their targets in the transmission. I saw sparks erupt from the transmission as the helicopter started to shudder, then broke off to the left. I watched as it smashed into the water about a hundred yards off our port quarter.
“One down, three to go,” I said. I ran back to check on Mark; he was gone. The shot had caught him in the center of the chest. I grabbed the extra magazines from his pockets, placing them in mine, and ran back to the pilothouse.
I grabbed the control box for the minisub and disconnected the control cable, then brought it over to the rail. I used a hammer to bash in the screens, then placed a white phosphorous grenade inside. Pulling the pin, I closed and latched the top before tossing it over the side. The explosion wasn’t much, but the burning metal would destroy the electronics and the video memory.
There wasn’t much I could do at this point. I put a life vest on and grabbed a four-man life raft in a small bag. The three speedboats were getting closer, I didn’t have much time. I slung the rifle over my back, then pushed the button for the self-destruct charges. The two-minute timer started, then I bailed out over the starboard side.
I bobbed in the water, holding on to the life raft packet while watching my boat race away from me at maximum speed. The Iranian patrols went right past me as I tried to make myself as small as possible in the waves.
The timing was as good as I could have hoped. One of the high-speed patrol boats had just pulled alongside when the charges detonated, blowing up the boat and blasting the adjacent speedboat in half. The other two were occupied with picking up survivors as both boats sank within a minute.
I started swimming to the southwest, knowing there was nothing else I could do. James and Charlotte could drop their tanks and use the scuba sled to go for miles, they’d know to head away from land. I needed to get away from there until I could find a friendly boat, then I could use the emergency radio to call in support.
I prayed to God that they would survive.