Hunting Hugo: Disaster

Then, disaster. Thick dark clouds suddenly envelop the aircraft. A titanic fist of wind, three times the force of gravity, smashes us. I am thrown into the computer console, bounce off, and for one terrifying instant find myself looking DOWN at a precipitous angle at Sean across the aisle from me.

A second massive jolt rocks the aircraft. Gear loosened by the previous turbulence flies about the inside the aircraft, bouncing off walls, ceiling, and crew members. Next to Terry Schricker, our 200-pound life raft breaks loose and hurtles into the ceiling. Neil Rain fends off screwdrivers, wrenches, and his airborne toolbox with his arms. The locked drawers in the galley rip open, and a cooler loaded with soft drink cans explodes into the air, showering Alan Goldstein with ice and 12-ounce cans. Hugh Willoughby watches as invisible fingers pry loose his portable computer from its mounting, and hurl it into the ceiling, ripping a gash in the tough ceiling fabric. At the radar station, Peter Dodge shields himself and the Barbados reporter from two flying briefcases. Next to them, Bob Burpee grabs two airborne boxes of computer tapes, but has no more hands to grab a third box of tapes that smashes against the ceiling, sending the tapes caroming through the cabin.

A third terrific blow, almost six times the force of gravity, staggers the airplane. Clip boards, flight bags, and headsets sail past my head as I am hurled into the console. Terrible thundering crashing sounds boom through the cabin; I hear crew members crying out. I scream inwardly. "This is what it feels like to die in battle", I think. We are going down. The final moments of the five hurricane hunter missions that never returned must have been like this.

The aircraft lurches out of control into a hard right bank. We plunge towards the ocean, our number three engine in flames. Debris hangs from the number four engine.

The turbulence suddenly stops. The clouds part. The darkness lifts. We fall into the eye of Hurricane Hugo.

  • Image 1 of a 3-image panorama of Hugo's eye
  • Image 2 of a 3-image panorama of Hugo's eye
  • Image 3 of a 3-image panorama of Hugo's eye

Continue Story » The Eye of Hugo