The moon was so big, bright and full, we didn’t even need our flashlights to read the takeoff checklist. The sea was calm and the winds negligible. All in all a good night to fly. It was Christmas Eve, and we were looking forward to an uneventful three-hour SAR sortie.
A couple of fighters were aloft conducting routine convoy escort duty, and the E-2 was up with its ears on, listening for any unwanted intruders who might mistakenly believe the Navy takes off for Christmas. As soon as we cleared the deck, my co-pilot turned on his yellow Sony Walkman, and plugged it into a “Non-regulation” pigtail, filling the crew’s helmets with Christmas Carols. Nothing screams Christmas more than looking out the windscreen, 50 feet and 120 knots above an undulating, shimmering seascape as far as the eye can see, and Nat King Cole crooning about chestnuts and Jack Frost.
The Crew Chief’s voice, simultaneously concerned and puzzled, broke the holiday reverie with a keen observation, “Sir, I have a red beacon at sea level, about 150 yards at our 3 o’clock.”
“Who the heck is out here, and how did CIC not call us with a radar hit?” I asked no one in particular.
I initiated an easy right-hand, descending turn. My co-pilot spotted it first. It was right off the nose. I crept up slowly, at the same time inching to the left, allowing my rescue swimmer the best line of sight. As I passed over it, I eased into a hover.
“Left Sir, about 10 feet… 8’…5’…steady, we’re on top! Hooking the rescue swimmer to the hoist,” the Chief reported.
“Roger that, lower the hoist,” I instructed.
A few minutes later he called out that the swimmer had cleared the water and was attached to something “pretty big.” The helo listed slightly starboard.
“Sir, you’re not going to believe this…it’s a reindeer, with a really bright red nose!”
I wasn’t in the mood. “Knock it off, Chief,” I admonished.
An instant later, a fast moving object came from nowhere and slid up my right side in perfect formation. It’s been a long time, but I can still remember the pilot: an older looking fella, with a red flight suit and white beard. Even in the dark, I couldn’t help but notice the twinkle in his eye. His aircraft looked… no, was, a large sleigh, with eight reindeer at the helm. In the front of the pack was an empty harness. Over the radio we heard a loud, low, “Ho, Ho, Ho! Thanks for plucking ole’ Rudoloph from the drink, Boys, I got it from here!”
Magically, Rudolph was released from the rescue sling and seemingly floated over to the empty harness. The straps of the harness wrapped themselves around Rudolph. The radio cracked again, “I’ll make sure to cinch it up tight this time! Merry Christmas…and Fly Navy!”
And just like that, he was gone.
We all agreed that it was probably in our best interest not to report the incident upon returning to the carrier.
Author’s Disclaimer: Please don’t question the veracity of this column. Just read it to the kids and have a great Christmas!