Picayune Writer’s Corner

Published 3:04 am Sunday, July 3, 2011

Elaine Boudoin, along with her young children William and Gwen, were stuck in heavy traffic four miles away from their apartment. In their rusty 1991 Ford pick-up truck, the family was late leaving town with their meager possessions, as money had to be borrowed from the remaining neighbors to pay for gas. Wither her husband away, she knew that the very future of her family was going to be up to her when the police, pounding on her door, told her the shocking news of the hurricane coming their way.

Elaine was about to find strength she did not know she possessed. She immediately commanded the children, “First, we are going to get our clothes together. Take only what you can pack in the suitcases from the closet. Next, each of you empty your toy boxes and take out one favorite toy to bring along with you. Bring the toy boxes into the kitchen and we will put groceries in them. Then, we will put them in the truck. Now, hurry!”

Gwen, the three-year-old, was startled at the abruptness of her usually gentle mother and began to cry, “I don’t want to go. I miss my daddy. What is going to happen to us?”

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William, being eight, held back his emotions and bit his lower lip to retain his composure. Elaine kneeled down patiently, “Look y’all, your daddy will be comin’ home and we will be okay. For right now, we are going to your Memaw’s in Picayune.”

Elaine was not sure she could deliver on what she had just said, but it needed to be said for her own sake, as well as the kids. With these consoling words, the children calmed down and quickly went about their tasks. It was not long before the truck was loaded and they were headed north, missing Joe’s call by moments.

On the oil platform, there was nothing to do but wait for the helicopter to arrive. At each passing moment the seas were increasing, as the wind howled in the rigging. Billy Deshevne reflected the nervousness of many, commenting they had better get off soon, “if they were going to get off at all.” The situation was marginal, but with experienced crews on both the platform and the helicopter, the landing was still within limits.

From off in the distance, above the growing roar of the wind and sea, the drumbeat of the approaching helicopter’s rotor blades could be heard. Clearly straining to meet the onslaught of the building weather, the pilot was exercising his every skill in the approach. Heading into the wind, he had to cross over the control room to order to land on the helipad, located outboard of the main deck. Those in the control room watched in disbelief as the approaching helicopter passed over them, and like the hand of God had struck it, suddenly slammed onto the main deck.

The two-way radio briefly activated, with the pilot’s last word, “Holy …” before the helicopter exploded in a massive fireball. The aircrew was instantly incinerated.

As the main rotor continued to turn, the rotor blades began striking the deck and separating from t he hub, caroming across the deck. Free of constraints, the first rotor blade entered the empty galley, puncturing the fuel lines to the stoves, broilers and other food preparation equipment. The resultant leaking fuel was ignited by a still-lit bulb on the outside of one of the walk-in coolers. Moments later, the second rotor blade took off the roof of the control room, showering all of its occupants in steel and flying glass.

With two of her rotor blades now gone, the rapidly disintegrating Sikorsky shed its third, wildly soaring over the top of the platform and falling harmlessly into the ocean. Tenaciously, the last rotor blade was still hanging on causing the flaming, pin-wheeling, wreckage do a dance of death across the deck. In her final throes, the helicopter headed to the edge of the helipad and toppled towards the sea, briefly catching a landing skid on the metal safety railing.  In doing so, the spinning blade struck the steel plates, which Izako Morita had patched in so many years ago, breaking the faulty welds and opening the support leg to the sea.