CARRIER 7: AFTERBURN By Keith Douglass

sail hatches had been cracked, and crewmen were scrambling out into the

cold, wet, and windswept near-darkness, battling the black waves

breaking over the submarine from bow to shattered stern as they ripped

open deck panels and broke out the life rafts. Their task was made more

difficult by panic, and by the fact that the deck was canted sharply aft

and to port; the sail was listing at a forty-five-degree angle, and each

swell of the sea breaking over and past it sent torrents of water

cascading down the after escape trunk hatch.

Vyatkin clung to the railing at the side of the bridge, high atop the

sail, and watched miserably as his crew fought to save themselves. For a

time, he’d thought, possibly, that Kislovodsk might be saved. He’d known

the damage to the engineering spaces and propeller shaft must be grave,

but if the sub could be kept on the surface, a tug out of Sevastopol

could have them back in port by morning.

But that final shock that had catapulted them to the surface–that had

been the final blow. He could tell by the wallowing feel of the vessel

that he would remain at the surface only a few more moments before

making his final dive.

Vyatkin only hoped that all of the crew could get out first.

He heard the thuttering roar of helicopters. .. probably the Americans

who’d been pinging them. The nearest Russian ships must be a hundred

miles away. If only- Light exploded from starboard, a dazzling whiteness

that, at first, he thought was a flare. Then the beam swept across

Kislovodsk’s hull, illuminating dozens of life-jacketed sailors already

afloat in the water, the soft orange shape of a raft already smothered

by desperate men, and the black sheen of oil. It took Vyatkin a

mind-numbing moment to realize that another submarine had surfaced a

hundred meters abeam, that it was playing a searchlight across his dying

command. By the back-scatter of that light, he could see one of the

helicopters approaching, its rotor noise growing louder as it gentled

toward the stricken Kislovodsk. A second light winked on, gleaming from

the helo’s side. Something spilled from the open door, expanding as it


A life raft. The Americans were dropping life rafts.

“Comrade Captain!” Aleksanyan called, shouting into his ear to be heard

above the wind and the growing thunder of the helicopters. “We must

leave! Now!”

Grimly, Vyatkin nodded. For a moment, he’d entertained romantic notions

of going down with his command. .. but he found that, after all, he

wasn’t quite ready to die.

Aleksanyan handed him a life jacket and he began to strap it on.

1840 hours (Zulu +3)

Flight deck, U.S.S. Thomas Jefferson Commander Willis E. “Coyote” Grant

strapped on the safety helmet, known aboard ship as a “cranial,” before

stepping out of the Mangler’s 0-4 compartment and onto the carrier’s

flight deck. The air inside the compartment was crackling with radio

calls; the Deck Handler–more familiarly called the “Mangler”–and his

crew were frantically repositioning aircraft silhouettes on the big

Plexiglas diagram of Jefferson’s flight deck, updating the model to

reflect the realities of aircraft positions outside.

He stepped through the doorway and onto the flight deck; the gathering

night was held at bay here by the glare of spotlights, both from

Jefferson’s island and from the helicopters overhead. Most deck

operations had been suspended half an hour earlier when the word had

come down that a Russian sub was in trouble twenty miles to the

northwest. SH-3 Sea Kings were shuttling back and forth between the

Jefferson and the sub now, bringing in another handful of wet,

oil-smeared survivors with each trip.

It was a painstakingly slow process. The Sea Kings of HS-19 were ASW

aircraft, their cargo compartments crammed with so much electronics gear

that there was precious little room for passengers above and beyond the

usual four-man crew.

Still, there was a little space aft of the sensor suite, and each

aircraft was fitted with a winch and sling to haul people out of the

water. They were ferrying survivors back to Jefferson’s flight deck just

as quickly as they could harvest them from the oil-slicked waters of the

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