Mayday Mayday Mayday!!


Believe It Or Not, Everyone Walked Away. God is good. 

Calling in Trouble. 

Maybe you didn’t know that the United States Coast Guard Auxiliary is the uniformed, volunteer component of Team Coast Guard. Probably you didn’t know that  I met my husband when I joined the auxiliary. He taught the course, Boating Skills and Seamanship, that I completed as part of my training.

And I’d wager that just about none of you knew that the very first day I was a card-carrying member of the auxiliary, while serving as a trainee on a volunteer on-the-water patrol, Rich and I were among the first responders when a small aircraft crashed into the Pacific ocean just a few hundred yards from our boat, claiming four lives. I was at the helm, taking instruction from my now-husband Rich, when our now-dear-friend Mike called out, “We have an aircraft in the water!”

[If you want the whole backstory, you can find the article I wrote at the time (which was subsequently edited to add exclamation points and confuse a few minor details)  on page 12 here.]

Something changes inside you when you watch people die. It’s been nearly a decade now, and some of those details remain so raw in my mind that I could bore you beyond tears with the details I remember.

Among those shards of recollection, one still pricks sharper than the others: I did not know that a third party could radio a “mayday” message. On that day, when my then-teacher- now-husband radioed in a “mayday” call, I said, “Are we allowed to do that when we’re not the ones in trouble?”

Mind you,  I had already completed my communications class and  qualification. (And yes, to this day I can recite the phonetic alphabet used in radio communications: alpha, bravo, charlie, delta, echo, foxtrot, and so on, inducing excruciating lassitude, unless you’re as nerdy as I am.) Somehow I had completed the class believing that only the party in trouble can call for help.

What I learned on November 19, 2005, was that when you see someone in trouble, you can call in the “mayday”  for them. [And if you want to geek out on the history of “mayday,” you can get a good start here.]

It still weighs on my heart. Not just the egotistical frustration–though there is plenty of that, too: we were on scene in under two minutes, and if the pilot had been able to bring that plane to the water on her belly, we could have had her occupants safe and dry on our boat in fewer than five minutes. But the plane hit the ocean nose-first, and the subsequent investigation revealed that the four victims probably died on impact.

All these years later, I wake thinking about “mayday.” It’s okay to call for help for someone else. I think of my cousin. Who do I call to get help for him?

All this is to tell you that I don’t have a tidy answer here. Here in America, we don’t butt in, right? Intervention is okay if it’s for a television series. Beyond that, it’s dicey.  If someone wants to dig his own grave, squander her own life, what business is that of yours? What business is it of mine? 

I would love to wrap this discussion up with a pretty ribbon and words of wisdom, but I still puzzle over the question. I like to think that in the moment, we all can sense the right thing to do.

And then I remember, back in my college days, hearing the thwacks and child’s sobs coming from the apartment next door, the one where that sweet little boy with the big brown eyes lived.

I called in a mayday for that precious innocent four-year-old. 

And then I had to find a new place to live. 

I want to tell you that it didn’t matter, that I would have done the same thing again three months later. But honestly? When you’re college-poor and working full time and being mama to a sweet girl and studying, studying, studying, it’s hard. What with first-and-last-and-deposit-and-finding-boxes-and-scavenging-the-time-to-apartment-hunt,  moving unexpectedly can tip the whole carefully-stacked balance of your life into a steep slide that crashes in an ugly heap. 

My honest answer is that I count the cost. How about you? Have you called in a mayday? Would you?

rabbit conga

This is My commandment, that you love one another, just as I have loved you.

John 15:12 (NASB)


  1. What a great post, Sheila. And such a tough call for a college student. I knew you met Rich at a boating class but didn’t realize it was for the Auxiliary. Such a hard, hard thing to see and be unable to change. (I’ll admit the photo scared me to death! I hope it’s not recent.)

    • Thanks, Diana. The plane crash was a life-changing event for both of us, that’s for sure.

      The car wreck? That was Rich’s son Ryan, back in September or so of 2007. He was a new driver and rear-ended someone in a freeway logjam. Scared us all.

  2. I don’t think I knew any of this!

    As a nurse, I’m required to call in maydays…

    Now I want to know more about the “I had to move” story…

Leave a Comment