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The rain was coming down and pounding so hard on the windshield I couldn't see a thing. The wind was blowing so violently the windshield wipers weren’t even touching the glass. I was hoping that I was somewhere near land when suddenly the plane jumped as I felt the top of a tree hit underneath and I knew I was in real trouble.
I pulled back on the wheel and gunned the engine and thank God it rose up out of danger. All the instruments on the panel were malfunctioning and I was scared stiff. Collecting my wits I was able to get the plane to gain enough altitude to a safe height above the clouds and out of the storm. I banked and put the plane into a wide circle. I strained my eyes out the side window hoping to see some kind of opening in the clouds below and then I began to pray to the Almighty, "Please, God, find me a place to land this bucket of bolts."
After about an hour of this maneuvering, I sighted a hole in the clouds and made a dive into it. Dropping down several hundred feet I could see a spot about as big as a penny-post card, so decided to take a chance and try a landing. I pulled into a stall and cut down on the speed and proceeded to glide into the opening. It was completely surrounded by trees and I managed not to hit anything head on but knew the plane could not land without going through the trees at the end. The last thing I remembered was the sound of the crash and I must have blacked out.
I don't know how long I was out but when I finally came to, everything was quiet and the only thing I heard was my heart pounding in my breast.
After a moment I relaxed and tried to climb out of the plane. The crash had severed both wings and the ship had stopped up against two enormous trees completely destroying both of the engines. A tree branch ripped off the top of the cabin and the rain was coming in. It's a blessed miracle that I survived because the plane was a mass of tangled rubble. I had to break down the door to get out.
Here I was, Jennifer Matson, a smart kid from Watsonville, California; a graduate of Stanford; an experienced commercial pilot and an all around American girl; just turned forty; forced to land in the jungle of an island nowhere in the Pacific Ocean. Oh, God! What have I done to deserve this? He didn't answer so I guess the put-down is, "You brought it on yourself." Why do women think they're so macho they can do anything? Stupid things like trying to fly solo across the Pacific Ocean to Australia. If I ever get back, I swear to God, I'll settle down and become just a plain house wife with a couple of kids and all that goes with it.
I searched around for anything that could be salvaged. Some food, a box of tools, a first aid kit, some matches, the ship's log, a pair of binoculars and a couple of blankets were all that were not destroyed. I wondered if I was lucky to be alive on this pitiful island or would I be better off dead like my poor battered airplane.
Thankfully, the rain had stopped and I was able to scout around for some sort of shelter. I found a place under a fallen tree and made camp under it. It was late and I was dead tired and I ached all over. Bundling up in the blankets, I must have fallen asleep instantly.
On awakening I could hear the birds singing, and opening my eyes saw the sun was out and everything seemed happy and gay. Exploring for about a mile around the island I found a little shack by a stream that must have been made by a human, so I was happy at the thought of someone else being here. Inside it was cozy and clean so I assumed someone must have stayed here recently; my heart pounded at the thought.
I walked through the forest for another mile leaving a marked trail, this I remembered from my Girl Scout survival training. The pounding of the surf could be heard in the distance and I ran making my way down to it. All that could be seen was the vast Pacific Ocean. My heart sank at the thought of being stranded out here all alone. I sat down on the sand, buried my face in my hands and bawled till I could no longer muster any tears.
Wiping my eyes on my shirt sleeve and surveying the ocean I got sight of something floating out about a mile or so. I couldn't make it out until it came in about a hundred yards from shore. It was a makeshift raft with a torn sail dangling from a mast, and I could see someone lying down on the deck. I pulled off my shoes and pants and swam out to it. It was a man and his face was covered with whiskers so I couldn't judge how old he was. I climbed onto the raft that was made up of several logs and tied together with some kind of hemp or bark from a tree. I could see he was still alive, so, my mother instinct prompted me to help him. He was exhausted from exposure and lay limp. I found a canister of water and washed his face. It helped to revive him and he sat up. He questioned, "Did I die, are you an angel from heaven?"
"No, you did not and I ain't." I found a paddle and was able to beach the raft. It was rough getting him back to the shack, but we managed and I put him down on the makeshift bed. He seemed coherent so I left him and went back to my tree shelter to retrieve my precious belongings.
When I returned he was asleep so I just sat there and studied him wondering what in the hell was he doing on this forlorn desolate island somewhere out in the stupid Pacific Ocean. I was able to get a fire started and cook some powdered soup from my belongings and I think the smell of the soup must have awakened him. It didn't take much encouragement to get him to drink it.
Somehow he managed to get up and sit in the makeshift chair. We exchanged stories of how each of us got on this forlorn desolate place. He called himself Philip Combs, he was the ship's doctor on a freighter bound for the Philippine Islands that was capsized by a tidal wave. He was able to climb onto one of the lifeboats that had drifted from the sinking ship. The lifeboat had some supplies in it and he somehow managed to get the boat to shore, but the boat was smashed on the rocks. However, the parts of the lifeboat were retrievable, in fact he made most of the shack, the bed and the chair from it. He thought he must have been there for more than a year and he had made the raft in an attempt to get back home. The escape was a failure because he'd run into another squall and, he said, "Well, you know the rest."
I told him of my plight and how I, the woman pilot of the year, the celebrated Jennifer Watson, was attempting to fly solo across the Pacific, how I got off course in the storm and how I had to crash land my plane. He was very attentive and I appreciated his concern. We managed to fix a bunk in the shack from my blankets and although it was close quarters we were able to cope.
The following days were eventful. He made a fishing pole out of a bamboo stick and the line and hooks from my survival kit. The first try brought in a beautiful sea bass. It made a scrumptious meal. I found scissors and a razor in my first aid kit and he removed the year's growth from his face. I was somewhat surprised when he finished. He was good looking and somehow seemed taller but the best part was, he looked about my age so working together on this God forsaken place began to have a meaningful outlook. In fact, the island itself seemed to take on a feeling of camaraderie.
The days turned into weeks and our relationship had developed into a compatibility that I never ever had with any other man before. In fact, both of us had lost our eagerness to get back to the States and were enjoying this new primitive life style.
Then one day it happened. We saw a ship drop anchor about a mile out. Getting my binoculars out we saw three men get into a shore boat and row towards shore. I started to yell but Philip put his hand over my mouth and said, "Maybe we'd better find out what these three are wanting on the island before we show ourselves."
"Yes, I see what you mean." We packed up our fishing gear, scrambled out of sight, ran up on a knoll and hid behind the rocks. Philip watched them through the binoculars, and said, "Oh, I don't like the look of them. Here, take a look." Looking through the glasses I said, "Yes, I see. I don't think I'd fancy being in their clutches; oh Philip, I'm scared."
"I think they've come ashore for fresh water, so let's be calm and wait." Sure enough the boat had a big barrel in it and the three came ashore and began filling it from the stream that trickled into the Ocean. They looked around and were about to go inland when a bell was sounded from the ship and the three scurried back in the boat and rowed out. It was a scary moment and I clung to Philip; it was then that the relationship between us became more than just a couple of friends living together in a shack on the beach.
After the ship had set sail, we went back to the shack and somehow it had a heavenly glow and I knew we'd better get hold of ourselves or trouble would surely find us. Philip sensibly moved his bedroll out under a tree and I avoided any further physical contact with him from that moment on.
This relationship went on for the time being, and I knew that we must be sensible if we were to survive in this jungle paradise. Weeks turned into months and still we were able to control our emotions.
We weathered the storms and the heat waves and toured the island from one end to the other. Philip said he figured it to be about three miles long and two miles wide. The foliage, the trees and the climbing grapevines were absolutely unbelievably beautiful and the animals that roamed the forest were so friendly, they were almost like pets. If there was a paradise on this earth, this was it.
We salvaged everything from the wrecked plane that was usable and I made him a pair of shorts from the fabric of the plane's pilot seat. He looked great and wore them all the time. We climbed the trees for coconuts, kiwi fruit and bananas, we fished for bass and dug for clams and he showed me how to get abalone off the rocks.
Then one day we looked out to sea and to our surprise there was a freighter off shore flying an American flag. A shore boat was coming toward us and we waved to them. They were really dumbfounded at the idea that anyone was on the island. They were low on drinking water, and told us they would never have landed here except for their water needs.
The crew leader informed Philip that a man aboard the ship was ailing and they couldn't figure out what was the matter with him. They were going to take him to the Philippines and drop him off at the hospital. Philip explained that he was a doctor and would like to look at the man. We both went aboard as I was not about to be left alone on the island, no matter what. The Captain welcomed us and showed Phillip the ailing seaman.
It turned out the man had appendicitis and needed an operation immediately so Philip agreed to do it. In the meantime I asked the Captain if he would radio our families and tell them we were OK and that we'd call when we got back to the States. He assure us that he'd make the contact. I was so impressed with his eagerness to help, I jumped up and kissed him on the cheek and he was so shocked his hat flew off. We all had a great laugh about it.
In the mean time the captain discussed the ship's destination with us; their plan was to leave as soon as possible for the Philippines, returning to USA in about a month. Philip looked at me and I knew what he was thinking, but before he could say anything I blurted out, "Captain, is it possible you could stop by on your way home and pick us up, then?" They both looked at me, smiled and raised their eyebrows.
The captain said, "Of course we can do that, my dear, I would do anything to return the favor after what the good doctor has done, besides I can understand why you'd like to stay on this island a little longer. It is the most heavenly spot on earth away from the cares and woes of a world of grief and torment. It would be a pleasure and be sure, I'll be back, you can bet on that!"
The Captain ordered the shore boat dropped into the water, packed with all the available food and clothing they could find, even a small dingy so we could fish off shore. I jumped up and kissed him on the cheek and he was so shaken it knocked his cap off again. We all folded up with laughter.
He came ashore with us and helped unload the supplies. Philip took him and me aside and said, "Captain, would you do us a great favor," he looked into my eyes and continued, "and marry us before you leave?" The Captain looked at me and he could tell that I thought it was a wonderful idea, especially when my eyes started to fill with tears.
The three of us with the two crewmen acting as witnesses gathered in a cove on the beach. The captain reached into his coat pocket and produced a small bible smiling as he said, "I brought this along just in case I might have an occasion to use it." The ceremony was delightful and when Philip kissed me, I knew that heaven must have known when I crash landed my plane that romance was in the making.
Philip and I stood on the beach and watched them depart. He put his arm around me and my heart stood still for I knew I had found the man I would want to live with for the rest of my life. As far as we were concerned it really didn't matter whether the ship returned to pick us up or not. Life to me had just begun.
We watched the ship sail out of sight and as the sky darkened we found our way back to the heavenly little shack on this fabulous little island of paradise.
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