"Mmmm, I'm gettin a little air-to-air feelin!" laughs Jeremy, his eyes twinkling with mischief as he flashes a lop-sided grin in my direction.
"Re-fuel in hell? That's pretty sporty!" I shoot back at him, unaware of the danger that lies ahead of us…
The words echo around in my mind over and over, but I still can't make sense of what has happened. Did we make the right choice? Re-fuelling mid-air is hard enough at the best of times but this storm was like nothing we had ever seen before. Certainly it was like nothing we had ever flown in before. We had enough trouble getting those three idiots off the Mistral; the basket gettin caught on their mast had nearly taken us down, but we still chose to take on the rescue of the Andrea Gail as well. We never once thought about our own safety, we thought about the people out there who needed our help. That's what we always did. Those men had families waiting for them, worrying about them and we thought we could get them back to their loved ones. We thought we could take on Hell and win, but we were wrong. And now here I am, in hospital, sat by the bedside of my best friend, hoping and praying that he'll wake up. One of my crew is missing, presumed dead and a second, my best friend Jeremy, is in critical condition.
It's my fault, and there's no one to blame but myself.
The steady beep of the heart monitor beside me thunders around the room, like a hammer crashing down upon me, the weight of my guilt crushing in on me more and more with each passing second. I put us at risk by taking the mission, thinking that I'd be able to get my crew home as I always had. A tear runs down my cheek as I look at the man in the bed beside me, wires and tubes covering him, like ropes pulling him away from me. Jeremy and I have been friends for most of our lives; we grew up on the same street, went to the same schools and college, joined the rescue service together. When we got assigned to the same crew, we went out and got stupidly drunk to celebrate. Jonesy, Rob & Borgers all came on board at the same time so we were a crew from the beginning. We didn't all get on right away but we all became friends as time went by, a close-knit group who spent most of our down time together.
"King 1-2, this isn't working. This is not our night. We're issuing a mayday. Get coastguard Tamaroa on the pipe, give em our co-ordinates. We're ditching…"
More tears fall unnoticed as I replay the mission in my mind, re-living every second in slow motion, trying to find something I could have done differently. Would the crew of the Andrea Gail still be alive if I'd managed to re-fuel the 'chopper? Would we have been able to rescue them, get them back to their families? Would Jonesy still be with us? Laying my head against the cool, clean sheets of the hospital bed, I try to make sense of my failure. My tears soak into the fabric as I slowly drift off to sleep…
"I'm here Jeremy, I'm here. I got you J, I got you!" I scream, trying to be heard over the howling of the gale force winds. Droplets of near-freezing seawater hit my face, like a thousand needles stabbing into my skin. The current below me tugs at my legs, wanting to pull me under.
"Go find Jonesy!" I shout to Rob and Borgers, not willing to leave my best friend now I have him with me again. Within seconds, we're alone once more, as we had been just before the 'chopper went down.
"It's OK J, I'm not gonna leave you. We're gonna get out of this, I promise," I don't know if he can hear me, but I say it anyway.
"Yeah J, it's me. I got you. I thought I'd lost you when that wave slammed us. Shoulda known then you were hurt but you seemed ok. I'm sorry Jer…." My words trail off as the sea around us suddenly slows down, the noise of the storm fading away as the world around us becomes hazy. Panic begins to rise up inside me; am I dying?
"It's OK Darryl, you're not dying," Jeremy tells me, turning to face me. The logical part of my mind screams at me that this is impossible; he can't turn to face me, he's hurt and we're trying to survive in the middle of the ocean!
"What's going on J? Am I dreaming?" I need to know. I can't help but smile as he cocks his head to one side slightly, a mischievous grin on his face as he sees the confusion on mine.
"Kinda. We're here because you need to understand something," he replies, his expression becoming serious. Suddenly Jonesy is with us and fear grips me, wrapping its icy fingers around my heart.
"Are you dying J? Is that why we're here?" I try in vain to keep the terror I'm feeling out of my voice but the expressions of the two men before me show I'm unsuccessful.
"No Capt, he's not. We're here because you need to know the truth. I died seconds after I hit the water. My neck broke the moment I hit. There was no pain, no suffering. You couldn't have saved me, my friend," Jonesy answers, his hand gripping my shoulder, attempting to comfort me as he'd done the day I got the news that my brother was dead.
"I'm so sorry Jonesy. I thought we could do it but I was wrong and now you're dead. It should have been me. If I could trade places with you, I would in a heartbeat!" Hot tears sting my eyes as I try to apologise for failing him, for letting him die.
"It's OK Darryl. You did all you could. We all thought we could take on Hell and win. It's what we do. You can't go on thinking it was your fault. If you do, you'll never be able to do the job again."
"NO! You were my responsibility and I let you down! You didn't deserve to die!" I scream, anger and guilt consuming me.
"And you did? We all made the choice to take the mission Darryl. You have to stop blaming yourself for something you could not have changed. I have to go. Look after my family guys, and tell them I love them very much," he told us, raising his hand to wave goodbye as he began to fade away and leave us. I reach towards him, trying to stop him from going, not wanting to accept the truth and trying to will him back to life.
"Neither of us can bring him back Darryl. We can only do as he asked. He will always live on in our memories," Jer tells me, his voice full of emotion. Part of me knows he's right but I can't accept the truth of his words.
"I let him die Jer. We all could have died, because of the stupid decision I made!" I snap at him, my tears falling once more.
"Darryl, do you remember what our motto is?" he asks me suddenly, watching me intently as he waits for me to answer.
"That others may live," I reply automatically, nodding my head in affirmation. Jer remains silent, watching me with a slight smile tugging at his lips as he waits for my own words to sink through my grief. I close my eyes for a moment, finally accepting what my friends have been trying to tell me. I know it will take a long time to fully come to terms with my grief, and my guilt, but thanks to them, I have taken my first step onto the long road to recovery. Opening my eyes, I look towards Jeremy but he's no longer with me and panic rises within me once more.
"Jeremy? Jer, where are you? JEREMY!!!!!!!!" I shout, trying to find my friend.
"Darryl…" I hear him calling but I can't see him.
Waking with a start, it takes me a moment to orientate myself before I remember I'm in hospital, sitting with Jer. "Must have fallen asleep," I think to myself, shaking my head slightly. Closing my eyes, I sigh quietly.
"Darryl?" Little more than a hoarse whisper, my head snaps around as I hear my name being said. My heart skips a beat at the sight that greets me; looking tired and in pain, Jeremy smiles weakly at me.
"I'm here Jer. I'm here…" I reassure him. My face is wet with tears, but this time they are tears of joy. I'm not sure whether the dream was real or not, but my heart tells me it was, and I have my best friend back. Grasping his hand gently, I send a silent prayer to Jonesy. "Rest in Peace, my friend. I'll see ya again one day, but not just yet…"