By Paige Bounds, American Red Cross volunteer
A young U.S. Navy pilot emerged from the waters of the East China Sea. After taking a deep, shaky breath, he desperately scanned the dark ocean waters for survivors, only lit by his dim headlamp.
A white helmet appeared. Then another. After what seemed like an eternity, the third helmet surfaced.
Relief washed over the pilot, but that was soon interrupted by a sudden surge of freezing saltwater smacking him in the face.
Reality set in. He is floating in foreign waters surrounded by darkness, not a ship in sight. It’s so dark he can barely see his men floating a couple feet in front of him.
Just hours earlier, the crew joked as they flew above a swarm of 12-foot sharks in their helicopter. Visions of those sharks flooded the pilot’s mind as he and his crew watched the ocean water overtake the last visible parts of the chopper.
After about two hours battling the rough seas with nothing but a life vest, the Navy pilot saw a foggy light appear in the distance. By chance, another Navy helicopter nearby picked up the crew’s emergency flares. The pilot’s prayers were answered. They were saved.
The crew was immediately flown to receive medical treatment on the closest American aircraft carrier, the USS Midway. The pilot immediately requested to relay a message to his parents that he survived the crash and was okay.
The next day, the pilot’s father received a letter from the American Red Cross emergency communications program, dated September 22, 1988.
“Servicemember was involved in a helicopter mishap,” the letter read. “USS Midway reports serviceman requests [to] inform parents… that he is safe and in good spirits.”
In the wake of an emergency, our first thought is often family. Communicating with loved ones amidst emergencies can be especially difficult for U.S. service members deployed to locations around the globe with little connectivity.
The American Red Cross provides emergency communications for military families 24 hours a day, 365 days a year. Through the Red Cross Hero Care Center, U.S. service members and their families can initiate requests to relay urgent emergency messages and track their progress from anywhere in the world. Based on the scope of the emergency situation, the Red Cross will work with the service member’s commander and if requested, work with the military member’s military aid society to facilitate a trip home.
Jim Bounds would go on to continue an accomplished career as a Naval Aviator, working his way up from Lieutenant at the time of the crash to Commander before retiring in 2008. The San Diego resident would play an instrumental role in training the next generation of Navy pilots.
“Knowing that the Red Cross notified my mom and dad that I was okay brought me peace and solace after experiencing the most terrifying moment of my life,” Jim expressed. “Now as a parent myself, I have a new level of understanding of what receiving that letter must have meant to them.”
Over two decades after the crash, Jim found himself sorting through his parent’s old files shortly after his father’s passing. What he found brought a tear to his eye — and serves as a testament to the true impact of the emergency communications program on military families.
“After all those years, my dad kept that letter from the Red Cross,” Jim shared.
In fact, Jim’s father penned his own note at the bottom of the letter the day after the crash. “Thanks to their skill, and good luck, and the Good Lord,” the inscription reads.
Commander Jim Bounds (Ret.) lives in San Diego and still serves his country by working in a civilian role for the U.S. Navy. His daughter Paige, inspired by his lifetime of service, is a volunteer for the American Red Cross.
Today, military families can receive help from the Red Cross Hero Care Center by submitting a request online, downloading the free Hero Care app or speaking to a Red Cross Emergency Communications Specialist at 1-877-272-7337.