“People don’t understand what wind does to someone at that speed. If you stick your hand out as you’re driving down the highway, stick out the car window and it’ll blow it back, and that’s at sixty miles an hour.
“Imagine doing 800 miles an hour and what that will do. It starts ripping you apart.”
On April 18, 1989, Captain Brian “Noodle” Udell and his navigator/weapons officer Captain Dennis White went out on a combat training mission in their two-seat F-15, along with another fighter, taking off from Seymour Johnson Air Force Base — which is located southeast of Goldsboro in North Carolina.
Soon they found themselves over the Atlantic Ocean, chasing the other jet by flying in tighter and tighter circles.
But then something went terribly wrong. And Udell called for a “bailout”. They ejected. At supersonic speed.
The way the airman describes what happened next is both powerful and harrowing:
“Felt like somebody had just hit me with a train. When I went out into the wind stream, it ripped the helmet right off my head, broke all the blood vessels in my head and face — my head was swollen to the size of a basketball and my lips were swollen to the size of cucumbers. My left elbow was dislocated and pointed backwards. The only thing holding my leg on was an artery, the veins, the nerve and the skin, and my left leg snapped at the bottom half. I found myself exhausted hanging in a parachute. I could feel the cool night air on my face and could hear the parachute ruffling above me.”
What happens next — how he survives — and the fate of his navigator is told in the following interview:
And this is footage of the actual U.S. Coast Guard (out of Elizabeth City, North Carolina) rescue of Udell in the volatile, cold 60-degree waters of the Atlantic Ocean off the coast: