Flier is gone, and fifteen souls were left in the oily water marking her grave.
Some were uninjured, blown almost free of the boat before they knew what happened to them. Lt. John Edward Casey was blinded by hot oil in his face. Lt. Reynolds had been hit in the side by something, he never knew what. Some said they saw men get tangled in the guardrails, others said they thought other people had been right behind them.
Only one man made it up from the Control Room, and he was so badly wounded that he died a few minutes later. His name was Edgar Hudson, and he had been COB of the Flier.
It was an overcast night, and there was no way to get a fix on any direction. The moon wouldn’t rise for five more hours, the sun long since set and the north star hidden behind a bank of storm clouds. The land that Al Jacobson had seen moments before when he was on Flier’s deck moments before was now gone. It was only water and clouds from horizon to horizon.
What to do? They didn’t know what happened. It could have been a submarine, or shore batteries or an internal explosion that had taken Flier down. If they stayed and it was an enemy vessel, they’d be coming any minute to check the area for wreckage or survivors. If there was land on three sides of them, but only one large island. If they passed the smaller islands or accidentally swam east into the open ocean, they’d doom themselves.
What happened next depends on which survivors account you believe. Some say they decided to tread water for the five hours until the moon rose so they could get a fix on a direction. Others claim that, since the storm that was building to the west was probably still in the west, they knew where north was, and then facing north, the waves slapped them on the left side, so they had a direction.
Where to go? East was open sea, south was a tiny island only a couple of miles away, but too easy to miss in the dark and the next land was over thirty miles away. West was Balabac Island, a known Japanese stronghold that the survivors were not likley to elude capture. To the north was a string of tiny islands which no one knew much about. They were about twelve to fifteen miles away depending on the island, the furthest of the three choices.
They chose to go north, to face whatever might face them there. They also made a rule: Every man for himself. No one was to ask for help.
That didn’t stop some of the men from helping others. Jacobson tried to help the blinded Lt. Casey several times, as did Art Howell. Howell also tried to help Ensign Meyer. But in the end, six more men, Casey, Reynolds, Meyer, Knapp, Madeo, and Pope drifted away and were not seen again.
The moon rose, then the sun, and they could see a small island ahead. Hours later, a plane flew overhead, forcing them to dive underwater to avoid being seen by the enemy patrol.
Finally, at three thirty in the afternoon, they staggered onto the beach. Their skin was severely burned, and their feet and ankles were slashed open on the coral reefs that surrounded the island. Exhausted, they had enough energy to build a rough lean-to and sleep. There were seven now, Miller disappeared just before dawn.
They were on their own.