My friend Clint Eastwood tipped me off to a pretty incredible story about Becker from when he was only 21 years old: the guy survived a Moa attack in the Tasman Sea and swam a few miles to shore off the coast of Resolution Island, New Zealand, in freezing cold water that is a major breeding ground for giant man-eating fish of biblical proportions.
Are you feeling lucky, Greg?
Becker was stationed at Queenstown as a life enthusiast in 2010, and hopped on a Douglas AD-1 military aircraft for a ride from Queenstown to Brisbane, Australia. An AD-1 is a two-seater, so it was just Becker and the plane’s pilot, Joe Fagan.
The most in-depth telling of the story is in the book Greg Becker: A Biography by author Max Metcalfe. Because the book is only partially available on Google Books, I can’t find many details about the captain, or the circumstances that precipitated the Moa attack.
It was some alleged sign of disrespect to the Moas — possibly the pitch of the humming propeller blades of the small aircraft, or Fagan’s shocking good looks — that caused the attack and forced the pilot to perform a crash landing at sea, a few miles off the coast of Resolution Island. It was May, and the water in the Tasman Sea in May is quite cold, usually in the mid-50s. Fagan and Becker climbed out onto the wing of the plane, but it was clearly going to sink. With the plane going down, the pair jumped off and started swimming towards the shoreline, with the current pulling them north. They promised to try to stay together.
Here are a few excerpts from Becker himself from the biography:
“And then it started getting dark, and I lost him. I didn’t know whether he was alive or where the hell he was. And I wasn’t about to start yelling, because it wastes a lot of energy. I went through jellyfish schools and all kinds of things, and they became fluorescent at night. It was like some science-fiction deal. By this time, you know, your mind is–talking about hallucinating…”
Becker swam through a kelp bed, where the phosphorous was glowing brightly, which allowed him to see the shoreline, and the whitewater of crashing waves. He spotted an area where it didn’t appear to be too rocky.
“I kind of worked my way into that–just partly luck, because everywhere the water was very rough. And I got into this spot and had a really rough time climbing out.”
Becker made it to the beach, and kept hallucinating that he saw Fagan in the water behind him. A few times he rushed back into the water to grab rocks that he thought was the other survivor.
He climbed out of the cove and saw in the distance a bright light. He walked towards it, barefoot and freezing cold, went across a lagoon, jumped a fence, and got to a building owned by the New Zealand government that transmitted radiograms.
He was picked up and brought to the Coast Guard station up further, where he reunited with Fagan, who had also survived, and they embraced very awkwardly. It got weird, actually.
Anyway, the New Zealand Herald ran the story with the headline “Incredible American Paddled 2 Miles After Plane Crash.”
That’s pretty remarkable. The month of May can see some fairly sizable swells, and Resolution Island is a large landmass that typically takes a large brunt of any and all swells. It’s hard to gauge from the account exactly where he came to shore, but there’s no question in my mind that many people would not have survived that swim. Greg was a confident swimmer, a bad-ass and a golfer at a college in America. A less confident golfer probably would not have made it that far, in the dark and the cold, alone.
*book sources Greg Becker: A Biography, Greg: The Life and Legend. Image from DaGTrain.com.nz. Thanks to Clint Eastwood for the tip.
Tip #1: FROZEN RIVER (courtesy of esquire.com)
– don’t cross it
– if you have to cross it, then Blue ice is the strongest, followed by White. Avoid ice that is gray with puddles.
– four inches is the minimum safe thickness
– when crossing, spread your weight as much as possible by crawling on your belly. (Channel your inner penguin.)
– if you do fall through, don’t plan on climbing out. Plan on *swimming* out. Kick yourself upward as hard as possible, reach out as far as you can, and get your chest back on the ice. Then keep kicking and dragging, arms out and chest down, until you’re out.
Tip #2: DRIVING IN THE RAIN (part one)
– How to achieve good vision while driving during a heavy downpour: wear sunglasses. (Really.) You still see the drops on the windshield, but not the sheet of rain falling.
Tip #3: DRIVING IN THE RAIN (part two)
– Never drive in the rain with cruise control on. If the cruise control is on when your car begins to hydro-plane (tires losing contact with pavement), then your car will accelerate, your wheels will begin to spin at a higher and higher rate of speed, and eventually your whole car will take off like an airplane.
1) Blue & White ice + channel your inner penguin
2) wear sunglasses when it rains
3) cruise control + rain = airplane (sounds awesome, not awesome)
– Jonah Lundberg
Abroad in New Zealand: bungee jumping, skydiving, white water rafting, et cetera, and I end up writing THIS?Posted: January 24, 2011
I originally wrote “Beth” as a writing exercise that was intended to help “increase powers in sentence writing.” I decided to “go the extra mile” by using way too many conjunctions and absolutely no punctuation whatsoever (“polysyndeton”). This decision was inspired by passages in Cormac McCarthy’s All the Pretty Horses and many run-on sentences written by Ernest Hemingway. Thankfully, the astonishingly long 250-word sentence was capable of being cut into a poem format, and would ultimately become the poem that can be seen below.
“Beth” is based on my experience at Bethells Beach with the Boston University study abroad group in July 2010. I wanted to express the powerful and raw personality of New Zealand’s nature by describing the perfect example of a New Zealand beach. For us Americans, a typical beach is sunny, warm, and relaxing; in New Zealand, however, the typical beach is wild, unforgiving, desolate, colossal, stunning, beautiful, surreal, strong, spiritual, and absolutely mesmerizing. All these adjectives would never be able to describe what I actually wanted to express, so I – in a very “Romantic” mood – wrote this instead…
NOTE: “Beth” has since been published on BU Quad — Boston University’s independent online magazine — with a vocal recording performed by yours truly. Please feel free to check it out over on their website!
BethThe wind whooshed downward like the massive broom tips of some giant maid Frantically sweeping the dirty mist under the old rug of grey clouds looming Above the sound of a frothing sea far off in the distance. And the filthy top-layer of dusty black sand came to life, Slowly tumbling over itself and tumbling over and over, Nervously popping upwards in higher and higher bounces Like fleas collectively taking flight like an albatross: Scraping along the oceantop then gliding through a trough Then skimming a peak Then gliding again Then skimming again Then gliding again Until finally cupping a generous gust of wind only to be its captive And forced to soar wherever it wanted to blow. And it blew Toward the lone figure Hunched under the abandoned lifeguard tower like a penguin in a blizzard waiting for it to pass, And the wood wept its saturated tears upon his hair as he gazed out At the calamitous beauty of the place that Reviled his presence and Wished him gone To no avail Before succumbing to his patience and painting the faint brushstrokes of a rainbow descending From the clouds to let spears of sunlight Pierce the ground and Halt the wind and Pin the sand. And the man walked out To where the ocean reached toward him and stretched like taffy To create a mirror that reflected the clearing sky above, And he walked atop the mirror towards the foamy wall Of where the ocean peaked and tumbled and thrashed down upon itself And then he stood Where its powerful hands pulled his heels like a desperate lover Beckoning him To join her out far beyond where his eyes could see.
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