Even at the height and speed that the Coast Guard HC-144A “Ocean Sentry” travels, the smell from the environmental disaster unfolding below is beyond noxious.
In the distance a black plume of acrid smoke rises from a controlled oil burn. I wonder what the fumes are like at sea level , where a small army of workers is trying to stop the estimated 5,000 barrels of oil a day pouring into the Gulf.
I am on the plane at the invitation of the Coast Guard, which has taken media out on regular flights to see the gathering pollution off the Gulf Coast.
Lt. Rene Baez pilots many of those flights and from the cockpit points out to me the thick orange bands of sludge that increase the farther out we fly. “That’s all pollution,” Baez said, motioning to the water. “It’s getting worse.”
Then Baez tells me they are going to lower the ramp at the rear of the plane and tether us in so the reporters can hang out of the aircraft to get a better view. I am not sure if he is having a joke, but then, I see the ramp slowly lower and air rushes into the cabin.
From the edge of the ramp, wind screams by me and below I can see the huge white dome that will soon be lowered into the water to try to cap the leaking oil.
Shooting video of moving boats from an open moving plane is a challenge. When the Coast Guardsman keeping an eye over me taps me to crawl back into the cabin, I go hoping I got the shots I wanted.
On the way back we pass over the Chandeleur Islands off Louisiana. The bright orange pollution is visible near the shore. Some of it is being held back by protective booms, but in other spots it travels freely across the Gulf.
One of the guardsmen spots a school of sharks swimming through the contaminated water.
The plane turns to take us back to Mobile, Alabama, leaving, at least for the moment, the spill behind us.