|September 30, 2002|
Search For My Father (Dr. Nenad Belic): One story - " An Incomplete Collection of Memories..."
|September 30th, 2002|
| I sit here in my studio,
late at night, much as I remember my father doing in his office at home,
almost always alone, working. There is even the sound of Jazz filling the
room at the moment. I guess the Jazz is a tribute to my father, on this
night. I have to admit that I never and still don't much understand the
music style, but I seem to have developed a respect and enjoyment for it.
Perhaps a parallel to the relationship with my father.
It was a year ago tonight that I was in New York, attending the opening night of a film conference. It was rainy, cold, windy outside, but hot and loud inside, a great room full of music, conversation, and friends. My only thoughts were wondering who I was going to meet over the next week and if they might have the resources to fund a film my brother and I were currently in production on.
My other thought was when was my father was going to call and say that he was all right and the storm he was facing had passed. No one had heard from him in three days. We knew that he was in a terrible storm, but he had called us a number of times during his five months at sea to say that he had just come out of rough seas in good shape and good spirits. Only in hindsight do I recall that he never called us before he entered troubled waters, but three days earlier such connections were not for me to make. I just figured that he was excited about being so close to accomplishing his goal. At the time of the call he was somewhere inside 500 miles from land. I was wondering if I would have to jump on a plane in the middle of the conference and greet my father somewhere along the shores of southwestern Ireland, earlier then we anticipated. Little did I know that as dawn broke I would be on a flight to Ireland to search for him.
Somewhere during that night I received a phone call from my step-mom Ellen on my mobile phone. I quickly made my way through the upbeat mass of people and aimed for the door. As the cold damp air hit me, I heard Ellen say that the British Coast Guard had called her. They had picked up the emergency signalling beacon from my father's boat. She said that they have dispatched helicopters, planes and radioed ships in the area to make their way to the signal site. She said the British Coast Guard would call as soon as something is discovered or dawn broke over there.
The rest of the evening seemed to last a week and in another way it felt like a micro nap from which you awake with a gasp, eyes wide open. I was in my hotel room in lower Manhattan talking to people all around the world through the night. Trying to think of options if the coastguard's dawn call was not positive. I had already booked the first available flight out of JFK Airport to Dublin, Ireland. Somewhere in the predawn hours, as NY still lay rolled up in their beds, the word came from the British that the beacon was spotted, but there was no trace of the boat or my father. As the first light of day glistened over Manhattan, I was on the street corner with my bag hailing a cab. As steam rose from the manholes, the cab did it's best to negotiate the military vehicles stationed across southern Manhattan. It was only a few weeks before that the World Trade Center towers had collapsed and the US was still coming to grips with what it's like being attacked on its own soil.
I did not have my passport, so on the way off Manhattan Island I first had to sneak my way through the "gatekeepers" at the US Passport office in Midtown Manhattan. Once in the waiting room filled with nearly a hundred people, I had to catch the eye of an official behind the wall of bullet-proof glass. After a few failed eye glances one lady paused for a moment, just enough time for me to crane my head to say hello between the glass. After a smile from me and a quick nod of her head as to say hurry up, I explained to her that I am here without an appointment (which must be made a week or more in advance) or a number in my hand condemning me to hours waiting in the room, but I did have a faxed copy of a brief statement from the British Coast Guard stating matter-of-factly that my father was missing at sea and a search was under way. To my surprise, the woman behind the inches of glass was the office manager and with a knowing look and small smile told me to wait right where I was and she would be back with papers for me to sign. Papers signed, I got in another line and awaited the "little blue book".
While calmly waiting, I frantically searched a mangled NY phone book find a satellite phone to rent for use in Ireland (perhaps off the coast in a search plane or boat). I quickly learned that 9/11 had consumed every rental satellite phone in the greater NY area and bordering States. As I was leaving the passport office, past the double takes from the guards who initially did not let me enter, I got the call from the owner of a communication rental company in Manhattan. He was willing to rent me their back up phone, the last one in the building.
I flagged down the first car that would stop, a black Lincoln limo. A quick stop to say thank you and pick up the phone and the next thing I recall I was in the air with the US East Coast disappearing behind me.
I spent the entire flight with my eyes out the window staring at the horizon and the water when the clouds and sun would allow. The flight took only five and a half hours, nearly an hour for each month my father was at sea, making the same journey. During the night portion of the flight I stared up at the stars, remembering the phone conversations with my father as he described the night sky illuminated with stars like a dome stretching from horizon to horizon. Now they seemed close enough for me to touch as I raced across the sky, the Atlantic Ocean far below.
My head was filled with planning. I knew that I had to hit the ground running. Every minute counted. I remember the plane captain saying that we were nearing the Irish coast. I looked down. Dawn was breaking and I could see the whitecaps on the waves below. It all looked like a small pond. But a trip I had taken around the world by ship while in college filled me with plenty of images to recall how powerful each of those waves are.
Landing just after dawn, I was met by an Irish reporter and photographer. My connecting flight was to the city of Cork in the southwest of the country. From the last conversation with my father, we had talked about me flying to Cork and then renting a car and greeting him somewhere along the south west coast of Ireland.
A quick call home revealed nothing new about the search, but that the projected drift of the boat is probably carrying it further north along the Irish coastline. I was also told that if I could, I should find an aircraft to help in the search. A few quick phone calls and help from the Irish reporter and photographer and the town of Shannon was where I was headed. Some quick talking to the lady behind the plane ticket counter and I hopped the next flight to Shannon.
I went straight to the coastguard sea rescue helicopter hanger on the other side of Shannon airport. I spent the day with some of the guys that went out 24 hours earlier searching for my father. Along with the assistance from the Dublin reporter and photographer, the men at the coast guard station were only a prelude to the incredible outpouring of assistance, compassion, and comradery that I experienced during my 11 days in Ireland.
That first day I managed to find a great company called Diplomat Flight Services (DFS) out of the UK. Ian and Nick were not only very professional and amazingly fast finding a plane and crew, but they quickly became friends. The storm that had just finished battering Ireland was now over England as the two men arranged things and gathered items like survival suits for all including me.
The next three days were long and eventually tiring. Each day, I would meet the DFS plane and crew at dawn outside a private hanger at the Shannon airport. They will have already flown for hours from their base in England. During the morning refuelling we would go over the flight plan for the day and search area. Often we would finish our briefing as the plane taxied down the runway, we sitting in our orange full body survival suits.
On the second day of searching we spotted the inflatable life raft one of the rescue planes dropped at the sight of the beacon that first night. We circled the raft, looking for signs of life. We then came around and flew what seemed like a few hundred feet off the ocean and within shouting distance of the raft. We actually got a glimpse right through the drawn flaps of the protective canopy dome. We saw nothing. A few days later a passing ship picked up the raft with no sign that anyone had been in it.
We would fly all day with one refuelling stop. I would spend each night in the hotel room up talking to my family back in the States and friends and family calling from around the world wanting the latest word from Ireland. While I was in the air, my brother would be up all night with his Irish girlfriend (Gail) in California contacting the Irish press. By the third day, I was doing press interviews nearly every moment my feet were on the ground between flights. On the third day of flying (Friday, October 5th, 2001) the weather was closing in. Another storm was upon the Irish coast. While coming in for the mid day refuelling the weather turned very bad and we had to scrub the afternoon flight. We had ironically stopped in Cork to refuel. I rented a car, and drove back on the left side of the road as the storm lashed the green field and road ahead. I stopped frequently to answer calls from press and Irish radio shows that wanted to chat with me live on the air and get the word to their listeners along the coast and at sea to keep an eye out for my father.
The storm whipped the coast all weekend. A very nice lady (Helen), at the Quality Inn where I was staying, helped with the press. She actually used to do publicity for a company in Northern Ireland. She was amazing at connecting me with press I would have never found. She was also very kind to lend me her laptop for the weekend while she went to see her Mom. I spent the rainy two days contacting city councils and fishing organizations up and down the Irish west coast. I contacted ferry companies and communities on the outer islands. My brother also had a website up for people and organizations to download and print photos of my father and his boat "LUN" (http://www.wadirum.com/nenad/). I sent out more faxes with photo and descriptions of the boat then I can count. I also continued to contact the press and any other entity that could help get the word out about my father's situation. By Sunday the story was in all the major Irish newspaper's Sunday additions and I did a few repeat appearances on local radio stations. Some press was keeping a virtual daily log of the search for their readers and listeners.
By Sunday night Ian from DFS called me saying that it looks as if the weather might break by morning allowing for one more flight. He also confirmed that his company was able to get one of only a handful of highly sophisticated search planes that are reserved for "official' purposes only. The plane would cost twice that of the twin engine Piper plane we had used earlier. I told him that I would have to contact the States and get back to him later in the night. I contacted the States and waited for a return call. Moments later the Irish mobile phone I had rented rang. A very nice gentleman greeted me with the sound of young children in the background. He said that he is an Irishman living in Belgium. He read earlier in the day in the Irish Times of my family's plight searching for my father. He asked how he could help. I was a bit at a loss. He inquired about how the searching by plane was going. I told him that we may give it one more try tomorrow and about the special plane that we had access to. But I also mentioned that it was very expensive and that I was awaiting word from the family in the States whether or not we could afford to hire it. He was very pleasant on the phone and said that he was heading to bed. But he said that he would be up at early and for me to call him in the morning with an update on the plane. He also said not to worry about the cost. He said, "See how much your family can come up with and I will cover the rest." And with that he said we would be in his family's prayers that night and we'll speak in the morning.
The call came from the States that we only have about half the cost of the plane raised. I told them not to worry and called Ian at DFS to ready the plane and I'll see them at the airport shortly after dawn.
A few hours later I meet Ian. I called my family in the States who put up half the money and the Irish gentleman from Belgium phones in a credit card number for the balance. It was a special plane, so I was not allowed to fly in it. I spent the day in the hotel room communicating with the press and citizens and organizations along the coast. As the day was coming to an end Ian phoned me to say nothing was found.
It was then that everyone involved in the search realized that my father was on his own. I stayed for a couple more days getting the word out and then boarded a plane for Chicago. My sister's 13th birthday party was the next day. My father had planed to attend it as his homecoming. I arrived in the mid afternoon and my brother flew in from California with my other sister. It was a wonderful event with my younger sister making her way into young womanhood; but the bitter sweetness was undeniable. It was also marked with a sense that we still did not know. He could be alive and floating out there. Our hopes now lay with the men and women who make their living on the Ocean.
Much to the shock of many of my family I left the following day for Afghanistan. It had been a month since the attack on the United States and a week since the US began bombing Afghanistan. I was going to continue shooting my film (www.wadirum.com) about a humanitarian organization, Knightsbridge International (www.kbi.org), that goes into war zones to deliver lifesaving aid.
On the November 17th, 2001 my father's boat was found floating upside down about 6 miles off the Irish coast by the fishing boat "The Molly Bawn" out of Moveen East Kilkee Co. Clare, Ireland; owner Gerard Concannon, skipper Tom Walsh and the crew.
The other people involved in the rescue of my father's boat can be found at:
There was no sign of my father.
On Sunday, December 16th, 2001 family and friends from across America and the world flew into Chicago to pay their last respects to my father's memory. The gathering was attended by hundreds of people from the complete span of my father's life. People from Kilkee, Ireland went out to sea where my father's boat was first spotted and laid a wreath in the water in his memory. Many of my father's patients came to pay their respects. I guess that was perhaps the greatest tribute to my father, who gave so much to the work and patients he loved and cared for. He has left his children a lot to live up to and many adventures yet to embark on.
From the words of Dan Eldon, " The Journey is the Destination."