A MARINE aboard the aircraft carrier America survived a brush with death and 36 hours afloat before Pakistani fishermen hauled him aboard their trawler. -----------------------------------------------------------------
WASHINGTON - Unable to sleep, Lance Cpl. Zachary Mayo strolled out to the rail of the USS America for some fresh air and a look at the stars over the Arabian Sea.
A shift in the wind and a jolt from a swinging metal door, and Mayo found himself bobbing in the wake of the giant carrier, his cries inaudible on the idle flight deck far above.
It was the beginning of a brush with death and a 36-hour soaking that ended when Pakistani fishermen hauled the sunburned Marine aboard the deck of their trawler.
On the other side of the world in Osburn, Idaho, Mayo's parents, churning over the news that their son was missing, awakened in the wee hours yesterday to a phone call from a man with a Pakistani accent asking if they wanted to speak to him.
"He just said, `Hi dad,' " his father, Stanley Mayo, said in a telephone interview.
The younger Mayo, 20, given up for lost after a long search by the Navy, was calling from the Pakistani village of Gwadar, where he had become a local celebrity.
With the villagers of Gwadar and the Mayo family assured of the Marine's safety, someone thought to notify the Navy, which had searched for Mayo with four aircraft and two escort ships after his absence was noticed Saturday morning.
As Mayo told his parents, he used his training to stay alive. He got out of his overalls, tied the legs and arms, blew them up and fashioned a balloon to keep him afloat.
As the Navy searched, Mayo stayed afloat until a fishing vessel rescued him and took him to Gwadar. He found a taxi driver who could speak English and persuaded the driver to take him to a telephone. He knew his parents would be worried.
He couldn't have guessed how worried. The Marines had dispatched an officer to visit the Mayos and tell them their son was missing.
"He got on the phone, `Hi, Mom, hi, Dad,' just regular," recounted Cindy Mayo from her home.
"He kept saying how he used all of his water-survival training he learned in the Marine Corps," Stanley Mayo said. "He was in high spirits. . . . But he was very tired of floating in the water for 36 hours."
"We were going through everything that a parent goes through when a child is in trouble," the relieved father said. "I was just overcome with happiness, and I had to listen to him for a couple of minutes to make sure it was him."
Mayo was assigned to the Marine Tactical Electronics Warfare Squadron Three, a group of EA-6B radar-jamming planes based in Cherry Point, N.C. He enlisted in the Marines in 1993 and, after boot camp, attended school to become an aircraft hydraulics mechanic.
As far as the Mayos know, their son is headed back to the America to continue his assignment.