Floating in icy 5-foot swells, Air Force Capt. Brian Udell realized that he was probably going to die. Bloodied and broken, he managed to pull himself into a one-man inflatable raft with his one working arm before any sharks could arrive. He’d just ejected from his F-15 Strike Eagle at night while going Mach 1.2 and parachuted into the Atlantic Ocean.
“Had I waited one-third of a second longer to pull the handles, I would have impacted the water still in my seat,” Udell told Black Rifle Coffee Company in a recent interview.
Fighting off hypothermia and shock, Udell did everything he could to stay awake, knowing that even a short rest could be fatal. He spent hours enduring rough seas and doing mental gymnastics to keep from nodding off.
“Daytime in the open ocean, calm seas, sun angle just right, there’s like a 74% chance that they can find you,” Udell said. “At night, that drops to about zero.”
After the longest four hours of his life, Coast Guard rescuers finally located Udell drifting alone in the dark water, 60 miles off the coast of North Carolina. The former fighter pilot now flies commercial airlines, but he still holds the record for surviving the highest-speed ejection from a fighter aircraft.