Strafed on the Oswego RiverI paddle the rivers of the Pine Barrens of southern New Jersey. Flat, winding and often narrow streams that course through a part of the state that you won't see from our infamous turnpike. Deep in the woods there is peace and quiet surrounded by the beauty of pines, tall stands of cedars, maples swamps, wild blueberries and cranberries and plentiful wildlife from the turtles that sun on every downed tree trunk to eagles and herons above. We're not so far from civilization to avoid the occasional air traffic or off-vehicle, but quiet is what we get 99.9% of the time.
Then there was February 12th.
I was coming back down river and entering what's known as Martha's Pond. Hugging the left bank where there seemed to be the best channel. I heard a noise that started loud and sudden and in a second was deafening and I gotta admit it shook the hell outta me. I swung my head up and toward the woods where it started and saw something that just didn't register. Something large and gray no more than 200 feet to my left and 500 feet above me flashed by in that rage of sound that screamed on for what seemed like a minute. By the time I realized what I'd seen I heard the roar kept coming as either another or the same one flew past again, this time a bit higher and deeper into the woods. I can't remember ever being so shaken and stunned by anything.
It turned out to be just one fighter jet. You see, the Oswego River is toward the easterly side of the Pine Barrens perhaps 20 miles from McGuire Air Force Base and not too much further from a bombing/combat flight training range. Military aircraft are frequently seen overhead but at altitude as they quietly pass overhead.
I paddled into the middle of the pond to watch as the pilot made 7-maybe 8 passes, the highest not more than 700 feet and that pass was directly overhead. As I saw him coming I was afraid he's somehow swamp my boat. I got some pictures but none as he passed the closest, despite trying he was too fast for my trigger finger. The entire time this guy was flying in such tight circles that his jet was at nearly a 90 degree angle. I never saw the cockpit just the underbelly.
From what I found on the net it looked like an F-22 Raptor. I don't really remember the rest of the paddle, and when I showed back up at BelHaven Paddlesports I was still shaken and rambling. But it was worth it... especially knowing he was on our side.
Written by: Dan Weitzman - Waterford Works, NJ
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