The last time Katherine Helms flew home she had gone into premature labor. She was having contractions. She had to be medevaced off Cuba.
That trip had a happy ending. Her pregnancy went to full term. Her first child, Wyatt, was born healthy in her hometown of Dublin, Georgia. The Helms family returned to Guantanamo Bay Naval Base, where she's an assistant to the base commander and her husband does security work.
Three months later on May 3, they are flying back home to visit family, this time on a Boeing 737-800. This time with the 27-year-old mother sitting in a window seat near the back of the plane, their baby on her lap, her husband Donald is next to them.
For the passengers, Miami Air flight 293 had been trouble from the start. Chartered by the U.S. Department of Defense, a plane flies each Friday from Cuba to Jacksonville. A mix of military and civilians are on this Friday flight, a flight delayed by more than four hours, a flight without air, a flight dodging storms.
Wyatt started the flight wearing a Navy blue onesie with a brown puppy dog on the front. But it is hot on the plane, so hot the Helms strip Wyatt down to his diaper.
Katherine keeps the baby cool and calm by wiping his body with towels soaked in ice water. The flight attendants keep bringing more chilled towels to Row 24.
Farther up the plane, excessive heat lulls Tyler Hall to sleep in Row 10. Sweat pools on his forehead and is dripping down his face. He wakes, his clothes are damp.
Riding in a plane with no air conditioning is worse than Hall expected when he and 135 other passengers boarded the Boeing 737 in Guantanamo Bay for a flight to Naval Air Station Jacksonville, the first of many legs to get the 31-year-old and his father, Randy, home to Amarillo, Texas.
The Halls were in Cuba preparing to bid to renovate a playground on the base.
Over in an exit row, Randy Hall, 61, sits by the window, cajoling the two strangers next to him into a game of pretend fishing. What's the point of complaining, he tells them, "If we were on a boat fishing, and it's 90 degrees, this wouldn't be a problem."
And so they pass the time talking about sports and the imaginary fish they were failing to land in the blazing heat.
Chris La Rue, 32, sits in the aisle seat of Hall's row. He's a civilian employee who spent a week in Guantanamo meeting with the public works department. For him, Jacksonville was the final destination.
It's past 9 p.m. Friday when the plane finally begins its descent to the Westside of Jacksonville.
The Helms put Wyatt back in his onesie.
Tyler Hall pulls out his phone to text his wife Alyson -- just as he normally does when he flies as a contractor:
On final. Completely saturated in sweat. Dripping off my forehead.
In the cockpit, the pilots of Flight 293 talk to air traffic control about the weather -- lightning and heavy rain to the east and west of the airfield -- and raise the possibility of switching runways.
The air traffic controller says: "Biscayne 2-9-3, just talked to Navy Jax Tower. He said both runways look pretty bad."
He later suggests to the pilots switching to Runway 10.
"Yeah, go ahead, let's do it." the pilot says.
A strong tail wind pushes the jet to a speed of about 200 mph. It touches down on the east-west runway, bouncing hard, tilting, swerving, zipping past buildings way too fast.
Back in the cabin, Randy Hall looks out the window. It's covered in mud and grass.
"We're off the runway," he says.
Tyler Halls braces himself.
Katherine Helms folds herself around her baby as best she can.
"Oh my God is this it?" La Rue thinks "...What are we going to hit? Are you going to hit a building? Are we going to hit a pole?"
The Boeing hits a seawall made of loose rocks. One passenger said it sounded like an explosion.
Passengers fly forward, some hitting the seats in front of them. They slam back.
Overhead bins open. Belongings fly through the air. Oxygen masks drop.
Tyler Hall feels water -- like a bucket full -- has been dumped on him.
Helms looks out the window and turns to her husband. "Baby, we're in the water."
----It's dark and wet.
Wyatt, the plane's youngest passenger, cries in a way his parents have never heard. Is he scared? Is he in pain? Katherine Helms sees a knot forming on the left side of his head.
From somewhere, a dog barks.
Someone shouts: "Jet fuel."
There's a smell in the air and momentary panic. People worry if the wetness they feel is jet fuel.
"Get your life vests," Tyler Hall hears. People ask if a medic is on board.
Tyler Hall's dad is unconscious.
"Clear the aisle. Coming through," someone shouts.
A physician's assistant hunches over Randy Hall urging him to sit still as he wakes so pressure can be applied to the slice down his face.
No time for that, Randy Hall thinks.
"I've got to open this door," he says. He's a passenger in an exit row. He has a job to do.
And so he opens the door. Adrenaline, he says, is an amazing thing. He crawls through the opening and steps out onto the right wing of the plane.
Tyler Hall grabs his phone again and texts his wife:
I'm ok. Dads ok. Plane not. I'll update.
Outside is a rush of wind, lightning and driving rain. Blood pools at Randy Hall's feet as he balances on the wing, reaching through the small door helping others out.
"Go to the end," he tells them.
One by one, they line the plane's wing.
He doesn't know if they are in 100 feet of water or four feet. He doesn't know if the plane is stable or if it's going to sink.
On the other wing someone yells: "Watch out! Watch out."
A passenger shuffles by cradling an 8-month-old baby.
"Baby coming through. Baby coming through," Tyler Hall hollers. A woman echoes the words.
Tyler Hall receives a succession of texts from his wife in Texas:
What do you mean....
That's not ok
They have a 5-year-old son and she is 9 months pregnant.
We crashed on landing, Tyler Hall responds.
Are you on the ground? she texts back.
Yes on the wing
As long as you two are safely on the ground I won't freak out, she responds.
----Tyler Hall looks across the water and sees about a half a dozen emergency vehicles near the runway.
A rescue worker swims towards the wing. The scent of jet fuel is in the air.
Remarkably, there is no rush of madness to get on board the life rafts. Perhaps that is because so many of those on the plane are military or former military. Many opt to stay on the wing, illuminated by flashes of lightning.
"Woman and children first," someone calls out.
"No, you go. I'm fine," Randy Hall hears someone say.
Katherine Helms boards the raft with Wyatt. The paddles are tucked on the outside. Hands fumble trying to find them. They can't. So the escaping passengers reach into the water and use their hands.
They aren't making progress, so Helms hands Wyatt to someone she knows and hops overboard, tugging the life raft toward the shore now lined with firemen. Some grab the raft.
Dozens of first responders from the Navy, the city's fire and sheriff's offices and state agencies are quickly on the scene. Some jump in the river, fighting the current as they swim toward the passengers.
----The 136 passengers are taken to a hangar at the base. Names are called out. Injuries assessed. A stranger asks Randy Hall if he has contacted family back home.
He hasn't. The stranger hands him his phone. Go ahead, he says.
Tyler Hall sees the pilot. He appears rattled.
Hall sees him grab a phone and hears him say he can retire in peace. Nobody was severely injured. Nobody died.
Tyler Hall catches a ride in an ambulance with his father and another man. They head to St. Vincent's Medical Center, where rooms have been cleared.
The hospital is prepared for the worst. Staff responds quickly.
Randy Hall needs nine stitches. He and his son leave wearing St. Vincent's scrubs to replace their wet clothes.
All told, 22 people are sent to seven Jacksonville-area hospitals for treatment.
Baby Wyatt goes to two of them.
At Orange Park Medical Center, a CT scan shows bleeding on his brain. Wyatt is transferred to Wolfson Children's Hospital in downtown Jacksonville, where he is kept overnight for observation.
By 2:30 p.m. on Saturday, he is OK to leave. Doctors tell his parents to watch for signs of swelling, seizures or abnormal behavior.
La Rue returns home to Jacksonville's Southside.
Tyler and Randy Hall hop in a rental car and head to Jacksonville International Airport for an early morning flight to Dallas. At the airport, Randy runs into one of the passengers he had passed the time with on the hot flight.
"I was wondering what happened to you," the former seat mate says. They embrace.
About an hour into the flight to Dallas-Fort Worth, the sky is a brilliant pallet of orange and pink. Tears rush over Randy Hall's eyes.
"The sunrise Saturday morning was the most beautiful one I have ever seen," Hall says.
----In the days after the crash -- what happened, what could have happened and what could have been lost -- continues to sink in.
Randy Hall finds himself crying at times. Sometimes with his wife. Sometimes alone.
Flight 293 passenger Cheryl Bormann, a veteran death penalty defense attorney working on a case for a Guantanamo Bay Detention Camp inmate, tells the New York Times: "Trauma is something I'm pretty accustomed to. But you don't realize it until it hits you. I sat on my bed and cried this morning in my hotel room."
Then there are the tears of a baby.
The Helms are back in Dublin, Ga. now, a small town of about 16,000 people some 60 miles southeast of Macon.
They find themselves getting up in the middle of the night to check on Wyatt. They worry about every cry, every flinch.
This Sunday, more than anything, they'll be mindful of what they have and what they could have lost.
This already was going to be a memorable Mother's Day for Katherine Helms. It's her first as a mother. She will spend it in her hometown, with her own mom and her son, and she'll be able to tell the story of two flights from Cuba, both with happy endings.
This article is written by Eileen Kelley and Mark Woods from The Florida Times-Union and was legally licensed via the Tribune Content Agency through the NewsCred publisher network. Please direct all licensing questions to firstname.lastname@example.org.