National Geographic : 1961 Nov
I stepped onto the rescue hook with my left foot, then added my right. The helicopter lurched forward. I slipped off the hook and slid part way into the water. But I hung onto the cable with my hands. In the water, as the copter started to rise, I wrapped my legs around the cable and was pulled up to safety. Vic saw my mishap. He had been sitting happily in his seat, secure in the knowledge that we had accomplished all our objectives and, thanks to our suits, had survived pro longed exposure to the deadly stresses on the doorstep of space. The Navy had made a ma jor contribution toward outfitting the men who will walk on the moon. The Price of Progress: Tragedy For reasons that still are not clear, a few minutes later Vic slipped into the sea himself as he was trying to board the dangling rescue hook. Despite the courageous efforts of Navy divers, he drowned. It was an unbelievable 684 and tragic ending to a brilliantly successful flight. Vic lost his life in the most significant mo ment of his career, but his achievement re mains undimmed. Even in dying, he contrib uted to man's conquest of space. Because of his accident, spacemen are instituting new procedures and modifying equipment to pre vent any recurrence. Back in Washington, President John F. Kennedy personally telephoned Vic's widow to offer his sympathy. Later the President received Mrs. Prather and her little boy and girl at the White House to present the Navy's Distinguished Flying Cross awarded to Vic for "heroism and extraordinary achieve ment" (opposite). The Senate of the United States hailed Vic as a "patriotic young American who gave his life while striving to advance the scientific frontiers of our country and add to mankind's fund of knowledge."