I looked to the left and the passenger next to me was white-knuckling the armrest -- one more bump and I was convinced he'd let out a blood-curdling scream. Watching the radar, I knew it was only going to get worse.
I started thinking about the Dramamine I'd taken on the ground, wondering, "What's the worst thing that could happen if I exceed the recommended dosage? Could it be worse than this?"
We started our descent into then-Hurricane Dean, at 8,000 feet, and the weather officers started dropping sensors through a metal shaft in the belly that looked like a drive up bank deposit tube. The drop sensors record and send meteorological data back to the National Hurricane Center in Miami, Florida. That's how the weathermen on the ground know what's really going on.
The ride started to get so bumpy I said to myself, "I know this is a Hurricane Hunter but this, this can't be normal." The pilot didn't come on the intercom and coolly talk about turbulence; instead one of the crew members in the cockpit grabbed my arm and said, "You might want to hold onto something." It was too late. We hit a bump and I hit my head on the ceiling.
As Hurricane Dean came roaring off the Yucatan Peninsula last night and into the Bay of Campeche, a small crew of airmen aboard a C-130J and a handful of journalists were flying straight into the storm. It is a flight not for the weak in courage or weak in stomach. We left from Keesler Air Force Base in Biloxi, Mississippi.
After smacking my head in the cockpit, I wandered back down to the belly of the C-130J and took a seat. We thumped and floated somewhere between weightlessness and violent shaking. An 11-hour ride into 100-plus mile an hour winds.
The Air Force guys were unimpressed. Dean "never really got its act together" is how one crew member put it. Even on the ground again, I could still feel the turbulence.
-- Eric Marrapodi, CNN Producer