Safe Return from Space: Men witness shuttle landing in Gulf of Mexico

Dan and Sean Daily were fishing in the Gulf of Mexico when a space capsule dropped into the water. Unlike the movies, this space shuttle was scorched from its 17,000 MPH reentry into earth’s atmosphere. Dan and Sean are the son and grandson of Shawn and Linnye Daily of Natchitoches. Photo by Dan Daily

By Carolyn Roy,

It was just another beautiful day in the Gulf of Mexico when Dan Daily and four other men, including his son Sean, left Orange Beach, Ala., heading out to a fishing spot 30 or so miles from Pensacola, Fla. He says the weather was beautiful and the water was calm. “We had some great fishing. There was a slight breeze. We’d had been fishing several days and hadn’t been keeping up with the news,” Daily says. “We looked up and saw four huge parachutes and another object coming out of the sky. We thought it must be a space capsule.”

What they witnessed was the descent of the SpaceX’s Crew Dragon, carrying astronauts Robert Behnken and Douglas Hurley that splashed down at 2:48 p.m., Sunday, Aug. 2 under parachutes in the Gulf of Mexico, off the coast of Pensacola, according to NASA. Re-entry was at 17,000 mph. for the bottom part of the spacecraft. Daily says his fishing party was about 150 yards from the capsule and they immediately saw two NASA fast boats heading toward it.

Dan Daily snapped this photo of his fishing companions who saw the descent of the Dragon capsule, in the distance behind the men. From left are Jake DeValk, Ricky Lowery, Hamilton Ragland and Sean Daily. The boat was about 100 yards from the capsule.

Crew from the fast boats climbed onto the capsule to attach rescue straps. Daily and his companions watched as the door of the capsule was removed and saw the astronauts being retrieved. They were put on stretchers and loaded onto the recovery ship. Daily says it took about an hour to get the capsule into position before it was hoisted aboard the recovery ship GO Navigator.

“By that time, about two dozen boats were circling but no one hampered the rescue,” Daily says. “At that point, the boats began to back off.” He says the capsule was not like you see on television but was scorched. “The landing looked perfect to us. It never capsized. They just motored alongside and got them out.”

Daily says the rescue resulted in a patriotic response from the boaters. They could hear God Bless America, Born in the USA and shouts of “USA” rising from the boats. “It was a very uplifting moment to have witnessed the technology that America has. I can’t imagine going 17,000 miles an hour, not knowing if you are going to live or die. There were no issues with the mission. To witness it was amazing. It made me proud to be an American.”

Dan Daily took this photo of the GO Navigator that plucked the capsule from the water and loaded it onboard.

Dan and Sean are the son and grandson of Shawn and Linnye Daily of Natchitoches.

The two astronauts spent two months in the zero-G environment of space. Behnken and Hurley contributed more than 100 hours to scientific experiments and participated in numerous public engagement events during their 62 days aboard the station. Behnken conducted four spacewalks with Expedition 63 Commander and NASA colleague Chris Cassidy to upgrade two power channels on the station’s truss with new lithium-ion batteries. Overall, the astronaut duo spent 64 days in orbit, completed 1,024 orbits around Earth and traveled 27,147,284 miles according to NASA. The astronauts were flown to Houston for a virtual news conference and were reunited with family.