Tag Archives: Captain Sean M. Cross

26 October 1980

THE RESCUE OF THE CREW OF THE SCALLOPER TERRY T

By Sean M. Cross, CAPT, USCG (retired)

“As the basket was lowered a fifth time to pick up the two remaining men, a huge wave hit the awash stern of the TERRY T knocking the last two crewmen – the master and the engineer – into the water downwind of the helicopter and the ship. With the lives of the two crewmen suddenly threatened by the turbulent seas and the ship drifting down upon them…”

TODAY IN COAST GUARD AVIATION HISTORY — 26 OCTOBER 1980: HH-3F #1484 assigned to Air Station Cape Cod, MA and crewed by LTJG John P. Currier (AC); LTJG Robert L. Abair (CP); AM1 David L. Seavey and AE2 Gordon R. Warren (AV) was launched at 3:40 AM in response to the 110-foot fishing vessel Terry T out of New Bedford sinking with 10 crewman aboard. The eastern-rigged scallop trawler was 80 miles southeast of Nantucket in 30-foot seas, blowing snow and 60 knot winds gusting to 80 knots. The Terry T reported “4-feet of water in the engine room” (i) and requested dewatering pumps to help control the flooding. (ii)

That weekend, a coastal storm wreaked havoc when high winds and heavy seas lashed the Massachusetts coast line, damaging scores of small work and pleasure craft. (iii) The 31-year-old skipper, Roland Farland, said the Terry T was water tight when it was checked about 10 PM Saturday night as it rode out the severe coastal storm 70 miles east-south east of Nantucket. But when he checked the boat again shortly after midnight, water was flooding the engine room. (iv)

The TERRY T was built by Sturgeon Bay Shipbuilding as hull number 228 and official number 258929. The original name was “Wisconsin” – delivered in 1949 to the original owner John Roen. Records indicate that “John Roen would continue to be a forerunner in maritime accomplishments […] launching an Atlantic fishing fleet out of Boston, which was run from Sturgeon Bay.”
“We got three pumps going but we couldn’t contend with the water,” Farland said. (v)In the Interim, the Terry T had been in frequent radio contact with the Coast Guard through the Nantucket Lightship and by 3:30 AM had informed the Coast Guard they would have to evacuate. (vi) Currier, the most junior Aircraft Commander at the unit, noted he “got stuck” with duty that night because there was a wardroom party planned. It turned into a busy night, The #1484 aircrew had already flown on several SAR cases that evening including evacuating Coast Guard members from the Buzzards Bay Entrance Light due to structural concerns caused by the adverse weather. (vii) Currier described their return to base from the last case, “We went back into the air station and I remember shooting an instrument approach at 120 knots indicated airspeed and doing less than 20 knots over the ground.” He added, “We came in, landed and taxied into the lee of the hangar to shut the rotor head down and those guys were taking care of the post-flight and my wife was at the wardroom party. So when we got back into the wardroom at about 8 o’clock at night she said ‘You’re not going out again are you?’ and I said, ‘No way—nobody’s out there.’ ” (vii)
Sikorsky HH-3F Pelican 1484 (Sikorsky S-61R, s/n 61-661) hovers over Lands End with Golden Gate Bridge in background. 1989 photograph.  (U.S. Coast Guard 191114-G-G0000-006/SFO Museum 2012.114.002)

About 3:40 in the morning the aircrew was awakened by Rescue Coordination Center (RCC) Boston saying there was a scalloper taking on water and unable to control flooding about 80 miles southeast of Nantucket. The aircrew described it as an interesting launch because it was still blowing 60 knots (which exceeded the main rotor start limit)—so the duty crew dragged the helicopter about halfway out of the hangar to start the turbine engines and engage the rotor system. They did it in this manner because when a helicopter first starts, the rotors are flexible and droop under their own weight. Strong winds can cause the blades to flap up and down when they are at slow RPM causing them to contact the tail boom or fuselage and do serious damage.

#1484 took off and flew toward the last known position (LKP) about 15 miles east of the Nantucket Lightship under instrument flight rules (IFR)—flying in clouds with limited to zero visibility, navigating only by cockpit instruments. The aircraft experienced severe turbulence and Currier remarked, “The crew was holding on for dear life.” (ix)

Approximate route of flight to TERRY T’s last known position “about 70 miles southeast of Nantucket, about 15 miles east of the Nantucket Lightship.”

At 4:54 AM, #1484 was approaching the Terry T‘s LKP and Currier further described the situation as, “Pitch black except for the lightning and there was sleet—so we were concerned about icing.” Helicopter pilots avoid icing like dental work. When ice forms on rotor blades, they lose their ability to provide lift, and the aircraft can no longer maintain flight. The aircrew contacted Terry T on the radio and confirmed they still wanted dewatering pumps—they concurred and reported that the fishing boat had lost steering and “was at the mercy of thirty foot seas and fifty knot winds.” (x) However, the master came on the radio a few minutes later as #1484 was inbound and said, “We got a fire in the engine room, we can’t control it and I want everybody —there are 10 of us.”

As the water level rose it produced short circuits that caused spontaneous fires in the boat’s electrical system. Farland said the crew had used four fire extinguishers and had nothing left with which to fight the fires. Then radio contact was lost. (xi) From their transit altitude, the aircrew performed an instrument approach to the water astern of Terry T. (xii) The crew used a PATCH or Precision Approach to a Coupled Hover, an autopilot maneuver that transitions the helicopter from forward flight in the clouds down to an automatic hover at 50 feet visual with the water. (xiii) This maneuver can be disorienting in the clouds at night, particularly when low over the water with little room for error. Both pilots must continuously scan and interpret the flight instruments—this is critically important—to confirm the autopilot is flying the correct profile. This maneuver was described as “dicey” due to the HH-3F’s unreliable doppler. The aircrew finally made visual contact with the trawler’s glow as the aircraft descended below 150 feet.

Currier described the challenging situation, “When we arrived in a hover, we turned on the floodlights and neither myself, nor the co-pilot nor the flight mechanic thought we could do it. The tops were blowing off the waves and going over the boat and the boat was dead in the water so it was in the trough—so it was rolling more than rail-to-rail—it was getting green water over each rail as it rolled.” (xiv) With the helicopter pointing into the strong westerly winds—Terry T‘s “bow was pointed to the right (the aircraft’s 3 o’clock position), so I had no place to go to hoist,” added Currier. (xv) Seavey had similar sentiments, “This case was the only time that I had thoughts that I might not be able to complete the hoist [due to] the combination of high winds 50–60 knots or so and 25–30 foot seas.” (xvi) The aircrew was concerned with the extreme pitch and roll of the fishing vessel and height of the rigging and other obstacles, so they initially requested that the Terry T crew disembark the vessel to the life raft. However, when the fishermen inflated the raft, it immediately blew overboard. (xvii) After careful assessment, they decided that hoisting from about 40 feet above the highest waves to an area just aft of the pilot house was their best chance of success.

An MH-65D demonstrates a “trail line hoist” with a Coast Guard small boat. Note the hypotenuse or diagonal formed by the trail line running from the person on deck to the hoist hook. (U.S. Coast Guard)

With no suitable hover reference, Currier was guided only by the voice of his hoist operator, David Seavey. Initial attempts did not go well. The pilot is typically unable to see the hoist area (below and aft of the pilot seat) and must fly exclusively off the flight mechanic’s conning commands—this can be very challenging when the sole hover reference is a raging and turbulent sea surface of 30–35 foot swells. The crew was convinced that a “trail line hoist” was the right tool for the situation as it would allow the helicopter to hoist from a position offset 30–40 feet from the boat and facilitate Currier’s use of the bobbing fishing vessel as a hover reference.

A trail line is a 105-foot piece of polypropylene line (similar to a water ski rope) with a 300-pound weak link at one end and a weight bag at the other. The weight bag end of the trail is paid out below the helicopter and delivered to the persons in distress (usually vertically, but seasoned flight mechanics can literally “cast” the weight bag to a spot). The weak link is then attached to the hoist hook and the helicopter backs away until the pilot can see the hoisting area. The persons in distress can then pull the basket to their location—creating a hypotenuse or diagonal—as opposed to a purely vertical delivery.

Danforth anchor

This was great in theory, but not in practice as Seavey said, “The high winds caused the trail line delivery, even with the heavy weather weight bags (25 pounds) to sail aft and twice get fouled in the rigging. We backed off, discussed the situation and decided to try using the Danforth anchor—which worked.” (xviii) Being an amphibious helicopter, the HH-3F kit included a Danforth anchor (similar to any small recreational boating anchor) with a half-inch line—they used this as an improvised trail line and it worked perfectly—with one exception which would trigger problems later in the evolution. (xix)

Currier was now able to use the vessel’s radio antenna and momentary glimpses of the superstructure for visual reference. (xx) Seavey conducted four hoists with assistance from Warren, taking crewmen in the basket two-at-a-time on each hoist. (xxi) This was unusual but necessary due to fuel concerns, the need to hoist everyone before the trawler sank and the extreme difficulty involved in placing the basket on the vessel each time. Abair added, “While a series of ten one-man hoists could have been successful, it would have more than doubled the difficulty of the rescue and would have likely resulted in loss of life.” (xxii) Between hoists, Warren took the survivors aft in the cabin and provided them with blankets to get warm. Seavey gratefully described Warren’s efforts: “He assisted me during the hoists, was helping out without having to be told what I needed. He anticipated what I needed. He was the extra set of hands getting the rescue basket into the cabin and then clearly directed the survivors to the back of the cabin.” Often forgotten under these conditions was the superlative job done by Abair, a Direct Commission Aviator and veteran Marine Corps helicopter pilot, in his Safety Pilot role. He continuously scanned the system instruments to ensure the aircraft was operating normally and the flight instruments to ensure obstacle clearance and safe altitude—occasionally coming on the controls to assist. He conveyed critical information effectively in a dynamic environment without interfering with Seavey’s commands—the crew said he did a masterful job. (xxiii)

HH-3F #1484’s approximate hoisting position with TERRY T (represented with a generic fishing boat plan of roughly the same arrangement). As Dave Seavey stated, that diagram is accurate, “minus the massive seas, near hurricane force winds, pitch black and the boat being DIW.”

As the basket was lowered a fifth time to pick up the two remaining men, a huge wave hit the awash stern of the Terry T knocking the last two crewmen—the master and the engineer, brothers Roland and Brian Farland—into the water downwind of the helicopter and the ship. (xxiv) “I had one hand on the basket and one hand on my brother,” Farland said. (xxv) With the lives of the two crewmen suddenly threatened by the turbulent seas and the ship drifting down on them, Currier had to reposition the aircraft over the two men with only the conning commands from Seavey to guide him, With Seavey’s instructions, Currier demonstrated extreme skill and daring and maneuvered the basket into a position in the water so that the two men could literally fall into it, and they were lifted to safety—or so they thought.

At this point, the boat actually started to go down by the stern, Seavey had the basket and two men about two-thirds of the way from the boat deck to the helicopter when he realized that earlier in the evolution without aircrew knowledge, the fisherman had tied the trail line off to the pilot house rail. The helicopter was connected to the boat by the anchor line. Seavey shouted, “We’re tied to the boat, we have problems here.” (xxvi) Currier and Abair assessed the sea state then carefully descended from their hoisting altitude of 40 feet to 25 feet creating enough slack in the trail line and allowing Seavey and Warren to bring the basket into the door. At once, Seavey cut the anchor line with a knife and immediately conned, “Up, up, up” for the pilots to immediately pull power. At 25 feet, Seavey could see that the wave tops on either side were level with the helicopter. (xxvii)

After completing the hoists, it took about five minutes to secure the cabin—Seavey and Warren working together—Warren helped the Captain and crew to the rear of the cabin and secured the basket while Seavey was securing the hoist, closing the cabin door and reporting that the cabin was secured and ready for forward flight. As #1484 circled the scalloper, it had already began to founder—the decks awash with sea water. (xxviii) The flight mechanic and avionicsman administered first aid to the injured crew on the return flight that landed at 6:52 AM. Throughout the mission, Currier and his crew showed exemplary skill and courage. Currier stated, “We got them off and got back. The helicopter was pretty beat up—they actually had to change the tail rotor because of overstresses.” (xxix)

All 10 men (listed below) were saved from the Terry T—four of the survivors were from the same family. (xxx)

Roland Farland (Captain)
Elmer Beckman (Mate)
Brian Farland (Engineer)
John Santos (cook)
Donald Capps (deckhand)
George Altman (deckhand)
Ronald Charpentier (deckhand)
Stephen Farland (deckhand)
Peter Farland (deckhand)
George Johnston (deckhand) (xxxi)

“It was pretty hairy,” Roland Farland said. “I just have to commend the Coast Guard for doing such a terrific job. It was blowing good,” the New Bedford man said: “Seas were 30 feet and winds were blowing 60 to 65 miles.”

In a post-mission interview, Currier conveyed, “Visibility was about half a mile and it took us five hoists to get 10 people off the boat. We had to hover over it for about an hour. (xxxii) The problem with a situation like that is that you have no point of reference,” he said. “All you can see is the boat and the water, and they are both in motion. You try to keep the helicopter a stable platform, but it’s hard. I’ve been here three years and those were the worst condition I’ve seen.” (xxxiii)

Thirty-five years later, and older and wiser Vice Admiral (VADM) Currier reflected on that night. “This was not a solo pilot operation. This was a reflection of an incredibly talented flight mechanic and a solid co-pilot. Actually, I think that was my co-pilot’s first rescue mission after transitioning from the Marine Corps to the Coast Guard, and I think it was a heck of an eye-opener for him.” VADM Currier added, “In the Coast Guard we have some of the best rotary- and fixed-wing pilots there are. I can say that as the old Coast Guard aviator, but I’ve been around long enough in civil and military aviation to say our people are among the very best. They are challenged on a daily basis with missions that would be a big deal in other services. For us, they’re how we do business—night, offshore, poor visibility, terrible weather. It’s always single-ship, and it’s always single crew. It requires skill, proficiency and individual initiative.” (xxxiv)

For this nearly impossible rescue, Currier earned the Harmon International Aviation Trophy—the only Coast Guard Aviator to warn this distinction. The Harmon Trophy—the aviator’s award—is given for the most outstanding international achievements in the preceding year, with the art of flying receiving first consideration. He joined other winners such as: Colonel Charles A. Lindbergh: General Jimmy Doolittle, Major Charles E. Yeager, Howard Hughes, Major Edwin E. “Buzz” Aldrin and Amelia Earhart.

The Harmon International Trophy at the Smithsonian Institution National Air and Space Museum. The Harmon Trophy (1926) was established by Clifford Harmon, a wealthy balloonist and aviator.  (NASM)

The Harmon Trophy was presented to him at the Old Executive Building across from The White House by Vice President Dan Quayle on 21 June 1991 (11 years after the mission). His name is inscribed on the six foot tall trophy in a glass enclosure in the National Air and Space Museum. Interestingly, Currier was never notified regarding his selection of the award, which has historically been presented by the president. The Reagan assassination attempt by John Hinckley, Jr., on 30 March 1981 wreaked havoc with the President’s schedule and the award presentation was overlooked. His parents while visiting the Smithsonian Institution National Air and Space Museum in Washington, D.C., six years later, reportedly saw his name engraved on the trophy and asked him about it. It took another four years of action by headquarters and the Coast Guard Aviation Association before Currier received the award.

Vice President of the United States James Danforth Quayle congratulates Lieutenant Commander John Philip Currier, U.S. Coast Guard, on the presentation of the Harmon International Aviator Trophy, 21 June 1991.

The #1484 aircrew also earned the American Helicopter Society (now, the Vertical Flight Society) Frederick L. Feinberg Award in March 1981—presented to the pilot or crew of a vertical flight aircraft who demonstrated outstanding skills or achievement during the preceding 18 months. (xxxv)

The Frederick L. Feinberg Award (1961) was established by the American Helicopter Society, in memory of an outstanding helicopter test pilot and an exemplary person.

Lieutenant (junior grade) Currier and AM1 Seavey both earned the Distinguished Flying Cross for this mission, while LTJG Abair and AE2 Warren earned the Coast Guard Commendation Medal with Operational Distinguishing Device in a ceremony at Air Station Cape Cod in June 1981. (xxxvi) The Currier and Abair Citations are below. The Seavey and Warren citations have not been located.

Vice Admiral John Philip Currier, Vice Commandant of the United States Coast Guard. Photographed 2009. (U.S. Coast Guard)

Vice Admiral John Philip Currier, United States Coast Guard (Retired), passed away on 01 March 2020 from natural causes at his home in Traverse City, Michigan. His ashes were interred with full military honors at Arlington National Cemetery on 14 September 2021. He is recognized as the “godfather of the Coast Guard’s modern H-60 helicopter program” and received commendations for flying and rescue work over his 38-year career in the Coast Guard. He held assignments as an aviator at Air Stations Cape Cod (MA), Sitka (AK), Traverse City (MI), Astoria (OR), Detroit (MI) and Miami (FL). He held many senior leadership positions including Chief of Operations and Chief of Staff for the Pacific Area; Commander of the Thirteenth District in the Pacific Northwest; Coast Guard Chief of Staff; and finally, Vice Commandant, the Service’s second in command.  From 2008–2012, just prior to his tenure as Vice Commandant, the Coast Guard Aviation community experienced a horrendous series of aircraft accidents that took the lives of 18 Coast Guard aircrewmen. The dilemma weighed heavily on Admiral Currier, but—he was the RIGHT man, in the RIGHT place, at the RIGHT time when the Service needed him most. The Service was searching for solutions—long fatigued and exasperated from attending memorial services, hearing eulogies and listening to “Amazing Grace”—he led us out of that morass to “clearer skies” with a new focus on cockpit leadership, proficiency, risk management and a “back to basics” approach when it came to tactics, techniques and procedures. He guided a structured fleet-wide operational risk assessment and directed corrective actions which yielded a remarkable improvement in aviation professionalism and safety. These efforts added to his already robust Coast Guard Aviation legacy.

***********************

Retired Captain Sean M. Cross served 25 years in the Coast Guard as a helicopter pilot and aeronautical engineer. Flying both the MH-60T and MH-65D, he accumulated over 4,000 flight hours while assigned to Air Stations Clear Water, FL; Cape Cod, MA; San Diego, CA; Elizabeth City, NC and Traverse City, MI, which he commanded.

“There is only one Coast Guard Aviator’s name etched on the Harmon Trophy and the story of HOW it got there should be preserved for posterity.”

i Boston AP article – multiple sources – “The ‘Terry T.” of New Bedford called for help at about 3:30 a m. when its engine room filled with about four feet of water, spokesman Mario Toscano of the Coast Guard’s Boston Rescue Center said.” – available here: https://www.newspapers.com/newspage/439301890/
ii John Currier (HH-3F Aircraft Commander) in video discussion (Exit Interview) with Scott T. Price (Coast Guard Historian) in Washington, D.C. on April 23, 2014.
iii Jack Stewardson, “10 fishermen saved; 2nd trawler overdue,” The Standard-Times, New Bedford, Mass., October 27, 1980, page 1.
iv Jack Stewardson, “It was pretty hairy, but help came for fishing crew,” The Standard-Times, New Bedford, Mass.,, October 28, 1980, page 4.
v Ibid.
vi Ibid.
vii Gordon Warren (HH-3F Avionicsman) in phone interview with the author on September 30, 2021.
viii Currier interview
ix Ibid.
x Barrett Thomas Beard, “Wonderful Flying Machines: A History of U.S. Coast Guard Helicopters,” (Annapolis: Naval Institute Press, 1996), page 146.
xi Ibid
xii Currier interview
xiii Robert Abair (HH-3F Co-Pilot) in email message to author on September 30, 2021. “The term PATCH implies a coupled hover, which was not the case. All hovering was done manually. Because of the heavy seas, it was impossible to couple the aircraft to the radar altimeter. The entire mission from lift off to touch down was hand flown due to turbulence.”
xiv Ibid.
xv Ibid.
xvi David Seavey (HH-3F Flight Mechanic) in email message to author on September 22, 2021.
xvii Currier interview
xviii Seavey email.
xix Currier interview
xx Beard, “Wonderful Flying Machines: A History of U.S. Coast Guard Helicopters,” page 147.
xxi Seavey email.
xxii Abair email.
xxiii Seavey email.
xxiv Staff Writer (1), “Manchester Man Cited by U.S. Coast Guard,” Manchester Evening Herold, June 22, 1981, page 20 – available here: http://www.manchesterhistory.org/News/Manchester%20Evening%20Hearld_1981-06-22.pdf
xxv Stewardson, “It was pretty hairy, but help came for fishing crew,” page 4.
xxvi Currier interview xxvii Ibid
xxviii Seavey email.
xxix Currier interview
xxx Beard, “Wonderful Flying Machines: A History of U.S. Coast Guard Helicopters,” page 147.
xxxi Stewardson, “10 fishermen saved; 2nd trawler overdue,” page 4.
xxxii Staff Writer (2), “CG pulls 10 from blazing trawler,” Cape Cod Times, October 27, 1980, page unknown
(Falmouth Public Library Microfiche retrieved on September 29, 2021 by Sue Henken). xxxiii Ibid
xxxiv American Helicopter Society International – Vertipedia. “Biography, John P. Currier, United States,” Last modified April 14, 2021. https://vertipedia-legacy.vtol.org/milestoneBiographies.cfm?bioID=428
xxxv Vertical Flight Society. “Frederick L. Feinberg Award previous recipients,” Last modified in 2021. https://vtol.org/awards-and-contests/vertical-flight-society-award-winners?awardID=3
xxxvi Staff Writer (1), “Manchester Man Cited by U.S. Coast Guard,” page 20.

© 2021, Sean M. Cross

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4 October 1980: This Day in U.S. Coast Guard Aviation History

MIRACLE RESCUE: Cruise Liner PRINSENDAM—04 October 1980

by Captain Sean M. Cross, United States Coast Guard (Retired)

On this day in 1980, the United States Coast Guard led one of the nation’s largest search and rescue cases when the 519 passengers and crew of the Dutch cruise liner PRINSENDAM were forced to abandon ship more than 130 miles (209 kilometers) off the coast of Alaska after an engine room fire spread throughout the vessel. Over the course of 24 hours, rescue aircraft deployed from Coast Guard Air Stations Sitka and Kodiak, AK. would work side-by-side with the U.S. Air Force, Royal Canadian Armed Forces as well as U.S. Coast Guard Cutters BOUTWELL, WOODRUSH, MELLON and an AMVER-tasked (Automated Mutual-Assistance Vessel Rescue System) tanker WILLIAMSBURG to rescue all hands from 12 to 15 foot (18–24 meters) seas and 25 to 30 knot (13–15 meters per second) winds generated by a nearby Arctic typhoon.

Holland America Line’s MS Prinsendam. (Cruise Critic)

The PRINSENDAM was a 427-foot (130 meters) long cruise liner built in 1973. The liner was transiting through the Gulf of Alaska, approximately 120 miles (193 kilometers) south of Yakutat, Alaska, at midnight October 4, 1980, when fire broke out in the engine room. With conditions too dangerous for the deployment of small boats from the ships, most survivors were hoisted and ferried to surface ships while some were ferried to shore during helicopter refuel transits. The helicopters would then refuel and head back out to the scene for their next load of passengers. Still others were forced to climb aboard the tanker and cutters with the help of two Air Force pararescuemen while hypothermic.

The rescue of the PRINSENDAM was particularly significant because of the distance traveled by the rescuers, the coordination of independent organizations and the fact that all 519 passengers and crew were rescued under challenging environmental conditions without loss of life or serious injury.

USCGC Boutwell (WHEC 719) in the Bering Sea. (Pinterest)

The following aircraft participated:

A USCG Lockheed HC-130H Hercules. (U.S. Coast Guard)

• Two Coast Guard HH-3F helicopters and two HC-130H aircraft from Air Station Kodiak. Distance 385 nautical miles (443 statute miles/713 kilometers) from PRINSENDAM.

• Alaskan Air Command Rescue Coordination Center (RCC), Elmendorf Air Force Base, Anchorage and 71st Aerospace Rescue and Recovery Squadron: one HH-3E helicopter and one HC-130H Hercules. Distance: over 370 nautical miles (426 statute miles/595 kilometers).

A U.S. Air Force Lockheed HC-130H Combat King trails drogues to refuel two Sikorsky HH-3E Jolley Green Giant helicopters. (http://jollygg.blogspot.com/2018/11/)

• Two Coast Guard HH-3F helicopters from Air Station Sitka. Distance: 170 nautical miles (196 statute miles/315 kilometers).

A flight of two U.S. Coast Guard Sikorsky HH-3F Pelican helicopters from Air Station Astoria, Oregon. (United States Coast Guard)

• Canadian Forces from 442 Transport and Rescue Squadron, 19 Wing Comox, British Columbia: Two CH-113 Labradors (CH-46) helicopters, two CC-115 Buffalo aircraft and one CP-107 Argus (from 407 Maritime Patrol Squadron). Distance: over 600 nautical miles (690 statute miles/1,111 kilometers).

U.S. Coast Guard rescue coordination centers began receiving Morse code SOS distress signals from the PRINSENDAM reporting a fire onboard a few minutes prior to 1 a.m. Saturday morning October 4, 1980. A few hours later, at 05:08 a.m., with fire visible on deck, 329 passengers were directed to take to lifeboats about 120 miles offshore in the frigid Gulf of Alaska.

The on-scene operation required unrehearsed teamwork by the U.S. Coast Guard, the U.S. Air Force and two Canadian units flying in close proximity. Overhead, the five long-range reconnaissance aircraft including the U.S. HC-130Hs and the Canadian CP-107 Argus aircraft staged and coordinated helicopter assets while acting as long range communication platforms. Behind the scenes, CC-115 Buffalos from the 442 Squadron operated a shuttle service between shore bases and staging areas, carrying medics, firefighters, supplies, fresh helicopter crews and rescued passengers.

The first 12 to 24 hours of a distress incident offers the best chance of successful rescue and recovery of survivors. After 48 hours chances of a successful rescue and recovery decrease rapidly. The remote and isolated location of the burning PRINSENDAM (and its lifeboats and life rafts) was barely within the timely response capability of the personnel and equipment available. The risks included—but were not limited to—climatic, season, weather, distance from shore and logistics of getting rescue teams and resources to the burning PRINSENDAM’s location. The survivability hazards to both survivors and rescuers included—but were not limited to—remoteness and isolation of the PRINSENDAM’s location from help, water temperature, worsening weather and sea conditions combined with duration the survivors would be vulnerably exposed to the furry of sea and weather. The remnants of Typhoon Thelma heading directly towards the incident area would result in the operational environment becoming more perilous during the on-going rescue operations.

“A U.S. Coast Guard Sikorsky HH-3F Pelican helicopter hovers near the stern of the Holland-America liner MS Prinsendam (ca. 520 passengers and crew) in the Gulf of Alaska.” (SSGT Richard D. McKee, U.S. Air Force/U.S. Department of Defense VIRIN DF-SN-86-12843)

Commander Bruce Melnick, USCG (Retired), who was also designated Coast Guard Astronaut Number 1 in 1992, participated in the rescue as an HH-3F pilot and made the following comments in a 26 October 2016 interview:

Bruce Melnick

“I was on the Prinsendam mission, where there was a Dutch ship from Holland, America cruise lines called the Prinsendam, where I was the SDO that night and we got a call, and the radioman thought the name of the boat was the “Prince and Don” and I said, “Wow. That’s …” and he said, “It’s on fire and it’s out here somewhere.” So, I ran over to the radio room and then I was aware of the cruise ship Prinsendam, how it used to come into the port of Sitka, and so I said … I can’t remember the name of the radioman’s name. I’m sorry. I said but, “That’s the Prinsendam. That’s the big cruise ship and they’re on fire.” So, we talked to RCC and Juno and we launched out, flew out there. They were probably 180 miles away and when we got out there they were listing seriously to starboard and they thought they had the fire out, and then all of a sudden the fire erupted again and the captain of the ship ordered them to abandon ship. When they started to abandon ship, they had all kinds of problems and it was dark at night, and it wasn’t real bad weather yet. There was like a 10-foot swell, but it wasn’t real bad yet. So, we used the night sun ¹ on the H-3 to illuminate the people abandoning ship and we were there until just about everybody got off the ship, and then we were low fuel. By this time, the rest of the resources were being called in.

“The Canadian Forces, the Kodiak Coast Guard, the Elmendorf Air Force Base. I mean we had alerted everybody, and we flew into Yakutat for fuel. We got into Yakutat, we refueled and came back out and by that time, there was a C-130 on scene, some other forces were on scene and the winds had started to pick up real bad. About the time we got on scene, the rest of the helicopters had to go back in for refuel. Now the seas are you know, 15 feet, wind blowing and we looked down and we called back to the on scene commander and said, “We think we need to start hoisting these people,” because the tanker Williamsburg, great big, super tanker was out there and they were trying to get these people over to the side of the ship, the big tanker and climb up the Jacob’s ladders to get up onto the deck of the ship and the average age of these people was 70 years old. So we said, “We think we need to hoist these people,” and I’m not going to mention any names, but he was a senior officer from our air station said, “Whatever you do, don’t hoist those people.” Joel Thuma was the aircraft commander with me, and he was in the left seat at this time, because we had swapped seats, and he says, “Oh …you’re breaking up. I think we’re going to go ahead. I got you, we’re going to start hoisting.” So, we ended up starting the hoisting routine and everybody at the PJ started jumping in. Make a long story short, by the time my day was ended, I’d picked up 115 of the survivors, made multiple trips back and forth to the Williamsburg. At one point they had 24 survivors on the helicopter at one time, and then we took a load back to the Yakutat and anyway, we ended up picking up … we had 519 saves that day. I picked up 115 of them. Great mission and I can talk about that at a great length.”

A U.S. Coast Guard Sikorsky HH-3F Pelican flies over the burning passenger liner MS Prinsendam, 4October 1980. (United States Coast Guard)

Aircrew rescue efforts continued around the clock for 24 hours. Despite the hardships and hazards of abandoning ship in the Gulf of Alaska about 120 miles offshore, all crew and passengers of the M.S. PRINSENDAM—329 passengers, 164 Indonesian crew members and 26 Dutch officers—were successfully rescued. With the exception of the U.S. Air Force HH-3E, which included an in-flight refueling probe, fuel endurance was a major factor, the other helicopters hoisted up as many people as they could from the lifeboats and dropped them on U.S. Coast Guard and AMVER surface vessels until they reached their fuel limits and returned to Yakutat, the closest point of land 130 miles away. This event led to the U.S. Coast Guard developing Helicopter In-Flight Refueling (HIFR) from surface vessels and implementing a Rescue Swimmer program. Interestingly, the next morning (05 October), BOUTWELL spotted a flare from a lifeboat containing the final 20 passengers and two Air Force technicians, completing the rescue of all 519 crewmembers and passengers. In 2007, after reaching the remarkable milestone of more than one million lives saved since 1790, the U.S. Coast Guard published a synopsis of the Top 10 rescues in the history of the Service – the PRINSENDAM rescue came in at number 2 behind the 2005 Hurricane KATRINA response. The combination of hardship, hazard, no loss of life, no significant injury has resulted in this incident being considered the greatest air-sea rescue operation in maritime history.

A U.S. Coast Guard Sikorsky HH-3F Pelican transfers M/S Prinsendam passengers to the AMVER-tasked 1,094-foot super tanker T/T Williamsburgh. A life boat is just astern the tanker. (Documentary Archives Radio Communications)

Helicopter Aircrews:

HH-3E (AF Rescue 802) crew was Captain John J. Walters-Aircraft Commander; Captain William T. Gillen-Copilot; Staff Sergeant Michael J. Engels-Flight Engineer; Staff Sergeant John F. Cassidy-Pararescue Team Leader; and, Sergeant Jose M. Rios-Pararescue Specialist.

The Lifesavers: Crewmen of Air Station Sitka were the first on scene when PRINSENDAM sent out a distress call. Air Station Sitka flight crews: (back row, left to right) LCDR Ron Simond, CDR Chuck Peterson (commanding officer), LTJG Tom Vasilou, CDR Tom Morgan (executive officer), LCDR Ray Hiner, LCDR Joel Thuma, AT3 Richard McManigal, AE2 Andrew Falenski, LCDR Robert Knapp, AD3 Carl Saylor, ASM3 Richard Driscoll, and AT 2 Dave Cook. Front row: AE3 Ron Dupont, LT Dave Barnes, LT Bruce Melnick, AD3 Mike Oliverson, AM3 Sam Overman, AT1 Larry Weygandt, AD2 Tim Burkholder. Photo by AD1 Barfield.

The Mackay Trophy (NASM)

Captain John J. Walters, U.S. Air Force, of the 71st ARRS, was awarded the Mackay Trophy “For extraordinary achievement while participating in aerial flight as HH-3 Helicopter Commander in the rescue of 61, in adverse conditions, from the burning cruise ship Prinsendam.”

Captain Walters and Pararescue Specialists SSGT John Cassidy and SGT Jose Rios were awarded the Distinguished Flying Cross. Also receiving the Distinguished Flying Cross were CDR Thomas Morgan, USCG; LCDR Raymond Hiner, USCG; LCDR Robert Knapp, USCG; LCDR Joel Thuma, USCG;  LT Bruce Melnick, USCG; AT2 David Cook, USCG; AD3 Mike Olverson, USCG; AM3 Samuel Overman, USCG; and AD3 Carl Saylor, USCG. LTJG Tom Vasilou, USCG, and Radio Operators AE2 Andrew Falenski and AD3 Richard McManigal were awarded the Air Medal.

Lieutenant Colonel Clifford B. Fletcher, Royal Canadian Air Force, received the Order of Military Merit.

Aircraft

Sikorsky HH-3E Jolly Green and HH-3F Pelican

Sikorsky HH-3E Jolly Green Giant, circa 1977. (U.S. Air Force)

The Sikorsky HH-3E (Sikorsky S-61R) earned the nickname Jolly Green Giant during the Vietnam War. It is a dedicated Combat Search and Rescue (CSAR) helicopter flown by the U.S. Air Force, based on the CH-3C transport helicopter. The aircraft is flown by two pilots and the crew includes a flight mechanic and gunner. It is a large twin-engine helicopter with a single main rotor/tail rotor configuration. It has retractable tricycle landing gear and a rear cargo ramp. The rear landing gear retracts into a stub wing on the aft fuselage. The helicopter has an extendable inflight refueling boom (the HH-3F does not have this capability).

HH-3E three-view illustration (Sikorsky Historical Archives)
Three-view illustration of the Sikorsky HH-3F Pelican, with dimensions. (U.S. Coast Guard)

The HH-3E is 72 feet, 7 inches (22.123 meters) long and 18 feet, 10 inches (5.740 meters) high with all rotors turning. The main rotor has five blades and a diameter of 62 feet (18.898 meters). Each blade has a chord of 1 foot, 6.25 inches (0.464 meters). The main rotor turns at 203 r.p.m., counter-clockwise, as seen from above. (The advancing blade is on the right.) The tail rotor also has five blades and has a diameter of 10 feet, 4 inches (3.150 meters). The blades have a chord of 7–11/32 inches (0.187 meters). The tail rotor turns clockwise as seen from the helicopter’s left. (The advancing blade is below the axis of rotation.) The tail rotor turns 1,244 r.p.m.

The HH-3E has an empty weight of 13,341 pounds (6,051 kilograms). The maximum gross weight is 22,050 pounds (10,002 kilograms).

The Jolly Green Giant is powered by two General Electric T58-GE-5 turboshaft engines, which have a Maximum Continuous Power rating of 1,400 shaft horsepower, each, and Military Power rating of 1,500 shaft horsepower. The main transmission is rated for 2,500 horsepower, maximum.

The HH-3E has a cruise speed of 154 miles per hour (248 kilometers per hour) at Sea Level, and a maximum speed of 177 miles per hour (285 kilometers per hour), also at Sea Level. The service ceiling is 14,000 feet (4,267 meters). The HH-3E had a maximum range of 779 miles (1,254 kilometers) with external fuel tanks.

The Jolly Green Giant can be armed with two M60 7.62 mm machine guns.

The very similar HH-3F Pelican is equipped with radar, an Automatic Flight Control System (AFCS) and a navigation computer, which allowed the helicopter to fly coupled search patterns.

The HH-3F served the Coast Guard from 1969 to 1994, when it was replaced by the Sikorsky HH-60J Jayhawk. According to the Sikorsky Historical Archives, during its 25 years of service, the HH-3F saved 23,169 lives, and assisted 65,377 others.

Sikorsky built 14 HH-3Es and 40 HH-3Fs. As many as 50 CH-3Cs and CH-3Es were upgraded to the HH-3E configuration. 5 USAF HH-3Es were converted to HH-3Fs for the Coast Guard. Sikorsky built a total of 173 of the S-61R series.

Sikorsky HH-3F Pelican 1497. (U.S. Coast Guard)

Boeing Vertol CH-113 Labrador

A Canadian Forces Boeing Vertol CH-113 Labrador. (Alain Rioux/Wikipedia)
CH-113 hovers over two lifeboats.

This aircraft is a twin-engine, tandem-rotor search and rescue (SAR) helicopter used by the Canadian Forces from 1963 until 2004. It was a variant of the Boeing Vertol CH-46 Sea Knight designed and built in the United States. A search and rescue version was purchased by the Royal Canadian Air Force in the early 1960s and became known as the Labrador. Soon after, the Canadian Army acquired a troop and cargo version known as the Voyageur. In the mid-1970s, these army machines were replaced by CH-147 Chinook heavy lift and transport helicopters and the Voyageurs were transferred to the air force when Air Command was formed in 1975. They joined the Labradors on search and rescue duties and all were modified to a common search and rescue standard.

Technical Information:

Rotor diameter 15.2 m (50 ft)
Length (rotors turning) 25.4 m (83 ft 4 in)
Height 5.1 m (16 ft 8 in)
Weight, Empty 5,104 kg (11,251 lb)
Weight, Gross 9,706 kg (21,400 lb)
Cruising Speed 253 km/h (157 mph)
Max Speed 270 km/h (168 mph)
Rate of Climb 465 m (1,525 ft) /min
Service Ceiling 4,265 m (14,000 ft)
Range 1,100 km (684 mi)
Power Plant Two T-58-GE-8F, 1,500 shaft hp turbines

De Havilland Canada CC-115 Buffalo

De Havilland Canada CC-115 Buffalo (John Davies/Wikipedia)

The CC-115 Buffalo plays a critical role in supporting life-saving search and rescue missions. Its agility and all-weather capabilities are well suited for the rough and mountainous terrain on Canada’s West Coast and in northern operations.

The Buffalo is a utility transport aircraft that can take off and land on the most rugged strips as short as a soccer field. It serves a vast territory from the British Columbia / Washington border to the Arctic and from the Rocky Mountains to 1,200 kilometers out over the Pacific Ocean.

Length 24 m
Wingspan 29.25 m
Height 8.53 m
Empty weight 12,474 kg
Maximum gross weight 19,560 kg
Maximum speed 420 km/h
Range 2,240 km
Locations Comox, B.C.
This aircraft is used for Search and rescue

Canadair CP-107 Argus

Canadair CP-107 Argus  (Pinterest)

The Canadian-built Canadair Argus was a unique hybrid that married the wings, tail surfaces and undercarriage of the British-designed Britannia transport to a completely new Canadian-designed, non-pressurized fuselage that was equipped with different American-designed engines. One of the most effective anti-submarine warfare aircraft of its day, the Argus was a mainstay for the RCAF in the maritime role. The principal difference between the Mark I and Mark II was in the different internal navigation, communication and tactical electronic equipment. Externally, the Mk II exhibited a redesigned smaller nose radome and additional ECM (electronic counter measures) antennae above the fuselage. The Argus replaced the Lancaster and Neptune aircraft types previously flown in the maritime roles and, eventually, the Argus was itself replaced by the current CP-140 Aurora aircraft.

Designation CP-107
Model number CL-20
Marks Mk I, II
Role Anti-submarine warfare (ASW)
Taken on strength 1957
Struck off strength 1982
Number 33
Service RCAF and Canadian Armed Forces

“October Saviours,” by Len Boyd, 2012. 18″ × 24″ (45.7 × 61.0 centimeters), acrylic on Masonite. “At daybreak an RCAF C-115 Buffalo ‘SAR’ transport dispatched from 442 Squadron, Comox overflies the burning and abandoned 425 foot Dutch cruise ship MV ‘Prinsendam’ as a lifeboat full of grateful passengers floats nearby; rescue flares fizzle in the waters.” (Canadian Aerospace Artists Association/http://www.aviationartists.ca/boyd/boyd_october_saviours.html)

¹ “night sun” refers to the Spectrolab Inc. Nightsun® high-intensity searchlight for aircraft.

© 2020, Sean M. Cross

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26 September 1971: This Day in Coast Guard Aviation History

by Captain Sean M. Cross, United States Coast Guard (Retired)

During the Vietnam conflict from 1967–1972, eleven U.S. Coast Guard Aviators voluntarily served with high honor and distinction with the U.S. Air Force Aerospace Rescue and Recovery forces in Southeast Asia in the dual role of aircraft commanders and instructor pilots. They regularly risked their lives flying into harm’s way to save airmen in peril of death or capture. Their significant contributions and exceptional performance were highly commended by the Air Force with the award of four Silver Stars, sixteen Distinguished Flying Crosses, and eighty-six Air Medals, in addition to many other recognitions. The previous accolades did not come without cost—designated Coast Guard Aviator #997, Lieutenant Jack Columbus Rittichier was killed in action while attempting to rescue a downed Marine airman in hostile territory on June 9th, 1968. These Aviators carried out their noble mission with heroism and a focus on duty, honor, country and the Coast Guard. Their actions brought honor on themselves, the United States of America, the U.S. Air Force and the U.S. Coast Guard.

A U.S. Air Force Sikorsky HH-53C Super Jolly Green Giant. (National Archives at College Park)

26 September 1971: A Sikorsky HH-53C Super Jolly Green Giant, crewed by Coast Guard Lieutenant Commander Joseph Lawrence (“Jay”) Crowe, Jr., CGA ‘62 (Pilot), Xxxxxx Hampton (Copilot), William Simm (Flight Engineer), Daniel G. Manion (Pararescue Jumper) and Richard L. Steed (Pararescue Jumper), rescued the crew of a North American Aviation OV-10A Bronco (call sign “RUSTIC 07″), Lieutenant Lansford Elmer Trapp, Jr., and Cambodian observer, Sergeant Chap Khorn, after they ejected from their 12.7mm-damaged aircraft, about 10 miles (16 kilometers) northwest of Kampong Cham, Cambodia.

Lieutenant General Lansford E. Trapp bio: https://www.af.mil/About-Us/Biographies/Display/Article/105437/lieutenant-general-lansford-e-trapp-jr/

Cambodia (Encyclopedia Britannica)

A little more…(much of this content was slightly modified from the book Leave No Man Behind: The Saga of Combat Search and Rescue by George Galdorisi and Thomas Phillips, pages 393 and 394)

To better cover the southern portion of South Vietnam and be closer to the increasing levels of operations in Cambodia, the 37th Aerospace Rescue and Recovery Squadron (ARRS) had for some time maintained a pair of HH-53Cs at Bien Hoa Air Base, about fifteen miles northeast of Saigon.  On September 26, 1971, it was Coast Guard exchange pilot Lieutenant Commander Joseph “Jay” Crowe’s turn to stage at the forward operating location (FOL). Standing the alert with his crew, Hampton, Simm, Manion, and Steed, they were scrambled to rescue of the crew of an OV-10A from the 19th TASS who shared the ramp at Bien Hoa.

A U.S. Air Force North American Aviation OV-10A-5-NH Bronco, 67-14605, fires a white phosphorous rocket. (TSGT Bill Thompson, United States Air Force DFST8505744)

The Rustic FAC, the call sign that any FAC [Forward Air Controller] operating in Cambodia used, regardless of squadron, had fallen victim to a “.50-caliber trap” when it was hit at 3,500 feet (1,067 meters) by converging fire from four 12.7mm AA machine guns ringing the perimeter of a small village about ten miles (16 kilometers) northwest of the Mekong River town of Kampong Cham. When grouped as a battery, the 12.7 mm guns, “heavy guns” of the southern air war (where the heavy AA weapons of Laos and North Vietnam had not yet appeared in large numbers), were still quite deadly. The Bronco pilot, 1st Lieutenant Lansford Trapp, and his observer, Cambodian Sgt. Chap Khom, had parachuted down into the apex of the gun formation, and the hostile forces accompanying the AAA gunners were in no rush to go get them.

In an interview with his grandson recorded in 2018, retired General Lansford E. Trapp described the incident:

“When I was a lieutenant, and this would have been in 1971, I was flying an observation aircraft over in Vietnam. I was on a mission over in Cambodia and we were helping ground forces who were fighting against bad guys over there. That ensuing battle that went on as I was flying over head in my airplane, we actually got hit by ground fire and the left wing of the airplane caught on fire.

“I had a Cambodian interpreter sitting in my back seat, a Sergeant Chung (Khorn), and it was his seventh ride in an airplane. I didn’t even know that the wing was on fire until one of the other airplanes came by and said “hey your left wing is on fire”. So, I looked out, my wing was on fire, and we decided that I was gonna be able to land at one of the airports that was right there. So, we came in and tried to land, but I lost control of the airplane. So, I pushed the power back in and climbed up over the airfield. Then the left wing burned off, and so we started in a pretty good spiral into the wing that had burned off. We ejected from the airplane.

“Sergeant Corn (Khorn) went out first, and then I went out. The craziest thing was that we used to fly with about 250 to 300 big maps, so we could look at the country as we were trying to figure out where we were. Those all came flying out of the cockpit as we ejected. It looked like confetti outside. As we came down sergeant Corn he got burned pretty bad from the wing fire, and I banged my ankle up pretty badly, but we were OK. We got picked up by friendly forces and I got a nice helicopter ride back to home base that night.”

A gunner looks over a General Electric GAU2/A minigun, while his aircraft flies formation with a Sikorsky HH-53C Super Jolly Green Giant over Southeast Asia. (U.S. Air Force)

Crowe’s Jolly approached at 8,000 feet (2,438 meters), safely above the range of the still-active hostile guns, while the A-1H Sandys of the 1st Special Operations Squadron (SOS) went in low to begin their routine of locating the survivors and the hostile guns. In the flat and relatively open terrain of central Cambodia, penetrating the ring of guns was going to be dicey, there not being the ridges, karsts, and dense vegetation of the 37th’s regular operating area to provide a modicum of masking for the helicopter. By this stage of the war, a low, treetop-hugging approach by the rescue helicopter was a well-known procedure, and the enemy gunners would be waiting for it, scanning the low horizon for the rescue helicopter sure to follow on the heels of the tough Skyraiders. Each gun guarded its quadrant of the circle around the downed airmen, waiting.

A Douglas A-1H Skyraider dive bombing a target during a close air support mission. (U.S. Air Force)

Crowe decided to use a variation of the diving spiral approach he had used June 4th with success, rescuing a Covey FAC crew up in southern Laos. Rather than descending some distance away prior to a low-level run-in, he entered an autorotation from directly overhead, copilot Hampton pulling the throttles of the twin engines back, and Crowe lowering the collective stick. Down the helicopter fell, with the rush of air up through the rotors keeping the blades spinning, while the engines idled (relatively quietly). The blades are unloaded in an autorotative descent, so the characteristic whop-whop is virtually eliminated, and with the engines at idle, there is significantly less of the distinctive noises that normally come from the helicopter.

With the Sandys rumbling around, strafing and bombing and attracting the eye of the gunners, the diminished but still telltale sounds made by the falling Jolly were masked.  Crowe kept the helicopter in a steep turn, spiraling down inside the perimeter of the four guns around the downed aircrew, literally behind their backs, careful not to swing out too wide, where he might catch a gunner’s eye. The Jolly would be easily seen should anyone glance straight up, luckily the last place a sane gunner would be looking for a helicopter.  They were falling out of the sky at more than five thousand feet per minute. As the Jolly approached the ground, Crowe began to level off, converting vertical speed to speed across the ground, still spiraling, and then raised the nose to decelerate.

HH-53C (VIRIN: DF-ST-83-02388)

At the same time, Hampton slowly and smoothly pushed the engine throttles forward, to accelerate them back into normal speed and gently engage their drive wheels with the spinning gears of the main rotors. The accelerating engines and the rotors digging into the air as Crowe pulled up on the collective and flared into a quick-stop created loud rotor beats, accenting the whine of jet turbines accelerating to maximum power, announcing their arrival to all. But the helicopter was safely down beneath the trees in a hover, and the telltale was too late to help the gunners acquire their target. This tight spiral autorotative descent and recovery to a hover requires a superior feel for the helicopter, and exquisite coordination with the copilot to return the rotors to engine-driven flight smoothly at just the right instant. Done right, the procedure is a dramatic and breathtaking maneuver and a grand entrance. But the room for error is very small, and a botched maneuver is perilous and very unforgiving.

It was not a gambit to be repeated very often; if the gunners had detected the helicopter, Crowe and company would have found themselves in a deadly crossfire. But this day it was brilliant: a tactical surprise, completely unexpected, and therefore completely effective. The Jolly crew snatched the two men quickly and escaped out of the circle with a low-level departure. A climbing spiral back up from the center of the guns, with the gunners now alerted, was clearly out of the question. The helicopter received only sporadic fire as it left the scene in the typical low-level escape, while taking no casualties.

Epilogue

Lieutenant Commander Joseph Lawrence Crowe, Jr., U.S. Coast Guard. (Sean M. Cross Collection)

After graduation from high school in Weston, Massachusetts in 1958, Jay received an appointment to the U.S. Coast Guard Academy, New London, Connecticut. Commissioned an Ensign in 1962, he served a tour at sea and then was assigned to naval flight training. Receiving his wings in 1965, he served at Coast Guard Air Stations San Francisco, California, Barbers Point, Hawaii; Cape Cod, Massachusetts; Port Angeles, Washington; Annette Island Alaska, and Sitka, Alaska.

He served during the Vietnam War on an exchange tour with the U.S. Air Force as a Combat Rescue Crew commander with the 37th ARRS Jolly Green Giants in Da Nang AB, RVN.

Jay was a 1981 graduate of the Air War College. He served as Commanding Officer Coast Guard Air Station Port Angeles, Washington, and Coast Guard Air Station Cape Cod, Massachusetts. His final assignment before retirement was as Chief, Operations Division, 11th Coast Guard District, Long Beach, California.

During Jay’s distinguished career he was awarded a Legion of Merit, three Distinguished Flying Cross Medals, nine Air Medals, two Meritorious Service Medals. Three Coast Guard Commendation Medals, a Coast Guard Achievement Medal, and a Meritorious Unit Commendation. Hangar 3172 at Air Station Cape Cod, Massachusetts, was named in his honor.

Captain Crowe flew west crossing the bar February 22, 2003. His family was at his side.

Aircraft

Sikorsky HH-53C Super Jolly Green Giant three-view illustration with dimensions. (Sikorsky Historical Archives)

The MH-53M Pave Low IV is a variant of Sikorsky’s S-65 heavy-lift military transport helicopter series.  The MH-53M is a single main rotor, single tail rotor, twin-engine helicopter. It has a crew of six: 2 pilots, 2 flight engineers and 2 gunners. The Pave Low IV is equipped with Terrain-Following Radar and Forward Looking Infrared (FLIR) for low-level operations in darkness and low visibility.

The MH-53M fuselage is 67 feet, 2.4 inches (20.483 meters) long, and the helicopter has a maximum length of 91 feet, 11.34 inches (28.025 meters) with rotors turning and the refueling boom extended. The height to the top of the main rotor pylon is 17 feet, 1.68 inches (5.224 meters). The maximum height (rotors turning) is 24 feet, 10.88 inches (7.592 meters).

The fully-articulated 6-blade main rotor has a diameter of 72 feet, 2.7 inches (22.014 meters). The main rotor turns counter-clockwise at 185 r.p.m. (100% Nr), as seen from above. (The advancing blade is on the helicopter’s right.) The main rotor blades are built with titanium spars and have -16° of twist. The semi-articulated four-blade tail rotor has a diameter of 16 feet, 0 inches (4.877 meters) and is positioned on the left side of the tail pylon. It turns clockwise at 792 r.p.m., as seen from the helicopter’s left side. (The advancing blade is below the axis of rotation.) The gap between rotor arcs is just 4.437 inches (11.270 centimeters).

Empty, the MH-53M weighs 32,000 pounds (14,515 kilograms). Its maximum takeoff weight is 46,000 pounds (20,865 kilograms).

Its two General Electric T64-GE-100 axial-flow turboshaft engines have a Normal Continuous Power rating of 3,810 shaft horsepower at 85 °F. (30 °C.), Military Power rating of 4,090 shaft horsepower, and a Maximum Power rating of 4,330 shaft horsepower. The T64-GE-100 is 79 inches (2.007 meters) long, 20 inches (0.508 meters) in diameter and weighs 720 pounds (327 kilograms). Output (100% N2) is 13,600 r.p.m.

The MH-53M has a maximum speed of 196 miles per hour (315 kilometers per hour) and a service ceiling of 16,000 feet (4877 meters). It carries two 450-gallon (1,703 liter) jettisonable fuel tanks under each sponson.

The MH-53M is armed with two M134 7.62mm miniguns and a GAU-18/A .50 caliber machine gun.

© 2020, Sean M. Cross

For additional reading, see:

Coast Guard Aviation in Vietnam

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