It seems like 1972 was a good year for sea stories. I was deployed with VP-6 in Cubi Point, Philippines. My crew was standing the Ready Alert. We flew the P3A Orion. We had a good record of getting launched nearly every time we stood the Ready. This day (actually it was night when we launched) was no different.
It was after midnight when our duty office was alerted that a crewman had fallen overboard from a U. S. Navy Fleet Ocean Tug in the South China Sea just off the Philippines. He had been present for the 1800 muster and was not on board at the 2400 muster. The tug had been doing around 10-12 knots since noon yesterday and had turned around to attempt a rescue.
As the Ready Alert crew, we were launched to find a man who had fallen overboard, and no one knows where or for how long. We arrived onstation as the first tinges of light were showing on the horizon.
All the windows were manned, and the smokes are loaded and standing by. We initially flew at 500 feet, but after an hour and the light was much brighter, we descended to 200 feet. The weather was cooperating. Not very many clouds to be seen anywhere.
The ocean waves were relatively flat, some swells but not choppy enough to give false indications of a man in the water. We didn’t know if he had a life vest or not. The briefer told us the water temperature was in the mid-80s. There was a good chance that he could survive for many hours in that warm water.
We started a search from a point well north of the possible position he could have been in had he fallen overboard just before midnight. It was about two hours into the rescue when two or three smokes were kicked out of the aircraft as everyone with a headset on hears the same thing, “There he is, I see him!” Two or three people saw him on the same pass.
The aircraft made an immediate turn and we couldn’t find him on the reverse run. After we pass the smoke signals, we turn around again and he was much easier to see. We went into an orbit directly above him and let the world know that we found him.
We had a SAR (Search & Rescue) kit on board. The flight engineer came back and prepared two crewmembers (strapped them to the deck) so that the life raft could be deployed. Everyone was briefed on the emergency procedures for launching the life raft and for opening the door inflight. Loose items were removed from the entire area in preparation for opening the door.
We doubled and tripled checked the procedures to deploy the life raft and decided that we were ready. The aircraft was at 200 feet and we planned to drop the package slightly upwind of his position. We didn’t want it flying or drifting away faster than he could swim.
It was approaching nine am and we figured the guy could have been in the water well over 12 hours. He had taken his pants off, tied the ends, and was using his pants as a floatation device. We had seen sharks around him several times – big ones! On some passes, the sharks (two or three) were close enough to make us wonder if we might not be in time.
The life raft deployed as advertised. He saw it and made toward it immediately. We didn’t see him climb in, but he was in the raft on our nest pass. We reported that he was safe and standing by for further instructions.
A boat was dispatched and headed to his location. We climbed up to around 500 feet and monitored the incoming boat and gave him directions. He didn’t see the life raft until he was almost on top of it. The man was rescued by the boat and we were asked to remain on station and direct a helicopter to the small boat.
The helicopter showed up about 30 minutes later and lifted the guy from the small boat and headed back to Cubi Point. It was a bit ironic at this time, just around noon, that had we not rescued him, he probably would have made it to one of smaller islands in the Philippine Island archipelago. We couldn’t have been more than five miles from land.
We landed without incident. Our Skipper went to the hospital and checked on him. He was OK, except for some exposure and was expected to be released in a couple of days. I never heard what caused him to end up in the water.
Live Longer & Enjoy Life! – Red O’Laughlin – https://RedOLaughlin.com