Man Overboard Found the Next Day

Life raft dropped from P3 aircraft saves man in the water.

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


Comments

Man Overboard Found the Next Day — 8 Comments

  1. Excellent story! Whenever I tell any other Navy or Marine person that I was a P-3 aircrewman, I usually get an eye roll. I’ll get a comment like “so did you join the real Navy after that?” We we’re silent warriors. When I’d tell people that our enemy, the Russian submariner, was off our coasts ready to push the button should they be directed. We were there to keep track of them. A majority of Americans had no idea.
    Now I will tell you that my wife always said I sported the best tan when I cam home. There were good times. But, those days were long and wore us all out from being on the flight schedule routinely with minimal crew rest. I don’t regret a single moment of any of it and would do it again.
    Keep the stories coming, it helps to dust off all my memories. Those memories include you and so many other shipmates that made those times a brotherhood.

    • Yes, totally concur Bob. There are so many stories many of us could tell, but we need to be vigilant, even after decades of the classified nature of our missions. I was thinking about what would be and not be appropriate to share with the world. I purposely wrote in a Naval message about a 38.1-knot submerged object because we could not confirm it was a submarine. Maybe that might be today’s story. I won’t give away the specifics, but there are some strange things that go on out there under the water. Thanks Bob1

    • Yes, totally concur Bob. There are so many stories many of us could tell, but we need to be vigilant, even after decades of the classified nature of our missions. I was thinking about what would be and not be appropriate to share with the world. I purposely wrote in a Naval message about a 38.1-knot submerged object because we could not confirm it was a submarine. Maybe that might be today’s story. I won’t give away the specifics, but there are some strange things that go on out there under the water. Thanks, Bob1

  2. I like sea stories with a happy ending 🙂

    On the humorous side, if do not know the difference between a sea story and a ferry tale, here it is, a ferry tale begins “Once upon a time” a sea story begins ” This is no sh**” 🙂

  3. Scuttlebutt with a little bit of “This is no $hit”, I miss the classics. Then add beer and you have the real story with nothing held back and everything added.
    Quite a few of us retirees work where I do, I still get those classics periodically.

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