GOOSE ON THE ROCKS

by Jack A. Eckert

 

 

 NOTE: After this story was initially posted Dick Sardeson contacted me and gave me some more of the details relating to this story. I have re-written it slightly to include his input.

A Coast Guard career can lead one into some eerie situations. My career could have ended the day we had "Goose On The Rocks."

 

This is a true story and it happened in the Fall of 1968 in Alaska.

A little background first. Alaska Airlines flew a lot of Grumman Goose's in South East Alaska. A number of them were gasoline fueled two engine models that ferried people from Ketchikan, Alaska to Annette Island, Alaska before the airport was built in Ketchikan. They also had three or four models that had turbo prop engines and were fueled by JP-5.

The "Turbo-Goose's" carried passengers from port to port in that part of Alaska, i.e., Juneau to Wrangel, Petersburg to Sitka, etc. One of these planes landed one day in Juneau in the water with wheels down. It sank! Another landed at Juneau airport wheels up. That was the end of that one. Now there were only one or two left.

In 1968 I was a member of the Western Area Operational Evaluations Division. The entire division was working in Alaska that Fall. As was the custom when we were working on smaller units the team was split in two. One group worked on a smaller unit and my group worked on another. Upon completion of the respective evaluations the two groups were scheduled to merge in Sitka to do the CGC Clover.

With the scenario established this is what happened:

Our group consisting of CDR Dick Sardeson, myself then a LT, ENC Cliff Smith, and YNC Harvey Scott boarded the Goose in Ketchikan to fly to Sitka.

It was a cold fall day, with low over hanging clouds, a variable ceiling, and varying visibility. Along with another government employee we boarded the plane from the ramp downtown, taxied across the water and took off.

The Goose had four passenger seats on each side of the plane for a total of eight. A ninth passenger often rode in the right seat in the cockpit. I was sitting immediately behind the pilot on the left hand side of the plane and could see through the forward windshield as well as the window under the wing. Dick Sardeson was sitting on the opposite side of the plane.

We flew a few hundred feet above the water following the navigational channels. As the ceiling dropped the pilot would drop the plane so that he could see where he was going. We had to lift up to pass over an Alaska Car Ferry and then we dropped down again. We continued flying buoy to buoy as the ceiling lowered and had to lift up again to clear the mast of a fishing vessel. It was almost like riding a roller coaster in an enclosed cab.

The ceiling lifted as we approached Wrangel. We had to stop there to drop off and pick up mail. I looked out of my window down at the water and saw nothing but rafts of logs floating on it. I knew this would be a water landing but I had no idea where the pilot was going to put the plane down. Suddenly we landed in the water and the plume alongside and the water splashing on the windshield cut off my view. I had horrible visions of one of those logs penetrating the thin hull and we would be "gone with the goose." It didn't happen (Whew!) We taxied over to what appeared to be a boat ramp, the pilot touched it, put his wheels down revved the engines and we climbed up the ramp on to a circular area. He stopped the engines and said we could get off and stretch.

Gooses have no on board bathroom. I was pointed to a privy where I relieved myself. Most primitive airport I ever saw. We were on the ground about 20 minutes when the pilot told us to reboard. He started up the engines, we waddled over to the ramp, slid down it and took off for the next stop. Again the thought of all those logs out there was in my mind.

With the scenario repeated our journey to Sitka continued with one more similar landing in between. Low flying, buoy to buoy, hopping over vessels so we wouldn't hit one, almost to the point where we would have to land. Another landing in a log jammed port, up the ramp, a 20 minute layover, a better privy, and off again. I was still not getting used to it. Not only were my knuckles white by this time, my joints had just about penetrated the skin and came through.

One more stop, Sitka -- Would this day ever get over?

The ceiling kept dropping and the visibility kept getting worse. Now we were hopping over buoys. And then just ahead the pilot saw a hole in the clouds and started to climb sharply. We kept climbing and I could see that we were trying to clear a mountain. On the other side of the mountain was Sitka. After clearing the mountain he descended with the intent of to make a water landing. For some reason or other he decided against it and flew instead to the airport to make a ground landing.

On our final approach, he lowered the landing gear, dropped the flaps and just as we touched down he reversed the props. The the port propeller decided at that minute to full pitch ahead. The plane which was traveling about 40 miles per hour suddenly swerved up on to the rip rap sea wall on the left side of the landing strip with an awful jarring racket. I remember looking out the window and thinking, "there's no air strip here --- Klunk, Crash, Clunk-Clunk......" When the plane stopped there was a deathly moment of silence which seemed like an hour. The pilot drawled "AW SHITTTTT" breaking the silence. Dick Sardeson on the other side of the plane remembered stopping on the rocks and watching a wheel from the plane rolling down the runway. I looked out the window and port engine began to smoke. "Fire" I thought, "I'm getting out of here." I got to the door opened it, got out of the plane even with the propeller still turning, somehow or other climbed down off of the rocks on to the air strip and began running like the devil was chasing me (and maybe he was.) The other guys and the pilot were not far behind me. I figured I was far enough away from the plane so that if it exploded I was safe. I slowed down, stopped and panted like a miler running ten miles. The others stopped too and we just stood there.

We found out the engine was not on fire, the pilot had pulled the CO2 extinguishing system and that is what was seen. The plane carried JP5 aviation fuel (like a low grade kerosene) and not the gasoline used by the rest of the "Goose's." So it looked worse than it was. When we saw that the plane was not on fire we meandered over there to see what it looked like.

For some reason or other we all grabbed our brief cases on the way out -- Strange what you do by habit -- I had my 35mm Agfa camera with me and took a few slides before I ran out of film.

This Photo was taken by Jack as a 35mm colored slide. It has been scanned, converted to black and white and enhanced as much as possible. The slide is 31 years old.

Now here we were standing in the edge of the air strip. The control tower was in sight and nothing happened. The "Goose was on the Rocks", we were dressed a little to lightly, and we were shivering a bit, cold or fear I will not admit to.

Five minutes pass.........

Ten minutes pass.........

Fifteen minutes pass ........ A jet overhead looking like it was positioning itself to land but circled the airport instead. We sure did not want to be on the air strip with a 727 heading in for a landing so we looked for a place to go to.

After about 20 minutes a fork lift with a box containing a fifty pound CO2 bottle. (Lord love a duck,-- what would the driver have done with that if the plane were on fire?) A small truck or jeep arrived a little after that.

The fork lift driver asked if we were ok, yes answered by all. He said the jet plane was turning around and heading to Juneau. It wasn't allowed to land with a wreck on the ground. The 727 had notified the tower of the wreck.

We all got on the vehicle after one last look around and rode to the terminal building. I don't remember the ride but it must have looked like a "scotch taxi."

How an FAA rep got there I don't know but we were met by him and all escorted to the Potlatch Motel where we were kept under surveillance for three days. Our luggage arrived late that afternoon. It had to be inspected by the FAA first. Alaska Airlines paid our hotel, food, and bar bills. They didn't get off cheaply!

On Tuesday, one day later than scheduled the entire OpEval team boarded the CGC Clover and when we completed the evaluation and moved on to our next stop, Anchorage.

As I walked down the aisle of the 727 jet that was to take us there I did so with some apprehension.

 

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