Flying Tiger Airliner Down

by Phil Gorman

 

The Owasco came off station to assist .........

Fresh out of ET school and with a new crow on my sleeve, I was one excited third class petty officer when I reported to the Coast Guard Cutter OWASCO (WPG-39). This was my first duty assignment. The OWASCO was an "Indian" class patrol gunboat, 255 feet of white hull standing there at the Underwater Sound Laboratory dock in Groton, Conn. Just across the Thames River lay the huge Electric Boat Company, the construction site of many of the navy’s nuclear submarines.

In September of 1962, we had been on Ocean Station Charlie for two or three weeks when the CO requested relief from Commander, Eastern Area (COMEASTAREA) because the packing around the propeller shaft had been lost. We were pumping fuel oil into the sea from around the shaft, a trail environmentalists today would shudder to contemplate.

As luck would have it, I was on duty that evening when the CIC called me to repair a malfunctioning chart recorder. Uliberry, RD1, was talking to a stewardess on a Flying Tiger Airliner on the radio—airline captains often allowed such "conversations" where aircraft ID, altitude, bearing, and so forth, were exchanged. The aircraft was heading for Germany with military personnel and dependents on board. The captain’s voice came over the radio speaker and said they had lost an engine and were going on to England for repairs; everything else seemed OK. I finished the repair and was getting ready to hit the sack when General Quarters sounded. I dashed to CIC, my GQ station, where I found Uliberry now talking to the captain of the airliner, which had lost yet another engine on the same wing. The aircraft was going down.

The OWASCO departed from OS Charlie and plowed through the night toward the crash site. I stood watch in my slicks on the forward most deck above the bridge in the rain and spray from the rough water, staring into the wind and rain for hours. Why was I on watch as a lookout? The BM’s and others were being used below deck as a bucket brigade to keep the propeller shaft lubricating reservoir full of fuel oil in the aft portion of the ship.

We noted upon arrival on scene that a wing had broken off when the aircraft had crashed. The port bow watch spotted a yellow raft. Out went a Monomoy, which snagged a life raft. Nothing. The Mae West's were empty, and that’s all there was in the raft. It didn’t make sense. It was morning before anyone was found. The first, the body of the stewardess Uliberry had been talking to, was found floating face down. Then another body, a young Marine . . . that was all.

Ships began appearing on the horizon; the first were English Coast Guard ships, two or three of them; and there was a Swedish freighter, which had rescued a life raft filled with women, children, and military personnel. Later on the pilot, co-pilot, and more military were found alive. In all, 63 were pulled to safety on that S&R, of the 120 on board—I’m not sure of that number, however.

The BONADVENTURE, a Canadian mini-aircraft carrier, appeared with a complement of helicopters and a full hospital on board. Thereafter, all survivors were collected via helicopter from whichever ship had picked them up were delivered to the carrier. The bodies on board OWASCO were about the last to be picked up. We had to lower our forward antennas so the ‘copter could hover above the bow and 5" gun mount to lower a cable.

The DUANE (WPG-33) took our place on OS Charlie subsequently, while we, still leaving a trail of fuel oil, returned to Groton and immediately went into dry-dock at the sub base in New London.

The Cuban crisis occurred during this time but was over before our new packing was replaced. Semper Paratus!

 

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From Coast Guard Stories by Don Gardner -- Reprinted by permission.

 

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