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HistoryVP-661 HistoryHistory

Circa 1966

HistoryA BIT OF HISTORY: Naval Aviation January 1966 "...Flying Units High In Safety - Page 30 - Naval Aviation News - January 1966..." WebSite: http://www.history.navy.mil/nan/backissues/1960s/1966/jan66.pdf [04SEP2004]

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Circa 1964

HistoryA BIT OF HISTORY: "...Blackhawk Ron Auth emailed me that this plane actually ditched in the Pacific with Blackhawk Ron Garman aboard as the Plane Captain. I asked Ron Garman if he would share his story with all of us. This is NOT a drill…Prepare to Ditch! I would like to share a story with all of you VP-ers. As Editor of the VP-68 Alumni Association Hawk’s Nest Newsletter, in the Vol. 36, March 2011 issue of the Hawk’s Nest, I showed the attached photo as "photo trip down memory lane." Little did I know of this plane’s significance. Blackhawk Ron Auth emailed me that this plane actually ditched in the Pacific with Blackhawk Ron Garman aboard as the Plane Captain. I asked Ron Garman if he would share his story with all of us. As an aircrewmen, we all heard many times…"this is a drill…this is a drill…prepare to ditch." Ron tells us of the real thing. So…fasten your seatbelts and get ready for some exciting reading below….thanks a million Ron(s)..." Contributed by WALKER, ATC (AW/NAC) Dan drwc130@aol.com [28APR2015]

VP-661 P-2V DITCHING IN 1964
submitted by Ron Garman, ADCS (ret.)


Eight P2's of various model configs departed NAS-NARTU Anacostia in early February 1964. A very cold climate to a fairly warm climate at Los Alamitos, Calitfornia. Just prior to departure I was reassigned from the CO's crew to another crew by the CO in order to satisfy a Plane Captain shortage. My comfort zone developed a minor angst. I was a very satisfied 2nd Mech skater that had been with the crème-de-la-creme Crew One of VP 661. Captain Jack's 2P was Lt. Leo Bud Green. The NAV was LCDR Joe Donahue. The best-of-the-best, all personally selected by Captain Jack.

Don Gallagher was the Ace-of-the-Base Plane Captain. Lew Johnson, the Super Manager of the excruciating arcane world of the ditti-diiti-da-da's that only he could decipher. He parlayed the incomprehensible crashing world of billions of cosmic HF electrons into clear intelligence that the CO received via hand written CAC'ed notes from Lew's crew station. No matter where we skulked about in the mysterious world of maritime pursuits the Navy Command Ops Center had a reasonable posit on our whereabouts. Comforting when one considered the alternative in a ditch in ,say, the Bearing Sea or the North Atlantic.

Our MAD-ECM-Julie was Ron Auth, the son of the Squadron Leading Chief. His brilliant analysis of the arcane output of this gear was impeccable, considering that most of this gear was all 2nd WW leftovers. John Widner tweaked and massaged the cranky radar into a vision worthy of a Rembrandt, and although it wasn't designed as a weather radar, he managed to keep us out of the rocks in the crushing Nimbus.

Time has dimmed the remembrance of the remainder of the crew. Hugh Lee may have been Ordnance. Hugh had two significant attributes. At 5'6" and 129' he could hoist a rocket/bomb load with the biggest and strongest. His second attribute can only be explained by understanding the secret behind the 13 buttons. Tzigane (Fr) .

As for me, I was a Second Mech because I graduated number two (out of 12) in the RAG at VP-26 and later passed the Plane Captain check ride with VP-661. This as an Aerial Photographer's Mate. It was a big quandary to VP-26. I was allowed in because my following orders had an attachment letter that stated I was in the process of changing my rate to AD. I was the last flying PHA since WW II. I also graduated last in MAD training at 'The Grove'. So much for my interest in the MAD operation. I was allowed to fly the PC position by Gallagher when he so choose.

Our trip to Alamitos was uneventful and I drew some comfort from the cockpit crew of LCDR Clete Mishler (Mitch) and LT Bud Laynor (Bud). I was getting to know the rest of the crew. Altizer (2nd Mech), Hoppen (Julie), Harley (Radar)…..the others beyond recall. We had 2 local fam flights out of Los Al. Our 3rd flight was cancelled because of a howling Sana Anna wind. That night we went to a local watering hole called the Chatter Box while the ground crews worked at removing the sand from the aircraft. We were back in quarters by 2200. At noon the next day we launched…Bud keyed the mike.

    "Ground. 6 Alpha One ready for taxi."
    "Roger 6 Alpha One You are cleared to runway One Eight via taxiway Able then Dog. Hold short of One Eight."
    "Roger. 6 Alpha One is cleared to 18 via Able then Dog. Hold short at18.
    "That's a Charlie 6 Alpha One, Contact the tower on 128.25 at Dog."
    We completed the T/O check lists.
    Lt. Laynor advised the crew to prepare for T/O.
    Miitch asked Bud to call the tower. He nodded to me. We were in sync.
    On the runway, the jets were set to 100% and the 3350's where stood up to T/O power.
    "6 Alpha One you are cleared runway heading to 2000'. Upon reaching 2000, right turn to 270. Contact center on 133.15.
    "Roger 6 Alpha One to 2000' then a right turn to 270. Contact Center 133.15 "
After contacting the Center, Mitch retarded the jets to 96% and pulled the recips back to climb power, then pulled the jets to idle but the number one jet would not drop below 96%. We discussed the problem and decided that the only recourse was for me to drop into the nose tunnel and pull the fuel breaker to starve the engine. That completed, we RTB'd to Los Al. Maintenance adjusted the copper wiper on the fuel control rheostat. Some oil was added to the engine. It was tested and we flew out to the Op area. The cranky jet shut down as advertised.

We had a 50 by 100 NM box as our sanctuary with the inside edge 50 NM off the beach. The hard deck was 1000'. The COM and NAV/DME were controlled in the cockpit. This was important because to the western side of our posit was a live firing fleet exercise. Our limited electronic suite was just enough to provide the AT's with some training in their specialties. My duties were monitoring and recording the fuel burn and giving my attention to the gauges. Cake!

Around 1700 the winds on the deck were starting to pick up. We climbed up to 3500. Most for the crew moved to the Nav Station to annotate and compare their logs. The crew was switching their aldis's to red. The sun had descended into the Western Pacific. Dark and quiet. The engines hummed the usual mesmerizing drone. But, The night sky was completely black. No stars. Then a healthy lightning flash hit. The winds instantly increased with a pounding roller coaster effect.

I was sitting side saddle in the PC seat. I looked aft to see what the crew was doing. Most were still at the Nav Station. The white lights came on full in the After-Station. Damn. There goes the night vision. I reached for the light switch alongside of the PC seat but as quick as they came on they went out. Strange.

Then the light was there again but this time there was smoke…FIRE. Ah Marone! 'We're on fire'; I hollered to the Plane Commander. 'There's a fire in the after station'; I detailed. His response was immediate; 'Get back there and see what's on fire.' Calm and cool.

The emergency check lists were started. I dove over the wing beam into the Aft-Station. Oh f---!! The fire is coming up through the deck. My first thoughts were control cables and oxygen bottles. I grabbed the fire extinguisher off the bulk head. The force of the fire blew the powder back at me. One of the crew discharged another extinguisher with the same result.

The last bottle was in the tunnel in the nose. I went forward. Gave Mitch and Bud the grim news and went into the nose tunnel. I couldn't get the bottle out of the clamps. Frustrated and pi__ed-off, I laid back on the tunnel deck for a second and looked up at the crewman's face that was masked in fear.

At that point the adrenalin kicked in at a higher level and I ripped the bottle from the bulk head. It had no effect on the fire. Not good news for the cockpit. The winds and rain were at full fury as we descended toward the ocean.

Mitch said tell the crew to bail out. I advised him that they are all on the Nav Deck because the fire in the Aft-Station was blocking the deck hatch. He said drop the nose gear and let them bail out there. The bail out horn was blaring. More bad news from me. Four of the chutes were in the back.

I told those with chutes that I was going to lower the nose gear so they could bail out. Their response was immediate (expletive deleted)-You! We're staying. 'Tell them to strap in'. I looked for my May West and jacket. Both were gone. I grabbed a loose flight jacket and put it on and sat in the PC seat.

Bud Laynor was sending the MAY-DAY on 121.5. At 500' Mitch called for the landing lights. The rain was horizontal and completely obliterated the wind screen. 'Turn them off came the command'. He advised me to take a ditching station. I sat on the deck hatch to the tunnel. It was not a ditching station and had no seat belt. Mitch was flying blind. He was estimating the wind direction and wave action, the latter with the use of the RAD Alt.

The first impact wasn't too concussive the second one felt like we hit a freight train. The plexiglass nose caved in and the sea water blew the deck hatch up. I hit the overhead. A brief period of incomprehension occurred. As I re-acquired my senses I could see several members of the crew going out the Astro Hatch. My legs were numb but I could feel the cold water filling up the plane. I floated toward the Astro Hatch. A view of the radio compartment was devastating. It was a twisted mass of metal. No one could have survived in there. .

As I pulled through the hatch, I saw most of the crew in the water off the starboard side but, no pilots in sight. Hanging on to the edge of the Astro Hatch I lowered into the plane and looked into the cockpit. Both pilots were gone.

Pulling myself back up, I saw the devastating effect that occurred to the plane. The tail was twisted up and rotated to the right about 45 to 60 degrees. Smoke and steam were rising through the carnaged remains of the after-station. The smell of Av gas permeated the blowing wind.

The crew gathered together. Fighting the wave action the pilots swam past the starboard wing toward them. Over the roar of the wind I could hear someone hollering for me to get into the water. I rolled off the fuselage onto the wing and into the water. Fortunately the back of the flight jacket filled with air and provided me with floatation protection. As I struggled against wave action heading toward crew several of them swam to assist me.

As they pulled me away Hoppen said; 'I've got to go back…I forgot my logs.' My hand went to my survival knife. I screamed; 'Hoppen, I'll kill you if you try.". He nodded in difference to my comment. As we pulled away the plane sank in about four minutes after floating with a broken fuselage. We watched in silence.

Mitch did a head count and found that we had all survived. But we didn't have a raft. The one that was hauled out of the plane had ripped and was worthless. The one in the Aft-Station didn't get out. The one mounted in the upper fuselage was launched by whoever pulled the 'D Ring" but the wind caught it and was blown away.

One of the crew broke away from the crew gaggle and started swimming after the raft. The crew shouted for him to stay put but to no avail. After about twenty minutes the raft came into view being paddled by the crewman. The waves were still a challenge but the rain had stopped.

It was estimated that we ditched about 20 to 25 miles off the beach. In reality, we must have been closer because when we crested a wave we could see the distant lights of the shore line. After we all boarded the raft the sound of an aircraft's engines could be heard above the roar of the wind.

None of the flares in the May Wests worked. The single cell lights quit. Someone fired some tracer bullets and the crew in the aircraft saw us. It was LCDR Dave Satterfielf and his crew. Seems that when the May-Day went out that it was triangulated from Seattle to San Diego. They knew where we were and directed the other plane to us. No one else was flying that night because of the weather. Only the Navy was.

The plane crew dropped a flare pattern and in about an hour a Coast Guard Helo came on the scene. As he lowered the basket Mitch and I had a debate about who was going up in the basket. I said I wasn't going. He said I was…I lost.

While lowering the basket, the Helo got caught in a trough…Mayhem. The tail rotor struck the water and the Helo did a 360 and landed in the water up against our raft. A couple of the crew in the raft tried to push us away from the Helo. As the Helo tilted, the blades were slashing into the waves. I was laying prone in the middle of the raft with my head resting on Mitch's legs. I rolled over to see if he was OK. It looked like he had been cut in half by the rotor blades.

That vision drove the remainder of the swallowed sea water back into the raft. As a wave pushed the Helo down on the far side of the raft the whirling blades above us gave the crew enough time to push away and clear the Helo. At this point Mitch sat up. Thank God…he was OK. We heard a voice from the ocean shout out for help. Airman Lewis was tossed from the Helo and now it was our turn to rescue him. Nine men in a 7 man raft. A second Helo arrived about an hour later.

The story gets vague here. As it was related to me, a Marine Helo was going to launch and the pilot was told to stand down because of the weather. He and his Sergeant Crewman decided to go anyway. They pulled me and 2 of my raft mates from the ocean and hauled us to Camp Pendelton. The rest of the crew was picked up the next day by a Coast Guard boat.

At the hospital they started to work on me. I had crushed vertebra and a compacted ileus. I was still in the flight jacket that had Mitch’s name tag attached, thus the Doc's thought they were dealing with a Navy LCDR. At that point I reached into the inside pocket and I pulled out a .38!! Not a happy group. Even less so when they found out that they had a PHA3 wearing a LCDR's Flight Jacket and carrying a loaded weapon. Navy order was restored after a lengthy discussion with the squadron. They cut away my orange flight suit. The legs were scorched from the fire.

After a few days of pain killers I was given the first of three post-ditch Boards. All of the rest of the crew received one. The Board Chair consisted of the former VP Program Manager, Captain Peterson, The TAR VP CO, Captain Lane with whom I flew with on active duty and the Squadron and NARTU Safety Officers.

It seems that one AT3 said that I had placed a half open can of jet engine oil on the deck in the After-Station and we taxied out with it still sitting there. Not true! I had placed it on the Budda and told the driver to dump it in a bowser. He said he would. It took a Los Al Admin Chief (the recording Secretary for the Board) to locate the Mech in question. My description of the Mech struck a cordant note, The Chief knew him. He was a Reg Nav enlisted who was to provide assistance to us if we required help. He said he took the open can to a Bowser at the hangar.

I subsequently was given a third Board by a TAR Chief from NARTU Anacostia. Same questions same answers. Another point worth mentioning is that a similar model P-2 was at Alamitos being prepped for Litchfield Park. The decking in the After-Station was pulled and an accumulation of old hydraulic oil was found in the bilges A case of hydraulic oil was all ways stored under the steps in the Aft-Station.

Further, the 1800cc oxygen bottles were lying horizontal in the bilge. Each had piping leading from the bottle head through a stringer and into a pressure relief valve. This is about 19" from the bottle head. They found heavy friction wear in the lines going through the stringer to the pressure relief.

Conclusion: The piping was worn through and instantaneous combustion occurred, setting off a raging fire. Further it was concluded that we were damn lucky not to have blown up in the air…a loss that might have never been resolved.

The plane went down in 2,200 hundred feet of water. A wing tip tank washed up on the beach. It was taken to Los Al for disposal. A 661 tin-bender pulled off the tank fin from the tank. It rests in my personal Ready Room at home. The 'D Ring' from the raft also resides with the fin.

Epilogue:

In 2009 I was a member of a senior softball team the Howard County Reds in Columbia, Maryland. I was in the batting cage one day and as I swung to hit the ball I would grunt. One of my team mates, Larry Kinbom asked me why I grunted when I swung. I said because I had previously crushed some vertebra and there was always some pain when I swung. 'How did that happen?"; he asked? 'Plane ditch'

With that his eyebrows married his hair line. 'When'? '1964' 'Where was this ditch?' 'About 25 miles off the coast of Dana Point'. He stared out at the ball field for a while. 'What kind of a plane.? 'Navy Neptune,' Remember the date?' February 11,1964." His next statement floored me. 'I was the Coast Guard Ops Officer on duty that night I launched the Helo that went out to rescue you. We were both lost at that moment in the ' Oh my God what are the Odds.?'

That conversations was done in front of our Coach, Ed Kirk, the former Assistant Deputy Director of Intelligence at ( ##############) “Sorry" Larry Kinbom retired as a Captain. He died in 2009. Mrs. Kinbom still resides in Columbia, Maryland. I discussed this story with her at Larry's wake. Mr. Wilson the rescued Coast Guardsman, also resides in Columbia although I've never had the pleasure of meeting him in person.

The 'D' ring is from a raft packed by Walt Farbaugh a PR 1 TAR Rigger at NARTU Anacostia. I still owe him the obligatory reward usually given to a Rigger that packs. The ring was given to me by the crewman that pulled it on the ditch.

Captain Sullivan was one of the greatest influences in my life. He set an example that directed the remainder of my life. Crew One visited me at Pendleton. Lew Johnson brought a copy of the February 12 1964, Los Angeles Times. The headlines read; “Gail force winds batter LA, Navy Bomber Ditches, Rescue Helicopter crashes during rescue”. It's framed in my Ready Room.

With the exception of Lt. Laynor and myself none of the crew ever flew again. Lcdr. Mischler would send me letters from various hot spots around the world. My last was from Cambodia in 1974.

(Thanks to Lew Johnson and Becky Connick for clearing out some of the cob webs while trying to remember what happened 47 years ago.)

Ron Garman, ADCS (ret.)

HistoryA BIT OF HISTORY: VP-661 Patch ThumbnailCameraVP-661 Electrical (AE) Shop Crew "...Annual Cruise at NAS Patuxent River, Maryland. Circa June 1964. Personnel in picture (L-R): Dan Hayes, Rundle, Jim Lynch, Buzman, Don Ursetti and Bill Gibbons..." Contributed by HAYES, Dan dhayes@exactlynet.com [28FEB2002]


Circa 1962

HistoryA BIT OF HISTORY: Naval Aviation News August 1962 "...VP-661 - Page 28 - Naval Aviation News - August 1962..." WebSite: http://www.history.navy.mil/nan/backissues/1960s/1962/aug62.pdf [23AUG2004]

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Circa 1961

HistoryA BIT OF HISTORY: Naval Aviation News October 1961 "...Berlin 'Add On' to Increase Naval Air Power - Page 19 - Naval Aviation News - October 1961..." WebSite: http://www.history.navy.mil/nan/backissues/1960s/1961/oct61.pdf [20AUG2004]

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HistoryA BIT OF HISTORY: VP-661 Mug Thumbnail "...The inscription on it reads Patrol Squadron 661, NAS Patuxent River, Maryland, VP-661, "Berlin Crisis" Reserve Call Up 1961-1962. It is inscribed to "Chief Schick" in gold along the top... Nova Scotia... Bermuda... Eleuthera... Guatanamo... Port Au Prince... Jamaica... Barbados... Curacao... Guatemala... San Juan... Panama...The map shows the lines of all the flights and these points" Contributed by Mark Minter flytyer_mark@hotmail.com WebSite: http://members.ebay.com/aboutme/flytiermm/ [21MAY2000]


Circa 1960

HistoryA BIT OF HISTORY: "...VP-661, VP-662, VP-663 and VR-662) - Naval Aeronautical Organization OPNAV NOTICE 05400 for Fiscal Year 1960 dated 1 February 1960 is: DECLASSIFIED per Office of Chief of Naval Operations on 1 February 1965 by Op-501 - Atlantic Fleet Support Stations..." WebSite: Naval Historical Center http://www.history.navy.mil/a-record/nao53-68/fy1960-feb60.pdf [12MAR2007]

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HistoryA BIT OF HISTORY: Naval Aviation News September 1960 "...Anacostia Reserves Aid Pilot - Page 29 - Naval Aviation News - September 1960..." WebSite: http://www.history.navy.mil/nan/backissues/1960s/1960/sep60.pdf [18AUG2004]

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