Scared Out Of My . . . Wits?
by CDR John R. Butler USCG (Ret) July 26, 1968
Ocean Station Vessel Delta reported a critical shortage of weather balloons and requested that Coast Guard Air Station Salem fly out and air drop replacements. Sheesh! Fly over the North Atlantic just to deliver oversized condoms? You’d think, as Ops Officer, I could have scheduled someone else to go, but recent heavy SAR (Search And Rescue) cases had depleted the pool of goat herders (Grumman HU-16E pilots). You’d also think that seniority would have merited me the best goat, but the good ones were either flying or in maintenance. Co-pilot Bill Mittag and I were stuck with the “hangar queen,” HU-16E 1261, whose recent maintenance history indicated the port mill was somewhat less than reliable. Not confidence inspiring for flying far off shore.
We dutifully stripped non-essential SAR gear, added in-flight chow and RON (remain overnight) gear, plus spare parts possibly needed before we returned, including two extra LORAN sets. About a third of the way from Newfoundland to the OSV the LORAN went tummy up. No sweat, our AT just put one of the spares in the rack. 200 miles from the OSV, with poor comms established, our second LORAN died. In with the third, then decision time!
Well off shore, poor comms, shaky navigation, a questionable engine–and a less-than-critical mission. The decision? Sure it was easy: Do a 180 and head back to “the Naval base with a girl behind every tree.” (For those who haven’t been there, no trees at Argentia.)
If you are way ahead of me, you are probably right: The good engine started to run very rough. Punch it out, declare an emergency and limp in on the bad engine.
The next good news? NAS Argentia’s well-respected GCA was also punched out, they were below ASR (Air Surveillance Radar) minimums, and our only possible alternate had gone WOXOF, fogged in. Of course, we requested an ASR to minimums, with “friendly guidance” when we passed through minimums. About 20 miles out, and in fine radar contact, we unfeathered our “good” engine, warmed her up, and ran her at low power. She was rough, but other things were rougher.
The ASR guys were marvelous, and shortly after reaching minimums, then “drifting just a bit below” them, we spotted the field and landed without mishap.
Dogging the Follow Me truck to the flight line I asked Bill to taxi us in. Yeah, I admit it, I was scared good and proper. But everything came out OK.