Our flight proceeded normally until about one hour out of our home station, Kodiak, when the radio operator said the Kodiak Rescue Coordination Center (RCC) wanted to know our fuel endurance. It was Oct. 26, 1978, and our Coast Guard C-130 was returning from Adak after three days of foreign fishing patrol and domestic logistical support. We were flying at 500 feet, observing the Japanese, Korean and Russian fishing fleets, enforcing the 200 mile fishing limit.
Usually, the fuel endurance questions mean only one thing: search and rescue (SAR). We were to divert to assist a ditching Navy aircraft. We had 35,000 pounds of fuel for about seven hours to dry tanks. Our navigator indicated we were 1,300 miles from the ditching position, and it would take more than four hours to get there. Not only that, we would be extremely low on fuel to help anybody upon our arrival. We had only one choice, to proceed to Adak, refuel, then continue to the downed aircraft. Kodiak RCC concurred.
Two hours later we landed at Adak and quickly taxied to the same area where we had departed seven hours earlier. An hour later we left Adak, proceeding this time to the southwest. It would take us just over two hours to get on scene and it would be dark when we arrived.
Awaiting our arrival was a Navy P-3, which had spotted life rafts and survivors in 20 foot seas. Their fuel had now become critical and they were glad to see us. The P-3 climbed to 1,500 feet and we descended to 500 feet and began tracking the rafts, visible to us only by an occasional strobe light flashing in the darkened sea. Before the Navy aircraft departed, it proceeded toward a ship some 26 miles west of the rafts but was unsuccessful in attempts to establish communication.
At that same time, we were maneuvering to set up a radio drop to the bobbing rafts; the wind was out of the southeast at 30 knots. Dropping equipment from a C-130 to a fishing boat in daylight can be a challenging experience, but to drop a radio, packed in a large can, to a life raft at night in 20-foot seas takes as much luck as skill. At 200 feet we made the radio drop, but apparently, it was not recovered by the raft. No telling how close we were.
Then we headed for the surface contact the P-3 had been unable to alert. The copilot began transmitting on the marine band emergency frequency and was finally answered by the Soviet fishing vessel Syntavirm. The radio operator did not speak very good English, and we spoke even poorer Russian. Finally, another radioman, whose English was just a little better took over. Speaking simply and clearly, I was able to direct the ship to change course. At first, the Russians thought we were the aircraft in trouble and kept wondering when we would be crashing next to them.
“No, no. Men in the water. Course 090 at 25 miles. Please go.”
Finally, they understood and complied with our request.
“Russian radioman, name please.”
After asking my name, he replied, “Bill, Bill, we go. Who in water?”
That was tough. I couldn’t be sure that if I told him U.S. Navy, they would continue to the rafts.
“Manislov, friends in water, please go.
“I understand, Bill, thank you.”
“Manislov, you speak good English.”
“Thank you. Bill, Bill, Bill, how far?”
“Course 090 at 20 miles.”
“Bill, you speak good English too.”
Laughter filled our aircraft.The winds were picking up. The Russian ship was going to help, but could only make about 10 knots because of the sea conditions. We flew back and forth between the ship and the rafts. Every other pass or so we dropped a 15-minute smoke float, which gave us a good flame target and was easier to see than the little strobe light. Also, we dropped a Datum Marker Beacon so we could follow the rafts electronically.
Manislov was getting closer. Just five miles from the rafts, it was time to get him to turn on all his lights and blow his foghorn. The lights he understood, but the horn was another matter.
“Manislov, horn please.”
“Bill, Bill, I do not understand, speak slowly.”
“honk, honk, honk.” Again laughter filled the plane.
“O.K. Bill, I understand.”
About this time a sick feeling overcame me. What if we had been tracking our radio that we dropped hours earlier? The radio had strobe lights attached for the rafts to see. What if the rafts were elsewhere?
By now the ship could see our smoke floats. They were two miles away. Just then, a red flare burst in front of our plane. What a beautiful sight. Everyone on the plane got very excited, as did Manislov.
“Bill, Bill, we see.”
Beautiful! The flare was right between our smoke floats. While the Soviets were recovering the first raft, we spotted another flare some two miles north. As we passed over the position, another flare just about hit our right wing. We dropped our last smoke near the raft and directed the Soviet ship to it.
Then, we heard from our relief Coast Guard C-130, which had just decided to proceed from its intended destination of Shemya back to Adak because of tile extreme crosswinds at Shemya. We could not waste any time. Shemya had been our destination also, and with frequent weather checks, we had felt confident about getting in. Now, we too had to go to Adak.
“Manislov, this is Bill. Must go, no more gas. Thank you,
“Bill, Bill, four men in raft. We think five in other raft.”
“Thank you, Manislov. Goodbye.” What a job the Russians had done. Approaching Adak, we were informed by an Air Force C-130 that they had decided not to go into Adak because of the extreme turbulence. We had to. Fuel was a factor. What a way to end a long day. We made a radar, circling approach to Adak, which turned out O.K. Walking on the ramp after shutdown proved to be very difficult though. It was almost 5 a.m. and we had had 17.3 hours of flight time. We later found out that Manislov’s ship had picked up 10 survivors. I cannot speak highly enough of Manislov and his ship. U.S. Navy personnel in the water were picked up by the Russians. What it actually amounted to were people in distress being aided by others. I know countries were involved, but on the working level it was not the generals, admirals, congressmen, or even the president or the prime minister, but just a Russian fishing boat helping “friends” in the water.
“Thank you, Manislov … Bill.”
Note: This story appeared in “Alaska Magazine” in 1979 and was also featured in the Commandants’ Bulletin a couple of times. Recently a book, “Adak, the rescue of Alfa Foxtrot 586” by Andrew Jampoler was published about the P-3 ditching and rescue effort which included CG 1500 out of Kodiak along with a Russian fishing vessel……… Bill Porter