Blue Shark Ready Alert - Search & Rescue 1972
by Skipper Bill Castro
Once upon a time there were a dozen Blue Shark airman at NAS Cubi Pt., P.I., resting as a made-up crew standing Ready Alert duty. It was about 0600 hours on the morning of April 28, 1972 when the phone rang alerting the crew to report to Fleet Air Wing EIGHT Operational Control Center for a preflight briefing.
A sailor, one Seaman Apprentice METZER, from USS MOLALA was missing from standing a mid-watch and presumed overboard in the Philippine Sea. He was last seen about 1600 hours the day before. The track of MOLALA was provided together with her present location and northbound movement. After removing a few sleepers, the crew was airborne about 0700 hours in search of a man overboard.
We commenced onstation search in the vicinity of MOLALA's 1600 location the day prior. From there we proceeded along her track, flew over MOLALA and reported our search intentions. The weather and sea state were in our favor. From here we proceeded at about 300 feet ASL back south along the path of MOLALA. Our plan was to proceed south past the 1600 location by a few miles, fly an expanding circle search followed by a ladder search back up north.
At about 1045 it was Eureka! Shouts..."there's a head in the water!" ... drop a smoke, a directional beacon buoy and a marker on the scope. I believe the crewman standing behind the Flight Engineer was first to sight him. Is the crew higher than a kite? No, not yet. There's more. Finding the sailor was one part, but now it was time for his rescue.
Prepare the crew for deployment of two lanyard-tied rafts. Although this operation has been practiced in training, few have ever actually accomplished a two raft rescue drop. So...NATOPS prevailed. After a couple of passes and visually seeing his weak hand wave, we prepared to drop. One could easily see the BIG, I mean huge, sharks circling our person of interest.
One practice low pass was made. Then we came around and lined-up for the drop pass. Yep, just a bit up wind and up current of our target...drop one raft, and hesitate -- drop the second raft. The second raft dropped and the raft array was floating toward our survivor. The BIG sharks were still very active. Anxiety prevailed as our crew watched METZER swim slowly toward one of the rafts. Finally, METZER had a hand on the line connecting the rafts. He gathered himself together to inflate and climb aboard away from the sharks.
We then called for help from an Air Force patrol boat operating in the area. They responded immediately and within thirty minutes SA METZER was aboard their craft. Next, we called NAS Cubi Tower and they dispatched a helo to pickup METZER from the Air Force craft and delivered him to the Cubi Pt. Naval Hospital.
The squadron Executive Officer met our flight upon landing at Cubi. He (Cdr Jerry MACKAY) was quite pleased with our crew performance. Jerry and I then drove up to the hospital to visit 18 year old Seaman Apprentice METZER. He was totally fried, sun burned and blistered above his shoulders. He said he used his Navy boot camp water survival training as an aid to stay afloat... keeping air trapped in his trousers and held between his legs. He said he was a competitive high school swimmer from the San Diego area. He also said "I was too tired to be afraid of the sharks." METZER said it was about sunset when he was sitting on the stern of MOLALA. The ship lurched throwing him into the air...and then, into the water. METZER was in the water for about sixteen hours. He survived well!
We were lucky to find him. He was lucky to be found. Mission Accomplished by: Blue Sharks!
Cdr Bill CASTRO
Lt Mike KINIRY
Lt Pressly MOTHORN
Ltjg Francis 'Red' O'LAUGHLIN
Ltjg Bill GRIMM
AEC Charles CLARK
AMH2 Fred COLEMAN
AW2 John WERNER
AW3 Charles COWLEY
AW3 Andrew HANSEN
AW3 Herbert DYKES
ATAN Daniel LASKODY
Job very WELL DONE!