Circa 1972, my P-3 Orion flight crew was standing the Ready Alert out of Cubi Point, Philippines. We had been launched on three preceding Ready Alerts and figured that we would be launched on this one also.
After midnight, we got the call, “Launch the Ready Alert!” The previous day, a Jolly Green (Sikorsky HH-3E) helicopter had ditched in the South China Sea. Everyone aboard was rescued and safe. The helo remained visible just below the surface of the water. That was the last image the departing vessel reported. There were many thunderstorms in the area and a decision was made to let the storms send it to the bottom of the sea.
Jump ahead twelve hours or so. There was some super-secret information that remained on board the helicopter. The powers that be, wanted verification that the helicopter was no longer afloat, albeit just under the surface of the water.
We launched towards the last known position dodging thunderstorms with radar for most of the way there. We arrive on station just before dawn and began a lower-level radar search. Why? We were waiting for daylight to do a visual, but we had hoped that maybe something was sticking out of the water.
Sure enough, the only radar ping that wasn’t associated with a surface vessel was near the location of interest. It turned out that the only thing sticking out of the water was one tail blade. We drove over there as the sun was giving us enough light to see the water clearly.
We found the Jolly Green, as advertised, floating just below the surface. Everything seemed static – no movement – nothing. I filed a report and notified our higher-ups about it. In the meantime, we did racetracks above it at a thousand feet.
It didn’t take long before we were advised to stay on station and monitor the helicopter. Some Command had issued an order to a C-130 out of Clark AFB, PI with an Apollo Floatation Collar and a jump/dive team to rescue the submerged Jolly Green.
We continued our racetracks and dodged a couple of storms that should have sent the helo to the bottom but didn’t. Regardless, the C-130 is inbound. We had communications with the C-130 and gave him our altitude and location. We wanted to be far away when they start parachuting with the collar.
I don’t know how this Navy Destroyer got involved, but it showed up and stationed his ship a few hundred yards from the Jolly Green. The next thing we see is that a small boat is being launched from the destroyer.
The C-130 is 30 minutes out. We tell him about the ship. He knows nothing either. We continue our race tracking and talking to the C-130. I have no communication links for the ship, other than the emergency frequencies. We chose not to use them. Why? I don’t know. Sort of a command decision from inside our aircraft. Regardless, they didn’t contact us, and we didn’t talk to him.
The C-130 is ten minutes out and the small boat is churning water towards the submerged helicopter. We kept the C-130 appraised of the surface picture as we couldn’t figure out what the ship’s intentions were. Five minutes till the Apollo Floatation Collar is above the Jolly Green and the small boat attempts to lasso the tail blade.
We are making our last flight atop the Jolly Green as the boat appears to be trying to tow the submerged aircraft back to the destroyer. I couldn’t figure out what else he was doing. I had a camera and the click-click-click-click-click became very loud as we watched the Jolly Green make a deep dive into the South China Sea.
The C-130 aborted its mission and returned to its base. We flew around for a few more minutes awaiting our orders. Five minutes after the C-130 left station, we were asked to confirm the helicopter was no longer visible below the surface. We did a couple more low passes and saw nothing. We reported the same and were told to return home.
We landed, debriefed, and were never told what the destroyer was doing or trying to do. The Jolly Green was no longer a problem because of the depth of the water at that location. It was important enough to launch us in the middle of the night to find it and to launch a rescue mission with divers and floatation collar. Whatever happened after that flight was above our paygrades and we never heard another word.
Live Longer & Enjoy Life! – Red O’Laughlin – https://RedOLaughlin.com