NAVY AIR CRASH SURVIVOR TELLS OF ORDEAL AT SEA
Comdr. Guy Howard said Wednesday all four engines stopped
at the same time when a big Navy radar plane crashed into the Pacific off
Howard, 41, of Oakland, Calif., one of four survivors of the crash, told newsmen from his hospital bed. "I really don't know yet what happened..she just stopped flying at 1,500 feet. All four engines stopped at one time. We had two drills - one, ironically, a search and rescue mission, and we had finished that one."
Howard said the crew started another drill known as "smoke in the forward baggage compartment" just before the fatal crash. Asked if the plane exploded when it hit the water, Howard replied with a wry smile, "I guess you could say she exploded." "I was giving Comdr. Woodward a checkout," he continued. "I'd tell him what to do." Comdr. Frederick E. Woodward, son of Fred E. Woodward of Moline, Ill., was among the 17 missing. He was piloting the plane.
Ships and planes continued to search rough seas for the missing. An area of more than 3,500 square miles was scanned unsuccessfully by three Navy destroyers, a Coast Guard cutter and Air Force planes.
Howard suffered cuts and a slight skull fracture.
He said he was not wearing a lifejacket when the plane hit the water.
"Fortunately there was one there when I came up." He added.
He said the forward portion of the plane was under water when he revived.
Lt. (j.g.) John Thomas Kline, 25 of Honolulu, said he was setting the plane's course during the drill by operating it from a radar console at the rear of the craft. "I was the only one in the back part of the plane that got out - I was pretty lucky," Kline said. "The pilot said he was going down to get below some clouds. I never had a chance to get the radar off before he hit."
Kline said his life was saved by Robert O. Clark, an air controlman third class from Frankfort, Ind. Also among the missing.
"Clark saved my life," Kline said. "He pushed that radar console off of me." Kline said he saw one of the men, Aviation Electronics Technician 3/c J.C. Rush of Robinson, Ill, go to his death. "I saw Technician Rush die," Kline related. "He was coming over toward us in the water, then all of a sudden he was face down.
Rush's body was one of two recovered by search vessels when they picked up the four survivors. "I wouldn't have lasted another hour." Kline continued "I was damned sure if anyone was going to live, I was." Kline explained that he had "the will to live" so he could see his wife again. She lives in Honolulu.
Kline said he could not tell from his radar post at the rear of the plane what happened to the engines or the altitude of the plane. "There was no warning," he said. "I was directing the plane by radar and I'd tell the pilot what course to take. I had no chance to tell how close we were to the water." He said fire broke out after the crash. His left foot, pinned by the radar set, was burned. Clark pushed the set off his leg. Kline said. "Then he, Clark, Air Controlman 3/c Charles Darwin Price of Seattle, whose body was recovered, and Aviation Technician 3/c Franklin A. Henry, another survivor, got outside the sinking plane.
"We were hanging on a mattress," Kline said. "But
we lost it and then we teamed up in pairs. I put a lifejacket on
- - I didn't have one before I left the plane."
Kline said both the plane and fuel-covered surrounding water were aflame.
"There was a lot of fire, so I dove right through into the water and swam underwater about 25 feet." He said. "There was fire all around me."
Kline's body was a mass of burns and bruises, but a spokesman at Tripler Army Hospital said he was not in serious condition. His wife visited him at the hospital. Comdr. Howard's wife and two of his three children also visited him as he was eating his Christmas dinner of turkey and trimmings.
Howard said there was always danger during drills when
switches were thrown to simulate an emergency, such as the fire in the
forward baggage compartment. Asked if someone could have switched
off the engines, Howard replied: "One thing I know for sure, no switches
were thrown where I was."