SEA FURY DITCHING
(and first RCN Helo rescue)
As a member of VF 871, Sea Fury Squadron , embarked aboard HMCS Magnificent approximately 150 nautical mile N.E. of Saint Johns Newfoundland, we were participating in a large NATO exercise called “Exercise Mariner”which had commenced 16 September 1953. 871s primary task was to assist in providing air defence for the “Blue Force” part of this exercise, a 10 ship logistics force forming an “Iceland convoy”.
On the 21 September, flying Fury 134, I was # 4 in a flight of 4 Furies which had taken off to provide a Combat Air Patrol (CAP) in defence of the convoy. Everything was normal during the engine run-up, take-off and the first few minutes of the climb and “join-up”. Shortly thereafter, however, while still at climbing power, the fuel pressure started to drop and the engine began winding down. Obviously a fuel flow/fuel pump problem. I immediately throttled back to about normal cruise power and at this lower power setting the engine commenced running normally. In the hope that the problem had cleared itself I again applied climbing/join-up power only to have the engine once again start to wind down. I repeated this throttle back (engine OK) apply climbing power (engine wind down) sequence a few times with the same results every time. Accordingly, I advised the flight leader and Maggie of my problem and that I would be unable to join up.
As I was easily able to maintain speed and altitude there was no immediate concern and no need to turn the ship into wind to recover me. Obviously, with this somewhat unusual engine malfunction I had some serious doubts whether I’d even be able to get back aboard in the landing configuration requiring the higher power settings. Accordingly, I was in no hurry to even attempt an approach until I had experimented with various circuit and landing configuration power settings to determine what the best course of action should be.
After a number of simulated circuits and approaches, at altitude, I determined that in the full flap, gear down landing configuration I would have about 15 seconds available for the final approach if : I started the 180 degree turn to final approach 50-100 feet higher than normal and with a few extra knots, dropped the gear and partial flap at about the 90 degree position with full flap and increase in landing revs and boost at about the 15 degree position (or the last few hundred yards).
Having experimented enough and after all the other aircraft had landed aboard I was given clearance to attempt an approach and landing. I entered the downwind, commenced the approach and everything was going to plan
until the last few hundred yards of the final approach. I had just lowered full flap and increased the power to that required for landing in the “dirty configuration” when almost immediately the engine started to lose power.
(this was considerably less time than the 15 seconds I had experienced during the aforementioned simulated approaches)I immediately “cleaned “
the aircraft up (raised gear and flaps) and reduced power The engine responded and ran for a few seconds and I was hoping it would do so long enough for a controlled ditching alongside the carrier. This was not to be the case , however, because the engine once again lost power and as my airspeed was below the stalling speed of my present “clean” configuration the aircraft stalled. The starboard wing dropped but before I went over on my back the wing hit the water, broke off and my Sea Fury more or less cartwheeled , according to witnesses on the flight deck, and ended right side up 180 degrees from the direction I impacted the water.
As we always landed with our canopy open and the parachute straps undone all I had to do was unfasten the safety harness and get out of an almost totally submerged aircraft. There was one problem, however, in that one of the bulky pockets of my immersion suit had snagged on something in the cockpit and it took a few seconds to jerk it free. Once free of the submerged aircraft I inflated my Mae West and when I looked up there was Ian Webster and Frank Harley in Angel (the rescue HO4S helicopter) directly above me lowering the “horse collar”(a rescue device shaped like a horse collar, on the end of a cable, through which a pilot slipped his arms and subsequently be winched up to the rescue chopper). In a few seconds the horse collar was beside me, I slipped into it and was immediately hoisted up and into Angel. According to someone on the flight deck (not me) the entire rescue sequence took 32 seconds.
A couple of items worthy of note are:
1.This was the first such RCN recovery accomplished by a rescue chopper with the honours going to pilot Ian Webster and co-pilot Frank Harley and as far as I know 32 seconds is still the time to beat, and 2.This was the first cruise where 871 pilots were issued crash helmets(hard hats), replacing the old WW 11 leather ones(thanks to 871s CO Mike Wasteneys who insisted this be done) This no doubt had a positive effect on my longevity as the helmet had ended up floating beside me, BROKEN in two pieces.
Shortly thereafter I was deposited on the flight deck to be met by the LSO (landing signals officer) Lt. Bob Williamson, two of the ships medical officers Eric Kierstead, and Kieth Fleg and 871s Squadron Chief, Roy Findlay. Eric was there to get me down to sick bay, Roy was there to give me hell for losing one of his aircraft and to get me down to the chiefs mess for a TOT (or 2) of pusser rum. Roy won out and I arrived in sick bay an hour or so later.