Reunite to Thank Russian Rescue Team
October 21, 2004
In today's world " Reality TV" and "Survival" are commonly combined
together for entertainment. In the "real world" they can combine to create
an incredible, but true, story.
October 26, 1978 marks the day of a significant search and rescue mission
that may have been forgotten by some, yet will never be forgotten by those
involved. It wasn't a day where country was pitted against country or
where political issues caused a divide - it was a day when man helped
On October 26, 1978, a propeller malfunction turned into an engine fire
for a Navy P3C Orion aircraft, and its crew was forced to conduct a "controlled"
ditch in the cold and stormy seas of the North Pacific. Twelve hours later,
after selfless efforts by the Air Force, Coast Guard, and Navy, a Russian
fishing trawler arrived to rescue the airmen.
In his book, Adak, The Rescue of Alfa Foxtrot 586, Andrew Jampoler unfolds
the courageous story of fifteen airmen faced with the uncertainty of survival
under extreme conditions in the middle of a howling North Pacific winter
storm. The book's publication has served as a catalyst for this reunion.
Now 26 years after the rescue, the survivors have invited Captain Alexandr
Alexeevich Arbuzov, skipper of the rescue vessel, to a three-day reunion
to formally thank him for saving their lives. In addition, they will be
honoring their shipmates who were lost in the incident, as well as thanking
the search and rescue participants from the Air Force, Coast Guard, and
Navy. The reunion will be held at Bally's Resort in Las Vegas on October
26th to represent the 26th anniversary of the ditching. For more information,
contact Lcdr. Dennis Mette, USN(Ret), at (702) 255-6109.
To organize your own reunion, go to our Reunion
"WE ARE DITCHING! DITCHING! DITCHING! ONE FIVE SOULS ON BOARD. THREE
ORANGE LIFE RAFTS."
Those were among the last words Lt.(jg) Matthew Gibbons radioed in before
the Alfa Foxtrot 586 had to make an emergency landing on the mountainous,
windswept seas of the North Pacific. Due to a propeller malfunction, the
inevitable awaited while the alarm horns blared from a series of 4 engine
fires. In the unprecedented noise and vibration of a seriously damaged
airplane, the 15 men aboard knew that no one had ever deliberately ditched
that type of aircraft and lived to tell the tale. They had no choice but
to ditch their plane to avoid a likely mid-air explosion. Aircraft commander
Lcdr. Jerry Grigsby landed the P-3C against impossible odds, in 25-foot
waves with winds of gusting to 50 mph. As the plane skidded through the
violent waves, the right wing ripped off, fuel tanks ruptured, and the
engines exploded. The fuselage split open and water flooded into the rapidly
Fourteen of the fifteen crewmen exited the sinking aircraft. Grigsby waited
to be the last man off, counting his men exit. Lcdr. Grigsby's gallant
gesture to be the last to leave, placed him at great risk as the howling
winds blew the liferafts away from the sinking aircraft. After three days
of searching, he was later classified as "lost at sea". Eventually, four
crewmen made their way to the large raft, and nine men in the smaller
While the downed airmen struggled to survive the extreme conditions in
the frigid waters of the North Pacific, military and diplomatic personnel
raced frantically against time .
Coast Guard 1500, a Kodiak based C130, had a vital role in the rescue
of the crew, as its aircraft commander, Lt. Bill Porter, established direct
voice communication with a Russian fishing vessel and successfully directed
the ship to the two life raft positions. It was after midnight when the
Russian fishing factory ship, the MYS Senyavin, rescued the American crew.
By the time the Americans were saved, only 10 out of the 15 had survived
-- the crew lost 2 in the ditch and 3 died of hypothermia in the rafts.
The crews of Alfa Foxtrot 586, Xray Foxtrot 675 (USN SAR P3C), and Scone
92 (USAF RC135 Cobra Ball) were presented Air Medals from the Department
Jerry Grigsby was awarded the Distinguished Flying Cross for "extraordinary
heroism and professionalism above and beyond the call of duty."
Ironically, the " Unsung Heroes" who flew Coast Guard 1500 were never
recognized for their contribution to this SAR effort by the Department
of Transportation. This crew conducted a 14 hour low altitude SAR mission
under extreme winter storm conditions during a 22 hour duty day.
During a gala Anniversary Dinner on the evening of 26 October, Captain
Arbuzov will be awarded membership as an Honorary Patrol Squadron Nine
"Golden Eagle." In addition, the " Unsung Heroes" of Coast Guard 1500
will be recognized - better late than never.
In early 1979, all of the surviving aircrew returned to flying status
and began training for their next forward deployment.
In 1979, seven months after this event, Patrol Squadron Nine returned
to forward deployed status at Misawa AB, Japan. The squadron met every
Eleven months after being rescued the survivors of Alfa Foxtrot 586 working
as VP9 Crews 7 and 11, conducted open ocean search and rescue (SAR) efforts
in the South China Sea in support of the United Nations Vietnamese Boat
People rescue effort. During a two-week period, these two crews combined
to successfully rescue more than 2000 Vietnamese boat people stranded
in leaking boats hundreds of miles offshore.
In 1982, the Navy dedicated its new Water Survival Training Center at
Naval Air Station, Pensacola, FL as the Jerry Grigsby Memorial Training
Patrol Squadron Nine recently celebrated 25 years of accident free flight
operations. The" Golden Eagles" are currently forward deployed to various
locations in the Middle East serving as front line flyers on the far flung
fringes of freedom.
254 Man Years and Counting - Survivor Update
In the summer of 1980, Ed Caylor (copilot) left the Navy, joined Delta
airlines and moved to New Hampshire. He lives there with his wife, Janet,
and their daughter, Rachel. He is now a senior pilot for Delta flying
the 767ER between New York and Paris.
John Wagner (3d pilot) left the navy in 1984. He's now a senior pilot
with American Airlines. He and his wife, Shelly, live in Colorado, John's
Ed Flow (flight engineer) retired from the Navy in 1999 as a senior chief
petty officer. Ed now flies as a P-3 flight engineer on border surveillance
flights for the US (BICE) Customs Bureau from Jacksonville, Florida, where
he lives with his wife, Carol.
Matt Gibbons (tactical coordinator) and Loreen Grigsby, Jerry Grigsby's
widow, were married in 1980. He left the Navy in 1982. Matt works on an
ERP systems implementation for a large semiconductor equipment manufacturing
company. They have three grown daughters and live between San Jose and
Bruce Forshay (navigator/communicator) retired from active duty as a
commander in the US Naval Reserve in 1998 and now works for EDS in Maryland
on a US government contract. He, his wife, Patricia, and his daughter,
Rachel, live in Alexandria, Virginia. He recently traveled to Moscow to
personally deliver thank you gifts to Russian officials.
John Ball ("PARPRO rider") and his wife, Donna, live in western Pennsylvania,
where he works for a network design, installation and service company.
Their youngest son is named Matthew Orion Ball. He will produce a video
for the reunion.
Howard Moore (in-flight technician) left the navy in 1982, after his
tour in Patrol Squadron 9. He was married in 1990 and now lives with his
wife, Kathy, and two sons in Murfreesburo, Tennessee. Howard is a manufacturing
manager with Teledyne Technologies, in neighboring Lewisburg.
Dave Reynolds (ordnanceman) still serves with the Naval Reserves, and
lives in Southern California with his wife Pam. Twenty-five years after
being a cold and wet E2 in the North Pacific he found himself a hot and
dusty E7 in scenic Baghdad, Iraq. His life adds new meaning to the slogan
"It's not a job -- it's an adventure."
Garland Shepard (observer) retired from the Navy in 1982 as a master
chief petty officer. He and his wife, Pat, live not far from Kansas City.
He's a systems administrator and programmer, working on army battle simulation
software for a government contractor in Leavenworth, Kansas.
Gary Hemmer (observer) retired from the navy as a master chief petty
officer in 1993. Sadly, he died in 1998, at the Veteran's Administration
hospital in Denver, Colorado, aged 53. His very first P3 familiarization
flight was on board AF586 that fateful day.
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