Guarding Alaska : A Memoir of Coast Guard Missions on the Last Frontier

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  • Format: Paperback
  • Copyright: 2012-05-23
  • Publisher: Textstream
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Alaska represents twenty percent of the land area, twenty percent of the oil production, forty percent of the fresh water of the United States, but after Wyoming, it's the least populated state. Despite that contradiction, the state has an abundance of natural resources, history, and adventure-especially for the members of the Coast Guard that oversee its massive coastline. Captain Jeffrey Hartman served four tours of duty in Alaska with the Coast Guard. He outlines the history of Alaska and its culture and describes his experiences overseeing a number of rescue missions there. Hartman illustrates with personal experience the challenges and dangers the Service faces in carrying out its missions protecting the Alaska people, environment and maritime infrastructure. He flew helicopters from Coast Guard icebreakers, on rescue and law enforcement missions and managed the search and rescue program on Alaska's waters. Guarding Alaska explains the many important functions that the Coast Guard serves and also examines how it's changed in the wake of the September 11 terrorist attacks. You'll feel like you're in the middle of the action as you gain a deeper appreciation for the state and the people who protect it.


The airport and runway for Attu is named Casco Cove. There is one primary runway 2/20 which is paved and 6300 feet long by 150 feet wide. The northern half is wash-boarded by frost heaves. The field is “For Official Use Only” and visual flight rules (VFR) only. Landing at Attu can be challenging because of the high terrain that surrounds the field. With the reported wind out of the southwest the plan was to use the 200 runway. This requires the aircraft approaching from the east to make a slight right turn at Alexai Point to follow the high terrain of Gilbert Ridge and then circle to land on runway 20. When visibility restricts the approach the weather radar is used to pick up prominent landmarks. The first of these points is Chirikof Point, the most eastern point of Gilbert ridge. The next landmark is Alexai Point, and the final landmark is Murder Point, which defines the western edge of the safe zone over water. The critical decision point was Alexai Point where, if the field was not in sight, a missed approach was executed by turning south to open water. As the 1600 flight proceeded they found themselves flying into lower ceilings than expected. The Aircraft Commander descended to 200 feet in order to attempt to stay visual and keep the surface in sight. Meanwhile the co-pilot and flight navigator were attempting to determine the position of the aircraft using the weather radar. This was when things began to go very wrong. Not having the INS, the crew apparently mistook Alexai Point for the first critical reference point of Chirikof Point. The crew proceeded towards the second point on the radar, thinking this was Alexai when it was actually Murder Point. Upon reaching what they thought was Alexai, the crew was still in the fog, literally and figuratively. Figure 2 4: Crash site of 1600. Note the imprint in the tundra of the aircraft lower center. Shortly there after, terrain was seen under the aircraft coming up fast. A hard banking turn to the left was initiated but it was too late. The aircraft impacted Weston Mountain at an altitude of approximately 300 feet. The imprint in the soft spongy tundra showed that the aircraft hit parallel to the terrain. This is known as pan caking in. (Figure 2-4). The fact that the gear was down and the aircraft was “dirty”, 50% flaps, and a relatively slow airspeed, the crash was survivable but a terrible experience for those onboard. Upon impact, the cockpit, with its crew of five, broke off and rolled up the mountainside for a distance. During the subsequent investigation, paint from the cockpit was located on rocks several hundred feet up the hill. Gravity took over after the momentum was lost, and the cockpit rolled back down, finally coming to rest on top of the burning wing. In the cargo compartment, seats broke loose with passengers in them. The wings broke off. The tail section broke off and ended up heading 180 degrees from the crash direction. The debris trail defined a circular pattern to the left following the terrain. Of the eleven crew and passengers, nine survived, most with serious injuries. Two personnel, the scanner trainee and the seaman reporting into Attu Loran, both eighteen years old, perished in the crash or the fire that followed. All of the survivors were seriously injured, some critically. The five crewmembers in the cockpit included the Aircraft Commander, a Lieutenant, who received a broken knee, multiple bruises and cuts to his head and a dislocated big toe. The co-pilot, also a Lieutenant, received a broken nose, head injuries and a fractured mid-back. Sitting between the two pilots was the flight engineer, a Petty Officer Second class. He received a dislocated and broken right arm and injuries to his head and right leg. The Navigator was a Third Class Petty Officer. He was trapped by the wreckage and was freed by the two pilots. He received burns over much of his body and had an unstable spinal cord injury that resulted in paralysis from the neck down. He was the most seriously injured of the survivors and was declared in a death imminent status twice during his hospitalization. The fifth crewmember in the cockpit was the radio operator, also a Third Class Petty Officer. He received a fractured back that initially resulted in paralysis. The four survivors in the cargo bay included three Third Class Petty Officers made up of the loadmaster, one of the scanners, the Attu crewmember returning from leave and the 58-year-old female civilian naturalist. The loadmaster broke both ankles. The drop master also had a fractured ankle. The pilot and co-pilot managed to get everyone clear of the cockpit by exiting the overhead hatch, which was now laying only a few feet from the ground. The remaining four survivors either found themselves outside the remains of the aircraft or were able to exit on their own. They now faced an additional problem in that no one but the civilian naturalist were dressed adequately for the cold, wet, hypothermic conditions. Adding to their problems was the fact that the intense fire caused by the burning fuel was consuming most of the survival gear. Fortunately, the luck of the survivors began taking a turn for the better. The co-pilot found a survival sled, which had been thrown clear and was able to retrieve the emergency locator beacon and activate it. He placed it on part of the wing that the survivors were huddling under. In an incident with a missing aircraft, boat, or person, the “uncertainty” phase of the 1600 crash commenced when the watch stander at Attu reported to Kodiak Air Station and Shemya AFB that the aircraft was 25 minutes overdue. The Rescue Coordination Center (RCC) at Kodiak had alerted the Department of Defense Direction Finding (DOD-DF) net and diverted an airborne Coast Guard C-130, CGNR 1502 to proceed to the Attu. Shemya diverted an airborne KC-135 Stratotanker to also head to Attu. This aircraft was the first to pick up the emergency beacon signal that had been activated by the Co-pilot. An additional favorable circumstance was that a Coast Guard Cutter, the high endurance cutter Mellon, was on Alaska Patrol with an embarked HH-52A helicopter, 1425 (similar to the one in figure 3-5). The Mellon was only 85 nautical miles northeast of Attu at the time of the crash.

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