Stories

US Coast Guard HH-3F Pelican

Sitka Alaska in 1978

by Barry Williams AD2-CG, SSGT-ANG, SSG-ARNG RET

The day started out pretty normally. After muster, I checked the flight schedule and found that I was listed as the Instructor on the 1486. The mission, teach platform pickups. The student was ASM3 R. Gay. Co-Pilot was LT B. Merchant. I don’t remember names of the Pilot and Avionics Man.

This was going to be a nice break from working the Line Shack and it was the next best thing to flying SAR. I had joined the CG to fly SAR, and was getting a lot of hours doing just that.

After confirming personally, the preflight done that morning by the Duty Section, I had my survival vest on and Helmut in hand. And here came the Flight Line Chief to tell me that Night Check had screwed up the Fuel Farm. I was being pulled off the flight to straighten out the fuel farm. Let me tell you I was P.O.ed. After 20 minutes of resetting switches and valves, I was back in the Line Shack cooling my heels, when the PA came on and announced that the 1486 had crashed. Details started to come in as did the Aviation Yeoman to scarf up the 1486s records. Recovery was already starting to taking place.

Coast Guard Sitka Alaska HH-3F Pelican

At the same time as this was going on my wife was at work at the National Bank of Alaska. The NBA branch over looked Crescent Bay and the 1486 was visible from the Bank. She noticed that people were talking quietly and they would stop talking as they passed her desk. Everyone there knew her husband was assigned to the Air Station and knew that at any given time I could be flying.

Knowing where my wife worked I picked up the phone and called her. As soon as I picked up the phone the AD1 in the shack said not to call my wife. Too late, like I didn’t know not to say anything about the crash. When she came on line I calmly asked if she had gotten the fish out to defrost for dinner that night. After confirmation from her, I hung up and waited for more details.

The Buoy Tender Clover was at its mooring and immediately launched a Long Boat to recover the crew of the 1486. As they approach the 1486 they noticed that the helicopter didn’t have a tail, all the blades were sticking out forward and the inflatable raft was deployed as were the sponson float bags. Being Blackshoes they didn’t know it was suppose to have 5 main rotor blades and not 4. The tail was ripped off by torsion but still attached by the Tail Rotor control cables.

After shooting a Patch 1486 was landed and NR was reduced to 70%. The platform was dropped into place and the pilot was told to move toward the target. A shudder, shake and vibration was felt and the Co-Pilot reached over and slammed the rotor brake on. This was not his first crash in an H-3 in Alaska. One member of the aft flight crew reached behind the Avionics Mans seat , popped the restraining strap on the life raft and threw it out the door.

Coast Guard Sitka Alaska HH-3F Pelican

Presently the boat from the Clover showed up and the crew was taken to the Sitka PHS hospital for observation. The Clovers boat went back and took the 1486 in tow. Pulling it down the channel, past the Clover, to the old Sea Plane ramps at the abandoned Naval Air Station. A shop tug with tow bar was sent over to tow the 1486 up on dry land and back to the CGAS. But that attempt failed because of marine growth on the concrete ramp. When we got that info I suggested using the Fire Truck (Dodge Power wagon, Flat Head straight 6 with Light water and PKP) to pull it in. This idea was met with a lot rude comments so I took the idea to the OPS center. Once again I met with wise cracks about balloon tires and a floating Fire Truck. I then explained that the truck has a 20-30,000 lb winch on the front and we could use it to pull the tug up the ramp. I then volunteered to take the truck over and got over ruled. Fire fighting is the job of the Duty Section, so they took the truck over. Somebody really didn’t want me to have any fun that day.

Messages went out to CG HQ and a Worldwide grounding of all S-61 and H-3 was ordered. Unfortunately, a S-61 landing at a rig that day in the North Sea didn’t have time to land and threw a blade on landing and bounced off the rig into the sea. The US Navy having lost several H-3 with no clue as to why, pulled a remote control submersible off a mission in Venezuela and flew it into Sitka to find the missing blade.

The landing gear was blown down and pined while in the water. The Blades that had tried to inter twine themselves had to be separated so that it could be tow on dry land. The control cables for the tail rotor were cut. And then it was parked in the hanger under our hoist. I was put on a team to disassemble the 1486 so it could be inspected at Elizabeth City. All the avionics went into barrels of 10W oil, everything else went into boxes and cans. The last major item we took off was the main transmission. I broke loose all six bolts and punched out the barrel nuts. Up hoist I yelled, and we listened to the hoist groan. We proceeded to back out all 6 bolts before the transmission would separate from the airframe. The bolts were binding on the mounting frame. When we set it down on the cart I found that the transmission housing had twisted to the point that there was a 3/8” gap between the cart and transmission at the one corner I bothered to measure.

Shortly thereafter I arrived at the Sikorsky plant (Norton plant in Norwalk, CN.) for a 5 week course in HH-3F maintenance. One of the first subjects of conversation was the crash. At that time (some 4 weeks latter)I was told that Sikorsky had been told nothing about the wreck and the investigation. I then said “O I have pictures but they haven’t been developed yet”. I said this pulling out a roll of film from my pocket. When the photos came back I became the presenter explaining the damage and what we found pulling it apart.

Final determination was a bad plating job on the Nickel layer of the sleeve and spindle (S&S), permitting corrosion to form under the chrome plating. This resulted in cracks forming at 6 and 12 o’clock on the spindle ears. At approximately 10 % penetration the Blade let lose.

Once we got special permission to fly , we were doing Dye Penetration inspections on all Spindles every 8 flight hours, later upped to 30 hours. It was a real hassle but it got us back into the SAR business. The records were checked on every S&S in inventory or installed.

Remember: You have to go out, you don't have to come back

Coast Guard Sitka Alaska HH-3F Pelican

See also:
80 Foot Hoist
Database: CGAS Sitka
Database: HH-3F Pelican in USCG


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