Coast Guard holds memorial service for crew of CG 1363

The wreckage of CG 1363, an HH-52 Seaguard helicopter that crashed into a mountain in a severe storm during a rescue operation Dec. 22, 1964, remains at Strawberry Rock in Trinidad, Calif., on Dec. 22, 2017. Coast Guard Sector Humboldt Bay personnel visited the site of the crash before an annual memorial service to honor the crew that died there. (U.S. Coast Guard courtesy photo)

The wreckage of CG 1363, an HH-52 Seaguard helicopter that crashed into a mountain in a severe storm during a rescue operation Dec. 22, 1964, remains at Strawberry Rock in Trinidad, Calif., on Dec. 22, 2017.  (U.S. Coast Guard courtesy photo)

MCKINLEYVILLE, Calif. — The Coast Guard held a memorial service at Strawberry Rock in Trinidad, Friday, to honor the crew and passengers of the CG-1363, an HH-52 Seaguard helicopter that crashed in a severe storm there during a rescue operation Dec. 22, 1964.

Lt. Cmdr. Donald Prince, from New Jersey, Royal Canadian Navy Sub-Lt. Allen Leonard Alltree and Petty Officer 2nd Class James A. Nininger, Jr., from Virginia, a Coast Guard Air Station San Francisco-based helicopter crew, and Bud Hansen, a citizen volunteer, were honored during the ceremony.

On Dec. 22, 1964, the helicopter crew was dispatched to Humboldt Bay, where roads were closed from flood damage, to assist with evacuations. At 2:48 p.m., the helicopter arrived in the Humboldt Bay area where Hansen, a local resident, volunteered to join the crew to help spot flood survivors and to help orient the crew to local landmarks. The helicopter crew, along with Hansen, began evacuating people from roof tops and flood areas, ultimately saving 10 lives.

At 6:03 p.m., weather conditions worsened and the Arcata Airport Flight Service Station (FSS) received a radio call from the helicopter, which was trying to land with three rescued people aboard in low visibility and high winds. Approximately eight minutes before the radio call the airport had lost power, disabling the radio navigation beacon that was necessary to navigate to the airport.

FSS instruments indicated that the helicopter was northwest of the airport. The controller continued to radio the pilot steering directions to help him land.

The pilot reported that he was at 1,000 feet and asked if that altitude would clear all obstructions along his path to the airport. The FSS controller replied that 1,000 feet might be inadequate due to high terrain just east of his bearing. A citizen living 12 miles north of the airport along the coast reported seeing a helicopter about one mile off shore and heading south. FSS attempted to relay the report to the pilot but could not regain communications. Repeated calls to the helicopter were met with silence.

Three days after losing contact with the crew of CG 1363, a U.S. Navy helicopter from the U.S.S. Bennington located the crash and directed ground search parties to the site. The helicopter had crashed on a slope at 1,130 feet of elevation nine miles north of the Arcata Airport near a landmark today known as Strawberry Rock. Located with the wreckage were seven dead; the three crewmen, Hansen, two women and an infant girl.

In 1998, members of the Coast Guard Sector Humboldt Bay Chief Petty Officer’s Association organized an effort to establish a memorial on the grounds of Sector Humboldt Bay.

The memorial was erected to honor the CG 1363 crew, the crew of the CG-6541 that crashed in 1994 and the crew of the CG-6549 that crashed in 1997.

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