Coast Guard holds memorial service for helicopter crew lost in 1964 rescue

A memorial is shown at Coast Guard Sector Humboldt Bay Dec. 21, 2018, during a ceremony for the crew of CG1363, an HH-52 Seaguard helicopter crew that crashed during a rescue operation Dec. 22, 1964. The helicopter crew crashed at Strawberry Rock during a severe storm after the nearby airport lost power disabling the radio navigation beacon necessary to navigate to the airport. (U.S. Coast Guard photo)

A memorial at Coast Guard Sector Humboldt Bay  for the crew of CG1363, an HH-52 Seaguard helicopter that crashed during a rescue operation Dec. 22, 1964.  (U.S. Coast Guard photo)

MCKINLEYVILLE, Calif. — The Coast Guard held a memorial service at Coast Guard Sector Humboldt Bay Friday to honor the crew and passengers of CG1363, an HH-52 Seaguard helicopter that crashed in a severe storm during a rescue operation Dec. 22, 1964.

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

On Dec. 22, 1964, the helicopter crew was dispatched to Humboldt Bay to assist with evacuations, as roads were closed from flood damage. At 2:48 p.m., the helicopter crew 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 crew began evacuating people from roof tops and flooded 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 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 a 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.

The following morning a search team comprised of two Coast Guard aircraft and Humboldt County Sheriff’s deputies began searching for the lost aircraft and crew. Over the next few days, a robust ground party of 200 searchers, with the addition of U.S. Navy personnel, Georgia-Pacific employees and other California military reservists searched the forests during dangerous weather conditions without success.

Three days after losing contact with the crew of CG1363, a U.S. Navy helicopter from the USS 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, Sector Humboldt Bay Chief Petty Officer’s Association members organized an effort to establish a memorial at Sector Humboldt Bay. The memorial was erected to honor the CG1363 crew, the crew of the CG6541 that crashed in 1994 and the crew of the CG6549 that crashed in 1997.

Sector Humboldt Bay personnel maintain a tight bond with the local community and every December hold a memorial service for all who lost their lives on that tragic day. They honor Donald, Allen, James and Bud as heroes who embodied the Coast Guard rescuer’s motto “So Others May Live.”


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