Monday, November 22, 1999

Next time,
pilot will take
extra raft

Pilot and passenger are
alive after ditching into the
sea despite a life raft that
wouldn't inflate

By Treena Shapiro


After ditching his plane in the ocean 300 miles from the Big Island, pilot Raymond Clamback and his passenger Shane Wiley discovered another piece of bad luck: Their life raft wouldn't inflate.

This morning, as the two men reached Hilo after surviving 10 hours in a dark and stormy ocean and a dramatic rescue, Clamback was able to smile and quip that if he had to do it all over again, he'd bring an extra life raft.

Clamback, wearing sunglasses because his eyes were irritated from the salt water, said he didn't doubt that they would be rescued.

"You know if you can hang on until the next morning that you're going to make it because the Coast Guard Service is going to come and get you," he said. "It's just a matter if you can hang on."

Wiley had a rash on his neck from where he scraped it against his life jacket turning his head while looking out for waves.

Clamback, 63, and Wiley, 50, thanked the numerous people who helped rescue them when they arrived at Hilo Harbor this morning on the Coast Guard cutter Kiska.

"Everyone's done 110 percent," Wiley said.

Besides the Coast Guard, passing airline pilots and ships helped make sure the men survived.

The men, both Australian citizens, were found in good medical condition, suffering from exhaustion and hypothermia. But after a good night's sleep and a meal on board the Kiska, they were headed for a hot bath and a telephone to call home rather than the hospital.

"That's what's so amazing: They're just going to walk away," said Chief Petty Officer David Santos, assistant public affairs officer for the 14th District Coast Guard, which helped coordinate the rescue.

The men were ferrying a new Cherokee Piper -- a four-passenger single-engine plane -- from Santa Barbara, Calif., to Hilo Saturday when they got a warning of low oil pressure.

They activated an emergency beacon and contacted the Federal Aviation Administration in Oakland, Calif.

At 3:05 p.m. Saturday, the FAA alerted the Coast Guard Joint Rescue Coordination Center in Honolulu that the pilot may be forced to ditch the plane in the ocean.

A Hawaiian Airlines pilot, Capt. Ted White, flying to Las Vegas, heard the plane's emergency beacon and then heard the Cherokee pilot talking to a United Airlines pilot a half-hour ahead of White.

"The pilot of the Cherokee was losing oil pressure on the engine, and his oil temperature was in the red zone. He was concerned he wouldn't last much longer," White said.

When the United plane flew out of range, White took over communication with the Cherokee. "The pilot was very cool. I talked with him for about 30 minutes. He was very calm and very professional. He said, 'Fellows, let's get it together' about what he should do," White said.

White talked with the United Rescue Center in Chicago, which contacted a Matson ship 200 miles east of the distressed plane and asked the ship to turn around and head toward the Cherokee. White advised the plane to fly to the ship, since there was only a half-hour of daylight remaining.

"Ditching his plane in the ocean in the dark was not an attractive option. We felt if he dropped near the ship, it could pick him up," White said.

However, flying to the ship would take the plane farther away from Hilo, so the pilot kept to the same course and was met by a Coast Guard C-130 at 5:55 p.m. At that point the plane was about 500 miles from Hilo.

The crew on the C-130 briefed the Cherokee pilot on how to ditch the plane.

The C-130 dropped flares into the water to create a runway in the water before the pilot ditched the plane at about 7:31 p.m.

However, the C-130 pilots lost sight of the plane because of a rain squall, darkness, 8- to 12-foot seas and whitecaps.

The search continued for five hours until a replacement C-130 crew spotted lights from the survivors' life jackets with night-vision goggles. Without the lights the men would not have been found until daylight, said Lt. Michael Wessel, search and rescue coordinator.

The freighter Nyon was diverted to pick up the men, and arrived at 3:15 a.m. The men were brought aboard at 4:50 a.m.

At 11 a.m. yesterday the Nyon transferred the men to the Kiska.

Emergency medical technicians on the Kiska said the men were suffering from fatigue and sore eyes from hours in salt water, but otherwise there were no injuries.

"We're really lucky to have been able to bring all the players in," Kiska Commanding Officer Lt. Kenneth Lopes said. "It all came together."

When asked if he would fly again, Clamback answered quickly, "Yes, sir."

"I'm going back to the mainland. I've got two more planes to bring out here," he said.

Wiley, who was talked into making the trip to Hawaii with his friend, said he might wait a few weeks before getting in a plane again.

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