Wednesday, October 6, 2004

Downed pilot
rescued in the
nick of time

The Australian flier is found
just before a search is called off

Australian pilot Ray Clamback didn't have much going for him.

At 6:30 p.m. Monday, the 67-year-old pilot was about 750 miles offshore of Oahu and struggling to stay afloat. After eight hours in the water, Clamback had also drifted a mile or more away from the wreckage of his downed Cessna 182 aircraft and it was nearly dusk -- when rescuers would've had to call off their search until first light.

But then, Coast Guard Petty Officer 1st Class Kevin Cartier spotted a blip -- which turned out to be Clamback's reflective lifejacket -- on a radar onboard the C-130 Hercules, whose crew had been searching for the downed Australian since 3:30 p.m. Monday.

Art The Coast Guard plane dropped altitude to take a closer look, and that's when rescuers spotted Clamback. "He looked like he was on his back, waving his arms," Cartier said. "That was a good feeling."

Coast Guard officials reported yesterday that Clamback was in "fine condition," but more details weren't available.

Clamback said he treaded water for up to seven hours and then spent part of the night bobbing in a life raft dropped by the Coast Guard before he was rescued by the container ship P&O Nedlloyd Los Angeles early yesterday.

Clamback, 67, was considering giving up trans-Pacific flights after ditching for a second time, he told Nine Network television in Australia by telephone from the ship.

Clamback said he was flying Monday from Hilo to American Samoa and then on to Australia when the engine began to falter and stopped about 30 minutes later.

"When I ditched, it wasn't the best ditching I'd done and the airplane turned upside and I had difficulty getting out of it," Clamback said.

He salvaged a lifejacket but could not retrieve the life raft before the plane sank.

"So I swam around there for six or seven hours and the Coast Guard came out and finally found me and dropped a life raft to me and I finally got into it," Clamback said.

Clamback and his co-pilot Shane Wiley ditched an airplane about 300 miles northeast of Hawaii in 1999 on a flight from the United States to Australia. He spent more than 10 hours in the water after that nighttime crash.

"That's always in your mind (that you won't make it)," Clamback said. "You know that once you do a ditching out in the middle of the Pacific, everything's got to go right from then on."

He added, "The great thing about it we were in U.S. airspace and U.S. waters and of course the Coast Guard is very active around the Hawaiian Islands, and once they came out, I knew I had a pretty good chance."

Clamback said he thought he might be becoming too old to fly the Pacific.

"I'm thinking about it. I've been doing it for 30-odd years and it's probably time I gave it away anyhow," he said. "I'm now 67 years old and I certainly was weak when I got on board this vessel here. I could hardly stand up."

A spokeswoman for the P&O Nedlloyd shipping company in London said the ship was expected to reach Melbourne by Oct. 12, and that Clamback would go from there to his home in Sydney.

Clamback is co-owner of an Australian flying school and international aircraft ferrying service.

Keith Davis, a pilot at the flight school, said yesterday that Clamback's downed Cessna was being ferried to a private owner in Australia. He said that he was told the Cessna's engine lost power before the plane went down, but he also said yesterday that he had not yet been able to speak to Clamback.

"When you've lost power ... you don't have any choice but to come down with it," said Davis, who has also ferried planes for the company.

Clamback was flying tandem with pilot Lyn Gray, who was also piloting a Cessna. When Clamback went down about 11:30 a.m. Monday, Gray told the Coast Guard she could not see whether he was able to get out of his plane before it hit the water. Gray circled the debris field until the C-130 arrived at about 3:30 p.m., then continued on to Christmas Island.

At Coast Guard Air Station Barbers Point yesterday, rescuers who participated in the effort were in disbelief that they found Clamback at all.

"It's extremely rare to find a single individual in the water with a C-130," said Cmdr. Bill Adickes, commander of the aircraft that found Clamback.

"There's been a lot of cases," Cartier added, "where we never find them."

Star-Bulletin reporter Mary Vorsino and
the Associated Press contributed to this report.



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