Ken Burns' Account

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Tom Hutchinson and I were assigned to the "zero-dark-thirty" launch on June 2nd, 1969 during the final phases of the SEATO exercise Sea Spirit with our Allies from the UK, Australia and New Zealand. We were to perform some ASW screening searches around Kearsarge which was operating 30 or 40 miles away from the other "HVT", the Australian aircraft carrier HMAS Melbourne. The surface screens for both HVTs were comprised of a assortment of "Small Boys" from the participating Navies. Hutch and I had flown our H-3 over to Melbourne earlier in the exercise, shut down and briefed with the Aussie Wessex crews prior to getting in a little actual "hot contact" exercise sub time. I remember thinking how small entire ship seemed, particularly the flight deck considering the were operating A-4s as well as S-2s.

Take off was uneventful and the bird (BuNo 152108) was FMC. There was a great "LooCom" moon out that night and I marveled at how fortunate we were to be flying with a visible horizon rather than in the usual JO Black Hole. We motored out to our first dip station, shot the approach and settled down into a hover. The seas were glassy and there was no wind. The approach and hover was sloppy as the Doppler lost and regained signal. Probably used the Alt Approach mode. Once over the dome in Cable mode everything was going fine until the Fire Warning T-handles started to glow. You'll probably recall that when operating at, or near, max weight, with little or no wind, in high DA situations there basically wasn't enough airflow through the engine compartment. So after hovering at pretty close to topping power for a few minutes the heat build up would cause the fire warning system lights to slowly come on. I had experienced this phenomenon before so I wasn't terribly worried. "Up dome," break dip, get through translational lift, watch as the Fire Warning lights dim and then go out. Fly around for awhile until everything cools down and then back to a sonar hover. Repeat the cycle a couple of times until we burn down enough fuel to hover at less than max power. Voila! No more warning lights.

Just as we get light enough to complete a complete dip cycle "Wildcat" comes up and wants us to RTB for a hot refueling and a new mission. I'm thinking "Oh, great, we finally lighten up enough to hover through a complete cycle and now they want to pump us full of fuel again - brilliant!). Anyway, back to Kearsarge we trundle, get hot pumped and launch again. We check in with the FUDD, get our vector to the OpArea and are told to get there as quickly as possible. We beat our way though the sky as fast as possible and eventually the Stoof-with-a Roof has us change frequencies and check in with what turned out to be the Melbourne. I don't recall that we were ever told that our new mission was going to be SAR so when Melbourne gave us a search sector to look for survivors I was a little surprised. Our aircrew quickly rigged Indian Gal 59 for rescue as we sped toward our assigned search area.

Entering the assigned area we dropped down into an air-taxi. I think we were the first USN helo on scene. In any event, we criss-crossed our assigned sector and saw lots of debris but never any survivors. There were several motor whaleboats out and other Indian Gal helos began arriving on scene. It was still dark, but we had a visible horizon and lots illumination from all the ships in the area. Eventually we spotted what I thought was some sort of yard craft or cable layer sitting dead in the water. It was really odd looking - stack looked like it was canted forward; hardly any ship aft of the stack; a 5" mount up in front of the bridge, but also some sort of cable hanging down over the bow. Eventually, it got light enough and we air taxied over to the "ship". We were absolutely stunned to finally recognize it as the aft section of the Evans. We continued to search for survivors (never finding any) and eventually returned to Kearsarge.

My Log Book records a 5.8 hour flight with a 3P flight purpose code (Night Visual, Rescue, Survivor Search); 4.8 night time and a night and a day landing.