December, 1947, Between Ourselves
In October, the crew on a TCA North Star, Prestwick bound from Montreal, took part in a rescue of passengers and crew from a flying boat forced down in the Atlantic. Captain George Lothian, Chief Pilot, trans-Atlantic service, who was aboard the North Star, gives us this eye-witness account of the rescue at sea.
It was a beautiful morning on the North Atlantic, the North Star was humming along in a spanking tailwind. The sun had been up for about an hour showing the weather clear with the breakers rolling along from the west. First Officer A. Pavey was nudging the ship along on the gyro-pilot and Captain S. Albulet had just returned from paying his respects to the passengers.
Suddenly Radio Officer K. Taman spoke up. “I have just contacted aircraft KFG and relayed his message to Gander that he has 2.75 hours fuel left and is returning to the weather ship NMMC. He is ending the stand-by emergency signal ‘XXX’.”
We checked our position with Navigating Officer J. K. Fraser which showed us at 52:00 north and 37:41 west, 90 miles from the weather ship. We requested R/O Taman to keep contact with KFG and try to raise the weather ship on Very High Frequency. The weather ship answered immediately. They were informed of the emergency and that KFG had stated he was 100 miles west.
By this time we were closing with the weather ship and he had us on his radar screen. We arrived overhead and could see him rolling in the heavy seas. We told him we would stand-by overhead and if he located KFG on his radar he could track us to him, and we would escort him in.
We stood-by for 10 minutes and then saw the large Boeing flying boat arrive over the ship. The weather ship called and gave us the information that KFG had 62 people on board and would land in 20 minutes as they were securing the passengers. The weather ship was lying sideways to the trough to break the waves as much as possible as KFG came running in on a practice approach. I could not help think that 8 or 9 years ago when I watched Eddie Allen testing the prototype in Seattle harbour, I little thought that I would watch one landing in waves like these in the middle of the Atlantic.
KFG swung around for the final approach and we placed ourselves in position to keep track of survivors if the aircraft broke up on landing. The big flying boat drew closer and closer. We saw a white plume as her keel struck the first wave. Then a foaming crash as she disappeared wings and all bellow the sea. It seemed like minutes before the bow began to show like a giant whale through the foam and the big craft shook herself clear.
The weather ship started full speed ahead when a calm voice said, “We are OK and will taxi up to you.” The weather ship answered, “OK we are dropping a 900 foot line over, supported on life jackets.” We watched the plunging Bermuda Sky Queen (for so the radio operator on the weather ship informed us she was) pull slowly up to the weather ship. Its radio officer called R/O Taman to cheer us on our way and remarked, “What a wonderful landing those boys pulled off.”
Our thoughts were that we had witnessed the ultimate in handling a big flying boat in such difficult conditions. We had our hats off to the American International skipper and his crew for the calm and magnificent way he handled the situation. It speaks highly for Boeing workmanship and design that the ship lived in such seas.
This article originally appeared in Trans-Canada Air Lines internal magazine, Between Ourselves.