Rescuing a Helicopter
By Bruce Lonardo
One of the most pleasant memories I have of the Midway is of the very warm topical nights when we were sailing in the South China Sea. Unfortunately the air conditioning was not too reliable in the berthing compartments where I bunked. All we really had to cool our berthing space on these hot, muggy tropical nights were four giant cooling fans, which only blew hot air around the compartment. The fact that hot air rises and I slept on a top bunk, made it physically impossible to sleep below decks. So when the skipper permitted it, a lot of us would bring our mattresses and sheets up onto the flight deck for a really good snooze. The rule though, was that we had to be off the flight deck by 0500.
My favorite place to sleep was in the middle of the bow, just at the foot of the enormous 41 painted on the deck. At this area on the flight deck you could really feel the movement of the ship sailing as she sliced through the night waters. Every now and then, you'd catch a mist of nice sea spray in your face - it was awesome! I wish I knew how to do night time photography back then, because on nights when the moon was shining bright, the view was spectacular! The view of the peaceful sea with the moon shining down upon it was breathtaking. The only sounds you could hear was the low muffled sound of the ship's engines and the foamy hissing sound of the bow knifing through the water. There is absolutely no mattress or bed in the world which could possibly compare with the tranquility you get from a slumber like that!
I remember one day when I was working up on the flight deck, many of the crew were on the starboard side of the flight deck looking off to the horizon in that direction. When I went over to see what everyone was looking at, I heard several people saying "Yeah, there it is" and "Wow, I can see it!" I saw it too but I could barely make it out. It was a downed helicopter which had crashed in the ocean and was still afloat. I ran down to my bunk real quick to get my binoculars and when I went back topside, I could see the thing a lot better. There were several people clinging to the downed helicopter and the aircraft itself was really rocking intensely in the water. In a short time, one of the Midway's SH-3 Sea King rescue helicopters from HC-1 launched to rescue the survivors. As these maneuvers continued, the Midway herself was slowly approaching the crash site, so everyone on the flight deck suddenly had a front row seat to this rescue operation.
The survivors were brought aboard and I was amazed to see that there were several of them, around a dozen or so. I do not exactly remember how many but there were more than eight or nine people. They were probably Chinese, Malaysian, or some similar ethnicity. Their downed helo was also craned aboard the Midway. I'm pretty sure that we were in the vicinity of Singapore when the downed helo was first spotted and when we neared the coast of Singapore; I believe the survivors were flown back to shore. It was kind of a nice feeling to realize through this incident that our presence upon the ocean was not always political. The USS Midway exemplified the best aspirations of the Navy and of the United States of America that day, as well as on so many other days.