Safe Landing in South Bay

by Bob Parshall

This is all about VP-50’s crew 2 single engine experiences in December 1964 while based at North Island, San Diego.
I suggest looking at the DVD first as it basically tells the whole story.

(  I was the PPC of crew 2 and the safety officer of VP-50, ’62-’65.  I got out of the Navy in about April or May of ’65.
The following comments have to with things about our single engine return to North Island not mentioned in the DVD.  I will mention at this point how the DVD came about.  The event received a lot of attention with headlines in the newspaper, radio news, and T.V. coverage.  The T.V. crews were there as soon as we were up the ramp.  I was interviewed a little later at my home in Chula Vista.  My brother-in-law knew the people at the T.V. station (I married a San Diego girl, still married to her at 53 years.)  So he got the 16mm film they had when it was no longer news.  I kept it for many years but never looked at it as I didn’t have a projector.  Then VCR became available so I had the film put onto a VCR tape that I could look at.  More years passed and DVD’s came out and I had it transferred from the VCR tape to DVD’s (I made Several DVDs).
In December of 1964 we were in route to our base in North Island on a routine mission, and at an altitude of 3500’ when the first engine started backfiring, a loss of power and a fire broke out with about 510 miles to go. We rapidly lost altitude and were able to maintain the P5M at 300’, when we quickly realized that the plane could not be trimmed properly.  This meant that we (the co-pilot Chamber and I) had to use considerable arm and leg input to the controls to maintain a better speed.  The strength required such that we traded flying the plane every thirty minutes.  Even so we slipped down to 200’ twice and added take off power to get back to 300’.  This was no drill, this was for real.  Open sea landings at night were not advised particularly with one engine.  This is the way it was for 4 ½ hours.

After the engine failed we were headed back I had to determine the amount of fuel to keep and how much to dump.  We were still descending at this point and could not stay airborne at this weight.  I got the numbers from Vaneli the TACO with his best estimate of time to home base.  Using our manuals we came up with a number of the amount of fuel we needed, I decided to add 100lbs of fuel as a cushion of fudge factor.  It turned out to be one of the best decisions I ever made.  Many years later at a Reunion I met with Tex Young who was 1st mechanic at that time.  He related to me a most interesting story; after the plane was up the ramp, he needed to determine what condition the engine was in after it’s 4 ½ hour run at maximum continues power.  He started the engine but it immediately stopped.  He tried it again and it stopped again.  The fuel gage showed over 100lbs in the tank.  He then checked the tank visually and it was empty!  Had I not added the 100lbs of fudge factor fuel the outcome would have been much different.  We would have landed several miles short of South Bay in open water.  Who knows what condition we would have been in.

A couple almost humorous incidents happened on our long way back.  One concerned Bobby Young the second mechanic, he was always trying to be helpful and at one point came up to check the cockpit and was using the engine analyzer which showed the condition of the spark plugs.  He was calling out this plug is fouling, another is breaking down, or one is missing.  This was not good news so I said “turn that thing off! I don’t want to hear it. There is nothing I can do about it if the engine quits we only have about 45 seconds until we hit the water.”

Another story I was told even later by Vangeli concerned the third pilot Cavaness; First remember adrenalin was running very high and we were all trying to reduce weight as much as possible.  Cavaness thought the toilet should go, so he reached down, grabbed it, and tore it off the deck, not bothering to remove the screws holding it down.  Then in a further effort to reduce weight which would help us maintain altitude and speed, after we were at 300’ I ordered all the parachutes thrown overboard unless anyone wanted to keep his, at 300’ the chutes would be useless.  All the chutes went over the side.
After the safe landing in South Bay I signed Chits for over $100,000 of gear that was “lost at sea”.

More on this articles and more are found in the Fall 2012 MMA Newsletter.

Safe Landing in South Bay / Bob Parshall
MMA Association’s 2013 Reunion – Branson, Mo
Official Record: Fourth VP-44 / Dictionary of American Naval Aviation Squadrons – Volume 2, by Michael D. Roberts
An Elegy Poem / Frederick J. Frank
Travels With Charlie / CAPT Carl Swickley, USCG (Ret.)  Foundation, Volume22, Number1, Spring 2001
Last of the Big Boats – The National Musuem of Naval Aviation’s SP-5B Marlin / Hill Goodspeed, Museum Historian
Historic Aircraft – Flying Boats at War / Norman Polmar, Author, Ships and Aircraft of the U.S. Fleet

Annual membership in the Mariner/Marlin Association entitles members to receive four issues of the Newsletter.

Click here to find out how to become a member.

6 thoughts on “Safe Landing in South Bay

  1. jack coiner AT3 vp42 says:

    re: safe landing in so. bay . Dec. 64

    the a/c shows assigned to vp 50.
    several of the crew members look familiar; members who I flew with in vp 42 / 57′-60′
    could some one provide with names of those crew members shown in the photo.
    jack coiner 626 617 0475/ or e-mail

  2. Walt Nygard says:

    Hi Jack,

    I saw your name in the Marlin /Martin organization. Your name sounds familiar, I was in VP-42 from 1959 to 1960, as an AE3. Do you have access to any photos of the squadron members. I remember on morning at roll call, they took a photo of all of us in front of one of the aircraft. I was on the side of the hangar facing Point Loma. Wow, that was 58 years ago. I’m lucky to remember my name. I do remember another member by the name of Jack Miller, he was from California. Time sure passes fast. By the way my name is Walt Nygard, then I was from Connecticut now I am in Port St Lucie, Fl. My email is .Hope to hear from you soon.

  3. Robert Mistron says:

    I have Photo in front of aircraft with the V P 42 Electrical shop people. Also a photo of Shop Chief 1960 or 61 No Names I was an A E 3 Crueman R B 2

  4. Hi Rob,
    Great, I was probably in that Photo. Can you scan it and email me a copy. Thanks.

    Walt Nygard, VP-42, AEM

  5. Hi, Walt. sorry I didn’t respond to your first msg. I was assigned to VP 42 in ’56 and mustered out in Oct. 59.AT3 crews 7 and 5. Did a short time in Crew 1.

    Re. the back bay incident, I feel fairly sure I reconized VP 42 crew members.

    In june 59 I lost my plane to an oil leak fire in Manila Bay. Crew 5.

    Merry Christmas to all you VP 42 ‘rs.

  6. Walt Nygard says:

    Hi Robert Mistron,

    Can you send me a scanned copy of the VP-42 photo by email?

    Walt Nygard

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