KODIAK (AP) — Just over 10 years ago, a ship carrying soybeans went aground in Makushin Bay on Unalaska Island in the Aleutian Chain during a big storm.
Air Station Kodiak responded with a Jayhawk helicopter along with the cutter Alex Haley. Through the wind and squalls and approaching darkness, the Coast Guard worked to get the crew of the Selendang Ayu off the boat.
After taking all of the crew off the ship except the captain and a Coast Guard rescue swimmer, a big wave hit the side of the grounded ship, throwing water into the air. It hit the helicopter and caused it to crash, hitting the Selendang Ayu and landing in the ocean.
The members of the Coast Guard in the helicopter and one of the seven members of the ship’s crew that were in the helicopter escaped the helicopter and were picked up by another helicopter that had taken off from the Alex Haley a little while before. Six crew members died.
The Selendang Ayu broke in half and spilled its cargo of soybeans and oil.
At Coast Guard Base Kodiak last week, retired Lt. Cmdr. David Neel, who was flying the helicopter that crashed, talked to a roomful of Coast Guard about his experience that day and the lessons learned.
As a result of that accident and crash, wave hydraulics are now talked about more and accounted for, Neel said.
When the wave hit the helicopter, Neel said they were about 100 feet up in seas around 60 feet.
No one expected a crashing wave to shoot that high into the air. After the crash, pilots were informed of that possibility.
“Once a vessel grounds, it becomes part of the ground and it doesn’t have the same floating characteristics,” Neel said, “When it becomes effectively grounded, it becomes like an extension of a cliff, so when a wave hits it, it will eject that water up much higher.”
Neel also said it reiterated the importance of training to pop open a window and crawl out of a helicopter in case of an emergency.
“I bring that up because I thought that was great training at the time, and it gave me that effective muscle memory training,” Neel said.
Years later, Neel flies helicopters for a living, although he’s since retired from the Coast Guard. He also talks about the experience occasionally.
“My perspective is the opportunity to come here and share is the least I can do after surviving that kind of thing,” Neel said. “It takes a little bit of a toll to bring it up every time when I’m invited to these kind of events, and I feel like it’s a little bit of a challenge for me, but it’s also my duty.”