Tuesday, June 7, 2016

Navy Rescue Revisited 50 Years On

Fleet Air Arm Museum Director, Terry Hetherington reads through the journal entry for the morning of the 21st May 1966, where two Iroquois helicopters from HMAS Albatross responded to a Mayday call from WD Atlas.

June 3, 2016 - The last survivor of the 1966 sinking of dredge, WD Atlas has donated dramatic footage of the rescue operation to the Fleet Air Arm Museum.
Mr Sam De Vries made the donation mark the 50th anniversary of the tragedy, which claimed 13 lives off the coast of Jervis Bay on 20 May 1966.
Museum Director, Terry Hetherington, said that the video footage ensured Mr De Vries's colleagues and the Royal Australian Navy personnel involved in the rescue would be remembered.
“It was a privilege to speak with Mr De Vries because it was evident he still holds the Navy in high regard for the efforts of those members of the Fleet Air Arm who rescued him and the crew,” Mr Hetherington said.
“Mr De Vries told me he places an 'In Memoriam' notice in national newspapers on the anniversary of the sinking every year to commemorate the loss of his shipmates.
“As this is the 50th anniversary he will no longer be doing this and he felt the Fleet Air Arm Museum was the most appropriate place to retain this historically valuable record.”
Atlas sank in 10-metre seas and gale force winds at approximately 11pm on 20 May.
Two helicopters from 723 Squadron at HMAS Albatross left at dawn the next day to begin the search and rescue.
They battled 45-knot winds while winching up four survivors from the mountainous seas. The remaining 13 crew members from Atlas died. Only five bodies were found.
Crew members of the BHP bulk carrier, MV Iron Monarch took the footage as the ship attempted to assist.
Mr Hetherington said the video was an invaluable addition to the museum’s archive.
"It is probably the only video from that era of a rescue at sea as it is being performed,” Mr Hetherington said.
Daughters of Gordon Fairbairn, one of the four survivors rescued that day, had also contacted Mr Hetherington for the anniversary.
Their reaction to the footage was mixed, he said.
“On one hand they were pleased the footage had been made public on the anniversary, but also saddened by the psychological toll their late father must have experienced adrift in the stormy ocean with the bodies of his dead shipmates,” Mr Hetherington said.
 Commander Fleet Air Arm, Commodore Chris Smallhorn, recognized the efforts of the Squadron personnel.
"The dedication of the members 723 Squadron was impressive, skillfully executing what amounts to an enormously challenging rescue by any measure," he said.

“I am proud to celebrate those who 'stood to' for WD Atlas. I do so with the comfort and knowledge that if asked to do so today, as they have so many times in the past, the men and women of the Fleet Air Arm would be ready to help others in need. It’s an honor to be part of their team,” Commodore Smallhorn said. 

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