Adak: The Rescue of Alfa Foxtrot 586

This is not a book I’d recommend for most folks; most of you probably never have even heard of AF586, but since I knew people involved, and ‘lived’ in this environment for many years, here’s a review of the book.

Andy Jampoler, the author, is a former P-3 pilot and squadron commander. He’d also been there, done that, and paid for the t-shirt.  This was released on the 25th anniversary of the crash (26 Oct 1978).  

AF586 was on a PARPRO mission off Russia when things went “South” as we say…

I read this yesterday on the flight out, and in irony of ironies, we flew almost directly over the crash location enroute to NRT.  Even more ironic, three of the four pilots yesterday were former P-3 pilots…  I flew with Hawk and Pinger in the 70s, and Frito in the 80s  in different squadrons.  I was up when Hawk and Frito came out of the cockpit,  and we ended up standing in the galley talking.  When Hawk mentioned where we were, I immediately said 586 and we ‘relived’ our incident (prop fail to feather, prop overspeed) in 1975 off Vietnam, but the difference was we completed the fails to feather checklist, which was NOT done on AF586.  

Frito had heard the ‘story’ but never read the book, so I handed it off to him.  I don’t think the FAs were very comfortable with us talking about plane crashes for some reason…  Pinger came out later, and he also came back and mentioned it to me.

Anyway, the book looks at the situation that developed, the subsequent ditching, the problems with the survival suits, the rafts, and the problems with weather that impacted the ad hoc rescue attempts by a variety of folks, ending up with the survivors being picked up by a Soviet fishing trawler.  Jampoler went back through the records, the AIC, and interviewed various people on all sides to  put together a comprehensive look at the whole picture…

LCDR Grigsy and the FE in the seat never reset the oil tank circuit breakers for unknown reasons, and ironically, they were two of the five that did not survive, so no one actually knows ‘why’ they did what they did.  This directly contributed to the engine fires, and led to having to ditch the airplane in the North Pacific 140+ miles short of Shemya.  

The rescue and subsequent mis-communications as to whom had done what probably contributed to the loss of the three AWs who died due to exposure (among other things).  IF someone had actually gone and found the Soviet fishing trawler earlier, they would have probably survived.  

Jampoler also digs into the politics of the Navy and P-3 community at the time, and makes some valid points about who was and was not supportive of various folks.

This was a really bad period in the P-3 community, with multiple crashes over a couple of years, and the highest losses of life during the entire history of the aircraft.  This crash was the ONLY one where anyone survived…

In a small way, I had an impact going forward, as I designed a revision to the way the life rafts were secured in the P-3 and after two years got the mod put in every P-3 in the Fleet.  When VP-47 ditched in Oman, HERE, they got all the rafts out without a problem. 

It’s worth reading if you want to understand what folks go through when their lives are on the line, and get a look into the reality of what goes on when things go South… And it IS a tribute to those who climbed on that airplane, built by the lowest bidder, and went out and did the missions day after day in all kinds of environments…


Adak: The Rescue of Alfa Foxtrot 586 — 19 Comments

  1. Had a buddy who flew in P3’s.
    Not sure what he did, other than being “in the back” as he used to say….

  2. I used to work with a former P-3 pilot who didn’t talk much about his experiences. Altho he did like the airframe he didn’t have much good to say about the management

  3. That incident illustrates a sad truth about the military and other large organizations: it takes a fatal or near-fatal (or very expensive) event to trigger change that, in many cases, most people already agree is needed.

    Organizational inertia…

  4. After two years on Adak, hanging around the P-3 pilots who rotated in every six months, I wasn’t quite as anxious to climb into one. But they (the pilots) sure did have stories.

  5. Andy- I don’t know that they will, since it’s a Naval Institute Press book.

    Ed- Thanks

    drjim- LOL

    Paw- You would be able to read between the lines… 🙂

    WSF- True!

    DB- It is, but sadly lots of the terminology is kinda hard to follow if you don’t know it.

    Gaffer- Not the first time I’ve heard/said that… 🙂

    Tim- Actually it took over 2 years for the ‘immediate’ fixes to get done…

    Rev- We DO need to talk, I’m pretty sure we crossed paths up there…

  6. My father was crew on the P-2V (50’s) and the P-3 (70’s). I’ll have to pick this up. And get him a copy. Thanks!

  7. Would be interesting to hear about all the flights out of Moffett over so many years – I grew up with them flying overhead…

  8. NFO, maybe you can clear up some confusion. (I’m gonna buy the book anyway though.)

    Was the part of the “Prop fails to feather” that pertains to the Oil Tank Shutoff Circuit Breaker missing, confusing, or simply not followed?

    I was new-to-flying in VQ-2 at the time of the ditching, (later VP-19) and had my hands full learning and keeping the avionics running to learn about such things.

    Thanks to the steer to the book.

  9. Rick- It was not completed, they never reset the CB, so the oil was never restored to the prop, hence the fires when the prop disintegrated and pieces started melting… Didn’t realize you were an IFT! 🙂

  10. Yes, I was an IFT.

    But Mama thinks I was a piano player in a house of ill-repute.

    Let’s not break her heart.