We asked if the crew could join the search.
They did so gladly and bravely without hesitation. Standard practice is for such an air craft to sit on the tarmac for an hour for the engines to warm up.
The plane circled the area where the lad was swept away. There were about 8 crew. Two pilots flew the plane (mandatory at such dangerous low heights) and the rest of the crew took up observer stations with high powered binoculars.
I went to the Department of Aviation's Flight Information Room where the duty officer was directing search & rescue SAR patterns.
He was on loud speaker.
Nothing…Nothing ... nothing.
The plane would swing out of the search area circle around for ever increasing passes.
Three hours since the boy was lost, the pilot radioed
"How many people were out there because we think we saw someone afloat - not in the search area - but 5-6 kms north "(see black arrow on above map).
On the next sweep they got a definite sighting.
They now had the technology to guide the rescue vessels.
But it was painstakingly slow. The boats were all 5-6 kms away.
All the time, wave by wave, the ocean current was taking the lad back onto the reef.
The swell was so large that it was impossible for the nearest vessel to spot the boy.
The P3 Orion had an answer. It flew in a straight line dropping marker flares for the boat to "line up" and power in.
But now it and the crew were in danger of being carried onto the reef and smashed to pieces.
The boat handler told everybody over the radio that he was going to face the incoming waves; float backwards and then full thrust forward every time there was a wave "build up".
Hairy. The waves were huge.
The boy was only metres away but frustratingly the crew still could not see him because of the swell.
"Look left - you are on top of him" said an observer."
"Got him" was the reply.
The boy was in reasonable shape. Not a scratch. He was in the water for four hours. He was a poor swimmer.
He said he thought he was only in the water for 10 minutes...at some point he was with a pod of dolphins.
How did he survive?
Our doctor suggested that because the lad was known to not at all that bright, this handicap saved him. He just "shut down" to his predicament.
An Air Show from the Yanks!
When the Yank P3 Orion taxied in the entire community was there to thank them.
The crew was more enthusiastic and vociferous. One member stated that he was involved in many maritime SAR operations but this one was the only positive result where all their training kicked in.
They were scheduled to depart that day. We would not have it. We wanted to fete and thank them all into the night.
The next day we were all on the tarmac expressing a fond farewell.
The crew responded with an aerobatic display the likes of which I had only ever seen in Vietnam 67-68.
The P3 is such a powerful aircraft. It first came in at tree level from the west and went straight up - almost at the vertical.
We thought that was its farewell.
There was silence. Then a flash of aluminium, followed by the doppler effect of four screaming engines - then into the vertical over the crowd.
Again and again the crew did this.
It became a guessing game as to which direction it was next approaching. Then the show was over.
...hope for the best.
During Mum's visit we entertained her with an emergency.
A RAAF P3 Orion radioed advising it had an external wire cable that had semi detached itself. It was flaying about harmlessly but might present a danger when landing. The pilot just did not know.
The Administration had practiced for such emergencies.
We had a fire tender, allocated drivers and volunteers trained in putting out fires. The last time we had a training exercise we were gunning the tender around a corner unaware of two surveyors and a theodolite in the middle of the road. The surveyors got out of the way in the nick of time but could not save the instrument.
But when it came to fires involving aviation fuel it may also been a case of Keystone Cops. Nevertheless we had to try. Perhaps we could put out collateral damage if the plane got out of control and hit adjoining houses.
The settlement's infrastructure was built during WW2 when aircraft were not so big. The adjacent housing complex so close to the run way was not problematic at that time.
But now ... we had to hurry and evacuate the area.
The Orion's landing was an anxious moment. Fortunately the offending cable simply dragged along the back of the plane rather than whip lashing into the fuselage and engines causing irreparable damage.
The danger of a modern jet aqua planning in a tropical rain storm was of constant concern to me. But then again so was a tsunami, a cyclone, a tidal surge.
We were so remote and out of the mainstream of Emergency Services.
Cyclones passed left and right of us. we were so lucky.
We received a telegram from a vessel asking for anchorage because of unstated difficulties and providing an ETA.
Eric H. had a posting in Moscow and recognised that the name of the vessel was Soviet/Russian.
We knew the soviets to be tricky when visiting host ports.
They were apt to drop electronic devices into shallow water that would serve as trigonometry points for satellite tracking.
The protocol was for us to respond and on the Department of Defence's instruction, meet and escort the vessel to an area which could later be "swept" for navigational or listening devices.
We arranged to meet the Russian vessel at 6am - near the Eastern Entrance.
In reality. however, we set off at 4am and elected to exit via the Western Passage.
The crew was Harry Bingham, myself and Wayne ? (who came along because of quarantine regulations )
Around 4;30 we came out of the radar shadow of Horsburgh Island.
Harry Bingham, was operating the radar.
"How many vessels are we meeting Paul?"
"What do you mean Harry? - One"
"Well there are three blips - that means three vessels".
I looked into the tunnel like scope and indeed saw three blips then stood aside for Harry to do the calculation as to how far we were apart and the estimated rendezvous point.
A few minutes later Harry was aghast. "Paul, there are only two blips - with one separating fast on the surface".
Harry was a master seaman. He got out the charts and protractor and manually calculated the speed of the departing surface vessel. He concluded that we would not get a visual given our speed.
But we had covered sufficient distance to sight a vessel that had heaved to - with engines stopped and it derricks exposed and dangling (Derricks cranes that lift heavy gear on or off a vessel).
Clearly we caught the Russians in the act of transferring something or someone. The use of derricks meant that it was big.