The Honolulu Advertiser
(by Buck Buchwach)


Honolulu, Dec. 26 (INS)  A navy lieutenant eating Christmas dinner in a hospital bed thanked God for the enlisted man who saved his life after the mid-Pacific crash of a giant navy radar plane Monday afternoon.  Said Lt. (jg) John Thomas Kline, 25, of Honolulu:  "Clark saved my life."  He was referring to Air Controlman Third Class Robert O. Clark of Frankfort, Ind. who is among 17 men listed as missing and presumed lost in the fiery air disaster.  Said Kline:  I was the only one in the back of the plane to get out.  I was at the radar console.  We were doing fire drills.  We got down below the clouds and kept going down.  We never came up. "I was pinned down below the console with my feet sticking out.  My left foot was burning.  Clark pushed the console up - I don't know how much it weighs - and squelched the flames.  Then he got my safety belt off.  "The front part of the plane was on fire.  I turned back, found an opening and dove into the water.  I swam about 25 feet under water to get away from the fire on top of the water.

Kline said he saw a mattress floating nearby and he and Aviation Technician Third Class Franklin A. Henry, 22 of Kankakee, Ill., climbed aboard. The two fell back exhausted with legs entwined for support. Kline said:  "I saw Clark in the water.  He could not see out of his left eye.  I saw Rush (Electrician Technician Third Class James C. Rush of Robinson, Ill.) coming toward us - toward the mattress.  "When he got there he slipped off and went face down in the water.  I, myself, thought I wouldn't last more than another hour."

The first of only four men rescued was picked up after being in the water six hours. Kline, the left side of his face burned raw and his left eye tightly shut, looked up from his  hospital bed and said.  "I got married 10 months ago and I was looking forward to spending the first Christmas with my wife."


The Honolulu Advertiser
Thursday, December 26, 1957


Human error and not mechanical failure caused Monday's plane crash off Oahu, it became clear last night.  Meanwhile, the Navy gave up hope of finding any additional survivors and at sunset yesterday canceled its search in the crash area.

Only four crewmen of the 23 aboard the Barber's Point WV-2 Super Constellation were saved.  Five others survived the crash, according to testimony of those rescued, but died in the heavy swells about 25 miles from the northern tip of Oahu. Bodies of two of these five were recovered.  The Advertiser learned reliably that they were badly mangled by sharks.  It is believed the other three known to have survived the initial crash probably drowned in the 14-foot waves, and sharks beat searchers to their bodies. No trace of the other 14 victims has been found.

Although it won't be announced officially until after a board of inquiry reports its findings, "human error" appears to be the only explanation for the crash. The plane commander, Cmdr. Guy Howard, and the other survivors insisted there were no mechanical difficulties of any kind before the mishap. Commander Howard said the plane was flying at 1,500 feet when all four engines failed simultaneously.  "Why, I simply cannot explain.  I've never known all four motors to fail on an aircraft," he said.  "No one had any warning." But he refused to pinpoint whose fault it was, except to insist it wasn't anyone in the pilot's cockpit.

The four Navy men who were rescued probably owed their lives to the quick work of the crew of an Air Force SC.54, the first plane dispatched to search for the downed WV-2. The plane, attached to Hickam's 76th Rescue Squadron, spotted survivors of the ditched plane about an hour after being dispatched at 5:52 p.m. by the Hawaiian Sea Frontier's search-rescue headquarters at Pearl Harbor.

Rear Adm. Neil K. Dietrich, commander of the Hawaiian Sea Frontier, yesterday lauded the Air Force crew for "tenaciously remaining overhead until surface craft could arrive at the scene."  (the Air Force plan's initial sighting of survivors gave rise to an incorrect report to newsmen at 7 p.m.  Monday that "about 20 survivors" had been spotted "in life rafts") Admiral Dietrich also had the highest praise for the crews of two small Navy crash boats from the Kaneohe Marine Corps Air station, "who battled through darkness and heavy seas to conduct the rescue."

In canceling the search at sunset yesterday, Admiral Dietrich said the action was taken with the concurrence of Rear Adm. L.B. Southerland, commander of the Airborne Early Warning Wing to which the crashed plane was attached.  "It was not taken until all hope of finding additional survivors was abandoned, " the admiral said. He said that "to insure against the remote possibility that some personnel were able to release a raft from the ditched plane and then drifted away from the area, the search was expanded to cover an area of about 3,150 square miles, downwind from the scene of the crash." The Christmas Day search was fruitless.  However, Admiral Dietrich said a destroyer will remain in the area to search on the chance that additional debris or bodies may come to the surface in the next few days.

Monday's plane crash was one of the worst in history in the mid-Pacific.  The worst happened on March 2, 1955, when a Navy DC-6 slammed into the Waianae Range near Lualualei Ammunition, killing all 66 persons aboard the MATS transport. Monday's crash was the 17th fatal plane mishap this year in the middle Pacific area.  The crashes have taken 93 lives - 48 in four civilian mishaps and 45 in 13 military accidents - the worst peacetime record in history. Last year, there were only 12 fatal plane crashes in the mid-Pacific, all military, with 19 fatalities.