MCKINLEYVILLE, Calif. – U.S. Coast Guard personnel paused Monday to honor and remember the crew and passengers lost in the crash of a HH-52 Seaguard rescue helicopter during the historic December 1964 storms that struck Northern California.
The Coast Guard Air Station San Francisco HH-52 helicopter crew members Lt. Cmdr. Donald Prince, Petty Officer 2nd Class James Nininger, Jr., and Royal Canadian Navy Sub-Lt. Allen Alltree, along with a civilian volunteer spotter and three people they had rescued from flood waters, were remembered during the memorial service.
On December 22, 1964, the helicopter crew was dispatched to assist in rescue efforts near Humboldt Bay during a severe storm. At 2:48 p.m., the helicopter arrived in the Humboldt Bay area where a local resident, Bud Hansen, volunteered to board the helicopter to help spot flood survivors and orient the crew to local landmarks. The helicopter crew rescued 10 people from roof tops and flooded areas throughout the day.
Later that evening as weather conditions worsened, Arcata Airport Flight Service Station received a radio call from the helicopter crew reporting they were trying to land with three rescued people aboard. Due to a loss of power at the airport, there was no instrument navigation aids or radar guidance to help guide the aircraft in the low visibility conditions.
Flight service station instruments indicated that the helicopter was northwest of the airport and the flight service controller continued to radio the pilot directions in hopes of guiding them to a safe landing. A short time later, a citizen who lived 12 miles north of the airport reported seeing a helicopter about one mile off shore heading south. The flight service station repeatedly attempted to relay the report to the pilot but was met with silence.
The following morning, a search team comprised of two Coast Guard aircraft crews and Humboldt County Sheriff’s deputies began searching for the missing aircraft. Over the next few days, a ground party consisting of 200 people including Navy personnel, Georgia-Pacific employees and other California military reservists, searched the forests during dangerous weather conditions without success.
Three days after losing contact with the aircrew, a Navy helicopter from the USS Bennington located the wreckage of the helicopter, tail number CG 1363, and directed ground parties to the crash located on a slope at 1,130 of feet elevation nine miles north of the Arcata Airport near a landmark known today as Strawberry Rock. Located with the wreckage were the three crewmen, Mr. Hansen and two women and an infant girl who had been previously rescued before the crash.
Coast Guardsmen at Sector Humboldt Bay maintain a tight bond with their local community. Every December, they hold a memorial service for all who lost their lives on that tragic day.
In 1998, in honor of the crew aboard CG 1363, members of the Humboldt Bay Chief Petty Officer’s Association organized an effort to establish a memorial on the grounds of Sector Humboldt Bay.