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Gas Rig BP Alpha & Whirlwind10 XD165

Date

Type

Pilot

Crew

Mission

Hours


20 Feb 1972

WW10

XD 165


Self

Master Nav Dedman

Flt Sgt Danes

Flt Lt Eley

Scramble

Leconfield to BP Alpha


0.8


20 Feb 1972

WW10

XD 165


Self

Master Nav Dedman

Flt Sgt Danes

Flt Lt Eley

BP Alpha to BP Alpha WX, Tail Rotor, DECCA


1.0


21 Feb 1972

WW10

XD 165


Self

Master Nav Dedman

Flt Sgt Danes

Flt Lt Eley

BP Alpha to Leconfield


0.9

The Background

The above are entries from the log book of Captain Peter Fuller, Canadian Armed Forces pilot on exchange posting with 202 Sqn, RAF, at Leconfield, Yorkshire. The crew are Master Navigator Ron Dedman (Navigator), Flight Sergeant Bob Danes (Winchman) and Flight Lieutenant Tony Eley (Medical Officer);.

To merely list names and trades does not do justice to the men involved. If I had to pick my crew for a dirty job, I could not have done better. It is easy to separate the cream from the milk; the hard part is picking the best part of the cream. 202 Squadron was fortunate in having excellent cream.


The Story

We were doing our normal 24 hours on duty, 15 minutes to airborne, standby at B Flight RAF Leconfield. The weather was at its usual February ugliness with a 300 to 400 foot ceiling and a reasonable 2 to 3 miles visibility under it. The cloud cover was thick and there was a low 500 to 600 foot freezing level.

To add to the "soup" occasional rain showers were present. In short, a typical Yorkshire winter afternoon. Late in the afternoon, the scramble bell goes. Ron grabs the red phone and Bob and I head for the Whirlwind to get cranked up. It turns out to be a call from a trawler to pick up a seaman that has collapsed.

There is a short delay as we wait for Tony, the duty doctor, to join us as we may need his services. Everyoneand everything is finally on board so we are off. The position is some 30 to 40 NM ENE of BP Alpha. No big problem here; I decide that we will proceed to BP Alpha, refuel and then head for the ship. We have about 1hr 45min to sunset, not that we can see the sun, but it will become a factor as the mission progresses. Ron

is up front with me working on our DECCA track and it is a dirty, grey, low level run all the way to BP Alpha.

We have contacted the RCC at Pitreavie and told them of our decision to refuel and they have alerted the rig. They are also trying to make contact with a Shackleton on patrol over the North Sea; be nice to have him around in this rain reduced visibility to find the ship on its radar and give us its position. About 40 minutes into the flight BP Alpha looms out of the grey and we make a normal landing on its helideck. JP4 is taken on board, the books are signed off, we start up and are on our way again. Night time is 30 minutes away.

As we head in the direction of the ship's last position, Ron is having problems with the DECCA; not to worry, experience has shown that it will misbehave for a few minutes after being on a metal platform. Bob is trying unsuccessfully to contact the ship. Tony is mentally preparing himself for the upcoming winch ride, treatment and evacuation. My stomach is knotting up a little as darkness approaches, the weather gets worse and the tail rotor starts to "twitch" the helicopter 5 to 10 degrees left and right as I put pressure on the pedals.

Feels like it is jamming and then releasing. We keep trying to contact the Shackleton or the trawler; no response from either. Ron is really having his doubts about the DECCA; it does not appear to be working at all.

Ron has been keeping a dead reckoning plot as he continues trying to get the DECCA to work. The tail rotor is really giving me problems now; jerking us up to 15 degrees left and right. Tried to climb up to 300 to 400 feet a couple of times and met with thick cloud and icing. Enough of that; get back down to 100 feet. We do not need icing on top of all the other problems. We are in the dark now, 30 minutes from BP Alpha. My stomach is hurting! We are without a navaid. The tail rotor is making precise instrument flying impossible. There is no sign of the ship and no contact with it. Can't even get hold of the Shackleton for some help.

A difficult choice has to be made right now: do I press on and risk the lives and aircraft entrusted to me to help a man on a ship that we cannot locate, or do I turn tail and get back at least to Alpha? My mind is made up, as there is only one right action to take; we are going back to Alpha.

Although I can't recall precise details, it sticks in my mind that we did not, at this time, have sufficient fuel to make it back to the coast. We had planned to do the pickup, return to the Alpha to refuel and then head directly to the hospital at Grimsby. Ron, a truly professional navigator, had been working calmly on his DR plot and gave me a heading for Alpha. The helicopter twitched its way around to the course as best I could force it and settled down for the anticipated 20 to 30 minute fight. Visibility was lousy. Night was hard upon us now and we had no more

than a mile visibility. A ragged, rain filled ceiling still there at 300 to 400 feet, but at least we were clear of the clouds down here at 100 feet and not getting iced up. Smooth control is a thing of the past. Talk about a quiet crew. No jokes or asides on this trip! I have often wondered about our collective private thoughts on this bloody awful part of this mission. We should be getting close to Alpha; everyone is keeping their eyes out for the lights. Bob has talked to them on the PYE radio and they are aware of us coming back. Nothing but blackness. Not even one of the ten or so wells around Alpha can be seen.

A new player enters the game. Ron and the Shackleton have made contact! Man, I was not aware that my guardian angel had 4 engines and 8 contra-rotating props. Ron passes our most probable position and, after what seems like an eternity, the Shackleton Navigator says that he thinks he has us on radar and asks for a 20 degree left turn to identify. He has us identified! Then he gives us a further 90 degree turn left to

get us pointed to Alpha which is some 7 or 8 miles away. A historical foot note is in order here. The exact number of degrees in the left turn and the distance are blurred with age. Rest assured, though, that we were going to miss the Alpha on our own. Would we have made the shore? I cannot truthfully say. Memory and the need for a good story plot play havoc with real fact. After another eternity, the lights of Alpha show up. My turn now; I key the microphone to express my sincerest thanks to the Shackleton crew. The conversation went something like this:

Me:;"Kilo Alpha November 23, this is Rescue 165. Thanks for the timely help".

Nav:;"Rescue 165, Kilo Alpha November 23. You're welcome; glad to have been of assistance".

Pilot:;"That Pete Fuller?"

Me:;"Yes, Sir"

Pilot:;"Ralph D'Andrea"

Me:;"Thanks, Ralph"

A little tightness in the throat after that exchange: then we get our act together and land on BP Alpha. We stayed on Alpha overnight, and the damned thing moved all night! This was blatantly obvious the next morning as I watched the pan of water used for poaching eggs and it was up to a sea state seven. My hand grips are permanently dented into the railing on the perforated steel plank stairs from the helicopter deck down some ten steps to the crew quarters. The fact that we were 100 feet off the water with nothing between me and the North Sea but ¼ inch of metal may have had something to do with it.

The man we had set out to pick up was safely carried back to Grimsby by his ship and proved to have no major medical problems. The tail rotor bearings were worn in an out-of-round fashion which caused them to stick and release. The 45 minute flight back to Leconfield in weak but welcome winter sunshine was a much easier trip.


The History

Ralph D'Andrea and I joined the RCAF as course mates on 5415 in the Autumn of 1954. I did my pilot training at Penhold in Alberta and he did his at Claresholm in Alberta. Ralph and I then both served as Harvard instructors and good friends at Penhold for four years. As things turned out he did not get his permanent commission, so a few years later joined the RAF. I next met Ralph in 1969 in the Officers' Mess at RAF Lyneham while I was Ops Officer for a joint RCAF/RAF operation and we got caught up in old times. Ralph was working out of RAF St Mawgan with Coastal Command. He was in the Lyneham area and decided to drop into the Mess for a quick pint. Ask me if I believe in co-incidence. We went to Salisbury the next day to see another old course mate, Stu Laing, but that's another story . . .


The Payback

I now jump ahead to D-Day + 50 years; 6th June 1994. Ralph D'Andrea telephones me on the way to Vernon, just north of our retirement home in Kelowna, BC, and promised to drop in for coffee. Well, after we get talking, Ralph and his wife Cathy decide to spend the night. Four steaks are barbecued to perfection with Marie's "scratch" Caesar Salad and a bottle of "special occasion" 1986 Chateauneuf du Pape duly marked the occasion and the sincerest personal "Thanks" on behalf of me and Ron and Bob and Tony was finally made 22 years after the event. A debt has been partially paid for saving a Whirlwind and its crew from a possible cold North Sea swim on a lousy winter night. Thanks again. Ralph. Guardian Angels don't have 4 engines and 8 contra-rotating props. They are flesh and blood and I now know for certain that one of them lives in Lethbridge, Alberta.

The Final Chapter

A phone call from Sid Popham, another course mate, who is retired in Comox, BC, on the morning of 10 April 1996 passes on the sad news that Ralph has succumbed to cancer - a constant companion of his for several years. No doubt in my mind - Ralph has joined an elite corps of Guardian Angels. I look forward to his tenure and anticipate his watchful eye looking out for all of those whose lives he touched and all of those

he loved.


Sleep well and without pain, my good friend.







Guardian Angel

This article has been mirrored here from the Home Page of the 202 Squadron Association through Tony Eley’s web site.


202 Sqn Editor's Note: This article first appeared in Growler, the magazine of the Shackleton Association and was drawn to my attention

GUARDIAN ANGEL

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