"Fly a little, swim a little and boat a little" - Ray Clamback
P&O Nedlloyd Los Angeles rescues pilot in the Pacific
P&O Nedlloyd Los Angeles - Built 1980 - 1,584 TEU - 30,175 GRT
The words quoted in the banner above, "Fly a little, swim a little and boat a little" is the motto of Ray Clamback, an Australian born pilot who managed a few years back to hitch a ride on one of our company ships...
In October 2004 the P&O Nedlloyd Los Angeles played a major role in the rescue of Ray who had been forced to ditch a Cessna 182 aircraft in the Pacific that he was ferrying from the USA to Australia.
A year ago, in January 2022, PONL Heritage was contacted by Ray's partner Aminta Hennessy OAM with a request - They were trying to make contact with Hans Wyntjes and Jan Steijn, the captain and chief engineer who were on the ship for the rescue. Rob Mars (Group Controller in the joint head offices London/Rotterdam at the time of the Maersk takeover) kindly took on the task of tracking them down. He successfully got in touch with Captain Wyntjes and we are still hoping to make contact with the chief engineer, Jan Steijn.
The full story of the events leading up to the rescue and the rescue itself in the words of a number of the key participants can be found on Ray and Aminta's fascinating website, clambackandhennessy.com. We will though try to summarise it below.
"I lived in India, the USA, the UK – it was one momentous trip, when aged 7, I flew from the UK to India. I remember that trip like it was yesterday. That was it. Whenever my two brothers provided the army and navy component in war games, I provided the air force! Somewhere along the line as a kid I knew that in order to get what one wanted one had to have this vision always in your head. Mine was airplanes" - Aminta Hennessy OAM
Aminta and Ray were the co-owners of Clamback & Hennessy, an aviation company based at Bankstown Airport, near Sydney (Australia). Until 2018 when they sold the business and retired, the company provided international aircraft ferrying, charter and instructor school services.
Ray 's association with Bankstown Airport goes back to its time as a Royal Australian Air Force base and although he started as a farmer, he developed a career as an engineer and has been flying since a young age.
Aminta was the first Australian woman to fly solo across the Atlantic Ocean in a single engine aircraft (a Piper Warrior) in 1978. She was also the first woman to fly solo back-to-back crossings of the Pacific Ocean. She received the Order of Australia Medal (OAM) in 2005 and her citation reads: "For service to aviation as a pilot and as an instructor through the establishment of the Australian Association of flight Instructors".
By now you will have gathered that both are very experienced pilots.
On the morning of 2 October 2004 three aircraft started their ferry journey from Santa Barbara, California to Australia via Hilo, Hawaii and Christmas Island. Two were Cessna 182s, one ex-factory (flown by Lyn, a colleague) and one around 18 months old (flown by Ray). The third aircraft was a Cessna Caravan (piloted by Aminta and accompanied by Simon). The two 182s took off first at 06:15 with the faster caravan following about an hour later.
The Cessna Caravan had a fuel pump problem but after 2,060 nm all three landed safely in Hawaii after their 13-15 hour flights. The technical issue was fixed and the three aircraft were refueled ready for the second stage of their journey.
On 4 October the three aircraft took off for the 1,060 nm flight to Christmas Island with the Cessna 182s again leaving first at 06:20. The Cessna Caravan followed around an hour later.
"Whilst ferrying I stopped moving to Australia second hand aircraft and only moved new ones. However, this did not prevent my two ditching’s which had very specific problems known to the manufacturers but not pointed out to the delivery pilots. The reasoning was that if flying within the USA you could stop and get warranty. However, warranty over the Pacific is the US Coast Guard and the ships. Piecing together the cause of the two ditching’s took about two years and the answer came from Africa." - Ray Clamback
Aminta, flying the Cessna Caravan knew she had passed the two Cessna 182s. The first indication she had that there was a problem with Ray's aircraft was when she heard Lyn ask over the radio "Have you just reduced power?". Ray responded with "no my engine is running rough". At that point they thought Ray's 182 was suffering a fuel injector problem but a little later he found that his oil pressure warning light had come on and he was losing height.
Aminta put through a call to San Francisco requesting US Coastguard assistance. At around 11:30 Ray's engine cut out and he was forced to ditch. Ray's position, which was North 08 50.8 West 156 35.38 (to all intents and purposes mid-Pacific Ocean) was shared by radio with the Coastguard.
Lyn circled looking for the ditched aircraft and any sign of Ray. She found the wreckage and a life raft, but couldn't see the pilot. Aminta had no choice but to continue on to Christmas Island. Sonny, the pilot of a Gulf Stream aircraft from Christmas Island made contact with Lyn and provided moral support while she continued to circle over the area.
Eventually Lyn was forced to head for Christmas Island, landing at 18:39, one minute before last light. At around 21:00 a phone call from the US Coastguard delivered the news that everyone was hoping for. Ray had been found and a life raft had been dropped which he was now aboard.
Cessna 182 (Wikipedia image)
Further US Coastguard C-130 aircraft were deployed to monitor Ray's location and drop off survival supplies. One was captained by Lt. Robert Bickerstaff. In his words (taken from Aminta and Ray's website) "So the first C-130 crew did an outstanding job locating you and dropping the rafts within close reach of you. By the time we got on scene it was getting dark and the other C-130 was unable to see if you had entered the life raft due to darkness. We had an infrared camera on our plane so we were able to confirm that you were safely inside".
The PONL containership P&O Nedlloyd Los Angeles had picked up the distress message relayed from the Honolulu Rescue Co-ordination Center at around 12:50 (ship's time). She was around 250 miles from the site of the ditching and the ship diverted immediately for the distress position. In the 14 hours that it took to reach Ray's life raft, the ship was prepared for a night-time rescue ("rigging extra Suez-lights on the ships bow, testing all search lights, preparation/checking of lifeboats, defining tasks amongst the crew and discussing eventual scenarios with the best possible solutions" - M.C. Steijn-Woodbridge , wife of Chief Engineer J.J. Steijn).
The P&O Nedlloyd Los Angeles found Ray in his life raft at 02:39 on 5 October. The U.S Coastguard aircraft assisted that rendezvous, (again in Lt. Bickerstaff's words) "...I decided to drop 4 flares forming a fairly small square around you to assist the LOS ANGELES in quickly finding you... Obviously, the Captain of that vessel did an outstanding job steering that huge vessel and stopping it right next to you!"
"Way out on the horizon was a tiny bright light that slowly moved towards him getting larger as it got closer. It had a powerful light which from time to time swept the water. (He learned later the lamps were called Suez lamps). He realised that a ship was coming towards him. As it loomed larger, he saw containers and hoped fervently they would not fall overboard on top of him. He said that it was the most frightening time of all. This large ship coming directly at him with this powerful Suez light blinding him – the possibility of being run over was upper most in his mind. Finally, the captain broadsided the ship and came to a complete halt right next to him. An amazing feat of seamanship." - Ray Clamback's description of his rescue, as related to Aminta Hennessey.
In his account as published on the clambackandhennessy.com website, Captain Hans Wyntjes says:
"Do not believe I slept a lot and well before our ETA went to the bridge, probably around 0100. We were in contact already with the air-plane, position was confirmed. Shortly after that I took command. Around 0230 searchlights and bridge were manned with extra lookouts. Had a good conversation with the plane, they planned to drop 4 flares in a square and the raft would then be in the centre. We saw this happening. Gradually dropped our speed and some 2 nm before the spot stopped the vessel and tested the engine astern. My idea was to find the raft and then carefully bring the vessel as near as possible to the raft, throw a line to it and bring the raft to the pilot-door in the hull. The weather was calm, no rains with good visibility. The flares could well be seen and were a great help. Carefully and slowly, we set course towards what we thought to be the centre of the square. At a certain moment our searchlight caught the raft and indeed it was exactly on the spot where she was expected. It was a great relief to me to see a waving arm in the raft, at least he was alive. The 3rd officer was in charge on deck and I asked him to make contact with the person in the raft, ask if he was ok/injured and if he was the only one that went down in the air-crash. The 3rd officer reported he was not injured, but exhausted and last but not least the only person in the plane. Another sigh of relief from my side. Now it became important to bring the vessel close, in range of a throwing line, to the raft. This worked fine and the vessel was stopped in the water with the pilot door a few feet from the raft. Our crew could throw a line to the raft direct from the pilot-door and we got him. Raymond was too weak to climb the ladder and one crewmember went down, helped him into a safety harness, whereafter he was taken aboard around 0344.
Once on-board Raymond was taken to the officers messroom, where he was quickly examined by the Chief Officer. Besides some sunburn in his face Raymond was ok, but very exhausted.
I informed the USCG airplane that he was on board and safe. Then I went down to the messroom to see what we had taken on board. I met Raymond while he was sitting in a large chair in the messroom. I believe we shook hands and he thanked me. Immediately I noticed the Australian accent and then we had, I will never forget this, the next small conversation:
I – are you an Aussie?
Raymond – yes I am.
I – we are underway to Melbourne.
Raymond – well I am from Sydney, but that will do.
And then we laughed."
On their web page, Aminta and Ray acknowledge the following:
To Ray for surviving, and providing yet another adventure story. Who knows one day he might write about his view from the water?
The United States Coast Guard for work extraordinaire.
Bill Adickes Commander of the first US Coast Guard search aircraft that found Ray.
Lt. Robert Bickerstaff, the Commander of the second US Coast Guard search aircraft who wrote his story.
P&O. Nedlloyd Company for turning their ship around and going back to pick Ray up.
To the Captain of the P.O. Nedlloyd Los Angeles, Captain Hans Wyntjes, for a most skilful pick-up displaying the most extraordinary skills of seamanship in the middle of the night whereby he stopped the ship right beside Ray. He timed it to a tee 20 nm out, he cut the engines.
To the crew of the ship that looked after Ray.
To Lyn for flying overhead for 3.5 hours in difficult circumstances.
To Margaret Steijn-Woodbridge for writing the ship’s story.
To numerous other people who have taken a keen interest and who care very much about Ray’s survival.
Last but not least to Bill Davey of Avdev Airlines for providing the title to the story
We would like to thank Aminta and Ray for allowing us to tell their story, and wish them a long and happy retirement.
Shutterstock photo - Ray, Aminta and Captain Hans Wyntjes at a press conference marking their safe return
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