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West Coast interceptor page 3


Waterfall, the GCI radar site beside the airfield, vectored us to the estimated best search area only a few miles northwest of the airfield. F/O Jerry Frewen, our squadron’s knowledgeable and good-humoured Irish Nav/RO, had calculated this vital piece of information with, as it turned out, great accuracy.

In the search area at about 500 feet above the water, the task of keeping ’503 under control while scanning the blackness below was an adrenaline-generating exercise. Constantly cross-checking instruments and switching back and forth from peering outside and looking into the cockpit to see how we were doing for attitude, airspeed and altitude was not particularly relaxing. There was a real danger of flying into the water.

Suddenly, not long after arriving at the search area, a light appeared in the darkness below. It was far brighter than the tiny light that was expected from a mae west. Waterfall was informed, “We have a light but it’s too bright. It’s probably a boat.” In fact, it was Callahan, still amazingly complete with his flashlight after the violent forces of the ejection and his desperate struggle in the water.

It seemed important to at least try to determine if the light was indeed a boat, so we tried diving at it and switching on the landing light. After a couple of tries, seeing absolutely nothing and pulling up in alarm at the proximity of the unseen waters, we wisely abandoned this effort. We left Callahan and swung away under Waterfall’s watchful eye to sweep the straits for a more promising light. After 1 hour and 35 minutes we landed, discouraged, having seen nothing more.

In spite of the gloomy assessment of the light, Waterfall noted the position and asked the RCMP at Campbell River for their assistance. The RCMP ventured out in their small boat and fought their way through the stormy night on the chance that the light we saw was, in fact, from a survivor. They found Callahan. He had been flung out of the dinghy three times in the storm, but on each occasion had managed to get back in. Cold and desperately tired, he was still attached to his parachute, which acted like a large sea anchor. The parachute complicated the rescue and he sustained some head injuries in the struggle to get him out of the water and into the RCMP boat. At last he was pulled on board. It was a magnificent feat of seamanship by the Mounties.

The sudden double flame-out that started the tragedy that December night focused a lot of minds on the CF-100 fuel system. Even in normal times, and for many good reasons, fuel state was a lively preoccupation with Comox aircrews, especially in winter.

The CF-100 carried a large amount of fuel internally–over four tons of it, some 8,549 pounds. As a rule of thumb the two Orenda 11 engines burned 3,000 pounds an hour. This gave about 1 hour and 20 minutes flying time for missions, with reserves of 4,000 pounds for an IFR recovery. For a VFR recovery, flying time was about 2 hours and reserves around 2,000 pounds. Dry tanks would occur at around 2 hours and 45 minutes.

Alternates on the west coast, like Vancouver, Seattle or Paine AFB (near Everett, Washington), were hardly to be relied on. If Comox weather went down, then they were probably down too. To add to the uncertainty, Vancouver and Seattle were busy places and the civilian traffic could pile up. What sort of welcome would a low-fuel-state Clunk get, arriving with its sole sources of on-board navigation and approach being a single not-so-wonderful ADF receiver and a single VHF radio. Far better for weather problems were the other primary alternates inland on the other side of the mountains, Calgary and Larsen (a USAF base in Washington State). But they were a long way away.

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