other accounts

matt reid c130 commander


My name is LCDR Matt Reid. I was the Aircraft Commander of CG 1705 the night you ditched N4148X. I can’t come close to describing the empty feeling we had after you ditched and we could not see any sign of you. 

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There we were joking back and forth one minute, next thing it’s swim call. It was quite disheartening flying a low level search as long as we could and coming up empty handed. After a sleepless night, I was told the next morning (around 10 AM) that you and Shane had been rescued. In fact it was my 8 year old son who gave me the message from work as I was getting out of the shower. He was jumping up and down in excitement because I had told him the entire story. I was elated (I can only imagine how it was for you 2 and Ms. Hennessy).  

I heard you were out to visit the Coast Guard Air Station a few weeks ago. I’m sorry I missed you but I was in Hong Kong participating in a Search and Rescue Exercise there.  (We could have had that Fosters you were supposed to have in Hilo).  Anyway, my wife has an Uncle living in the area around RAAF Base Richmond. We tried catching a military hop to visit him this past October this past year with no luck (East Timor thing messed up the schedules). We plan to try again. Perhaps we can do the Fosters then! Anyway, I hope you have a great holiday season and enjoy the millenium celebration down under. Perhaps we will meet one day. 


M. P. Reid, LCDR, USCG, C130 Aops/Current Operations, USCG Air Station Barbers Point

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dr shane wiley's account

I met Ray in Santa Barbara as planned after he ferried 48X from the Piper factory.  Ray is fastidious with regard to the mechanical side of his ferries and took the mainland portion of the ferry to convince himself of the engine parameters. He insists on neglible oil consumption.  He was very confident of this aircraft.  I was very nervous of the whole transpacific thing. 


Aircraft was prepared at Santa Barbara to a pattern done on his previous ferries.  Fuel line from left wing tank lid thru the small hinged window in the pilot’s side, to a combined electric and mechanic fuel pump, to the large bladder ferry tank that occupied a platform installed in the space where the rear seats were removed.

a week of unfavourable winds, a go decision was based on an overall minimally unfavourable wind pattern, the aircraft readied on the evening before departure. Rear seats were removed, folded and placed in the rearmost part of the aircraft, the ferry tank was secured with tiedowns, and the refuelling commenced.  Mains were filled, I noted that figure on the Chevron refuelling truck, and then we proceeded to put in 150 gallons into the bladder tank and then made a decision to go up to a total of 160 gallons (from memory) in the ferry bladder tank. Additional to my weight (about 92 Kg) and Ray’s weight (?? 96 Kg) were xmas gifts, light luggage, some tools, one raft, two life supports, a satellite phone, a portable GPS and Jepp
charts.  Aircraft had navcom + gps.

I calculated something close to 30% over gross and a C of G a little aft of the limit (I forget the exact figures and the C of G calculation is open to error). I was in left hand seat and tasked with the flying.  Ray was in the right-hand seat, did the regular fuel transfers to the left-hand wing tank, the regular satellite telephone call ins, and a little flying.

Take off (a few minutes before sunrise) was long, most of the runway was used, handling after lift-off was surprisingly good, aircraft was stable and we had a reasonable positive rate of climb.

At about 3.15 pm (and I am not sure whether we were adjusting to time zones) I noted the slightest drop in the oil pressure reading. It was still in the green, but lower than the rock steady reading I had noted in the previous 8 hours or so (I had made a point of concentrating on the gauge reading), I alerted Ray who was sort of dozing, we stared at the gauge a little longer, and then we noted a slight further drop (but still in greens). A feeling of fear in both of us, Ray thought there was a serious rapidly developing oil pressure situation developing, called on the stand by Comm  frequency, and we got an immediate reply from one airline. United who came back to us later with an offer to ditch with Coast Guard assistance next to a ship to the north of us.  We keyed in the latitude and longitude of the ship and realised that it was further away than the advice given to us.  I was concerned that we might fail enroute to that ship and have to ditch without Coast Guard assistance in water that was going to be much colder that where we were. I argued against proceeding north. Ray accepted the argument, and I think part of him was saying ‘is this oil pressure reading for real or not?’. 

Advice from the rapidly developing airline network was that the aircraft would go for a long time on 61% power even with an oil pump failure. 

We elected to proceed direct Hilo. We did not however reduce power to the 61% figure, with decisions on maintaining airspeed and engine cooling coming into play. Oil pressure continued to slowly fall, oil temp continued to slowly rise, finally we had the oil warning panel light showing. Joined by the C-130 at about 6pm, and night came about 7pm. Soon after 7pm I noted a knock knock sound from the engine. Ray advised this was serious, he spoke to the C-130 and were given headings for ditching and other advice. Ray took the controls. Soon after, while in cloud and rain, there was a loud bang, the propeller stopped, and acrid smoke entered the cabin on my side. At that time, or very soon after, all battery power was also lost. 

Descent on a given heading was in cloud with failing attitude instruments. While becoming attitudinally unstable, we broke out of cloud and regained attitude with reference to the extensive flare path that was then visible. Seat belts had been tightened to the limit, life vests were on, raft unpacked and tied to the floatable emergency beacon we had.

Impact was severe, water came over the top of the aircraft, then aircraft settled back, we clambered out, I went back into the rapidly sinking aircraft to retrieve the raft, gave it to Ray, who was battling a situation where we had to swim clear of the unpredictable rising tail plane.  The raft was not activated (or failed to activate) and was lost in the night ocean.


Dr Shane Wiley’s account written to a fellow doctor at Nepean Hospital:

I suspect Ray Clamback only had about another hour in him (he said 20 minutes but he is a lot tougher than he makes out) when he was eventually picked up.  Ray did a superb landing at night, on a rough ocean, on the flare path the C130 had very quickly dropped for us.  I say very quickly dropped because the whole engine came finally undone in about 45 seconds.

At the first sign of terminal engine illness (a sort of gentle knocking sound is heard), Ray asked the C130 that had been flying alongside us for the previous 2 hours to drop the flare path immediately. It was a sad moment for us and the C130 crew, who we had both got to know very well following 2 hours of constant talking. They knew we had a slim chance of survival if we ditched at night, and we suspected that was possibly the case as well, but these thoughts were never shared. We had had a similar close association with a succession of airline crews before the C130 arrived on the scene, who had in turn talked to us in reassuring tones before handing over to another airline. We had discussed ditching 200 miles north next to a freighter with the C130 to help (rejected after discussion) and had various reports from the airline network about what the likely engine problem was and how long it could keep going (will run forever at 60% power, was one opinion). It was an amazing coming together of the human spirit and they were incredibly supportive. 

I digress. After Ray called the C130 to drop the flares, we then went into cloud, lost sight of the C130, and then the engine stopped with a bang and smoke came into my side of the cabin. All electrics went out and we could hear our gyros winding down.

We had no electrics at all, including no radio (which is another reason the C130 thought something very serious had happened, usually the battery allows the radios etc. to keep going for the descent). Luckily as we broke out of the rain squall, we saw the flare path and had enough moonlight to assist the ditching. Ray must have managed to keep the tail down for the impact, as we did not flip over although it was one hell of an impact.

The plane began to sink quickly.  We both scrambled out with both bubbles of the vests ‘popped’. My first thought was relief that the water was not cold. Both our life vests were the small variety you get on airlines and totally inadequate for this sort of swell, the idea being that you are meant to get into a light raft. 

Well, the life raft.  I got back into the plane and got it out, gave it to Ray to inflate (it was his raft after all) however Ray could not manage to get it inflated in the 10 seconds or so we had before we had to swim clear of the tail of the plane (as a plane sinks, the tail comes up into the air, and it can then crash down in an unpredictable direction and cause real injury).  Not able to get the raft sorted out, Ray had to let it drop as he struggled to swim clear of the tail. This was a grim moment in our night, it meant our chances of survival were markedly reduced.

‘Our’ C130 remained on the scene for some time, but low fuel necessitated a return to Honolulu. They had not seen anything of us after the crash.

night on the ocean in 3 to 4 metre seas consists of constantly swimming (my approach) or constantly treading water (Ray’s approach) as he could not swim as well as me but was assisted by a greater amount of in-built buoyancy, so to speak (yes, fat does aid buoyancy).  Whatever method you use you cop a lot of salt water and I had to periodically vomit to unload gastric salt when the stomach was full. 

Moments of marked relief follow. 

What gets you in the end is fatigue, you simply cannot sustain that amount of effort for ever and you start to try and snatch the occasional second or two of rest.  It is easy to see how people fade away in that situation and there was more than one occasion when I thought that would be how it would end.

Hours later a second C130 came onto the scene (it was about 12.30 we found out latter), and we looked as we saw it begin a parallel pattern search miles away, but on every pass coming a little closer to us. We saw only its navigation lights against the night moonlight sky, but the characteristic Hercules profile was obvious.  Closer it came, and finally began a run that would pass close to us. 

Both our life vest lights were shining brightly, but Ray was a little too weak to lift his high out of the water and his eyes were badly affected by the salt water, so I grabbed both his and mine and as the plane came close lifted them up, and of course took a full dunking at the same time. Then the C130
passed directly over us again, and the ‘holding up of the lights’ was repeated.

They have seen us!  (Yes, they had in fact seen us with their night vision goggles). 

It then made a pass that dropped a flare close to us. A life raft will follow we thought, but no raft was dropped. Despair and swearing!  What the xxxx is going on here?

It was only later we found out that they thought any survivors would already be in a raft and could not have survived without one. The flare had been dropped, along with several data buoys that we never saw in the dark, to aid the freighter Nyon to locate us.

Hours later, I suppose about 3am. although we had no concept of time, I told Ray I thought I saw a coloured light on the horizon, much different in character to the flare dropped by the second C130 that was still burning close to us. It was indistinct, and I only got an occasional glimpse of it above the waves.  I told Ray I wanted to swim towards this light to check it out, Ray was not in the mood to be left alone in what he thought may be his ebbing moments but I was stubborn that this light had to be checked out. So, for the first time in the entire night, we separated. 

Swimming towards the light, it became a pole with a light. I thought it must be a reef with a warning Nav light.  As I swam closer to it, it became a large, black unlit ship with a mast and a light.  Ecstatic? Not me, I managed to persuade myself that I was dealing with an old ship on a reef with warning navigation lights. 

Now there is no reef within a zillion miles of where we were, but rationality does not always follow in these circumstances.

More stuffing around followed. I tried to swim up to the ship, rough seas got rougher and more threatening the closer I got to the ship – must certainly, be a reef thinks me – and I backed off, then swam around so I could see the other side of the ship at a distance, but no place seemed suitable to clamber aboard and, my god, this was a bloody large ship after all and there were also some other lights on in addition to the mast lights. Thought I saw people on the stern, yelled out, more people seen, other lights on the ship came on, yelled again and again, a few more people seen on the back of the ship but they did not seem to be acknowledging me, apart from moving a sort of spot light. I thought this was some foreign crew on a ship that are not interested in knowing about me.

In despair I started swimming back to Ray. Very soon after that the ship lit up like a Xmas tree, and seemed to back up towards me (not true as I found out later, their propeller would have sucked us in).   I knew then that not only they had seen me but they were interested in rescue.  I began to swim towards the ship, the ship then stopped, someone on the stern held a life ring up into the air, I swam closer, he threw the ring as far as he could, I swam to it and was pulled to the side of the ship. The large seas meant a large vertical movement of water and clambering up the lowered gang plank could not be done, one second it was nearly level with the water, the next about 4 metres above the water. So, they dropped ropes, at first one, then when I indicated one would not enough, 4 more, and I tied these to myself and the life ring and they pulled me on board. ‘I am from a plane crash’ I said. ‘We know’ they said. My friend is in that direction, I said, and by that time Ray’s voice shouting out could be detected (he had heard the commotion, sound travelled reasonably well despite the swell). I was rescued at approx. 3.30am and about 40 minutes latter Ray was rescued. I understand he was too ill to be raised up the side and was sort of floated in a large opening door that made up the front of the ship.

The second C130 had been holding overhead all the time, and did not depart back to Honolulu until we had both been rescued.

The crew on the freighter “Nyon” were very very pleased to rescue us (they had been directed to us by the Coast Guard) and could not do enough for us. They did have a problem though, the Nyon was such a large vessel, a bulk carrier only on its second voyage, that they could not have had their propellers running within several hundred metres of us or we could have been sucked under. That was why they were holding with engines off, until they had positively seen us, which would normally have meant waiting around till first light.

Morning followed, breakfast with the captain, Marijan Poljansek, a delightful Slovenian, and his wife Yaneth. Most of the crew were Slovenian and Croatian. Obligatory photos and exchanges of addresses for me, Ray remained too ill to get up.

At about 10am, we were both transferred to the US Coast Guard cutter Kiska by a sort of rubber boat called an Avon, Ray first on a stretcher and me about 40 minutes later on a sling. Seeing Ray being lowered onto the Avon was as worrying as the ditching. 

On board the cutter Kiska, general delight in the rescue and Ray by then was looking a lot better. Captain Kevin Lopes and crew could not have been more helpful.  We were told we were the only survivors they had had from a night ditching.  Probably true for a situation where there was such a large number of night hours between ditching and rescue.

Arrived in Hilo (on the ‘big’ island of Hawaii) 7.30 next day.  I had not kept much fluid down on the cutter and I guess we were more dehydrated than we thought. 

The cutter docked in Hilo after having gone around in circles outside the harbour for 2 hours, they say they could not dock at night, I suspect they were looking forward to arriving while the media crews were there.  The Coast Guard absolutely glow when they have a successful rescue, everyone on the Cutter was on a high.

Media interview for Ray and me, cutter crew then drove us to the Hilo Hawaiian, manager shouted us to a seafood buffet dinner the next day (just about all we could eat was boiled rice but the beers were appreciated, and I am sure the other guests were amused by two battered diners in blue Coast Guard coveralls and little else).

Aminta (Ray’s wife and business partner) arrived the next morning with a suitcase of stuff from Mary and clothes for Ray (she travelled direct Canberra to Hilo courtesy of a Gulfstream private jet belonging to the owners of the Clamback and Hennessy Kingair …. and that is another story).

Later that morning picked up by the Kiska crew and taken back to the cutter for farewells, photos and speeches.  I then got a lift from the Kiska crew to Hilo where Hawaiian airlines shouted me a free ride to Honolulu. There was some consternation among the other passengers when I walked on with a life jacket but it was one souvenir I was not leaving behind. Then a taxi fare to the consulate, warm welcome from the consul, Majell Hind, who got an emergency passport sorted out, rang the Coast Guard Rear Admiral from the consulate for me and I thanked / discussed the operation.  Majell invited me back to rest at the consulate house prior to departure back to Oz a midnight.  Ray and Aminta stayed on in Honolulu for days and included a visit to Barbers Point to meet the Coast Guard crew.

Weeks later, a few other things emerged. One of my Dr friends, Chris Dunn, tells me that in WWII, many pilots picked up from seas were alive next to the rescue ship but dead by the time they were hauled up the side. Apparently, dehydration in the sea is significant, and becomes lethal as they are taken out of the flotation situation and hauled aboard. The problem was addressed by placing the survivors into a sort of stretcher while in the water, then raising them up horizontally.  

Another chilling thing that Ray and Aminta found out when visiting the Coast Guard some days after. The night vision goggles that picked us out from the sea, well it was a stroke of luck that they were sent out. A second C130 was starting up to go out to the ditching site with the base commander on board. It  had already started one engine when the pilot of the Coast Guard helicopter (I suspect the long range Dolphin helicopter that had been sent from Honolulu to Hilo when we declared the emergency so it could be on station if we ditched within 100 miles of Hilo, and then after our out of range ditching returned to base) ran up to the C130 and said, ‘take these night vision goggles with you, there is someone on board your aircraft who has just done the course in how to use them’. They did.

And, last but not least, that second C130 thought for most of the time it was searching that there was only one person on board! I am not exactly sure at what point in the rescue that was resolved. I know Aminta was rung by the Coast Guard when the night vision goggles had picked up our two lights, and asked if they might represent the aircraft wing lights still floating. Aminta said No way, no way at all the aircraft will be at the bottom of the ocean.  They then knew it must be us. They were not sure if we were alive or not, and thinking that if we were alive, we were in a raft, but none the less it had to be us!

Best wishes,



Ship for Ray Clamback

letter to ernest finch

First, please excuse the typed letter. I type faster and clearer than I can write.

Now, thank you very much for your kind letter of 8.12.99.  Mechanical failure as a cause of non-arrival is, contrary to what most people think, almost unheard of. Most aircraft accidents are due to fuel exhaustion, weather worse than the pilot is trained for and other causes due to pilot error.  

We had about 9 hours at night in 3.5 metre swells with only small life jackets and no life raft. This was indeed hard work.  One had to swim constantly to avoid being totally immersed by the swell.  Ray’s approach was to tread water. He is not as fit as I am and he had about 1O Kg of adipose tissue that aided his buoyancy. For Ray that was his best strategy and it worked surprisingly well, although I estimated he was near death when finally brought aboard the freighter Nyon. I was working harder and getting very tired. It was a constant night of looking for the occasional big wave and then swimming or ducking or whatever to minimise the wash over effects.

What saved us (on reflection) was a good ditching, Ray did this and did it well. We had no power at all at the end (the engine exploded and took with it the main electrical bus) and the flare path laid by the C130, plus the moonlight, plus Ray’s skill (you have to keep the tail down so it contacts first and you don’t flip over) gave us a good start. Losing the lift raft was a major setback but the next stroke of luck was the Coast Guard deciding to send another C130 out that night (it got to us about midnight) and their night vision goggles picked up the tiny lights on our life jackets.  They had seen us, they dropped flares and data buoys (we did not see the buoys) and guided the freighter to our rescue.  Meeting the freighter was a story in itself, enough to say we were both on board by 4.30am and transferred to the Cutter Kiska about 11am that morning.

At 11:52 AM 11/6/00 -0500, you wrote:

The report is in the review process, which will take 2-3 months. I looked at the report quickly and did not see any report from you. Please write a factual narrative of the flight and the circumstances and provide it to the following investigator:

Jeff Rich,NTSB SWR-A