SitNews - Stories in the News - Ketchikan, Alaska

Coast Guard Award Honors Man Who Died On Gravina In 1964;
Five died when Albatross crashed after searching for sinking boat


March 29, 2021
Monday PM

(SitNews) Ketchikan, Alaska - Twice each year at United States Coast Guard air wings across the country, there is a chance for special recognition for service men and women with the awarding of the Lt. Robert A. Perchard Memorial Trophy.

The trophy has been given out hundreds of times over the last half century. Through the award, each aviation unit recognizes enlisted crew members for "demonstrating exemplary performance and superior technical, aviation, professional and leadership abilities," according to the Coast Guard.

The award has its genesis one horrible night on Gravina Island's Dall Head.

jpg Two Albatrosses at Annette Island in the 1960s

Two Albatrosses at Annette Island in the 1960s
P oto courtesy of the Coast Guard Aviation Association

Earlier in the day, July 3, 1964, the Coast Guard had received a report that the 29-foot fishing boat "Jean" had run aground on Nunez Rocks and was sinking. Nunez Rocks is located about three miles offshore of Cape Chacon on Prince of Wales Island. It is one of the "points of contention" in the ongoing dispute between the Alaska and British Columbia regarding the international border in Dixon Entrance. It is also a popular fishing site because the shallow waters around the ocean pinnacles attract both fish and fishermen.

Lt. Perchard, from Westwood, Massachusetts, was one of five crewmembers on a USCG Albatross that scrambled that day to search for the Jean.  The other crewmembers were AD1 Harry Olson of Cheyenne, Wyoming, AM2 Donald Malena of Monongahela, Pennsylvania and AT3 Edward Krajniak of Parma Heights, Ohio. The pilot of the plane was Lt. Commander Joseph Andrassy of Port Angeles, Washington.

After searching for several hours in the vicinity of the Rocks and finding nothing, the Albatross returned to Annette. In addition to the late evening darkness, the return was also hampered by thick rain squalls and overcast skies.

jpg Coast Guard Award Honors Man Who Died On Gravina In 1964

An Albatross flying over Ketchikan in the late 1960s.
Photo courtesy of the Coast Guard Aviation Association

According to Coast Guard records, the plane attempted to land at Annette around 10 pm and was unable to make out the runway. Andrassy radioed the tower at Annette to make sure the landing lights were on and advised he was going around for another attempt to land from the north.

That was the last the tower heard from the flight. Search planes were sent out, ranging from Dixon Entrance to Sumner Strait, looking for the missing Grumman Albatross, a larger version of the Grumman Goose, which was specifically designed for search and rescue missions.

The search even extended into the Haida Gwaii (Queen Charlotte Islands) when someone reported seeing an Albatross flying low overhead around 11 pm Friday night near Graham Island.

The Associated Press quoted Ketchikan USCG base commander Capt. Henry Keene as saying it was possible the plane had been flying south to find better weather.

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Continued poor weather over the weekend limited the search, according to the Ketchikan Daily News.

By Sunday, the weather cleared and around 5 pm search planes discovered the Albatross wreckage 2,000 feet up on the mountain at Dall Head, which is at the southwest corner of Gravina Island, several miles across Nichols Passage from Annette Island. The wreckage was about 200 feet from the top of the mountain.

"The Coast Guard reported there was no chance that any of the fliers survived," the Daily News reported, noting that the plane had crashed just a couple of flight minutes from the air station. The downed plane was located by the "Ketchikan Flying Club's new Cessna 172" according to the Daily News.

"Bob Adams was at the controls when the discovery was made," the Daily News reported on July 6. "The search plane had already made one pass over the area. On the second pass, ducking through the cloud patches which covered Dall Head, observer Carl "Red" Jackson spotted the broken trees which marked the wreckage site.

The next day, Keene, Magistrate Judge Richard Lauber and Dick Borch of the Ketchikan Volunteer Rescue Squad helicoptered out to Gravina and hiked up to the site to confirm the fatalities. Lauber said it was clear that all the crew members had died on impact before the fire consumed the wreckage.

Dave Henderson of Ketchikan says that his father was one of the Coast Guardsmen tasked with removing the badly burned bodies of the crew from the crash site after hiking up the side of the mountain because helicopters could not land at the crash site.

The Alaska Shipwrecks website records report that the Jean - owned by Floyd Madsen of Ketchikan - sank at Nunez Rocks. The Associated Press reported that two crewmen on the Jean were rescued by another boat. Ketchikan resident Robert Almquist says that the two men - including one of his relatives - escaped the boat in a punt before it sank. He said that despite its small size the Jean was frequently one of the better halibut boats in the local fleet. The Ketchikan Daily News identified the two crewmen as Ken Madsen and George Alexander. They were rescued by the fishing boat Argo.

After the crash,  a group of Lt. Perchard's friends - as well as his parents - contributed to a fund that established the memorial trophy which continues to be awarded today.



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Dave Kiffer is a freelance writer living in Ketchikan, Alaska.
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