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The Loss of 'Helicopter 66'

June 4, 1975

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"Helicopter 66", or US Navy Bureau Number 152711, is easily one of the most well-known & widely-recognized helicopters in history.  It is the prime recovery helicopter for five of the Apollo missions.  A Sikorsky SH-3D Sea King, it served with the Navy's Helicopter Anti-Submarine Squadron 4 (HS-4) with distinction.  

From late 1968 through the spring of 1970, the Black Knights of HS-4 participated in and pioneered techniques for the Apollo capsule recoveries. HS-4 was on scene for Apollo missions 8, 10, 11, 12, and 13.  The helicopter's flight number was changed from '66' to '740' (The Navy had switched to a three number squadron designator - but the chopper was repainted with the number '66' for each recovery thereafter for public relations reasons).  

Helicopter 66 hovering over the Apollo 10 command module "Charlie Brown" & crew

Recovery: Dec 27, 1968Recovery: May 29, 1969Recovery: July 24, 1969Recovery: Nov 24, 1969Recovery: April 17, 1970

Recovery Pilot:

CDR Donald S. Jones

Recovery Pilot:

CDR Chuck B. Smiley

Recovery Pilot:

CDR Donald S. Jones

Recovery Pilot:

CDR Warren E. Aut

Recovery Pilot:

CDR Chuck B. Smiley

Vessel: USS Yorktown, CVS-10Vessel: USS Princeton, LPH-5Vessel: USS Hornet, CVS-12Vessel: USS Hornet, CVS-12Vessel: USS Iwo Jima, LPH-2
@ 8°6' N-165°1' W@ 15°2' S-164°39' W@ 13°19' N-169° 9' W@ 15°47' S-165°9' W@ 21°38' S-165°21' W

After the recovery of the Apollo 13 crew, HS-4 was divided between Vietnam, and training in San Diego., and it was assigned to the training force in San Diego.

On June 4th, 1975, the helicopter departed the Naval Auxiliary Air Field at Imperial Beach, CA, at 1900 hours, enroute to the Helicopter Offshore Training Area to conduct a scheduled night anti-submarine sonar training flight.  The flight's pilot-in-command was LT Leo S. Rolek and the copilot was LTJG Charles D. Neville.  Twenty minutes later, the crew reported their position and commenced operations with four approaches to sonar hover and four night/low visibility and wind-line rescue patterns with hover trim practice until dusk.  After sunset (1953 hours), the crew conducted four more approaches to sonar hovers while practicing dip-to-dip navigation with the pilots alternating approaches.  Complying with reporting it every half-hour, the practices proceeded normally until 2133.  With the sonar dome lowered down to 100 feet below the water's surface, the hover of the helicopter became unstable.  The two sonar operators, AWH3 Brady W. Turner and AWH3 Peter C. Cassidy, sank the sonar dome deeper in the ocean, hoping the stability would improve and, for a brief moment, it worked.  But, then the sonar dome began to pull Helo '740' downward to 30 feet above the waterline.  The helicopter, being pulled backwards, impacted the water, sinking quickly.  The four crewmen all egressed and when picked up by a Coast Guard HH-3F shortly before midnight.  They were taken to the Naval Hospital at San Diego.  Three of the crewmen was released from the hospital in the days that followed.  But the pilot, who suffered from a ruptured spleen from the mishap, died of his injuries over three weeks later.

The official mishap report indicates that the wreck of 152711 is located at a depth of over 800 fathoms (2400+ feet).  However, we have heard from divers who report the helo's depth at 220 feet, and in good structural shape.

"No bucks, no Buck Rogers..."

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This page last updated Saturday, November 22, 2014

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