Articles From the May 1994 Unification News


Blessed Children Witness Tragedy on San Francisco Bay

by Kevin Thompson-Berkeley, CA

The blessed children had been keenly anticipating their spring break Ocean Challenge workshop for quite some time but nothing could have prepared them for what they saw on April 5.

The morning's fishing had gone well, moving around San Francisco Bay checking out various fishing spots while trading off turns at navigating One Hope 150.

At 12 noon we were heading south, just west of the Alameda Naval Air Station. Above us two A6 Intruders were going through their practice maneuvers of "touch and go" landings. Lark Roper, Edgar Tecun, myself, and five 10-year-old blessed children were thoroughly enjoying the spectacle above as we headed for our next anchorage. Suddenly, without warning, the peaceful scene was shattered and joy turned to tragedy. One of the A6 Intruders turned very sharply away from the runway and was so obviously in serious trouble. The plane seemed as if it couldn't right itself, rocking side to side with black smoke pouring out of it. The plane flew dangerously over our heads and seemed to be heading directly towards a tanker anchored in the bay. I feared the worst-then the plane turned suddenly and dived into the water with a crash and small explosion. Just before hitting the water, there appeared to be two orange objects flying out of the plane and hitting the water almost at the same time as the plane.

The plane sank very quickly, leaving behind debris all over the surface. Our boat was approximately a quarter-mile away from the accident. I drove my boat over to the scene to see if there was anyone needing help. At the same time, another vessel was approaching. The vessel stopped and one crewman put on a flotation jacket and jumped into the water where one of the pilots was located. The skipper of this vessel called over to me that there was another airman in the water just a few hundred yards away. I drove my boat over to him, although all I could see was black clothing and I wasn't sure that it was a person. I asked Edgar to get the gaff to pull him in as I got close. He did this; then I lifted the clothing and the head of the airman came out of the water. I asked Lark to keep the boys out of the way and not to let them look at the body in the water because I knew it was going to be a traumatic scene.

Edgar and I tried to lift the man out of the water but because of the gear he was wearing he was too heavy to pull up high enough to get him over the gunwale. All we could do was hang on to him over the side of the boat.

I radioed on Channel 16 to the Coast Guard with one hand while holding on to the man with the other hand. I told the Coast Guard that I had one man by my boat and that he was still alive, and to please send help quickly.

I knew the man was still alive, if only barely, because he stirred and gulped for air a few times. I tried to rouse him and he moved his head. His face was bloodied and battered and his skin was turning blue.

I was just debating whether to jump into the water to give him mouth- to-mouth resuscitation when I saw a Coast Guard boat approaching and I thought it best to just hold on to him until they arrived. I was waving them down as they were stopping to look at various pieces of debris, probably looking for bodies. I was yelling to them that I was holding on to one airman and to please come quickly as he was still alive. Eventually they must have seen me holding on to this man over the side of my boat and they came over.

The young Coast Guard men were not so sure what to do and looked shocked at the sight of the airman in the water. At first they brought their boat up to my boat bow to bow, then the skipper decided to turn around, bow to stern. They passed a kind of stretcher to me first, then the skipper changed his mind and decided it would be best if we tried to haul him up onto his boat. I told him that he was too heavy for me to lift. Then someone from another vessel came and jumped on my boat to help me. Among Edgar, this other man, the Coast Guard men and myself, we were able to lift him aboard the Coast Guard vessel which then headed off toward the base.

Unfortunately, despite all efforts, the pilot was unable to be revived, both of them dying from massive injuries sustained by ejecting so near the water.

In the following days I appeared at a number of Navy inquiries looking into the cause of the tragedy, which cost the lives of two men and the loss of a $35 million plane. I was always referred to as the minister of the Unification Church and received a special award from the Navy for our efforts.

It is my opinion that the pilot died a hero who miraculously saved the plane from hitting the full oil tanker and hence prevented a tragedy of much greater proportions.

This whole episode was a serious awakening for the children on board who realized the preciousness of their own lives.


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