The survivor of the Air Force Reserve HC-130 that crashed off the Northern California coast clung to a seat cushion as cold Pacific Ocean swells up to 10 feet high swept over him, and waited for help.
Tech. Sgt. Robert T. Vogel, 31, of Albany, Ore., spoke Sunday to The Oregonian from his bed at Mad River Community Hospital in Arcata, Calif.
He said the pilots had advised the rest of the crew to don survival suits when their plane developed mechanical problems Friday night.
Vogel said he climbed into his neoprene survival suit, tucked in an emergency radio and grabbed a floatable seat cushion before the plane crashed into the ocean.
He spotted a fishing vessel, splashed and shouted, but the crew of the vessel did not hear him.
Vogel tried reaching inside his suit for the radio.
He choked on water, tried again, and found his suit was ripped. Cold water seeped in. The radio was gone.
He heard a Coast Guard rescue helicopter, but the helicopter angled away.
He heard a transport plane. It, too, disappeared.
Vogel began to shake. He could barely hold his seat cushion.
“I had done everything I could,” Vogel said.
At 9:50 p.m., more than 2-1/2 hours after Vogel hit the ocean, the helicopter returned.
“It was very noisy,” Vogel said.
“But it was the sweetest sound I’ve ever heard.”
The helicopter crew lowered Aviation Survivalman George Cavallo to Vogel’s side. Vogel, seriously hypothermic, clutched his cushion in a “death grip.”
Cavallo wrestled the cushion away from Vogel and looped a sling around him.
“If it was not for the Coast Guard, I wouldn’t be here,” Vogel said.
Vogel suffered a hairline fracture to his hip and chipped a bone in his left ankle. More X-rays of his spine are planned before he is flown back to Portland.
He also has severe facial cuts and a black eye, but is feeling better, he said Sunday.
To his professors at Oregon State University, where he is a senior in engineering, Vogel said, “I won’t be taking midterms on Wednesday.”
But his most difficult message was to the men with whom he flew: “They were a fantastic crew,” Vogel said. “I wish they were here.”
xxxx HC-130 CREW Here is a list of the missing and injured in the crash of a HC-130 Air Force Reserve rescue plane from Portland that went down with 11 people aboard near Eureka, Calif., on Friday:
Missing and presumed dead Capt. Robert P. Schott, 36, West Linn, Ore. Capt. Brant Ferrarini, 32, Tigard, Ore. Lt. Col. John W. Keyes, 46, Troutdale, Ore. Capt. Kirk A. Wellnitz, 32, Portland. Senior Master Sgt. Robert J. Roberts, 47, Milwaukie, Ore. Tech. Sgt. David W. McAuley, 35, Gresham, Ore. Staff Sgt. James R. Johnson, 27, Brush Prairie, Wash. Staff Sgt. Marvin H. Forrest, 48, Vancouver, Wash. Staff Sgt. Ronald E. Garner Jr., 30, Silverton, Ore. Staff Sgt. Jonathan Leonard, 47, Tigard, Ore. Injured Tech. Sgt. Robert Vogel, 31, Albany, Ore.