July 1969 - A HU16 was dispatched from the San Juan Air Station to join in a search for a missing fishing boat. It was always somewhat difficult when searching for a local West Indies fishing boat. When given a description of the missing boat it was typical of the hundreds of wooden vessels that were on each of the islands. We continued our search throughout the day and when nightfall approached it was decided that we would overnight in Barbados and
resume the search at first light. Our overnight accommodations on the various islands during searches certainly ran the gambit. I remember an overnight in Kingston, Jamaica were I slept under the aircraft on the tarmac (inside the aircraft was to hot) and other times it was nice but modest. Our overnight in Barbados was over the top. July was certainly off peak season, so most hotels had plenty of rooms. Not sure how we wound up at the Barbados Hilton but we did. We were treated like royalty. Ocean front rooms with all the amenities. Our evening meal was one to remember.
As the sun rose, the other flight mechanic and I went to the aircraft to prepare it for the days search. Shortly after arriving at the airport, we got word from the Lieutenant (pilot) that the fishing boat was found, so the search was called off and we would return to San Juan. Without the urgency of the search, the Lieutenant asked me to notify him when the aircraft was ready and he would depart the hotel.
While pre-flighting the aircraft, I noticed oil leaking from the propeller dome. It wasn't much and would probably have been fine to return to the base. I informed the Lieutenant who was still at the hotel. He asked me to further evaluate and get back with him. I was a qualified crewmember, a flight mechanic but my training was as a structural mechanic and my round engine experience was limited at my age of 19 years old. The other flight mechanic's training was the same as mine.
The Lieutenant (24 years old) knowing my limited experience wanted more of a reassurance that we could indeed return to base as is. Contact was made with San Juan and after some back and forth it was decided that an more experience engine (prop) mechanic would be dispatched to Barbados. To be sure that all went well he was dispatched in a second HU16 with a new propeller assembly just in case it was required.
The Albatross dropped the mechanic and parts and returned to San Juan. By this time daylight was leaving and working on the ramp at night without lights would not work... so back to the Hilton.
We were now, 7 Coasties at the Hilton with an additional evening in Bridgetown. We awoke to another beautiful Caribbean morning and we were off to Seawell Airport (Grantley Adams International Airport - today) to inspect the aircrafts propeller. The experienced mechanic also thought it would be fine to return to San Juan as is, but the question came up. What if after all the efforts to this point was due to an inconsequential oil drip... maybe best to change the propeller. We called the Lieutenant to let him know we were going to spend the day changing the propeller. It took awhile to reach him because he was at the pool but he seemed pleased with the news. Carry on.
It wouldn't necessarily take a full day but we needed to gain access to work stands that were not exactly suited for our prop change but we would make do.
The Seawell Airport was not that large or busy (in 1969) and for the most part gave us a fairly quiet work environment until early afternoon. The silence was broken with an arrival of a Boeing 707... not just any B707 but the Presidential aircraft without in this case Richard Nixon. This aircraft was transporting Nelson Rockefeller .
The visit to Barbados was the last stop on the 20 country Latin America tour.
As we continued to work on the prop change, we had a grand view of the B-707 and the dignitaries preparing to disembark. As the forward passenger door opened, Nelson Rockefeller stepped out with both hands claps above his head moving them left to right and followed with both arms stretched straight up... a grand gesture to the crowd below. Only problem there was no crowd. There was no Prime Minister Errol Barrow. A government representative was present but very little fanfare. There was a band but not a grand band... just a few instruments and two flags, Barbados and U.S. The entourage got into a couple vehicles and left.
We had to laugh at the procession that just occurred and we certainly had a great seat to view it all. Okay, back to work. We completed the propeller change and did a run up and all checked out fine. At this point we have used a good part of another day. I contacted the Lieutenant back at the Hilton to inform him that we were ready when he was. He requested that I come back to the hotel and we will confirm our departure time.
While working at the airport over the course of the two days I got to know some of the airport staff and appreciated the support we got. While talking with airport ops they told me they were expecting another aircraft in the morning with what they heard was another dignitary. When I asked, who... they referred to a telex and stated an Admiral Willard Smith , U.S.C.G. Commandant would arrive in their new Gulfstream II (VC-11A) first thing in the morning from Washington, D.C.
When I relayed this information to the Lieutenant upon my arrival back at the hotel, it was determined that our departure from Barbados was NOW!
We were back at the airport within the hour and departed for San Juan. It seemed best not to be on the ramp when the Commandant arrived in the morning.
Once back at the U.S.C.G. Air Station San Juan there we a number questions that Capt. C.M. Mayes, our Commanding Officer needed answers to. Each and every crewmember was interviewed to have a full understanding of the previous days events. When all the information was reviewed, it was determined that in the future, when 2 flight mechanics are scheduled, to not have both from the same shop if possible. Also... even though they wanted to believe we acted professionally, they also believed having an entire flight crew under the age of 25 years may have contributed to less than the best decision making regarding the extended stay at the Barbados Hilton.
I remember another overnight, not long after the one above. When searching for an overdue vessel, we needed to land before dusk at Grand Turk and get back up at first light. This was a remote dirt strip and we had to first fly over the field a couple of times to scare the bulls off the field with the third pass to land. That night we slept on the aircraft. I thought... a far cry from the Barbados Hilton.
I have also posted a little more about this and that as it relates to my stop in Barbados and some of the people we encountered or almost encountered.