Six Swim To Land In Heavy Seas

A high-speed, 50-foot Navy swift boat from Mare Island's Naval Inshore Operations Training Center (NIOTC) capsized and sank early today and another was beached during an ill-fated training mission off Bodega Bay on the Sonoma County coast. Six Crewmen in the boat that sank swam a mile to shore in heavy seas. No men were lost although one sailor, Curtis MacConnell, was hospitalized in Sebastopol suffering from exposure and an arm injury.

McConnell told an interviewer his boat was flipped over in heavy surf and sank.

He said: "I don't know how I got out." The other boat, which was close aboard the one that sank, beached but did not overturn. Its crew waded ashore in heavy surf.

The accident occurred while five of the swifts were on a training mission. The other three boats escaped trouble, although weather was reported heavy and visibility diminished. One of the fast patrol craft returned to Mare Island and the other two remained at Bodega Bay.

Residents of the tiny community of Salmon Creek, three miles from Bodega Bay, talked to some of the survivors last night. They said the survivors told them they began to have trouble at 3 p.m. Thursday and became lost when their radar went out.

The sinking and grounding occurred at about 10 p.m. last night.

Coast Guard and Navy personnel were at the scene preparing for salvage operations, and Capt. Thomas F. Booker, USN, NIOTC commanding officer, said an investigation was under way to determine the cause of the accident. He had gone to the Bodega Bay Coast Guard station, where the 12 men off the two disabled vessels were being examined.

No identification on the others involved were available.

If the craft were carrying normal crew complements, six men each would have been aboard the five vessels, or a total of 30 men. It was believed a training instructor also was aboard one of the vessels. Each normally carries five men and an officer in charge.

Of the other boats, one had returned to Mare Island and ...

Vallejo News Chronicle, Friday 19 December 1969


Personal recollections of EN2 Curtis MacConnell:

James Harris, Steve Vogt and I were on the 8 boat the evening it capsized and sank in heavy seas after being sent out on a firing exercise while small craft warning were issued. When the boat capsized I was in the forward berthing compartment with another sailor. Before swimming down (remember the boat's upside down) into the main cabin and then down again and out of the boat, I foolishly took off my foul weather jacket. That hastened the onset of hypothermia. I remember becoming very cold, then suddenly comfortable except for the waves that kept pounding and breaking over us. I remember very little until waking up in a Coast Guard aid station. I've always suspected that I owe my life that evening to Jim and Steve.

In retrospect, the "official" reports seem to understate the events. If I recall correctly, there were five boats in all on the exercise. One, with all the instructors on board, left us early in the evening to navigate our way back to Mare Island because they wanted to make liberty. Another turned out to sea and was lost until morning when the Coast Guard picked them up. A third boat made it into Mare Island unassisted the next morning. PCF 1 ran aground and PCF 8 capsized around 10 p.m.


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This page was last updated on:  August 26, 2013 at 10:58