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Rescuers Search Cold, Shark-Infested Waters For Crash Survivors

November 24, 1996

EUREKA, Calif. (AP) _ Rescuers hunted Saturday for survivors of an Air Force Reserve rescue plane that plunged into the frigid, shark-infested Pacific Ocean with 11 people on board. One person was rescued alive.

But there were no other signs of life in the area 60 miles off the northern California coast where the Oregon-based HC-130 Hercules aircraft went down with engine trouble during a training mission Friday night.

``You hold out hope as long as you can, but it’s getting pretty long now,″ said Air Force Col. Chuck Cinammon.

Two bodies were pulled from the 52-degree water at morning’s light, leaving eight men unaccounted for.

Helicopter crews returning Saturday reported seeing a 40-foot section of one wing and a piece of the plane’s nose. The crews also reported seeing a number of sharks prowling the area.

``They weren’t great white sharks, but they were sharks,″ said Coast Guard Lt. Craig Breitung. ``We are always concerned about predators in cases like this.″

Several Coast Guard vessels joined the search, along with aircraft from several bases. Three empty life rafts were found in the water west of Cape Mendocino, about 200 miles north of San Francisco.

Coast Guard and Air Force crews called off their search as darkness fell late Saturday, but a Navy frigate was searching through the night for debris and possible survivors. The full search was to resume at first light Sunday.

The survivor, Technical Sgt. Robert Vogel, 31, of Albany, Ore., was rescued late Friday night. He was spotted clinging to a seat cushion by a helicopter crew using a powerful searchlight and night vision goggles.

Officials at Mad River Community Hospital in nearby Arcata allowed photographers into the intensive care unit to take pictures of Vogel, who had a bandage on his right arm and cuts on his hands and face.

Although he didn’t speak to reporters, an airman in the room said Vogel had told him, ``Thanks to the Coast Guard for rescuing me.″ Vogel also told rescuers he saw no other survivors.

Vogel, a senior industrial engineering major at Oregon State University, was in fair condition Saturday. Hospital officials declined to elaborate on his injuries.

The plane went down shortly after the crew reported one of four propeller engines had shut down and they were having trouble with another, said Col. Rick Davis, the commander of the 939th Rescue Wing’s 304th Rescue Squadron in Portland, Ore., the plane’s home base.

After that, the crew reported complete electrical failure. Radio contact was lost about 7:30 p.m. and wreckage was found 90 minutes later.

Coast Guard Commander Kevin Marshall said the plane was heading to North Island Naval Air Station near San Diego from its home base in Oregon.

There was some confusion over which direction the plane was headed because it apparently tried to turn back before it crashed, the Coast Guard explained.

Though it was on a training mission, the squadron is often pressed into duty to help civilian authorities in mountain rescues and other emergencies in the Pacific Northwest.

The HC-130 is a variant of the C-130, a workhorse as a military cargo and search-and-rescue airplane. The plane has a wingspan of 130 feet and four turboprop engines.

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