Old 25th Nov 2014, 04:50
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India Four Two
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Sixty years ago - the wreck of the South Goodwin Lightship

On the night of 26/27 November 1954, the South Goodwin Lightship's anchor chains parted in a hurricane-force storm and she ended up capsized on the Goodwin Sands, with the loss of seven lives. I remember this very well, because my family lived in Ramsgate at the time, in a top-floor flat, from where we could see the Goodwins at low tide. The picture in the papers two days later made a very vivid impression on a seven year old:

Here's the midnight surface prog (MSL isobars in white). Note the 5 mb gradient between London and Dover!


The crew of seven were never found, but Andrew Murton, who was observing bird migration for the Ministry of Agriculture and Fisheries, was found clinging to a stanchion and rescued the next day by a USAF SH-19 (S-55) from Manston.

The Straits of Dover is the busiest shipping lane in the world. Just north of its narrowest point stands the Goodwin Sands: 35 miles of shifting sands have been the graveyard to Viking longships, galleons, liners, tugs, yachts and trawlers of every nationality and a lightship - the South Goodwin lightship LV 90. Tom Skipp was a worried man on the evening of 26 November 1954 as he prowled the deck of LV 90, checking that all was secure. Huge waves were already sweeping the deck, putting a strain on the 410 metres of heavy cable. Below, the crew were doing their best to protect themselves from the sudden jerking movements, as the wind, now a hurricane force 12, and a full flood tide battered the lightvessel. Sometime between midnight and 01:00 the cable parted but such was the battering no one would have known. Ashore, Ramsgate and Deal Coastguard were worried, but visibility was low. Suddenly, at about 01:15, LV 12 the East Goodwin Light Vessel saw its sister ship sweep past six miles north of the station; they could only watch in horror. The crew, we know, mustered in the galley and shortly afterwards the ship hit the sands in Keller Gut, collapsing onto her starboard side. Inside, the men were fighting for survival, the galley door was under water sealing off the exit, but one man, the survivor Ronald Murton, scrambled through the skylight and into the inferno that was raging above. Meanwhile lifeboats from Dover and Ramsgate and a United States search and rescue helicopter from Manston were launched, but it was not until daylight that the wreck was located by the helicopter. In an amazing feat of accurate flying, for which the crew received bravery awards, the helicopter snatched Murton from the hull. He had survived the worst channel storm in two centuries. His first words were for his fellow crewmen whom he knew were still alive in the hull. But even as the rescue operation for them was being launched the race against time and tide was being lost. The lifeboats could not get near to the light vessel and within hours the tide had enveloped her and those trapped inside her hull. The extreme weather lasted a further day, and on 28 November divers eventually were able to get onboard. There was no trace of the crew; not a single body was recovered. The ship did not disappear entirely however and at low tide traces of her can still be seen today.
Accidents & Disasters: South Goodwin Lightship Tragedy 1954

More information here:
Goodwin: The Forgotten Tragedy | National Maritime Museum Cornwall | Falmouth, Cornwall

Flight International had a paragraph on the rescue and a picture of the aircrew involved in the rescue sorties:

1954 | 3189 | Flight Archive

One of the aircrew, Willis "Joe" Kusy had a very distinguished career, both before and after his Manston posting:


USAFHPA Ten Commandments

An interesting 2012 postscript here:
Son of search-and-rescue hero is back to pull a pint in Margate | Canterbury Times

The RNLI awarded a silver medal to Captain Curtis Parkins, the first ever medal awarded to an airman:
PARKINS Curtis E., Captain, United States Air Force, 66th Air Rescue Squadron
27 November 1954: Gales of exceptional force had been blowing for several days off the East Kent coast and, early in the morning, it was noticed that the South Goodwin light vessel had disappeared. Lifeboats at Ramsgate. Dover and Walmer were warned and, during the night, the first two launched and carried out searches of the Goodwins without success. At daylight, the vessel was located on her beam ends, lying on her side where she had drifted. The Walmer lifeboat launched. The combined efforts of all three boats could not detect any survivors, therefore a call was made to 66th Air Rescue Squadron. U.S.A.F., which provided a helicopter from its base at Manston, Kent, near Ramsgate. A second sortie at 9 a.m. by Captain Parkins noticed a solitary figure - a Ministry of Agriculture and Fisheries bird watcher - clinging to the light vessel's superstructure. Ignoring the normal rules, the helicopter was brought down to 30 feet and, in spite of the wreckage and spray, the lone survivor was plucked from his refuge and landed safely at Manston.
This was the first R.N.L.I. medal to be awarded to any pilot of any aircraft and also the first service given by a helicopter when lifeboats, although present, were unable to render the necessary help.
Medals Awarded To Ramsgate

On the 28th, when the storm had abated, the 66th Air Rescue Squadron airlifted diving equipment to RN and Trinity House vessels searching for survivors that might be trapped in the hull:

[email protected] Digest ... Lightship Tragedy

Parts of the wreck are still occasionally exposed:

From: Goodwin Sands

Last edited by India Four Two; 27th Nov 2014 at 05:31.
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