Atlantic Ocean – February 18, 1979

Atlantic Ocean – February 18, 1979

     At 5:20 a.m. on the morning of February 18, 1979, the Japanese fishing vessel Kaisei Maru No. 18 contacted the U.S. Coast Guard requesting assistance for an injured crewman with a severe head injury.  They gave their location as being 180 miles southeast of Cape Cod, Massachusetts.  A Sikorsky HH-3F “Pelican” long-rang helicopter with five crewmen aboard was dispatched from Otis Air Force Base in Falmouth, Massachusetts.   

     When the helicopter reached the ship, seas were running about 25 feet, it was snowing, and the wind was gusting up to 30 mph.  As the injured crewman was being hoisted from the ship to the helicopter, the helicopter suddenly went into the ocean and capsized.  The injured Japanese crewman and one member of the helicopter crew were rescued by members of the fishing boat’s crew.  The other four Coast Guardsmen perished in the accident.     

     The dead were identified as:

     The Pilot: Lt. Cmdr. James Dennis Stiles, 33, of Cataumet, Massachusetts.  To see a photo of Lt. Cmdr. Stiles, and to read more about him, go to, Memorial #73511993.

     The Co-pilot: Captain George R. Barge, 38, of Fredericton, New Brunswick.  Captain Barge was with the Canadian Forces, and was stationed at Otis AFB as part of an exchange program.

     Aviation Electronics Technician 2/c John B. Tait, 22, of Silver Springs, Maryland.  To see a photo of him, go to www.findagrave,com, Memorial #22291743 

     Hospital Corpsman 2/c Bruce A. Kaehler, 27, of Fort Collins, Colorado. To see an image of him, go to, Memorial #22291626

     The bodies of all four crewmen were recovered.

     The rescued helicopter crewman was identified Aviation Machinist Mate 2/c Mark Torr, 20, of Rochester, New Hampshire.

     The injured Japanese crewman and AMM2c Torr were transported to Cape Cod Hospital by a second Coast Guard helicopter sent from Elizabeth, New Jersey.

     Buoys were attached to the overturned helicopter to keep it afloat until a salvage vessel could reach the scene from Norfolk, Virginia.  The ship arrived on February 22, but had to wait 24 hours due to rough seas.   As the helicopter was in the process of being brought out of the water, the salvage lines snapped and the aircraft quickly took on water and sank two miles to the ocean floor.  The aircraft could not be recovered from that depth, therefore the cause of the accident was never determined.     


     Westerly Sun, (R.I.), “Guardsmen Killed In Crash”, February 19, 1979. 

     Providence Evening Bulletin, “Search Continues For helicopter Crewman Off Cape Cod”, February 19, 1979, page B-4

     Westerly Sun, (R.I.), “Body Of Fourth Victim Recovered From Copter”, February 21, 1979, page 2.

     Providence Journal Bulletin, “Copter Involved In Fatal Crash Lost In Salvage”, February 24, 1979, page A-3 

     Westerly Sun, (R.I.), “Copter Sinks; Cause Of Crash Remains Unknown”, February 25, 1979, page 21.



Return to Top ▲Return to Top ▲