Two numbers that everyone familiar with the Flying Tiger crash should remember are “923” and “923.” The first number 923 refers to the airplane, a Lockheed four engine Super Constellation, “Flying Tiger 923.” The second number refers to the date of the crash, September 23. The year was 1962. It was a Sunday and the cold war was heating up over the Cuban Missle Crisis. For those who died that night, it was a tragic and final end. For the 48 who lived, Captain Murray performed a miracle.
This year on 9/23 it will be our 56th anniversary, which places the disaster some 20,454 days in the past. For the survivors who still live today, those 20,454 days are all extra days alive on this planet, thanks to Captain John Murray.
Former US Senator and Secretary of State John Kerry recently published a book, “Every Day Extra.” His book is a memoir reviewing his entire life with every day being a gift from the beginning. I have taken a bit of literary license in using a part of his book’s title to claim that “every day of my life since 923/62 has been an extra day” and I am sure all others feel the same way. Even those who have already passed on were gifted with extra days.
For sure, not every one of those extra days were rollicking happy or dramatically successful, but there always seemed to be another extra day to start over again. I have decided to simply forget the not-so-good days, to toss them away, so-to-speak. I am keeping my mind on the majority of good ones with all of the good cheer and many triumphs big and small. After all, every day is in fact extra.
As you read through the pages in this web-site (more than 110 separate articles, which are probably 250 pages of book text), you can’t leave without feeling that a lot of others besides Captain Murray deserve thanks for those extra days also. In fact, far more than a thousand persons were involved with the rescue effort. To start with just a few:
The Air Force C-118 Globe Master captained by Joseph K. Lewis, 25, of Tuscaloosa, Alabama, was taking American military personnel from Prestwick, Scotland, to the US, by way of Harmon, Newfoundland. It was Captain Lewis’ first flight as captain when he heard the distress message.
For nearly five hours, the crew of the Air Force Globe Master were the only “eyes and ears” for the rescue effort following the ditching. After so many hours of circling, the aircraft was running low on fuel and was forced to return back to Scotland. Luckily, other aircraft had flown to the crash site and were able to take over the job of marking the location of the lone life raft.
Without the Swiss Rescue Ship, the Celerina, and its dedicated Captain and crew of 45 plus, we may never have been rescued. There were very few ships in that region of the cold Atlantic. If the 51 of us crammed into the tiny rubber raft had eventually been recovered, everyone would have most likely been found dead, expired of hypothermia. Three died on the life raft as it was. Only 48 of us made it to safety after six hours of bobbing and spinning in the frigid seas.
One especially important person to the Flying Tiger story was a 19-year-old Swiss lad who was on board the Celerina as a student observer. His name is Pierre-Andre Reymond. His father wanted him to record his travels and gave him a Brownie 8mm film camera for that purpose. Pierre-Andre just happened to take his camera on deck the day of the crash and filmed the raging seas. The three minute film is posted in several places on this site and as of this date more than 2,800 persons have viewed the video. Click here to see the raging seas some 12 hours before the ditching, Flying Tiger 923 and Raging North Atlantic (Note: the video says September 22 due to the fact that 12 hours were enough to cause a date change.)
Pierre-Andre somehow found me very early in my research. He wrote several valuable stories for this web-site and was instrumental from the beginning in arranging and promoting the memorial at Galley Head in 2012, including arranging for the Swiss Ambassador to Ireland on short notice to speak at our ceremony as a special guest.
Rescue team members at Cork Airport numbered in the hundreds. Of special note is our friend Gary Ahern of Dublin who was involved in planning the memorial.
Gary Ahern was on the very first four-person emergency rescue team at the new Cork airport. That team played an important role in the logistics of moving the injured from the rescue helicopters to the ambulances that delivered them to the hospitals. All four original members of that team participated in our memorial program 50 years later at Galley Head.
The virtually unknown crews of the US “weather ships” placed across the Atlantic to keep aircraft posted on weather conditions were among the first to hear the calls for help. Several were within communications distance of our aircraft to relay distress signals.
And more than 1,500 personnel of the Canadian aircraft carrier, Bonaventure, and her four escort destroyers, that diverted from their course to follow us to safety. The Bonaventure transported recovered bodies to Shannon Airport and provided emergency medical supplies to the Celerina,
And the list goes on and on.
I urge everyone to browse through our “drop-down” directory above, if you have not already done so, to get a feel for the magnitude of “923”. Our web-site counter tells us that we have had more than 92,100 visits, which translates into thousands if individual visitors, from nearly every country in the world.
I am proud that so many have had the opportunity to learn so much about a nearly invisible incident of cold-war September 1962. This web-site is a dedicated memorial to honor everyone.
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