Herhold: The miracle on the Hudson had a local precedent
By Scott Herhold
Posted: 01/28/2009 04:57:36 PM PST
Richard N. Ogg, a Pan-Am pilot who lived in Saratoga, brought a... (Mercury News archives)
The pilot remembered a "very heavy" impact when the plane hit the water after losing two engines. He praised the passengers for staying calm as they filed out into the three life rafts. When he was acclaimed for rescuing everyone aboard, he was fixedly modest: "To me, it was just a matter of doing my job,'' he said
Chesley B. "Sully'' Sullenberger, the man who landed US Airways Flight 1549 on the Hudson River? No: The hero 52 years ago was Richard N. Ogg, a veteran pilot from Saratoga who landed a Pan American Stratocruiser on the Pacific Ocean, saving all 31 aboard. The miracle on the Hudson had a precedent.
Forever after, his superb ditching defined Ogg's career: He regularly spoke before aviation groups about safety procedures. Once, when he had a faraway look on his face, his wife, Margaret, asked him what he was thinking. Ogg answered that he was pondering the fate of a group of canaries that drowned in the hold when the plane went down.
Peril over the Pacific Ogg, then 42, had been a pilot for two decades when he took off from Honolulu at 9:30 p.m. on Sunday, Oct. 14, 1956, bound for San Francisco with 24 passengers and six other crew members. The name of his craft was "Sovereign of the Skies," but that night, it had to depend on others to survive.
The pilot later told San Jose Kiwanis Club members that he had completed the first leg of his trip when his number one engine, on the far left-hand side, failed. Ogg tried to feather the propeller, or alter the pitch of the blades, but it continued to "windmill," putting a tremendous drag on the plane. With the number four engine also malfunctioning and his air speed reduced to 140 knots, Ogg knew he would probably have to ditch.
Luck was with him: Ten minutes before, he had passed a Coast Guard cutter, the Pontchartrain. Ogg turned the heavy Stratocruiser around and began five hours of circling the Pontchartrain, waiting for daylight and for his tanks to empty of fuel. He practiced ditching at least three times.
At 8:16 a.m. Pacific Standard Time —7:16 a.m. by the Pontchartrain's clock — Ogg brought the Stratocruiser down in 5-foot swells and an 8-knot wind. He knew the tail would probably crack up, and it did. "We hit with a good bump but we knew we would be all right," said the 6-foot-4 captain.
Miraculously, everyone on board was rescued within five minutes, although a few passengers fell into the water as they departed the plane. Only five people reported minor injuries.
A hero's welcome
When he came back to San Francisco and to his home on Winter Lane in Saratoga, Ogg was given a hero's welcome, just as Sullenberger was in Danville last weekend. There was one obvious difference: With fewer lawyers to bring lawsuits, Ogg spoke freely of the ditching. Sullenberger has avoided releasing details in public.
A loyal Pan-Am pilot, Ogg stayed with the faltering airline until he retired in 1971, not long before it went bankrupt. He continued to fly privately for almost two decades afterward, frequently taking his single-wing Mooney aircraft to his home state of Montana.
Before Ogg died of colon cancer in 1991, Margaret once asked him whether he had ever been afraid. "When I went in for open-heart surgery," Ogg responded. What about the ditching? she asked. "Oh, I was just so busy trying to remember everything I learned that I didn't have time," he said.