Adak: The Rescue of Alfa Foxtrot 586

  • Published

Adak: The Rescue of Alfa Foxtrot 586 by Andrew C. A. Jampoler. Naval Institute Press, 2011, 240 pp.

Adak: The Rescue of Alfa Foxtrot 586 by Andrew C. A. Jampoler, a former naval aviator, is an exhilarating story of a US Navy P-3 Orion patrol plane whose crew is forced to ditch over the Pacific Ocean after losing control of the aircraft’s engines. The men spend most of the ensuing day battling for survival while waiting for rescue. The uncertainty faced by the crew continues from when the survivors are plucked from the sea by a Soviet fishing trawler until they depart the Soviet Union several days later. In addition to the ditching and rescue, Jampoler describes the events leading up to the tragedy as well as the subsequent investigation. In doing so, he provides the reader a technical analysis of the accident while also delving into the lives of the naval aviators involved. The result is a true story of survival that is accessible and enjoyable to both aviation enthusiast and casual reader alike.

Jampoler’s account of the incident itself, as well as the surrounding events, is based on original documents, recordings from the time of the crash, and interviews conducted with both survivors and participants in the subsequent search-and-recovery operation. His careful research and frequent references to the investigation into the incident give the reader a detailed play-by-play analysis of the events that led to the ditching.

The author’s description of those occurrences is well researched and flows nicely. Although Jampoler focuses on many of the technical details of the catastrophe, the book is still relatively easy to read and quite accessible to those who lack a technical or aviation background. He begins the story by examining the lives of the crew members stationed at Naval Station Adak, giving the reader a sense of their living conditions as well as the excitement and difficulties of being a naval aviator flying out of an isolated airstrip in the Aleutian Islands. However, the author’s account of Lt Cdr Jerry Carson Grigsby’s (the senior officer on board the plane) skillful sea “landing” under extreme weather conditions is the highlight of the narrative. One minor error or miscalculation in ditching the plane on the choppy seas could easily result in the death of the entire crew. Jampoler’s take on the events leaves no doubt that Grigsby, who would perish at sea after exiting the aircraft, is the hero of the tragic story.

One minor quibble with Adak is that it lacks an index, which would have proven helpful in locating specific individuals and events. The book also could have used a good editor to smooth out some of the rough edges. At times Jampoler sets aside his careful research and injects his own opinion into the narrative, especially when he strays into discussions of the political climate between the United States and Soviet Union. This practice tends to be cumbersome and detracts from the emphasis on the technical aspects of the crash and the crew’s survival. For example, at one point the author characterizes the Soviet Union as a “geriatric kleptocracy” (p. 162) that survived by stealing the economy’s output for itself. In reality, the nature of the Soviet regime, which cooperated with the United States in rescuing the survivors and sending them home, was more complex than Jampoler’s one-dimensional analysis implies.

Adak: The Rescue of Alfa Foxtrot 586 forcefully depicts the many dangers faced by naval aviators who flew hazardous missions at the height of the Cold War. The author successfully introduces the reader to a little-known plane crash and surrounding political tensions. His ability to interweave the technical details of the crash with the lives of the heroic flyers and to depict the heartache suffered by their families makes for a work that will satisfy readers looking for a technical overview of the accident as well as those desiring an exciting tale of survival at sea.

2d Lt Herman B. Reinhold, USAF

Yokota Air Base, Japan

"The views expressed are those of the author(s) and do not reflect the official policy or position of the US government or the Department of Defense."