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Memorial service held on 50th anniversary of Coast Guard Rescue 1363 accident

MCKINLEYVILLE- It’s the 50th anniversary of the 1964 Flood, which ravaged Northern California.

On Friday, the Coast Guard remembered the crew members and victims of Coast Guard Rescue 1363, who died when the helicopter crashed near Strawberry Rock during a rescue mission.

Since there was no Coast Guard Air Station Humboldt Bay in the 1960s, Coast Guard 1363, which was based out of San Francisco, was called out for a rescue mission in Humboldt County during the Christmas Flood on December 22nd, 1964.  Lt. Commander Donald Prince, Sub Lt. Allen Alltree of the Royal Canadian Navy and AE2 James A. Nininger, Jr. were able to save 20 people.  Sub Lt. Alltree was working with the Coast Guard through an exchange program.

"This was a crew that did everything right, but faced circumstances that were extremely challenging,” said Lt. Commander Tombo Jones with the United States Coast Guard.

One challenge the crew faced was being unfamiliar with the area.  That’s when Ferndale resident Budd Hansen volunteered to help the crew navigate for their rescue mission.

"What a remarkable individual to put the lives of his neighbors ahead of his own.  He assumed a risk of climbing into a helicopter in bad weather, so that he could participate in saving those, and I think that's a remarkable character trait," said Captain Arthur Snyder with the United States Coast Guard.

Navigating at night to the airport in McKinleyville became more difficult when a power outage caused the lights and radio navigation system at the airport to go out. 

“The strong winds coupled with the inability to receive a radio navigational aid caused them to drift too far inland, and they struck the mountains near strawberry rock," Lt. Commander Tombo Jones said.

The three crew members, two women and an infant girl who were on the helicopter and Budd Hansen died in the crash. Rescue crews found the crash site five days later.  They were all honored at Coast Guard Air Station Humboldt Bay on Friday.

"We're tremendously honored that they've taken the time to do this and honor my dad for what he did," said Jerry Hansen, Budd Hansen’s son.

Coast Guard officials say the accident pointed out issues with emergency response on the north coast.

“This accident occurring in an area that the crew of the 1363 was unfamiliar with, in very unforgiving conditions that are often times, our crews experience here, highlighted the fact that there was a need to establish a Coast Guard Air Station here," said Lt. Commander Jones.

Thirteen years later, the Coast Guard constructed Air Station Humboldt Bay in McKinleyville, where it stands today.