Fred Shacklett,

QM2, N Division 1974-1976

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This is a reply to Bill Shipley's "Night of Terror" regarding the Emergency Breakaway that Hancock had with the USS Kawishiwi AO-146 on our final cruise in '75. This is also a follow-up to NCCM Johnson's account of the "collision".

I sent Bill Shipley an email also. I was that "Quartermaster at the helm" during the UNREP with Kawishiwi in '75. And believe me, it was the most difficult evolution I had ever done! According to our division chief (QMC Steve Brown), the problem was caused by Kawishiwi losing power to her rudder and the venturi effect pulling the ships together.

I had only been on the helm about 10 minutes when things went wrong, in a hurry. For the record, I was one of only six qualified Special Evolution helmsmen on board. As you may know, the Special Evolution helmsmen have the responsibility for driving the ship in and out of port, and taking the helm during Flight Ops and Unreps. We would generally have 2 or 3 Special Evolution helmsmen for each UNREP, rotating every twenty minutes.

Here is what happened on the bridge: My compass heading would not hold, no matter what I did on the helm. I reported to the Conning Officer that I was unable to hold my course. But with each correction in the rudder, the lines and hoses between the ships would pull us closer together!

Capt Fellows, on seeing the danger, relieved the Conning Officer, because we were not gaining distance between ships fast enough. He ordered the Quartermaster of the Watch to sound the Emergency Breakaway signal on the ship's horn and ordered the 1MC announcement on the breakaway.

We successfully pulled away, after "All Ahead Flank, Emergency" was ordered. The first and only time I had ever heard that particular command. It's a funny thing, after writing this, I remember it like it was yesterday. Hard to believe it's been 25 years!!!

Only by speeding up and literally pulling away, did we get out of harm's way. Our division Leading Petty Officer (QM2 Mende) wanted to relieve me in the middle of the breakaway, but Chief Brown refused to let him on the helm. Mende thought I wasn't turning the rudder fast enough. Capt Fellows was giving me rudder commands every few seconds. And believe me, I had never done so many rudder reversals in my life. My arms felt like lead. The credit really goes to Capt Fellows for recognizing the danger we were in and directing me correctly on the helm. I later received a commendation from him for expert performance on the helm.

I'm just glad there were no serious injuries. Even though UNReps can become routine, you must always be prepared for emergencies. I also want to give credit to Chief Brown for my training and his guidance. It saved the day.

Footnote: It should be noted that while I was doing my best to keep up with rudder commands and course changes, my counterpart in after-steering had to match everything I did on the bridge. The after-steering gang really saved everyone, by staying alert and by keeping both steering engines on line. And for those who remember, QMC Earl (Steve) Brown. He passed away unexpectedly on March 11, 1997, after complications from surgery on an old injury to his shoulder and neck. He served over 26 years active duty, before retiring to Dolan Springs, AZ with his wife Judy. The VFW in Dolan Springs, where he served as Post Commander, gave him an excellent Honor Guard farewell. He is missed, but not forgotten. Judy has returned to Napa to be closer to their children.

Fred Shacklett, QM2, N Division 1974-1976 (Last LPO of N-Division)

(Sorry, I didn't date this document, but I think it was written by Fred somewhere in the early 2000's)

This Event seems to still be causing conflicting views - Jake

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