Home > History > ’64 Flood victims remembered with scholarship

’64 Flood victims remembered with scholarship

[From the Humboldt Herald inbox.]

To Whom It May Concern,

Today is the 47th anniversary of the loss of my father and his crewmates while ferrying Ferndale residents out of harm’s way from flood waters on Dec. 22, 1964. My dad, AE2 Jimmy Nininger Jr. was the rescue mechanic onboard the Coast Guard HH52A whose crew also included Donald Prince and Allen Alltree.  They were dispatched from the USCG Air Station San Francisco the morning of 12/22/64 to render aid to victims of that year’s devastating flood in Humboldt County. After arriving they took onboard local farmer Bud Hansen, who volunteered to act as spotter, and went to work out of Arcata Airport.  The crew ran sorties all day, picking up farmers and their families from rooftops in the vicinity of Ferndale, and dropping them in safety at the Humboldt County Fairgrounds. Dozens of lives were saved thanks to their tireless efforts.

Tragically, their last sortie went awry. The storm had continued unabated throughout the day, and as the sun sank, the high winds, heavy rain and poor visibility combined to make their final extraction long and arduous. They collected two women and a baby from the last farmhouse despite the harsh conditions, but this time, rather than stopping at the fairgrounds they made straight for the Arcata airport. Unfortunately the storm had taken out the power at Arcata, hence the navigational beacon was out of service. They headed toward what they believed was the light beacon only to find it was the Trinidad lighthouse. After receiving radar vectors from the airport, they turned back toward Arcata, but never made it.  All aboard were lost in forest so thick that it took days for the rescue parties to locate the wreckage.  To this day that wreckage still sits undisturbed on timber company land outside Arcata, and a memorial remains at the USCG McKinleyville Air Station.

I am writing you today to relate their story, and to thank all Coast Guard men & women for their service to this country. I also want to make sure you’re aware that in honor of their sacrifice, I’ve sponsored the USCG 1363 Memorial Scholarship at Humboldt State University. The $1,000 scholarship gives preference to Coast Guard members, then the children of Coast Guard members. If there are no applicants from either category, the scholarship goes to a local Humboldt County resident. Students can apply each year in the spring.

The scholarship is a small gesture of remembrance, which I intend to continue as long as I am financially able to do so.  I know that times are hard, but still I’m hopeful the community will respond and support the creation of an endowment to fund the scholarship in perpetuity, since such dedication and sacrifice must never be forgotten.  I’ve been working with Robin Bailie, director of Advancement Operations for HSU, who has indicated an endowment requires a minimum threshold of $25,000. Donors can build an endowment over time and the earnings from the endowment will support the scholarship once I’m no longer able to sustain it myself.

If you or anyone you know would like to help, charitable contributions to support this scholarship should be mailed to: Humboldt State University, Gift Processing Center, 1 Harpst St., Arcata, CA. 95521. Write USCG #1363 Memorial Scholarship on the memo line of your check.

Respectfully Yours,

David Nininger Wells

  1. skippy
    December 22, 2011 at 11:55 pm

    I’ve heard of this, but haven’t heard the details of the accident as they’re provided here. Your words and scholarship are a fine remembrance in honoring the crew who gave their lives– saving others– in the 1964 flood. Thank you, Mr. Wells.

  2. Anonymous
    December 23, 2011 at 6:28 am

    Where would we be without the brave persons who come to the aid of our fisherman, boaters, beachgoers washed out to sea, etc, and those in peril due to disasters such as this horrific one. This sounds like a wonderful scholarship.

  3. Carl Young, CPO, USCG Retired
    December 23, 2011 at 7:14 am

    Thank you for sharing the story of those who proudly served our community. I had the honor of serving with the Coast Guard for over 20 yrs. I’ve been involved with many Seach an Rescue (SAR) cases,. sadly some didn’t end so well. Your father and fellow crew members served within the highest traditions of the U. S. Coast Guard, I’m thankful you shared their story.

  4. December 23, 2011 at 8:58 am

    If this is the ‘copter crashed near Trinidad I have been to the wreck site. much of the bird had been salvages but the airframe sits just as it was upright in the woods. I don’t know if I could ever find it again today, it was a tough bit of a mountain bike ride deep into the woods. we were always respectful as we passed knowing the story and of those who gave it all in the service of others.
    I now live under the flight path to the hospital, I give a wave or salute to the pilots and crews when they pass and will never complain about the noise or rattling of my old windows.
    where would we be without them…
    thank you Coast Guard

  5. Bolithio
    December 23, 2011 at 9:14 am

    Thanks for the story. Hats off to the Coast Guard then and now.

  6. Anonymous
    December 23, 2011 at 9:52 am

    Remember when it used to rain from the end of october all the way through the end of january? Global drought is here to stay!

  7. December 23, 2011 at 10:17 am

    I’ll remember this story from now on whenever I see a Coast Guard copter. Thank you, Mr. Nininger Wells.

  8. Plain Jane
    December 23, 2011 at 11:02 am

    What a great tribute to the Coast Guard. My check is in the mail.

  9. Anonymous
    December 23, 2011 at 11:08 am

    I’m sending $420,000 cash in a manila envelope myself. Beat that, everybody who THINKS they care.

    Merry morning!

  10. December 23, 2011 at 11:31 am

    wow! I wish I could top that, but $420,000 is more than I make in years of work. I hope its real, that would be a fantastic gift!
    if you need another write off I know some local non profits that you could help too…

  11. Mitch
    December 23, 2011 at 5:38 pm

    Thanks for sharing the story of your father’s sacrifice, Mr. Wells.

    Thank you as well to everyone in the Coast Guard. It’s amazing and inspiring that you willingly risk your lives for us — people you’ve probably never even met.

    Thanks for contributing to the scholarship fund, Jane, and for the many contributions you make here and elsewhere.

    And here’s wishing 11:08 and everyone else a great holiday and a wonderful new year. Every one of us is incredibly fortunate to live in one of the most beautiful areas on Earth.

  12. Neal Latt
    December 23, 2011 at 5:52 pm

    An inspiring story of those who went through the ’64 Flood in Humboldt County. Is there any book with photography that goes through all of the known documented stories from that event in Humboldt?

    This story was emblematic of the Coast Guard at its finest hour.

  13. Anonymous
    December 23, 2011 at 6:47 pm

    I dunno, Neal, I think their finest hours are the ones where they land helicopters without dying.

    This was in 1964, we can joke right?

  14. Ross Rowley
    December 24, 2011 at 7:21 am

    Nea Latt, the Times-Standard put out a couple of collectors editions of the 1964 flood over the years. You can see them on display at the Humboldt Redwoods Interpretive Center in Weott.

    Also, there is a book with photos and stories written by the residents in Willow Creek about the Thousand Year Flood. I think there are photos of the Bluff Creek devastation featured, too. You might check with the Willow Creek-China Flat Museum. Willow Creek was isolated for days until the Coast Guard helicopter arrived.

    Read Ernie Branscomb’s blog Ernie’s Place and search for topics on the 1964 flood. Lots of stories and information can be found there.

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