’64 Flood victims remembered with scholarship
[From the Humboldt Herald inbox.]
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.
David Nininger Wells