FROM: Bob Fitzsimmons.....Bald Eagle ONE, and Dutch---------
Subject: SCPO Mellos interview
Date: Tue, 22 May 2001 14:52:13 -0500
BRUNSWICK, MAINE- ADCS(AW/NAC) Nicholas Mellos, a former member of VP-10, recently visited his son in the area following his dramatic flight with VQ-1 and his detainment on Hainan Island, China. The following was transcribed
from interviews with a Portland television reporter and a member of NAS Brunswick Public Affairs.
WCSH-TV Reporter Susan Kimball: "Can you take me back a little to the beginning, when you first got on the plane? For you, was this a fairly routine flight even though it was a surveillance flight?
"Senior Chief Nicholas Mellos: "It was like any other flight I've ever flown, I mean, we woke up early for another standard ten-hour mission. It was no different then any other mission whether it was in Whidbey, or
whether I was stationed here in Brunswick, and we went through the same mechanics of getting ready for the flight. We stopped by the galley to get box lunches, and stopped by the Comm Center to pick up the equipment we needed for the mission. We wound up at the airplane and the whole crew got
there. We started pre-flight just like any other day."
Reporter: "So, you thought ten hours later you would be landing back here and having dinner?"
NM: "Sure, ten hours later we post-flight the airplane, put it to bed, and the crew rests for another mission the following day."
Reporter: "Now what happened?"
NM: "I had planned on doing my taxes...that was my main concern, having some time to do that. And five and a half-hours into our flight, we got intercepted of course and.."
Reporter: "Let me interrupt you there. Where were you at that time? What did you see?"
NM: " Actually when we got intercepted, I was back in the galley. Petty Officer Westbrook, the other flight engineer on our crew, was in the flight station. It was her shift. We trade off back and forth to keep positive awareness in the cockpit, because you can't sit up there for hours and hours without falling asleep. Anyway, I was in the galley having a little sandwich, drinking a little coffee, and I heard that we were getting intercepted. When I looked out the window in the galley, I noticed that there were two flyers flying in formation, trailing us, and that is when I
knew it was time to go up into the flight station. Because we were intercepted a week before, and they got a little closer then than they normally do. I wanted to be up front so I could give Petty Officer Westbrook some support and keep her mind off of what was really going on, because it's kinda nerve-wrecking to look out the window and see flyers
joined up on your wing-tip that really don't belong there."
Reporter: "So, once again, even though it was disconcerting, you had the same sort of experience a week before. When did you know that this was a whole different ball game?"
NM: "By the time I got to the cockpit, looked out the window and saw how close this jet was to us. It was altogether a different situation. He was definitely, definitely where he really shouldn't have been. It was the
closest I have ever seen an airplane to us."
Reporter: "And then did you feel the hit...the strike?"
S.C. "Absolutely. There was no denying what took place. I mean, at one point, I remember looking out the window and seeing him close in on us and I was just way too nervous to look at what was going on. I focused back on the instrumentation inside the airplane to take my mind off of what was going on outside. And before you know what had happened on the airplane, we hit a bump and started vibrating. Then, I looked out the window just very
slightly and saw that the jet was now coming towards us. We actually pitched up, and the jet continued to fly laterally toward us and contacted a little bit of the forward fuselage, hit our nose radome and broke it. It
went up over our flight engineer's windshield. Looking out of the right hand windshield, which is the co-pilot's windshield, maybe 15-feet away from where we were standing in the cockpit, here's a jet flying which had just
hit us. And at that point in time, the flight station was kind of like in a little degree of shock. We fell back on training and started to get ourselves out of shock. Lt. Osborne, of course being the first one to jump out, put in corrective flight control...coordinated flight control maneuvers so he can get control of the airplane."
Reporter: "Did you see the fighter go down?"
NM: "No, I didn't, because we went into a 130 degree left-hand pitched-down roll and dive and there was nothing to see out of the windows after that. I was more focused on what was going on inside of the plane and engine instrumentation, and what do I need to do to help the Lieutenant get control of the aircraft."
Reporter: "Describe that if you can, so people understand what a 130-degree turn is. What exactly do you mean, the airplane turned?"
NM: "The airplane turned (past the 90 degrees vertical position) to 130-degrees...into the number one engine at that point because the jet contacted the number one propeller. The number one propeller is what you saw
on several pictures that were on the news or on TV. Three or four blades of the number one prop were destroyed. Losing major proportions of them [the blades], caused vibrations ...and that vibration definitely was felt
throughout the wing and into the airplane. The engine was also damaged by parts of the propeller going down the intake, and it was providing no thrust at that point. It was also providing (alot of) drag, so the airplane (was
swerving) into the dead engine, which was why the (pilots worked to) raise the dead engine. So, the Lieutenant is now trying to gain control to raise the dead, and we're in a 130-degree pitch-down roll at 22,000 feet."
Reporter: "Was your heart just going like crazy?"
NM: "I couldn't tell you that whole experience from start to finish. When I saw what had taken place, I just snapped out and focused on my job and my training, and to help out. Petty Officer Westbrook, who was in the seat, gave recommendations to Lt. Osborne about what the aircraft was doing, so he could make his decisions how to fly the airplane."
Reporter: "Can you give us a sense of how things were in the cockpit at all, in terms of tension, or were people trying to stay controlled or a lot of yelling going on? It sounds like it's something out of a movie."
NM: "There was no yelling going on. We have an internal communication system on the airplane. You can pretty much have a great conservation on headsets and there was no yelling involved. It was very loud in the cock pit
because we lost a nose radome, so Lt. Hunak and I were not on head sets, but we were observing what was going on, and we could hear them talking. We would have to yell to have them hear us. Nobody was freaked out. Nobody was scared. It was very professional in the flight station; about as
professional as you can get after going through the experience that just happened to us. It all falls back on training These guys go out everyday on standard pilot trainer flights where they duplicate malfunctions and it's
like, 'React to them and do the correct procedures to get control of the airplane and safely return.'"
Reporter: "In one of the interviews that we saw with a pilot, he had said that the minute that plane hit him, the first thing he thought was, 'Oh My God, we're going down because of this guy.'"
NM: "'.This guy just killed us!' Yes, that's what the Lieutenant said. Not a second after that, I'm starting to talk, "fly, fly, fly, fly" to get him to grab control of the airplane, which he immediately did, and got right
back in focus on getting control of the airplane. Petty Officer Westbrook got on the number one engine and we made an attempt to shut it down and then, of course, we went into a bailout situation. We just got knocked out
of the sky, ...we really had no sense of how damaged the aircraft was and would we ever get control of it."
Reporter: "And so what were you were seeing at that point?"
NM: "I was seeing a lot of lights flashing that normally don't flash, light bulbs and whistles going off, and it was just like a mash unit almost. going from one emergency, doing what we could. There was nothing else we could do,
and quickly going to the next malfunction, and doing what procedures needed to be done for that particular emergency. Then we'd go to the third malfunction and do the same thing until everything was pretty much well and
we had done what we could do with each one of these malfunctions that took place during this emergency. There was nothing else we could do."
In the Cockpit:
NASB Public Affairs Director, John James asked P-3 related technical questions:
JJ: "Chief, did you E-handle [engines] one and three?"
NM: "No, just number one. Number three was never lost. There was miscommunication between what we said to General Sealock, and how that was interpreted on the way to home plate."
JJ: "Tell me about the buffeting. With number one windmilling and unable to reduce the drag in number one, what was your buffeting and the vibration like?"
NM: "The whole airplane was shaking and buffeting, but once we slowed down and got the engine shut down it was buffeting at 60 percent [rpm], and once we shut down with the e-handle and got it down to 30 percent, the vibration
pretty much subsided to manageable -- to where your teeth weren't chattering, and you didn't have to talk in a loud voice just to hear yourself think. With the radome gone, it was noisy because although we didn't know it, there was a hole up in the nose radome."
JJ: "Any hydraulics systems lost?"
NM: "None. "
JJ: "No fuel leaking?"
NM: "The fuel systems remained intact; the hydraulics remained intact."
NM: "We (naturally) depressurized because of the hole in the forwardbulkhead. But yet we had to help it out because we were going to bail out. So we also depressurized, which helped expedite the depressurization process."
JJ: "Where did he actually hit?"
NM: "He hit off the port wing and hit the number one engine, and then came across and passed underneath us. He touched a little bit of the fuselage under the pilot's seat, touched the nose radome and broke it up and over my
windshield.The radome just flew overhead and I remember looking out his copilot's window and seeing a jet fighter flying about 15 feet away and listening to the roar of the engine as we whirled at 130 degree pitch down roll."
JJ: "Immediately following the collision, did you respond with rote memorization and automatic response...or did you have to think and react from training?"
NM: "That's a difficult question. Everything that took place-- it's like we had five emergencies going on at the same time. It was a matter of prioritizing what systems were deteriorated and degraded the worst, and which needed immediate attention. Obviously, the number one engine and the 'fails-to-feather' needed the attention first and foremost. The first emergency was to shut down the number one engine, the second emergency was to handle the 'fail to feather,' .next was the loss of the airspeed indicator on the pilot's side, as well as the pressure altimeter. The
co-pilot's had minor damage. It read inaccurately."
JJ: "How did you know that?"
NM: "Because there was no way in hell we were flying at 100
nots! .Because we knew we were in a dive, doing at least 180 knots. After that, we thought, 'How can we get our altimeters back?' I had the sense of mind to push in the radar altimeter circuit breaker, because we pull that
out during our missions. Next, the landing gear warning system was compromised because of the loss of the pitot system. Again, that was just another warning we had to remove from the picture...it also got rid of the horn that blared continuously."
JJ: "Did you get a good 'gear down' indication?"
NM: "Yes, when we finally did get down to a landing configuration."
JJ: "How come you were no-flap?"
NM: "Because we didn't know what the damage was to the bottom of the wing, and if we dropped the flaps, one might come down, the other might not.giving us more controllability problems. The Lt. had in-control what was in front of him."
JJ: "Did you discuss that?"
NM: "Quick, 'mind thought' back and forth, yes. Did we sit down and discuss it for awhile and break out NATOPS? No. It was experience and instincts. I'd turn around and give him my recommendations, and he took them and thought about it and made his decisions.based on the resources he
had available to him: How's the airplane flying? What's the engineer recommending? What's his co-pilot recommending? From all that, he made his ultimate decisions, each and every step of the way."
JJ: "Did you have faith in the airplane?"
NM: "I've always had faith in the P-3. It's a very good product. The taxpayers got their money out of this aircraft. Thirty years later, it's still doing the job it was designed to do."
Reporter: "So, how long was it before the plane came in for a landing?"
NM: "I'd say from start to finish it was twenty minutes, from initial contact to us touching down in Hainan."
Reporter: "Did you ever think to yourself, 'We're going to land this plane and we're going to walk off this plane safely?'"
NM: "No. I knew we were bailing out as we descended from 22,000 feet. The Lieutenant leveled the wings at 12,000 feet. I helped arrest the rate of decent at 10,000 feet, and at 8,000 feet we were finally flying on our own,
in some sense, in control of our flight. And now it was time to gain composure. The airplane's flying, and we've decided we're going to bailout."
Reporter: "When you say bailout, you mean parachute?"
NM: "Bailout; put on parachutes. All the aircraft have parachutes; there's one for every person, so 24 people who put their chutes on. Well, 23, because I never did."
NM: "23 people put their parachutes on and I chased Petty Officer Westbrook out of the seat at that point, (so she could) go get her chute and bring the Lieutenant's chutes up. She brought them all up and put her chute on and the
Lieutenants put their chutes on while flying the airplane and even changed seats because Lt. Osborne now got into the pilot's seat, in the left hand seat, and Lt. Hanek got in the co-pilot seat and I just stayed in the flight
engineer seat. The airplane is still flying and Lieutenant said, 'What do you think about ditching the airplane? Because if we bailout, we're just going to trail people for miles.' As far as 24 people bailing out, our training teaches us to ask, "what's the closest point of land or the nearest ship?" Our navigator comes back at us, 'There's an airport 15 miles away,' and the Lieutenant looks at me and said, "This is what we need to do, definitely, go land the airplane."
Reporter: "So you guys knew 15 miles away there was an airport. At that point, did you think, I hope this is the right decision?"
NM: "Oh, I knew it was. I knew it was. There was no second-guessing what was going on in that cockpit the entire time we flew the airplane. The decisions Lt. Osborne made, God bless him. I mean, he took recommendations from everybody and made the right decisions based on his sound judgment. It's a testament to the training and his personal being. If we would have gone in the water in a ditch-type situation, the outcome definitely would have been different, much different. There would have been a few of the crewmen that wouldn't be here today. Putting the airplane on the ramp in China was the right thing to do."
JJ: "What was your configuration on landing?"
NM: "A standard single-engine out, no flap landing."
Reporter: "How did you feel when that thing landed?
NM: "Relieved. Relieved and fortunate. We coasted to the end of the runway. It was a nice long runway, taxied down to the end of it, turned left, and waited a few minutes for the hosts to come see us and tell us where they wanted the airplane to park.
Reporter: "Did you guys know that you could be in trouble there, that you had gotten out of one terrible situation and could be in a frying pan now?"
NM: "It didn't matter, we were alive and we survived a mid-air collision....The very fact that we were alive, with the grace of God ...And we knew that we would come home. Let's face it, we're not at war with the country of China. So it was just a matter of time when we would come home. Now,
did I know that the minute we got there and landed? No. But yet after we landed, we got ourselves composed and switched into the ground phase of our mission. We collected thoughts and got our act together and all of that.
Reporter: "One of the most remarkable things to an outsider is that, once you got there, you all had the presence of mind to do the other job you had, which was to destroy some of the equipment. Can you talk about that a
NM: "Being the flight engineer, sitting in the front of the airplane, things that go on in the back of the airplane are transparent to me. There is an emergency destruct process that does take place, and when we go into an emergency where we know we are going to bailout or ditch, those things are dealt with (by others). So the flight station is flying the airplane. Meanwhile the people in the back are taking care of their job. That's the time those things are dealt with. When we land, you know when the destruction took place."
Reporter: "Were you a little scared when you got off the plane and saw all of the soldiers there with the guns? It was quite a welcome committee."
NM: "It was a weird feeling. Was I scared? No. No, I wasn't. Nervous, yeah. Worried, maybe a little bit. Scared would be if our countries were at war with each other. We were not prisoners of war. We knew from the
onset that we were detained, that we were going to be detained, either until our country came in and flew us out or until political things took place to where we could fly out. Whether it was to be one day or 11 or 30, at that
time we didn't know."
Reporter: "Where did they take you once you got there?"
NM: "Oh, we went to lunch to wind down. Obviously they hadn't prepared for us to show up. With 24 people showing up (unannounced), it took a bit of time to prepare the barracks for us. We stayed at the barracks on base, until they moved us to the hotel in Haiku, where we stayed until we were released."
Reporter: "Were you injured or hurt in any way?"
NM: "Nobody was injured in the airplane ride at all, because it wasn't a flight where there were positive and negative g's. There was just positive g's until we got control of the airplane. It was routine."
Reporter: "And then you were detained?"
NM: "When we were detained. We were treated fairly. Absolutely. Our hosts went out of their way to take care of us the best they could and we went out of our way to maintain good relations with them. Cause this was not a
situation where there was suppose to be bodily harm or hurting each other."
Reporter: "Did they keep you posted on how negotiations were going to get you out or did you guys just sit there?"
NM: "We had no TV. We watched a blue screen TV be- cause the cable was gone. The phone service was gone; radio was out. The only contact we had with America was through General Sealock who came in as a representative of
the ambassador on the fourth day. That was the first that we had seen anybody from home. Here we were...a group of one Marine, one Air Force, 22 Sailors...and in walks this Army General. It was a very proud moment in my career knowing that this Joint Operation (had everyone's attention) and that we were represented well. That this (General) is who is going to have a lot to do with taking care of us and getting us home. It was good to see. He
would tell us from time to time what was going on back home and that President Bush was deeply involved with this, as was Secretary Powell, Secretary Rumsfeld...everybody."
Reporter: "When did you get the word that you were going home?"
NM:"A half hour after you all did, back home! We were told and (all of us)home with the two cell phones we had, from China. Like I started to call said, you knew a half-hour before we did, because as the boys were calling their moms, dads, and wives; they were saying "We heard you're getting
released, we heard you're getting released! We heard this a few minutes ago on the news."
Reporter: "Can I ask, who did you call? Did you call your son?"
NM: "I called my son here in Bath. Absolutely. And he was out and about so I got the phone recorder, which was fine, because when we got to Guam I called. It was 2 o'clock in the morning and I got to wake him up here in Bath. He was kind of incoherent, but he was glad to hear from Dad! Then
when I got to Hawaii, we talked again, we definitely talked."
Reporter: "I don't want to keep you talking for so long, -you're so wonderful to do this. What did it feel like to land on U.S. soil when you came home and people were so excited to see all of you?"
NM: "It was an unreal feeling. And I say that because when we landed in Guam, there were a few people from the base that came and saw us, waving flags and 'welcome home' signs. We went into our rooms and showered, got
something to eat and spent three hours in Guam until we changed airplanes and flew into Hawaii. When we got to Hawaii, there were more people, more signs, the press was there, there was a Navy band...and then we were taken
back to the barracks and started to get debriefed. After ten hours of being debriefed we finally got home and got the chance to start seeing TV and found out that we had taken up a lot of the media time during the course of
the day. It was unknown to us that we were the focus of so much attention.
To me that was unreal, and to see how much of the day we were on, how much of the support of the American people we had, ...that is an indescribable feeling of pride in what I do. Pride in my country, pride in our country. Just like a squadron homecoming in Brunswick, the state rallies around the base. It's the same thing in Oak Harbor. They were having a welcome for us with ten thousand people, coming out of nowhere, and off we get from our airplane. There were our families that we hadn't seen in a month, because
we've been overseas.
We got to visit with our families for a little bit and
then we walked into the hangar and the hangar is just full of Americans, out showing their support for us. It was a very proud moment for all of us. All of us."
Reporter: "How do you feel about going back to finish up your career? Do you feel like, 'oh man, I just wanna float on out of here.'"
S. C. "I feel great about it. This is what I chose to do. I enjoy it. I still enjoy it and I look forward to getting in the airplane on the 17th of May ...getting back out and training. Training young Lieutenants, everything I know, young flight engineers, wannabe flight engineers, giving
them all the knowledge I possibly can, because I still have one of the best day jobs in the Navy. I love it. And I'm ready to do it for another two years.
By NAS Brunswick Public Affairs Office (As shown in The Patroller)
Special thanks to NAS Brunswick's Adminstrative Department for transcribing this interview