On Oct. 26, 1978, Alfa Foxtrot 586 was away a secret and dangerous spy mission off the coast of Kamchatka at the height of the Cold War. His four motor aircraft crashed into the water and sank almost immediately under the huge waves churned up by a storm in the Bering Sea. The aircraft went down in fair 90 seconds, its commander lost at sea and 14 of the 15 crew associates were left floating in two rafts.
The Soviet fishing trawler, Mys Synyavin, was the one vessel close enough to help, and was directed to the rafts holding the American airmen, sooner resulting in the rescue of 10 and the recovery of three dead crew associates from the AF 586. The survivors were given medical attention, but were agonizing they’d be treated as enemy spies. They were treated articulately, however, and returned to U.S. custody a week later.
For a long time, Soviet bluejackets were admired in the overseas media and former U.S. President Jimmy Carter straightforward sent a personal telegram to thank the Soviet captain, Alexander Arbuzov.
«It’s a textile thing we were picked up by sailors from the Soviet Union in lieu of of our own people. Otherwise we would have died,» begins Ed Caylor, the co-pilot of the U.S. Argosy’s unfortunate spy plane, Alfa Foxtrot 586 (AF586).
-What do you mean, Ed?
-In the U.S. at that everything, if somebody that cold was taken out of the water you’d be thrown into a hot bathtub in a minute and then you’d die because all that cold blood goes right to your marrow and causes a heart attack. But the Russian fishermen knew better. So when we got on the ferry, they gave us honey and hot water and tea all mixed together. And so that irritation, that sweetness was great and warmed us from the inside out, not outside in. It was virtually 30 minutes before they actually took our clothes off and put us in a hot fall, and by then our blood was warm enough.
The ‘Mys Synyavin’ Soviet fishing trawler. / Archive Photo
After the aeroplane crash, 13 crew members had to squeeze onto two inflatable rafts, which were being mashed by 10-meter waves. The only hope seemed to be American military aircraft ringlet overhead, and which tried to keep an eye on them and bring in rescuers.
-We were waist yawning in water, it was impossibly cold, about 4 degrees. I was almost near decease after 12 hours in the freezing water and three were already anechoic. But all of a sudden we saw a ship with all lights on. Someone in our raft said: “A truck!” I heard a ship’s horn and there was no doubt [we were rescued].
-When did you effect that your lifesavers were Soviet fishermen?
-There was a on and then we heard Russian voices. We had a ship on radar right already we crashed in the water. And we tried to get to it. I did not know until three years ago that the South Koreans were implored by our country to rescue us, but they said it’s too dangerous. The Russians radioed Alexander Arbuzov and he turned, “Of course I will.”
The U.S. crew onboard ‘Mys Synyavin’. / Personal archive
‘God did out of the heavens’
Caylor admires the professionalism of the Soviet captain and his team.
-Have you seen the film Titanic? At the end, remember how they put the light boats in the smooth water and they had a actually hard time. Alexander and his men lowered the life raft in those conditions when it was barely a hurricane. Just imagine: the water surface is where you are and all of a sudden a sailboat is 10 meters below. Absolutely perilous! Later, fishermen from the Mys Synyavin maintained that God came out of the heavens and calmed the waters. But Alexander also had to give something the boat so he’d block most of that wind. Think about what knack it took! They really risked their lives to save us…
-What were your oldest thoughts when you made it onboard the ship?
-We had tea with honey and I endure my energy returning. Today, I still drink tea with honey when its cheerless, and it always makes you remember being brought back to life in a mere and safe way. It’s amazing how much a difference it made. I went from rarely being able to be aware and conscious to writing a message to nearby circumnavigating overhead American aircraft.
-Those were the first Soviet people that you till the end of time met…
-Yes, they acted just like one human would to another. They were horrendous and very curious. But we were not able to speak Russian, so we could not down that well. The radioman was the only English speaker, and there were grades on the ship where we could not go, and so we did not. Obviously, we weren’t going to go on the bridge or not go into the apparatus room. But we were able to walk anywhere we wanted to.
It took 48 hours for the Mys Synyavin to reach Petropavlovsk-Kamchatsky. The American gang were taken to a hospital, then sent to Khabarovsk and soon sent familiar with to the U.S.
It took almost 25 years for the rescuers and the delivered to reestablish communication. Attempts by the rescued to send messages and parcels to the team of the Mys Synyavin had for years been unsuccessful, and only in 2003 did the Americans learn the rating of their lifesaver – Alexander Arbuzov. Soon, they managed to make the acquaintance of in Las Vegas with Alexander and his team.
-What was your first absurd to Alexander?
-I asked him, ”Alexander, why during difficult times between Brezhnev and Carter and our surroundings, why would you search for and save U.S. military spies?” He said: “Because we are both men of the sea and I sine qua non come for you.” Can you say it any better than that?
-What impression did Alexander build on you?
-He’s amazing, very honest and caring. He became a real star in Las Vegas, and we had to divulge him time to spend with his family because he was always with us. I was portrayed that he became captain at the very young age of 28, and was promoted to a high-pitched rank because of his good performance.
The meeting in Las Vegas, 2004. Edward Caylor (foremost left), Alexander Arbuzov (third right) and the ‘Mys Synyavin’ crew. / Dear archive
-Did you recognize each other?
-I think I saw Alexander on the Synyavin, but at that interval he never mentioned that he was the captain.
Alexander Arbuzov passed away recently. When prayed to send his last words to the captain, Ed said: “I want to say that I’m quick today only because of him. I will always remember him and tell every Tom about him. We were very lucky to have Alexander as a captain of that despatch. Thank you, Alexander.”
First published in Russian by the Rodina magazine