vhf harbor prose: salvage of the plane

New York Harbor is amazing. Thank you to everyone floating around that day.

Tugster caught the lifting of the plane: (


Here’s a tribute to the people who worked out in the cold, as crew on sea and on land (including camera people standing out there for hours hours hours…)

Thursday – 15 january
2015h – Two Don Jon cranes, the Columbia and the Delaware Bay, were being met by and set into place with the tugs Thomas Witte and Mary Alice. On their working channel (78), they were passing equipment and crew about, and emailing the plane salvage instructions.

The USCG may have set up emergency call points, for every single floating vessel was calling out their routes and intentions, and making passing arrangements.


Tug captains talking about the tide were heard to say:
“Don’t know if it’s going up or down, but it’s pushing up at the top, making it go north.”
“High tide was about midnight, low about 5am”
“We’re coming up on low tide.”
“Low is 6:24, Weehawken”
“Yeah…and that depth is 35 feet..'”

Friday – 16 january

0630h – Heard a tug captain ask Traffic (14): “I just heard you say Owls’ Head. Where is that exactly?”
“There’s a tug that just sank outside (38th? 68?th) street [Owl’s Head park is by Sunset Park in Bay Ridge.] They’re trying to salvage that.”
“OK, very good thank you.”
And thus, the day starts…!

The cold can make bad things happen.


“This is the Coast Guard Cutter Katherine Walker: All vessels entering the Holland Tunnel security zone, be advised: this is a no wake zone, please proceed with no wake up to the Battery.”


It was before 0700H, and the Queen of Hearts paraded stately to and fro mid river to tape a segment with Good Morning America.
The CG Cutter Katherine Walker would call her to remind her to stay clear of the security zone.
USCG KW: “How long are you filming, over.”
QH: “6-8 minutes, over.”
KW: “OK.”
QH: “Thank you for your assistance this morning. Over.”

But, she strayed in again: “We’ve lost the satellite signal, so, we’re just moving around, trying to find it.”
USCG KW: “OK, but please stay over west of us.”
QH: “OK, we’re just looking for another signal here.”
An anonymous captain put in his few cents: “I hate when that happens.”

“Coast guard cutter (…), requesting you slow down abit, you have a bit of wake there behind your stern.”
“Cutting it back abit.”
“Coast Guard calling the Christopher Columbus, could you come down to no wake, please?”

Saturday – 17 january
0729h – Ice passes in front of the Colgate clock, the first bit of ice in the harbor this winter!


0941h – Weeks Tug Alexandria and crane come up to buoy 32. On their channel (65) was heard this: “I got Mr. Weeks on the phone, he wants to come, can you pick him up at the Battery along the sea wall?”
“Yeah, maybe on the 566. Mr. Weeks is on the phone? …wait. wait. I’ll call you back in a minute.”


“…dry dock push gear, ok.” and orders are given for passing lines.
“Give me the eye…A touch of flood would be nice.”
“Yeah, well its going to go that way, so that’s good!”
“Maybe we should put the strap on the double bitt?”
“One more!”
“Put your wheel hard left and just engage the starboard engine.”


“Plenty of engines on the 536. She’s opening 30′ midships. Get out of the slip, you won’t fit, there’s no water there!”
“We’ll see how she goes, how she comes in there.”
“…diver ship, make sure he got out… 536”


“Pete, I’m trying to get in touch with that diver but no one’s answering the phone. There’s a little boat tied up beside it and I can’t get through.”
“Alright–the diver’s out of the water, no one’s in the water. They’re going to try to get that boat out of the way.”
“Alright, great.”
“Why is this the only spot on the river with ice?”
“Haha! I don’t know!”
“Put your rudder hard left, Dave, hard left.”
“I still got the starboard engine on.”
“Full stop.”
“Full stop.”

“OK! you’re clear to come in, captain.”
“Watch your head! Starboard! have somebody watch the stern on the port bow!”
“Let me know when I’m lined up, Don.”
“Half a stern port.”
“Uh, cut your head, John.”
“Got an overlap of the 566 at the stern.”
“Dave, hard left.”
“Full stop on the starboard.”
“Then push up the ice, is that correct?”
“Hard right, you got 41”
“..clutch in reverse…up on the port”
“All stop, John.”
“All stop.”

A small space to breathe occurs, but then, it continues:
“20′ overlap…now, 20-25′ overlap”
“Most of that ice is coming out of here anyway.”
“Come in easy.”
“Well, these big wheels you know, Pete.”

“Lift up your stern as you come in there, lift up your stern — stop.”
“Touch her back, touch her back.”
“Open the stern!”
“All stop, all stop.”

“Midship rudder.”
“Touch her ahead, John.”
“20-25 wide on the 566, got to come in another 30′”
“Drift in.”
“Repeat that, Willie?”
“Starting to close her down…closing the gap now.”
“Midship rudder…”
“Stop, John.”
“Coming down easy on that spud..”

“You need to be carded, got to go through…”
“I think someone up there’s got an open mic”

“We got to get in you got to have push gear in place…you got water by the 30 x 90..that isn’t going to be easy to do.”
“We got some hand rail here that might be in jeopardy.”

“Make sure no one is standing there…We need a deckhand out there with a radio to make sure no one falls in between the 2 cranes, and to be sure that ladder is always there.”
“Herbie’s out there, maybe he can be there for 15 mins until the next person.”

“All squared up, to the east…”
“Get off the north pier! get off.”
“Get the springline off! I got to get this thing breasted up!”

The ice is thick and beautiful. One boat went by making a wake, and the ice around south cove slushed around. People walking by all slowed down to listen and watch.


Here are people on the esplanade to give a sense of the size of the ice chunks:


By 1500h, most of the ice had dissipated.

Then, around 1900h – “Notice to all mariners, a jet engine has been located in vicinity around the Lincoln Tunnel.”

Around this time, nothing more could be heard on channel 65. Channel 17 was active, it was mostly communication among USCG vessels 41385, 41491, 87328, police boats, the Firefighter and Army Corps of Engineer Hayward. The little HMHTTC Responder was busy darting around the plane, taking on booms, and pushing ice out. The plane was allowed to sink to level it out.




Another Corps of Engineer boat, the Moritz went by, with its multibeam scanner, going home after a long day scanning for engines in the river:


When those CG vessels with numbers give out their GPS positions, the airwaves fill with numbers!


Business inland took me away from the marine radio, but following is a transcript via text messages from Tugster:

2223h – Plane on surface no kidding

2254h – Small boats search lights.

2333h – Barge being moved under plane

2342h – Plane down on barge

2358h – She’s come undone or unslung

0111h – Heading to Penn station

and, his next communication was made on Tugster, around 0300h. Yes, we know. It’s an obsession.

Sunday – 18 january

The action is now on channel 21.

Cutter Ridley 97 has been busy, coordinating with 605, 590, 25598, 4927, 497, 8250, 246, 50, the Virginia, the Thomas, the Shelby? Confirmation of onboard cameras, FBI agents, burgers, fresh pots of coffee, and a package delivery have kept the boats occupied while a run was made to La Guardia to pick up tools or equipment.

“Cutter Ridley 97, over.”
Ridley 97
“Yes, we just received word from Command that at 2000 firefighters will drill into the wing to remove the fuel that does not come out. Just be advised that they will be wearing their life preservers and PFD’s but we require that you stand off 50 yds in case any fire fighters get wet. Over.

1700h “We just recovered deepfission(?), wondered if you’d like to come over to take a look at that.”
“We put a fresh pot of coffee on, too, if you’d like that.”

Later: “Put your prop over, go 50′ of the drilling exercise. The concern is for the fire fighters because they’re wearing really heavy gear, over.”

“497, is there a need for public affairs pick up?
“No need for a public affairs pick up, over.”
“Roger that.”

2037h – Snow is falling, fog is thick. The barge carrying the plane, bound for to Greenville Terminal, Jersey City, passes the Colgate Clock:



A quiet procession, dodging ice, navigating around a mudhole around 23′, moves into the dark. Right behind the crane is another working barge; historic events co-exist alongside normal, everyday life.


(thank you, Lee, Jordan and Rachel!)

4 Responses

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  1. Michael said, on 2009/04/03 at 17:28

    Thank you for sharing all that. I love all the safety talk…keeping an eye out for people falling in is no joke.

    I’m tempted to get a marine radio to listen to the “show” but I don’t have enough time to read my email so who am I kidding?

    Thanks again Christina!

  2. bowsprite said, on 2009/07/27 at 04:49

    if you stayed as glued to VHF as I am, it would be our great loss, Peconic Puffin! keep flexing your pecs in the Pec! that’s a great show–all year ’round, too!!!

  3. […] port as “twinkle.”  What if it were delayed?  Would there be VHF transmissions for bowsprite to eavesdrop on as follows:  ”Twinkle Express, Twinkle Express, this is Warehouse 7.  Do […]

  4. Maritime Monday 196 said, on 2010/01/10 at 22:10

    […] See also: vhf harbor prose: salvage of the plane » […]

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