In 2014 Trevor Sly, a U.S. Coast Guard officer stationed near Seattle, was part of a government mission to Koge Bay in Greenland testing new equipment for the Duck Hunt. As Global Exploration and Recovery plans for our return trip to Greenland in 2016 to conduct a new search for the 3 missing aviators, we have been consulting closely with Trevor to draw on his experience. With his input we are confident we are developing a search strategy that will maximize our chances of finding the Duck and the missing men. On a recent visit to Seattle Trevor sat down with GEaR’s Nick Bratton to discuss his work and involvement in the 2014 mission.
So what does Trevor do for the Coast Guard?
His official title is Avionics Electrical Technician First-class. He supervises the Quality Assurance division of Aviation Engineering at U.S. Coast Guard Air Station/Sector Field Office Port Angeles, WA. Trevor is responsible for overseeing maintenance of the fleet of MH-65 Dolphin helicopters. He also serves as a search and rescue flight mechanic, aircrew instructor, and instructor for infrared camera and sensor systems. In addition to his technical expertise, Trevor provides vital support services to his compatriots by counselling members who have financial questions or hardships and acting as sexual assault victims’ advocate.
Before moving into his present role, Trevor had one of the most challenging and unusual jobs in the service: counter-narcotics marksman. He was a sniper trained by Special Forces to disable drug-smuggling boats by shooting out their engines. From a helicopter. At night. In a storm. He recounts one particularly intense mission:
“I had a case late one night where the vessel's crew tried to evade us by hiding under rain squalls that were littering the area. With the helicopter door open the whole time we chased them, the rain was coming straight into the cabin. Some avionics components malfunctioned. The ammo can mounted on my M240 filled halfway with water. We broke out of the last squall and flew down right next to them with guns out the door, thoroughly tired of their antics. Their vessel was soon dead in the water.”
What was Trevor’s introduction to the history of John Pritchard, Benjamin Bottoms, and Loren Howarth?
“I learned about them from the memorial plaques that are hung in the barracks of the Aviation Training Center in Mobile, Alabama. The barracks are named Bottoms and Pritchard Halls, for the officers and enlisted respectively. I stayed in those barracks during my marksman training schools. The crews from those days made Coast Guard aviation what it is today. Bottoms was one of the first enlisted aircrewman, and I felt a sort of kinship with him. They were all great men. Cpl. Howarth, as well. Their heroism was staggering.”
With this background of skills and a passion for the history, it was natural that Trevor would gravitate towards the Duck Hunt. Following the 2013 mission Lt. Mark Haines and Capt. Keith McTigue invited Nick Bratton to give a presentation on the project to the 60-some personnel at Port Angeles Air Station. He gladly accepted and brought along Capt. Charles Dorian, age 92, who was the radio officer on board the USS Northland and was the last person to communicate with the Duck before it vanished. Trevor was in the audience.
“I hadn't realized the full scope of the work, and certainly hadn't heard everything about what you had been up against. Slide after slide of heavy equipment, tents, snow, ice, and some bent ladders. It should have been a deterrent, but instead it made me want to be a part of it. I remember walking back to my office that day thinking there had to be another mission.
A couple of the guys in my office were talking about your presentation. One guy remarked that it looked miserable, almost doomed. ‘I'm going,’ I said. ‘What?’ they seemed to expect me to clarify as though I was referring to something else. ‘If they go back, I'm going to go. I don't care how. I'm going.’ Everything about it appealed to me. I have been rock climbing, backpacking, biking, or mountaineering for most of my adult life. Living on a glacier sounded like a fantastic opportunity, let alone the overarching idea that I would get a chance to recover these lost heroes.”
Check the GEaR blog soon for Part 2 of the story, in which Trevor discusses his experiences on the 2014 mission.