FOX News contributor Capt. Chuck Nash worked hand-in-hand with reporter Heather Nauert on the story of a long overdue recovery mission involving Cold War naval aviators. FOX Fan Central caught up with him to get the scoop:
FOXFan.com: How did you get involved with the story of LA-9?
Capt. Nash: Heather Nauert recruited me! I was in the FNC New York bureau to assist with the coverage of Fleet Week 2004 and Memorial Day when Heather stopped by the desk where I was working and told me she was working on a story about a P-2V Neptune that crashed in Greenland in 1962. She began to relate the story, and, despite my 25 years in the Navy, I had never heard about the crash of LA-9. I was rather surprised to learn that only some of the crew members' remains had been recovered and that the remains of the others had been recently observed up on the ice. We went to the VP-5 (Patrol Squadron FIVE, the squadron that owned the Neptune with the tail letters LA-9) memorial website that friends and family members maintained and looked at the images, stories on the crew, the press articles, and the correspondence that had been written over the years of trying to get this solved. After we talked for a couple of minutes I was hooked and told Heather that I definitely wanted to assist her with this effort.
FOXFan.com: Where did you begin?
Capt. Nash: Well, as soon as I finished talking with Heather, I picked up the phone and started calling friends in the Pentagon on the staff of the Chief of Naval Operations to see if they were aware of this and, if so, what was the Navy's position. I also called an old squadron mate, Rear Admiral Mark Fitzgerald. Mark happened to be the Director of Naval Aviation at the time (Fitzgerald was recently selected to the rank of Vice Admiral and is soon to take command of the Navy's Second Fleet), and I told him what I knew of the story and gave him the VP-5 memorial website address. Over the next several days, he called others in the Navy hierarchy, and that's when things really got rolling. In the meantime, Heather's story ran, so awareness of the issue was very high. One of the other people to swing into action and champion this inside the Navy was then Commander, Naval Air Forces Atlantic Fleet (NAVAIRLANT), Rear Admiral Jim Zortman, (Zortman has since been selected to the rank of Vice Admiral and is Commander, Naval Air Forces Pacific Fleet). Within a couple of days the situation had been presented all the way up through the chain of command to the Chief of Naval Operations, Admiral Vern Clark who made the decision to have NAVAIRLANT work up a full soup-to-nuts operational plan on how a recovery could be accomplished. RADM Zortman's staff then went to work drawing up the operational plan which was subsequently approved up the chain and then turned back to the NAVAIRLANT to execute. All along the way Heather and I stayed in touch with the Navy Public Affairs officials in Washington and Norfolk to monitor the progress of events, and Heather also maintained contact with the families and friends of the downed crew members.
FOXFan.com: Why did it take so many years to get this done?
Capt. Nash: Safety was a major issue. The area where LA-9 went down is very rugged, and the weather is just terrible. There is a limited window of opportunity during the year between the second week in July and the second week in August when conditions on the ice permit a recovery attempt. Miss that and you have to wait another year. Also, there was the expense of the recovery effort. Initial government estimates were in the millions of dollars as it would have involved moving military aircraft to the region, and that dissuaded people for some time. In recent years however, technology has improved which increased the safety margin from what it would have been decades ago. Commercial helicopter operators have begun flying more frequently in the region to take geological survey and university research groups up to the glaciers in Greenland. These operators are thoroughly familiar with the terrain, the weather, and the flying conditions. The Navy took advantage of the experience of some of these expert commercial operators and pulled the operation off successfully for a fraction of the initial estimates.
FOXFan.com: So it was a good team effort?
Capt. Nash: Yes, definitely. I'm thankful that at long last there can be a sense of closure for the families and friends of the fallen warriors of LA-9. Also, had Heather not picked up this story back in 2003 and then stayed with it through this past Memorial Day, I seriously doubt that we would be where we are today. She got the LA-9 story the attention it deserved. It was a good job on her part and that of FNC.