THE FLYING BOAT – THE FORGOTTEN SEARCH & RESCUE TOOL by M.Michiel van der Mey
The author of this article is a flying boat fan with a particular interest in the early designs of the Dornier company. In this article, he recalls some of the forgotten rescue missions carried out by Dornier flying boats and champions the potential use of up-to-date types in humanitarian roles…..
By large we probably prefer not to think about it, but every year thousands of people try to cross into Europe from Albania, Turkey, North Africa and Senegal in rickety boats. Personal dramas have taken place but are soon forgotten by those not directly involved. These dangerous crossings probably cost many lives every year. Up until now, observation of the relevant seas has been carried out by patrol boats and occasionally maritime patrol aircraft, helicopters and rescue vessels. Sometimes we hear about warships, merchant-ships and yachts saving people. The European Commission recently announced plans for a satellite guard system for the outside borders of the continent in reply to requests for assistance from the EU in guarding the outside borders from countries such as Spain, Italy and Greece. Material support from the other member-states is less enthusiastic. There seems to be only limited solidarity between the member-states of the Union on this issue although all countries have a direct interest in controlling the influx of illegal immigrants. However, it ought to be unacceptable to see men, women and children drowning or crawling the beaches of the Canary Islands among the sunbathers from the rest of Europe.
The present situation is unacceptable and cries for a new approach with new means and I believe there should be a new approach to patrol our shores with a forgotten tool: the flying boat! Some dramas from the Thirties and the Second World War may help us to open our eyes to a concept that deserves worldwide reassessment, especially as our ‘blue planet’ consists of 67% water.
The Dutch Naval Aviation operated in the former Dutch East Indies (Indonesia) in the ‘Twenties and the ‘Thirties of the last century from the Naval Aviation Station of Morokrembangan, close to Surabaya. The first maritime patrol aircraft of the Dutch Naval Aviation Service (MLD) operating in the Indonesian archipelago was the Dornier Wal flying boat. These first flying frigates brought aviation to the remotest parts of the future Indonesia. In the Dutch East Indies the military Dornier Wals had military serials starting with the letter ‘D’.
On October 20th, 1936 a passenger steamer, the SS Van der Wijk, sailing in the Java Sea, got into serious trouble in stormy weather. After distress signals were received at the NAS Morokrembangan, noless than nine Dornier Wal flying boats were scrambled and left for what we would now call a search and rescue mission.
Later a monument for the rescue of the survivors of the Van der Wijck was erected in Lampong. A very interested link in current Indonesia can be found here: http://m.kompasiana.com/post/read/620347/3.
When the flying boats reached the last reported position of the ship, they found that in the meantime it had capsized and the crews of the flying boats saw passengers and crew fighting for their lives in the heavy seas.
In spite of the stormy winds and high waves the flying boats landed in the heavy seas and saved 90 lives. Others were saved by other ships, directed to the scene of the disaster by the flying boats.
From 1938 onward the Dutch Naval Aviation Service started to replace the Dornier Wal maritime patrol aircraft by the Dornier Do 24. The Dornier Do 24 was specially developed for the Royal Netherlands Navy based on the experience of the operations in the East Indies. However, a third engine was added in the belief that if one of the engines broke down, the third one would take over. The 37 Dutch military Dornier 24’s were referred to as Do 24 K and were given numerical serials commencing with an ‘X’.