Lakonia Rescue

by Daniel L. Haulman

Operation Name:
Lakonia Rescue
Atlantic Ocean, southwest of Portugal
December 23–24, 1963
Emergency: The Greek luxury liner Lakonia caught fire in the Atlantic Ocean, forcing more than 1,000 people to abandon ship.
Organizations: 57th and 58th Air Rescue Squadrons
Airlifted: 42 life rafts, 400 blankets, and survival kits.
Aircraft Used: HC–54 (six)

A few days after sailing from Southampton, England, the 609-foot Greek luxury liner Lakonia caught fire in the Atlantic Ocean about 180 miles north of Portugal’s Madeira Islands. Just after midnight on December 23, the crew broadcast distress signals as more than 1,000 people, including over 600 British tourists, abandoned ship. Since the ship’s lifeboats could not accommodate all of the passengers, many passengers wearing life jackets floated in the cold ocean while awaiting rescue.

On December 23 and 24, the 57th and 58th Air Rescue Squadrons flew six HC–54 airplanes to the burning ship from Lajes Field in the Azores and Wheelus AB, Libya. The planes dropped 42 life rafts and survival kits to Lakonia survivors and circled overhead to locate other victims and direct ships to the scene. They dropped 400 blankets to five ships that arrived by dusk on December 23 to pick up the 896 survivors and 91 bodies.

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Thanks to those guys!
I was 9 at the time it was all a bit of an adventure. Took sometime to realize my dad wasn’t coming back.

I was in a lifeboat full of water and eventually rescued by a merchant ship after being transferred to another boat. Lifted onboard the merchant ship I was whisked to the galley and stuck in a sink of hot water. The crew gave up their bunks to the survivors and donated their clothes to those who had nothing more than nightwear. We were all taken to Madeira. Regrettably I do not recall the vessel’s name.