BALLANGER, Bryan (c. 1957-1989), was killed in an accident off Santa Catalina Island during the filming of Red October.
In the News~
June 15, 1989 [LAT]: A nuclear-powered Navy submarine involved in the making of the film "The Hunt for Red October" accidentally sank a tugboat early Wednesday when it snagged the vessel's tow cable and yanked the boat under water about 10 miles southwest of Long Beach. One crewman of the tugboat Barcona was missing and presumed dead late Wednesday, despite a daylong search that involved four Coast Guard vessels, two helicopters and the Houston --the submarine involved in the accident. The search was suspended shortly before nightfall. Two other Barcona crewmen jumped into the fog-shrouded sea and managed to swim to one of two empty barges that their tug had been towing. Later, the survivors told investigators about their terror when their 97-ton, 73-foot tug was jolted backward and sunk by what seemed an unknown, invisible force. The Houston, a fast-attack submarine based in San Diego, this week was to assist in the filming of "The Hunt for Red October," a tale of a Soviet submarine commander's defection to the United States, said Lt. Sonja Hedley, a spokeswoman for the Naval Submarine Base at San Diego. "But this incident had absolutely nothing to do with Hollywood or with the filming," Hedley emphasized. Navy officials said the submarine was not damaged. Hours after the accident, a foul odor began to invade the beaches of Huntington Beach and as far inland as Garden Grove. Huntington Beach lifeguards and local fire officials said they suspect that the smell is related to the sunken tug. But Coast Guard officials said that is not the likely cause. "It's kind of a paint thinner, diesel fuel kind of smell," said Matt Karl, a Huntington Beach lifeguard. "We can smell it all up and down the beach, all three miles of it. But I haven't seen any kind of an oil slick." Huntington Beach fire officials are advising people reporting the fumes to stay indoors. The movie's shooting had been planned for later in the day. But there were no actors or film crew present when the accident occurred. Hedley said the Houston was submerged when it caught the tow cable linking the Barcona with the barges about 4:45 a.m. Navy officials refused to disclose the submarine's depth, speed, whether it was in descent when the accident occurred or whether its sensors should have detected the Barcona's 1,000-foot steel cable. Hedley said that the accident will be investigated by the Coast Guard and Navy and that no further details will be released until the investigation is completed. The sinking was described in an interview by Cmdr. Donald Parsons, chief of investigations for the Coast Guard's Los Angeles-Long Beach group, and in a press conference by Ralph Larison, president of Connolly-Pacific Co., a marine construction firm that owns the tugboat and employs the crew. Both had spoken with the survivors, Barcona captain Mike Link, 37, of Norco and deckhand Daniel Rodriguez, 37, of San Pedro. Bryan Ballanger, 32, married and the father of two children, was last seen going below deck to check on the Barcona's engines, moments before the boat went under in 2,500-foot-deep waters. Ballanger was piloting the vessel through a thick fog at about six knots, while Link and Rodriguez were asleep below deck, when the accident occurred. Sleeping in shifts is a standard practice, Larison said. Ballanger is a licensed tugboat pilot. "They were jerked backward with such a force that water came over the stern of the boat, and the rear windows were knocked out," Larison said. The tug crew members estimated that they were being towed backward at about 10 knots. Link went above deck to talk with Ballanger, Parsons said, but neither could understand what was happening to their boat. The pilot then decided to check the engine room. "The tug was pulled down and sank," Parsons said. "It happened in less than one minute." As the tug started sinking fast, Rodriguez jumped overboard; Link followed moments later. "They got off the boat and came to the surface, and their boat was gone," Parsons said. Link and Rodriguez were in the ocean about 15 minutes before reaching one of the empty barges cut adrift by the submarine. They pulled themselves onto a barge and waited about two hours before being picked up by a passing fishing boat. "They're in good shape physically but real shook up mentally," Larison said. Link, through his wife, declined to comment on the incident. Reached at his San Pedro home, Rodriguez said he had been told by his employers not to talk about the incident. "It was just a dream you couldn't wake up out of," said Rodriguez, 37. "I'm OK. . . . I'm going to go walk on the beach." Connolly-Pacific is a builder of marinas and underwater reefs. The Barcona was en route from its home port of Long Beach to the eastern tip of Santa Catalina Island, where the barges were to be filled with rock from an island quarry for the 147-acre expansion of Pier J in Long Beach Harbor.”
December 10, 1989 [LAT]: “SAN DIEGO — The commander of the San Diego-based submarine that snared a tugboat in June has been relieved of command because of the fatal accident and two other incidents, Navy officials said Saturday. Citing lack of confidence, Navy officials relieved Cmdr. John H. Sohl III of his command of the nuclear-powered Houston. The submarine was on standby during the filming of the movie "Hunt for Red October" when it snagged a 1,000-foot steel cable and sank the tugboat Barcona 10 miles southwest of Long Beach. Two tugboat crew members survived, but the pilot, Bryan Ballanger, 32, drowned. The Barcona went down in less than a minute in waters 2,500 feet deep. Sohl, an 11-year Navy veteran, was relieved Friday. He was given a punitive letter of reprimand by Rear Adm. Michael C. Colley, Commander Submarine Force, U.S. Pacific Fleet.”
February 8, 2013 [TI/Avalon]: “Ever since the first motion picture cameras began clicking and whirring in Hollywood, Catalina Island and the waters surrounding her have figured prominently into Tinseltown’s filming locations. It is estimated that around 300 movies have been filmed in or around Catalina since D.W. Griffith’s “Man’s Genesis” was filmed here in 1912. The vast majority of the films shot on Catalina harken back to the Silent Film era and odds are pretty good that just about any such film you see that features an exotic island or “South Pacific” location was filmed on Catalina. But Catalina wasn’t just a filming location. It was also a major “relaxation” destination for the movie stars of yore. The great movers and shakers of Hollywood like Cecil B. DeMille, Mary Pickford and Gloria Swanson found Catalina to be the perfect place for both making money and spending it. On Catalina, they worked hard and they played hard. As with any major commercial enterprise with a certain amount of risk involved, accidents did happen from time to time, such as the sinking of a barge during the filming of the Clark Gable version of “Mutiny on the Bounty” in 1935. The barge, loaded with camera gear and a number of crew members, sank north of Catalina Island taking all of its cargo to the bottom — and resulting in the drowning death of a crew member. Fifty-five years later, in 1989, an eerily similar event revolving around filmmaking occurred; an event which also resulted in a single drowning death. The film was “The Hunt for Red October,” based on the Tom Clancy novel of the same name and starred Sean Connery, who played the role of a defecting Soviet naval officer named Marko Ramius, and Alec Baldwin, who played the role of Clancy’s protagonist Jack Ryan. Since most of the story revolved around a Soviet nuclear submarine, Paramount Pictures had contracted with the U.S. Navy to use the U.S.S. Houston, a fast attack submarine based at the Naval Submarine Base in San Diego, to play the role of the Soviet sub. Shortly before dawn on June 14, 1989, the Houston was traveling through the channel near Catalina Island getting ready for filming later in the day. Unfortunately, at the same time, the Connelly-Pacific tug Barcona with three crew members aboard was also in the channel bringing two barges loaded with rock and fill material from the East End quarry to Long Beach. At 4:45 a.m., obviously unaware of the presence of the tug, the Houston snagged the tow cable leading from the tug to the two barges she was towing. The tug was suddenly and violently dragged underwater. Back on the Barcona, the startled crew members, clueless as to what terrible and invisible force had seized their vessel, tried swimming in the rapid vacuum left by the dragging tug. Two of the men, Captain Mike Link and 27-year-old Dan Rodriguez, managed to make it back to the boiling surface and safely aboard one of the tug’s barges. But the tug’s pilot, Bryan Ballanger, was not so lucky and drowned. Incredibly, although the submarine surfaced after the incident, they made no attempt to rescue the two survivors. The two men had to be picked up later by a private vessel. Adding insult to injury, the Navy didn’t even notify the Coast Guard about the incident until two hours after it had happened. The Navy did emphasize that the studio had nothing to do with the incident and that none of the film’s stars were present at the time. The incident was so traumatic for Link and Rodriguez, the two survivors, that both abandoned their seafaring careers, although Link still works within the confines of Los Angeles Harbor. Believe it or not, the captain of the Houston, Cmdr. John H. Sohl III, was not immediately reprimanded for the incident. In fact, it took two more near-disasters within the following months — an accidental flooding that threatened to sink the Houston and the accidental cutting of the sub’s sonar cable—to finally convince the Navy to relieve him of command.”