PALMA, Sisenando “Andy”

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PALMA, Sisenando “Andy” (1927-1983), a Range Operations Department employee stationed at the Navy installation on Santa Cruz Island who commuted to the mainland on a regular schedule. He arrived back on the island for duty by boat during a heavy storm and shortly thereafter suffered a heart attack. Rescue was not immediately available due to the weather, and paramedics arrived on the island too late to save his life.

Letter from Carey Stanton to Les Maland, Point Mugu, March 5, 1983:

Dear Les,

On Monday, February 28, 1983, Andy Palma, a Navy public works employee, died at the Navy compound on Santa Cruz Island. Henry Duffield was in Cottage Hospital in Santa Barbara with a broken leg. I was in Los Angeles to give a long promised and scheduled talk at USC. Dr. Lyndal Laughrin of the University of California had kindly agreed to stay on Santa Cruz Island and look after things in my absence. He has lived at the University Field Station on the island for 12 years and knows the island well. In regard to last Monday, I have been assured by Point Mugu that communications on the island and to the island were in fine shape. On that day however, no one seems to have been able to communicate properly. At 1330 a helicopter was requested to evacuate Palma as he was very sick or dead. A week before he had to wait for eight hours for a helo when he complained of being sick. At 1400 the help could not land at the compound because of poor visibility and was instructed to land at Prisoners' Harbor. It could not land there either for the same reason. The telephone on the wharf at Prisoners' Harbor does not work and has not for a very long time. The helo changed its plan and went to land at Valley Anchorage, totally without permission of the land owner.

Meanwhile Dr. Laughrin was returning from Prisoners' Harbor where he had met the Navy boat. It had begun to rain again, heavily at times. The creek was high, but the remains of the road was passable. When Dr. Laughrin returned home, which is very close to the Main Ranch, he was contacted by radio at about 1415 by Buddy Sales, a private company in Ventura, regarding the emergency and was asked to call Ted Green at Point Mugu. Dr. Laughrin went to the ranch and called Ted Green who asked him to help and to go to Valley Anchorage and pick up two paramedics and take them to the Navy compound. Apparently, at no time were Navy personnel on the island helping in all this. Dr. Laughrin drove to the location in his Toyota and picked up the two paramedics and their Stokes litter which broke his windshield. He drove back to the airstrip and tried to go up the hill by the "back road". This is much shorter and faster if it is usable. He went part way up and was not able to proceed with safety as the road was too muddy and slick. He turned around and came to the Main Ranch, then down the creek, which within the past couple of hours had risen about 1-1/2 feet with flood water due to continuing rain. He went to Prisoners' Harbor, then on the Navy road to the Navy compound. He arrived at the compound with the paramedics at about 1540. The paramedics examined Palma and said that he was dead. Meanwhile the helo at Valley Anchorage communicated that they did not have enough fuel to fly around any more and that they were going back to the mainland. Dr. Laughrin was finished helping all he could and started for home. Realizing that the stream was continually rising and that he would have to go against the current, he left his Toyota at the red cross box and walked down the hill in the mud and rain, about four miles to home.

Dr. Laughrin, Ted Green, and Buddy Sales did all of this because they are fine people, not because they were obliged to. Their communication by radio was all on the University system, nothing from Point Mugu was used. Dr. Laughrin had his windshield broken, a very harrowing trip, risked his vehicle and possibly his life to help out in this crisis. No one from the Navy has even said thank you to him. He is being criticized for having taken too much time to do all this! I called Mr. Meadows at home from Sierra Madre that Monday evening about 6 o'clock after having talked to Dr. Laughrin on the telephone as well as having a message from Mr. Meadows's secretary on my answering machine. There was never a thank you in the conversation. The remark was made, "your Lyndal took half a day to get there". Dr. Laughrin is not my Lyndal. He does not work for my company. We are friends and try to help each other. He accomplished all of this favor for the Navy at his own risk in about 1-1.2 hours. I think that is remarkable. The hazards of the journey and the times of pick up and arrival can be confirmed by the two paramedics. I talked from Santa Cruz Island on Friday morning with Mr. Meadows. I asked again why the body was taken to Ventura County Coroner since Santa Cruz Island is in Santa Barbara County. The reply was that maybe the island was in Santa Barbara County. That is the most absurd remark I have ever heard.

We do not need this high handed treatment. We all acted as good Samaritans and did what decent people would do in the circumstances. None of us needs to be criticized for it. Some thanks might even be in order. There is no question that the Navy does many favors for the Santa Cruz Island Company and the University of California and we are indeed grateful. I am pretty constantly reminded of the favors from the Navy. However, when the situation is reversed and we are able to do favors for the Navy we are happy to do so. The high ranking officers at Point Mugu seem to be well informed about the favors done by the Navy, but never seem to be told about the reverse situation. There have been many such situations, though I surely have not kept a record of them. I have made night time medical calls at the compound by request which were totally unnecessary. When the Navy passenger boat went onto the beach within the past year and was in real danger of being totally destroyed, it was two University men, Drs. Laughrin and Fausett, who kept their heads and along with the boat crew saved the boat until proper towing could be accomplished. The Navy civilians who were there went immediately by truck to the compound to call a helo because it was Friday and they wanted to get to town. This incident of the nearly destroyed boat has never been explained to me. It seems that no one has been asked to justify it at all, nor to explain why on Friday afternoon at 1300 no one in authority could be reached by phone. I tried.

I am frequently reminded of the large amounts of money spent by the Navy to do things for the island company, which in itself is a distortion of the truth. There never is discussion of the enormous amount of money wasted by incompetent Navy civilians who destroy good government equipment. I am thinking of the recent destruction of a fork lift, a road grader, a tractor, two pumps and motors at Prisoners' Harbor, a truck, and many other things. This is not to mention the total neglect of the Navy road so that thousands of dollars will have to be spent to put it back in shape. Most of that could have been prevented even in this severe and unusual winter. I feel that because this place is so remote and the Navy has so few people here, these people should be the best, not misfits who cannot make it at Point Mugu or San Nicolas Island where there is some supervision. I have heard that this p[lace is called "Pinkie's Penal Colony."

Les, I am sorry to carry on like this but it is time that all of this be put in writing for you. I am thoroughly sick of being blamed outright, or by inuendo for things which I do not do or are not my fault, and the fact that none of us is ever given credit for trying to help out. Remember, we are all neighbors in a very isolated place. It is essential that we work together, help each other, and that we be able to communicate with each other.

The names of the people who helped in this fiasco are:

  • Dr. Lyndal Laughrin, PO Box 435, Port Hueneme, CA 93041
  • Theodore Green, 2537 Clearview Ave., Ventura, CA 93003
  • Buddy Sales, 2445 E. Harbor Blvd., Ventura

Their employers are:

  • Dr. Henry Offen, Director, Marine Science Institute, University of California, Santa Barbara 93106
  • James Ordner, Code 3270, Point Mugu 93042

I am eager and want to discuss this entire thing with the Admiral, Captain Godsey, and anyone else.

Most Sincerely,

Carey Stanton