WIDMER, John R.

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WIDMER, John Richard (1922-1956), Pennsylvania-born Lieutenant Commander in the Navy, was killed in a helicopter accident off San Nicolas Island with two others: James R. Crewman and Charles G. Erickson. The co-pilot, James F. Brandeau [1933-2012], survived. Widmer was 33 years old.



In the News~

May 12, 1956 [LAT]: “Three drown as Navy copter falls into ocean. Two Navy men and a civilian drowned and another Navy man was rescued yesterday when a Navy helicopter from San Nicolas Island flopped into the ocean near Begg Rock, off the island. The four men had taken off from the island for an administrative flight to a Navy vessel at sea when the helicopter's engine failed and the craft plunged into the water. One Navy man was rescued by an Air Force helicopter from Oxnard Air Force Base. The bodies of the other three men were picked up by a Navy surface vessel and taken first to San Nicolas Island, then to Port Hueneme Naval Station. The rescued man was removed to Point Mugu dispensary where his condition was reported “good.”


May 12, 1956 [OC]: “Helicopter plunges in ocean; 3 men drowned; co-pilot saved. Two Navy men and a civilian drowned yesterday afternoon when their Navy helicopter plunged into the ocean 14 miles west of San Nicolas Island. A fourth man, Navy. Lt. first class James F. Brandau of Mason City, Iowa, co-pilot of the aircraft, was rescued from the choppy waters. Names of the victims have been withheld pending notification of next of kin. Brandeau said the helicopter was returning from San Nicolas Island to the USS Aeolus then the engine failed and they flopped into the ocean. The Aeolus is based at San Diego and is reported operating west of the island. The helicopter was used to pick up supplies at the island sent there from Point Mugu. The craft went down at 1 P.M. The four men were spotted floating with their life jackets by a patrol bomber from Point Mugu, piloted by Lt. Chester Kingsbury. Kingsbury dropped a life raft, but the men were apparently too weak to swim to it. He circled the area until a helicopter from the Oxnard Air Force Base and a crash boat from the island appeared at the scene a half-hour later. The victims had set up flares, but high winds quickly dispersed the smoke. Brandeau said that they had spotted a fishing vessel about 5 miles away as the engine failed, but they were unable to attract its attention. He said the helicopter's pilot was alive when the crash boat was first sighted. He shouted to the pilot, Brandeau said, and he waved back. The Air Force helicopter tried to pick up the pilot, but he didn't respond. It picked up Brandeau and returned him to Point Mugu. The three victims were taken by crash boat to San Nicolas where they were pronounced dead by Capt. H. J. Rickard, senior medical officer at Point Mugu. All attemots at reviving the men failed. The bodies were transferred to the Port Hueneme naval station. Brandeau spent the night at Point Mugu where he was reported suffering from exposure. He was to return to the Aeolus today.”


May 13, 1956 [LAT]: “Navy identifies 3 men killed in copter crash. Names of two Navy men and a civilian drowned Friday off San Nicolas Island were released yesterday by the Navy Department. A fourth man, rescued when a Navy helicopter flopped into the ocean off Begg Rock, was also identified. The dead were Lt. Comdr. John R. Widmer, 34, of 323 Citrus Ave., Palm City; AD3 James R. Crewman of 267 14th St., San Diego, and Charles G. Erickson, a civilian passenger, of Winston-Salem, N.C. Lt. (j.g.) J. E. Brandeau, the copilot, was reported in good condition at the Port Hueneme Naval Station. The four men had taken off from the island en route to a ship at sea when their engine failed.”