Don Demers’ oil painting “Rescuers from the Deep; USS Scamp” tells a dramatic tale.
It’s February 24, 1987. A ferocious winter storm is bringing blinding snow and 70-foot waves to the North Atlantic.
At 6:45 a.m., Balsa 24, a 345-foot Philippine freighter, sends a message: “Taking on water ... in need of immediate assistance.”
Canadian and United States Coast Guard planes set out from Newfoundland and North Carolina. The ship is sighted, decks awash in heavy seas whipped by hurricane-force winds.
The planes get a message: “All hope is lost, abandoning ship.”
One plane drops a canopied life raft. Eight of the 19 Balsa crew scramble aboard. There’s little more that can be done without a surface ship.
But there is a submarine nearby. Cmdr. David Duma aboard the USS Scamp (SSN-588) gets the word: “Proceed to vessel in distress ... assist in rescue.”
Scamp surfaces late in the day in 70-knot winds. Waves break over the bridge. Repeated attempts to get a line to the drifting raft fail, but Scamp stays nearby through the night. All eyes are on the red light atop the raft’s canopy.
Dawn. Scamp gets a line to the raft, but as the sub’s crew pulls a man into the water, others jump in. One man is thrown up onto the submarine’s deck and is retrieved by the sub’s crew. The rest are washed away.
Scamp is now reeling. Water from a huge wave pours into the trunk, flooding the sub’s interior and putting the ship in imminent danger. The command goes out: “Rig ship for flooding.”
Still, Scamp keeps trying. But the men in the water are too exhausted and, one by one, they perish — 18 in all.
The lone survivor was the 27-year-old Filipino seaman who’d been washed onto the deck.
“I created that painting many years ago as an assignment for Yankee magazine,” Demers says. “I read the manuscript and created a composition from images that emerged while reading the story. As an illustrator of adventure stories, I was always in search of a composition that had dynamic tension and a participatory composition that would place the viewer right in the scene.”
It certainly worked this time.
To view this and other works by Don Demers, visit the J. Russell Jinishian Gallery website at jrusselljinishiangallery.com or visit the gallery at 1899 Bronson Road in Fairfield, Connecticut. Call ahead for gallery hours, (203) 521-1099.
This article originally appeared in the September 2018 issue and drew information from an article by Evan McLeod Wylie in Yankee Magazine.