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A Mt. Pinatubo Story
 
The Dead Fred Saga

In June 1991, after lying dormant for 600 years, the volcano, Mt. Pinatubo, erupted with a violence that shocked the world. The eruption threw debris 50,000 feet into the atmosphere, covered 100,000 hectares of agricultural land with lahar, made over 650,000 people homeless, and killed another 650. Fred was one of those killed, although at the time he was just another nameless victim.

Pilots from Subic Bay Naval Base found him during a routine chopper patrol. He lay embalmed in lahar on an upper slope of Mt. Pinatubo, an arm and leg pointing skyward in a final gesture.

The pilots were looking for a navigational marker, but the countryside, covered in lahar to a depth of 10 feet, showed a uniform bleakness as if a giant cookie cutter had set down a chunk of lunar landscape. Fred was the only identifiable object for miles around, so the pilots selected him as a nav aid, marked his position on the charts, and called the coordinate Dead Fred.

Two members of the US Navy drone team, W/O Don Welty & Chief Mike Baumann, kept the Bali Hai regulars informed of Pinatubo chopper operations and Dead Fred. Dead Fred, they said, was a reliable and popular marker. But then the rains came, and with them mud slides, and slowly Fred sank into the lahar until only his outstretched arm was visible.

A few days later a young navy recruit announced "Dead Fred is no more." By then Fred had become more than a marker; he symbolized the tragedy of Pinatubo. But the Bali Hai PT Safari Club refused to let Fred die, and organized the first Dead Fred Memorial Celebration. Special guests included the chopper pilots from Subic who first found and named him.

Many PT Club members claim to have had encounters with Dead Fred, usually late at night in the Bali Hai bar. The late Ray Clarke, Patron Saint of the PT Safari Club, claimed several discussions with Fred, although he was unable to recall them in detail.

The PT Safari Club adopted Dead Fred as an Honorary Life Member, and each year on the first Friday of June, hold a Dead Fred Memorial Celebration. This year, in the Bali Hai bar, club members will raise their glasses to Dead Fred, a man who did more than most to coordinate the Pinatubo relief operations; a man who became more famous in death than he was in life.

Cheers Dead Fred.


Copyright © 1998 Allan Miller

Allan Miller
9 June 2008

 

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