Pilot aboard Nimitz
didn't feel frustration

By Bill Welch, Erie Morning News Staff reporter, (Late May/Early June 1980)

While Americans have been frustrated with the continuing crisis of the hostages in Iran, Navy Lt. Andrey Swystun didn't feel that frustration while aboard the U. S. S. Nimitz in its 144-day patrol in the Indian Ocean.

"We could at least look at the map and say 'We're going to do this, or we could hit them here.'" Swystun said Friday night at the home of his parents, Mr. and Mrs. Roman Swystun, 3664 Meadow Drive.

"I think as far as frustration goes, I was better off being out there planning than being here in the States not knowing what was being done," the 25-year-old radar intercept officer said.

The eight helicopters in the aborted April 24 mission to rescue the hostages flew off the Nimitz.

"We were very excited when they launched. We felt very good," he recalled. "We were very apprehensive because of what they would be going through in the next few hours."

"We were all in for a big letdown shortly thereafter."

When one of the helicopters returned, there was a lot of speculation on the ship, but no solid explanation about what happened.

"We really didn't know for a few days what happened, but then we learned pretty much everything I read later in Newsweek," he said.

Swystun came home Friday for a weekend leave following a cruise aboard the Nimitz that started in September and ended only Monday, the longest cruise for a Navy ship since World War 2.

His job aboard the Nimitz is to man the radar, communications and weapons equipment in the back seat of an F-14 Tomcat fighter, the most sophisticated fighter in the world.

Had his plane and the others on board been reeded in the aborted rescue mission, they were ready to go.

"That's what we're paid to do," he said.

"We all flew an awful lot compared to what we normally fly, about twice as much," Swystun said. Fortunately, the weather in the Indian Ocean was perfect flying weather nearly every day.

The 90,000 ton carrier, its men and planes were in a high state of readiness at all times during the 144 days.

"That shows on men and equipment. Some stood up to it very well and others not very well," he said, obviously one of the ones who did take it well.

To relieve the tedium, the ship sponsored athletic events, such as volleyball, basketball, running events, "just about any athletic event you can do aboard a carrier," the lieutenant said. There were also monthly picnics when hamburgers and steaks were grilled on the flight deck and about 100 movies for the sailors to watch, including the movie "10".

"When we flew in to Ocean field (in Virginia on Monday), we were hoping the band would play 'Bolero,'" he said with a laugh.

Swystun was also kept busy flying patrols around the American battle groups in the Indian Ocean. Regularly, Soviet reconnaissance aircraft would be met and escorted as they took a look at the Navy ships.

"They never got in without us knowing it," he said confidently. "We never lost sight of them."

It was a slightly different story with Iranian aircraft, though. They rarely appeared.

"They were afraid. No, that's not well put," he corrected. "They respected us too much to go out. We weren't too concerned about them being able to get away with anything."

Swystun said no Iranian F-14s were ever spotted while he was there, noting that the planes were without spare parts and the American technicians to keep them maintained.

Had there been an air mission into Iran, he is confident that the Iranians would not have put up much of a fight.

"They know us too well. They know us (fliers). I got my wings with some Iranians. They know what we can do. If some of them did happen to get the fervor to die for Islam, that's just what they'd do," he stated matter-of-factly.

Bill Welch wrote this article after interviewing me at my parent's house when I returned from a cruise that included the aborted hostage rescue attempt back in 1980.