The President 's trips to Walkers Cay and Grand Cay in the Bahamas (1972-1973)

Walkers Cay and Grand Cay, Bahamas

Walkers Cay Club, Bahamas (note radio antenna), WHCA maintained UHF system 

Type of Activity
 Communications Support Trips  
 Bahama Islands
Date of Activity
  27°15′27.8″N 78°23′40.7″W

4 May 1973 to Walkers Cay to support the President’s visit on Grand Cay

Robert Abplanalp the owner and President of PVC Corporation was a close friend of President Nixon. Mr. Abplanalp owned two islands in the Bahamas’, Walkers Cay and Grand Cay.

The Walkers Cay Club and Marina was a very popular fishing resort.  It was a very exclusive resort as the only way to reach the island was by boat or by air.  The resort had regularly scheduled flights from Ft Lauderdale, Fl. by seaplane. Travel by WHCA to the island was generally by helicopter.  A relatively small hotel was on the island as well as the resorts bar and restaurant and two swimming pools. There were several villas available besides the Hotel for guests to stay while visiting the island.  The marina was fully equipped with bait, tackle, and snack shops. 

The island had its own power plant and desalinization station for all drinking water.  There were several buildings where the staff lived while on the island. The radios were in a building adjacent to the 125 ft. tower, and a separate building near to the radio room housed a small switchboard and communications center.

Walkers Cay Club air strip and Marina
Walkers Cay Island in the Bahamas
Walkers Cay Club after 2004 hurricane Andrew
Walkers Cay Club after 2004 hurricane season 
Note:  Walkers Cay Club was severely damaged in 2004, was closed and is now for sale.

Grand Cay Bahamas

President Nixon stayed on Grand Cay, Mr. Abplanalp's private 125-acre island in the Bahamas, complete with a house that Mr. Abplanalp had refurbished for presidential use, and for relaxation a 55-foot yacht was always available. There were also two villas located on the island for other guests.  Grand Cay was about a 15min. boat ride south east of Walkers Cay.  The island did have a usable helicopter pad for Marine One and Army One.

Main Residence where President Nixon would always Stay
The Main House Boat Dock and USSS on Grand Cay
There was a small house by the boat dock for the caretaker and a small bunk house for necessary support personnel during the trip.  The Secret Service CP and WHCA radio room was in the same building near the front entrance of the main residence.  The bunk house was two small to house everyone, so the Secret Service would stay on Grand Bahama Island (GBI) near Freeport and they would  be choppered in to change shifts. Golf carts were the normal mode of transportation.
Big Grand Cay Island (Guest Villa behind Main Residence on other side of the island)
Guest Villa for VIP's traveling with the President
26 May 73 to Grand Cay Bahamas to support President Nixon during Visit

The President was visiting his close friend Bob Abplanalp on Grand Cay.  I remember the night from hell on Grand Cay very well, I was there when the Mayday call came in. When the midnight shift came in for a landing the blades hooked the water and 16 agents plus the chopper crew hit the water.  I was asleep when the Mayday call came in.    I grabbed a radio and headed for the chopper pad without a flashlight God was it dark, but I could hear the agents yelling. The 15 survivors, agents and crew, were all on the underside of the chopper which had flipped over when it crashed.  About the time that I got to the pad Bob Abplanalp arrived on a golf cart which had headlights so we could see the chopper.  I called the CP to let them know where the chopper was located and that everyone was still on the chopper and that it was partially submerged. . Maybe five min. after that the boat arrived with the divers and started evacuating the agents.  Luckily there were divers on the trip and they finally got to the chopper to start evacuating everyone.

Looking toward the Main Residence from the chopper pad
Others arrived and I then went back to the radio room to make sure all the radios were working.  I called Walkers Cay to let someone know over there what had happened, I then went to the bunk house where they were bringing everyone any necessary medical treatment, this is when I found out that an agent was trapped inside the chopper and drowned.  Agent J. Clifford Dietrich - May 26, 1973: was killed in this helicopter crash near Grand Cay Island in the Bahamas while on assignment with the Presidential Protective Division.  I was asked to help place Agent Dietrich’s body on a Chinook to transport everyone back to GBI and then back to Homestead.  They placed him under the jump seats of the chopper and none of the agents that flew back ever knew they were sitting over him.  This was one night that I will never forget. That was the last time I ever saw the Army One crew and I think that they were deactivated in 1976, in part because of this crash.  In LTC Boyer’s book “Inside the Presidential Helicopter” he disclosed that the altimeter was not properly calibrated and was off by 300 ft. this along with inadequate lighting contributed to the crash.

UHF Radio System to the Bahamas

UHF Radio shot from GBI to Walkers Cay to Grand Cay
The GRC-104 UHF Radio system used from GBI to Walkers Cay and Grand Cay Islands
Prior to 1969 there was little or no communications on Walkers Cay or Grand Cay. There was a low power radio at the Walkers Cay Club that they used to communicate to their office in Ft. Lauderdale, and for emergencies. There was nothing on Grand Cay!

The UHF System was designed to provide 8 channels of voice grade circuits from the Key Biscayne White House switchboard to a mini-switchboard at Walkers Cay.  The Walkers Cay switchboard would also terminate 24 voice grade circuits from Grand Cay. 
AT&T provided the voice circuits from Key Biscayne to a NASA submarine cable that terminated at a down range missile tracking station on Grand Bahama Island (GBI).  Using an existing radio tower WHCA installed a Farinon UHF radio system on the Air Force facility.  GBI shot directly to Walkers Cay where the circuits terminated.  On Walkers Cay there were telephones installed in the Walkers Cay Club’s office and several of the hotel rooms where supporting staff would stay during all Presidential trips to Grand Cay.  Voice circuits were also installed in the communication center for any Dex-1(facimile) and TTY traffic.  FM base stations were also installed for any necessary communications for WHCA, Secret Service, or the White House Stall staying on the island.  The final leg was a GRC 103 UHF radio system, with a TD 660 multiplexer providing 24 voice circuits between Walkers Cay and terminating on Grand Cay.  Telephones were installed in the Main residence and both villas, as well as the bunkhouse on the island.  The Secret Service CP also had phones installed and FM Radio Consoles on Baker and Charlie frequencies.  All equipment, tools, and personnel had to be sent in on helicopters from Homestead AFB.

The monthly maintenance trips to Walkers Cay were like paid vacations, we would be choppered over from Homestead, spent two or three days doing PM's on Walkers and traveling over to Grand Cay by boat.  During this time we ate, drank and slept all complementary.  Plus we would of course have to man all locations during any official trips.  We also had a UHF system between Freeport on GBI to Walkers Cay which meant side trips to the Casino in Freeport.  We honestly did do some work during some of these trips.  I never had any problem finding volunteers to help me on maintenance trips.

Unfortunately the Walkers Cay Club was heavily damaged by hurricane Andrew and was closed down, the island and all of the facilities are presently for sale.

Nixon visited Key Biscayne more than 50 times this also included several visits to Grand Cay between 1969 and 1974 when he resigned from office.

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