MR-2 Rescue and Recovery Timeline

Landing: 12:12 p.m. 

Splash down. On impact the heat shield punctured the capsule in two places and it started to take on water.

12 minutes after landing: 12.24 p.m. 

Electronic recovery signal received from capsule.

27 minutes after landing: 12:39 p.m.

Search plane spotted capsule floating upright in Atlantic 60 miles from the nearest ship. It would take at least two hours for the ship to sail to the capsule, so Navy helicopters were dispatched from U.S.S Donner - the landing ship dock.

In the time between the aircraft sighting and the helicopter arrival, the waves ripped up the landing bag and the heat shield sank. When the helicopter arrived, the capsule had capsized. An earlier fault with a pressure valve near the nose of the capsule meant that yet more water came in once the capsule was on its side. This posed two problems for the helicopter - how to latch onto the capsule and the extra weight of the sea water on board.

2 hours, 40 miutes after landing: 2.52 p.m. 

The helicopter finally latches onto the capsule and lifts it out of the ocean. The helicopter pilot estimated that 800lbs of water had leaked into the capsule - this is approx. 12.5 cu. ft. filling almost a third of the volume inside the capsule. Ham was protected from the water inside his couch and was 'safe inside his couch' as long as the capsule stayed afloat, and it isn't clear just how much longer the capsule would have floated.

3 hours, 28 minutes after landing: 3:40 p.m. 

Helicopter returns capsule to the deck of the U.S.S. Donner.

3 hours, 30 minutes: 3:42 p.m. 

Hatch opened. Moisture on the inside of the window of the couch meant that the crew could not see Ham, only hear him.

3 hours, 32 minutes: 3:44 p.m.

Environmental Control System switched off and fresh pressurized sea air let into Ham's couch. The air cleared away the condensation and the crew could see that Ham's condition appeared normal.

3 hours, 37 minutes: 3:49 p.m.

Ham taken to sick bay for physical examination, which he passes with flying colors.

* Times are all Eastern Standard.

References:

Swenson L.S., Grimwood J.M., Alexander C.C., This New Ocean. A History of Project Mercury, NASA 1998

Henry J.P., Mosely J.D. eds, Results of the Project Mercury Ballistic and Orbital Chimpanzee Flights, NASA 1963