Crime Library: Criminal Minds and Methods

Michael Rockefeller

Father, Sister Arrive

Simon and Leo came through.

They made it to shore, after five hours of swimming, and ran to the coastal home of a Dutchman, who alerted authorities that Michael Rockefeller had suffered a boating accident.

Within hours, the colonial government had three search planes and 12 boats looking for Rockefeller and Wassink.

Wassink was located and rescued at 4 p.m. by the Royal Netherlands Navy.

Urgent calls to the United States informed Nelson Rockefeller that his son was missing.

Rockefeller and Michael's twin sister, Mary Strawbridge, immediately flew to Hawaii and then on to New Guinea in a chartered jet, followed closely by a mob of the world's journalists.

Gov. Rockefeller said, "I have complete confidence in Michael's stamina and resourcefulness."

Merauke, Ziekenhuis.  Nelson Rockefeller stayed here during the search.
Merauke, Ziekenhuis. Nelson Rockefeller
stayed here during the search.

Rockefeller, his daughter and his aides worked closely with Dutch authorities in overseeing the search. The governor took several trips by airplane to the area when his son was last seen, and one day he boarded a small Dutch trawler for a search by water.

Thousands of people — from government, the military and the media — were involved in the search for Michael Rockefeller.

Dutch Gov. P.J. Platteel put every boat and airplane at his disposal to work in the search. Australia added dozens of its own air and watercraft.

One historian called it the "greatest search operation in the island's history." But it was hampered by a local lack of modern communications and ground transportation.

Vast swaths of Dutch New Guinea lacked a single road, and fly-over searches by aircraft were nearly useless since most of the island was covered by a thick jungle canopy.

Nelson Rockefeller at the news conference
Nelson Rockefeller at the news

After ten days no one found a single sign of the missing young man, and the pragmatic Nelson Rockefeller decided to give up. He held a press conference and said it was clear his son was lost at sea. He accepted a phone call of condolence from President Kennedy, then left the island, traveling home via the Philippines and Holland.

On the evening of Nov. 30, Gov. Rockefeller stood before a crowd of journalists at Idlewild airport in New York after stepping off the plane from New Guinea. He delivered a sad but touching tribute to his son.

"He was never happier than he has been out there for the past seven or eight months," Rockefeller said. "He has always loved people and been loved by them. He had tremendous enthusiasm and drive and loved life and beauty in people, in art, in nature."

Gov. Rockefeller described Michael's New Guinea adventure as "one of the most exciting experiences of his life." His voice dropping to a raspy whisper, he added, "Things can happen."

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