Partial Ejection Emergency Landing From Two Perspectives:
Account from the victim, Lieutenant Keith Gallagher:
Law says, "Whatever can go wrong, will, and when you least
expect it." (And,
of course, we all know that Murphy was an aviator.) Murphy was
correct beyond his
wildest dreams in my case. Fortunately for me, however, he failed
to follow through. On
my 26 th birthday I was blindsided by a piece of bad luck the
size of Texas that should
have killed me. Luckily, it was followed immediately by a whole
slew of miracles that
allowed me to be around for my 27th. Not even Murphy could have
conceived of such a
bizarre accident (many people still find it hard to believe),
and the fact that I am here to
write about it makes it that much more bizarre.
were the overhead tanker, one third of the way through cruise,
making circles in the
sky. Although the tanker pattern can be pretty boring midway through
the cycle, we
were alert and maintaining a good lookout doctrine because out
airwing had a midair
less than a week before, and we did not want to repeat. We felt
we were ready for "any"
emergency: fire lights, hydraulic failures and fuel transfer problems.
Bring 'em on! We
were ready for them. After all, how much trouble can two JO's
get in overhead the ship?
After my third fuel update call, we decided that the left outboard
drop was going to
require a little help in order to transfer. NATOPS recommends
applying positive and
negative G to force the valve open. As the pilot pulled the stick
back I wondered how
many times we would have to porpoise the nose of the plane before
the valve opened.
As he moved the stick forward, I felt the familiar sensation of
negative "G", and then
something strange happened: my head touched the canopy. For a
brief moment I
thought that I had failed to tighten my lap belts, but I knew
that wasn't true.
Before I could complete that thought, there was a loud bang, followed
by wind, noise,
disorientation and more wind, wind, wind. Confusion reigned in
my mind as I was forced
back against my seat, head against the headrest, arms out behind
me, the wind roaring
in my head, pounding against my body.
the canopy blow off? Did I eject? Did my windscreen implode?"
All of these
questions occurred to me amidst the pandemonium in my mind and
over my body.
These questions were quickly answered, and replaced by a thousand
more, as I looked
down and saw a sight that I will never forget: the top of the
canopy, close enough to
touch, and through the canopy I could see the top of my pilot's
helmet. It took a few
moments for this image to sink into my suddenly overloaded brain.
This was worse than
I ever could have imagined - I was sitting on top of a flying
confusion, panic, fear and denial surged through my brain and
body as a new
development occurred to me: I couldn't breathe. My helmet and
mask had ripped off my
head, and without them, the full force of the wind was hitting
me square in the face. It
was like trying to drink through a fire hose. I couldn't seem
to get a breath of air amidst
the wind. My arms were dragging along behind me until I managed
to pull both of them
into my chest and hold them there. I tried to think for a second
as I continued my
attempts to breathe.
some reason, it never occurred to me that my pilot would be trying
to land. I just
never thought about it. I finally decided that the only thing
that I could do was eject..(What else could I do?) I grabbed the
lower handle with both hands and pulled-it wouldn't budge. With
a little more panic induced strength I tried again, but to no
avail. The handle was not going to move. I attempted to reach
the upper handle but the wind prevented me from getting a hand
on it. As a matter of fact, all that I could do was hold my arms
into my chest. If either of them slid out into the wind stream,
flailed out behind me, and that was definitely not good. The wind
had become physically and emotionally overwhelming.
pounded against my face and body like a huge wall of water that
wouldn't stop. The
roaring in my ears confused me, the pressure in my mouth prevented
me from breathing,
and the pounding on my eyes kept me from seeing. Time had lost
all meaning. For all I
knew, I could have been sitting there for Seconds or for hours.
I was suffocating, and I
couldn't seem to get a breath. I wish I could say that my last
thoughts were of my wife,
but as I felt myself blacking out, all I said was, "I don't
want to die."
turned on the lights and I had a funny view of the front end of
an A-6, with
jagged plexiglas where my half of the canopy was supposed to be.
Looking down from
the top of the jet, I was surprised to find the plane stopped
on the flight deck with about
100 people looking up at me. (I guess I was surprised because
I had expected to see the
pearly gates and some dead relatives.) My first thought was that
we had never taken off,
that something had happened before the catapult. Then everything
came flooding back
into my brain, the wind, the noise and the confusion.
my pilot spoke to me and the medical people swarmed all over me,
I realized that I
had survived, I was alive. It didn't take me very long to realize
that I was a very lucky
man, but as I heard more details, I found out how lucky I was.
example, my parachute became entangled in the horizontal stabilizer
tight enough to
act as a shoulder harness for the trap, but not tight, enough
to bind the flight controls. If
this had not happened, I would have been thrown into the jagged
plexiglas during the
trap as my shoulder harness had been disconnected from the seat
as the parachute
deployed. There are many other things that happened, or didn't
happen, that allowed me
to survive this mishap, some of them only inches away from disaster.
These little things, and a shit-hot, level headed pilot who reacted
quickly and correctly
are the reason that I am alive and flying today. Also, a generous
helping of good old-fashioned
Irish luck didn't hurt.
Pilots account, Lieutenant Mark Baden:
we finished the brief, my BN (bombardier navigator-Keith Gallagher)
told me that it
was his birthday and that our recovery would be his 100 th trap
on the boat. To top it off,
we were assigned the plane with my name on the side. As we taxied
out of the chocks,
I was still feeling a little uneasy about all the recent mishaps.
To make myself feel better,
I went through the "soft shot/engine failure on takeoff"
EPs (emergency procedures),
touching each switch or lever as I went through the steps. "At
least if something
happens right off the bat, I'll be ready," I thought. The
first few minutes of the hop were
busy. Concentrating on the package-check and consolidation, as
well as trying to keep
track of my initial customers, dispelled my uneasiness..As we
approached mid-cycle, that most boring time in a tanker hop, we
kept ourselves occupied with fuel checks. We were keeping a close
eye on one drop tank that had quit transferring with about 1,000
pounds of fuel still inside. I had tried going to override on
the tank pressurization, but that didn't seem to work. My BN and
I discussed the
problem. We decided it was probably a stuck float valve. Perhaps
some positive and
negative G would fix it.
were at 8,000 feet, seven miles abeam the ship, heading aft.
I clicked the altitude hold off and added some power to give us
a little more G.
At 230 knots I pulled the stick back and got the plane five degrees
Nose up. Then I
pushed the stick forward. I got about half a negative G, just
enough to float me in the
seat. I heard a sharp bang and felt the cockpit instantly depressurize.
The roar of the
wind followed. I ducked instinctively and looked up at the canopy
expecting it to be
partly open. Something was wrong. Instead of seeing a two or three
inch gap, the
canopy bow was flush with the front of the windscreen. My eyes
tracked down to the
canopy switch. It was up.
scan continued right. Instead of meeting my BN's questioning glance,
I saw a pair of
legs at my eye level. The right side of the canopy was shattered.
I followed the legs up
and saw the rest of my BN's body out in the windblast. I watched
as his head snapped
down and then back up, and his helmet and oxygen mask disappeared.
They didn't fly
off; they just disappeared. My mind went into fast forward.
the hell happened?" I wondered. "I hope he ejects all
the way. What am I going to
do now? I need to slow down." I jerked the throttles to idle
and started the speed brakes
out. Without stopping, I reached up, de-isolated, and threw the
flap lever to the down
position. I reached over and grabbed for the IFF selector switch
and twisted it to EMER. I
was screaming "Slow down! Slow down!" to myself as I
looked up at the airspeed
indicator and gave another pull back on the throttles and speed
brakes. The airspeed
was passing 200 knots. I had been looking back over my shoulder
at my bombardier the
whole time I was doing everything else. I felt a strange combination
of fear, helplessness
and revulsion as I watched his body slam around in the windblast.
After his helmet flew
off, his face looked like the people who get sucked out into zero
atmosphere in some of
the more graphic movies.
eyes were being blasted open, his cheeks and lips were puffed
out to an impossible
size and the tendons in his neck looked like they were about to
bust through his skin as
he fought for his life. At 200 knots I saw his arms pulled up
in front of his face and he
was clawing behind his head. For a moment, I thought he was going
to manage to pull
the handle and get clear of the plane. I was mentally cheering
for him. His arms got
yanked down by the blast and I cursed as I checked my radio selector
switch to radio 1.
"Mayday, Mayday, this is 515. My BN has partially ejected.
I need an emergency full-forward!"
The reply was an immediate, "Roger, switch button six."
I switched freqs and said (or
maybe yelled), "Boss (Air Officer), this is 515. My BN has
partially ejected. I need an
emergency full-forward!" I slapped the gear handle down and
turned all my dumps on
(in an effort to get slower, max trap never crossed my mind).
The Boss came back in his
ever-calm voice and said, "Bring it on in." Checking
out the BNAs I watched, the
indexers move from on-speed to a Green chevron I worked the nose
to keep the plane.as slow as possible and still flying. The plane
was holding at around 160 knots and
BN's legs were kicking, which gave me some comfort; he was not
watching his head and body jerked around in the windblast, being
literally beaten to
death, made me ill. I had been arcing around in my descent and
was still at seven miles.
The boss came up and asked if the BN was still with the aircraft.
I think that I caused a
few cases of nausea when I answered, "Only his legs are still
inside the cockpit." It made
sense to me, but more than a few people who were listening had
visions of two legs and
lots of blood and no body. Fortunately, the Boss understood what
As I turned in astern the boat, I called the Boss and told him
I was six miles behind the
boat. I asked how the deck was coming. He asked if I was setting
myself up for a
straight-in. I told him "yes." He told me to continue.
was then I noticed that my BN had quit kicking. A chill shot through
my body and I
looked back at him. What I saw scared me even more. His head was
turned to the left
and laying on his left shoulder. He was starting to turn grey.
Maybe he had broken his
neck and was dead. Bringing back a body that was a friend, only
minutes before, was
not a comfortable thought. I forced myself not to look at my bombardier
The front windscreen started to fog up about four miles behind
the boat. I cranked the
defog all the way and was getting ready to unstrap my shoulder
harness so I could wipe
off the glass when it finally started clearing. I saw the boat
making a hard left turn. I
made some disparaging remarks about the guys on the bridge as
I rolled right to chase
centerline. I heard CAG paddles (landing signal officer) come
up on the radio. He told
the Captain he would take the winds and that he needed to steady
up. My tension eased
slightly as I saw mother begin to leave her wake in a straight
in for landing I was driving it in at about 300 feet. I had been
in a slight descent
and wasn't willing to add enough power to climb back up to a normal
for fear I would have to accelerate and do more damage to my already
battered BN. I
watched the ball move up to red and then move slowly up towards
the center. Paddles
called for some rudder and told me not to go high. My scan went
immediately to the 1-wire.
I had no intention of passing up any "perfectly good wires."
I touched down short of the
1-wire and sucked the throttles to idle. The canopy shards directly
in front of the BN's
chest looked like a butcher's knife collection. I was very concerned
that the deceleration
of the trap was going to throw him into the jagged edge of the
canopy. I cringed when I
didn't immediately feel the tug of the wire. I pulled the stick
into my lap as paddles was
calling for altitude. I got the nose gear off the deck and then
felt the hook catch a wire. I
breathed a sigh of relief.
the spool-up time of a pair of J-52s as I rolled off the end of
the angle was not
the way I wanted to end an already bad hop. As soon as I stopped,
I set the parking
brake and a yellow shirt gave me the signal to kill my No. 2 engine.
that, I heard a call over the radio that I was chocked. I killed
no. 1 and began
unstrapping. As soon as I was free of my seat (I somehow remembered
to safe it), I.reached over and safed the BN's lower handle, undid
his lower koch fittings and reached
up to try to safe his upper handle.
I was crawling up, I saw that his upper handle was already safed.
I started to release
his upper koch fittings but decided they were holding him in and
I didn't want him to fall
against the razor-sharp plexiglas on his side. I got back on my
side of the cockpit, held
his left arm and hand, and waited for the medical people to arrive.
I realized he still was
alive when he said, "Am I on the flight deck?"
wave of indescribable relief washed over me as I talked to him
while the crash crew
worked to truss him up and pull him out of the seat. Once he was
clear of the plane, they
towed me out of the landing area and parked me. A plane captain
bumped the canopy
open by hand far enough that I could squeeze out. I headed straight
for medical without
looking back at the plane.
I found that ignorance can be bliss. I didn't know two things
while I was flying.
First, the BN's parachute had deployed and wrapped itself around
the tail section of the
plane. Second, the timing release mechanism had fired and released
the BN from the
seat. The only things keeping him in the plane were the parachute
risers holding him
against the back of the seat.