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USS Coral Sea Tribute Site
CV/CVB/CVA-43
USS Coral Sea
Mishaps - Page 1
USS Coral Sea



This part of the site is dedicated to all the men who were killed or injured due to mishaps on board the USS Coral Sea.

As much as successful missions and great safety records are part of the ships history, so too are its mishaps. When two shipmates get together to remeber the old times it usually isn't long before the conversation turns to the mishaps that happened on the cruise.
Some of these stories are tragic, some are heroic, some are humerous and some are just amazing. These mishap stories are not intended to blame or accuse anyone of anything. If you think something is in error or have something to add to a story then let me know and I'll change it or add it.




 1948 Shakedown: Here are a few wrecks from the first cruise

[Crash] [Crash] [Crash]
F4U-4 "T.U." F4U-4 from VF-5B. Well, he got it stopped. AD-1 Gear "UP" landing
[Image Source - US Navy] [Image Source - US Navy] [Image Source - US Navy]


 1949 Med Cruise

[Submitted by Paul Watson] - I was a corpsman aboard CVB-43 for most of 1949, including the Caribbean shakedown cruise and the first Med cruise. I often watched operations from the O7 deck (probably wasn't supposed to be there). We had a fatal mishap, which I remember very well. We were in the Mediterranean at the time. A crew member (I can't remember his name) of one of the Corsairs was waiting for his plane to come in. When it touched down, it had a problem catching a cable, so the crew member backed up suddenly and into the path of a spinning prop from another Corsair, which had just come in safely. He was killed instantly. I was the Operating Room Technician aboard, and was called up to the scene from Sick Bay, but obviously could do nothing. We also lost a couple planes, but I don't recall on which cruises. One of the ADT's (? - I was just a corpsman) caught a wing tip on the flight deck during night operations and dumped over the side; and another time a Corsair, which had been waved off, lost its hydraulics and dropped into the sea as it started to swing back around. Nobody hurt seriously in either incident.

[Follow Up - Denver Anderson] - The first story i read on your page was about the young man who killed on the 1949 med. cruise if i remember it was told by a corpsman he said the young man backed in to a propellar but what really happened was i followed him up the ladder from the catwalk he was the plane captain for the plane that was comming in when the plane jumped the first couple barriers and he ran forward into the prop of the plane that had just landed .
[Follow Up - Joe Policastro ] - I have a vivid memory of that day because it was the first time I ever witnessed a death. On that day I was on lookout watch on the 07 level, my position was the forward port side and my sector was from dead ahead to 2pts abaft the port beam which put me right over the flight deck and a clear view of the flight quarters being conducted that day. Flight quarters started off normally and all was going well. I got a great thrill watching the F4U4 corsairs going through their firing runs on the tow target we were towing then it came time to end the runs and land the planes. The first few came in without any trouble. This plane landed and taxied to a position forward on the flight deck I saw the people come out to chock the wheels and watched the pilot fold the wings, then the plane captain got up on the port wing section as normal to assist the pilot as the alarm sounded so I looked aft and saw the next plane come in and some how his tail hook missed all the arresting gear and i! t headed toward the up right barriers he was on an angle and his prop cut the first barrier at this point the plane captain jumped off the wing and looked aft only to see the plane headed to the next barrier. Then pilot on his plane had just cut off his engine and the prop was still coasting the plane captain panicked and ran forward as he emerged from under the wing the coasting prop hit his head and right shoulder killing him instantly, what an ugly sight. Well, the next barrier stopped the plane.I then saw a bunch of people and medical people rush to the site of course there was nothing they could do. You may find this hard to believe, because I did, but the next thing I heard was " lets get that mess cleaned up we have planes to land". At this point I saw an officer on the flight deck and heard" mister that is not a mess that is a human being and he is going to get the last rights, so then I knew he was the chaplain he quickly gave the last rights and came back looked up! and said "this not war time and the planes have enough fuel now you cane bring in those planes now". Believe me that is exactly what happened, It will live with me till I die.

 1949 Med Cruise

No details on this one. Amazing trick putting a Corsair on its nose...

[Crash]
[Image Source - US Navy]


 1950-51 Med Cruise

No details on this one. Looks like his gear collapsed on landing. F4U-5 from VF-173 or VF-174

[Crash]
[Image Source - US Navy]


 1950-51 Med Cruise

An AD-4 of VA-175 looks like it suffers a hydraulic failure on landing. First the nose gear collapses, then the main gear.

[Crash] [Crash]
[Image Source - US Navy]


 April 26, 1951 Med Cruise

[Submitted by - Vince DeSena] - I recall the exact date, April 26, 1951, Coral Sea was on station in the Med carrying the flag of CarDiv 6. During training exercises, a Banshee jet lost power on take off and hit the water in front of Coral Sea. The plane was overrun by the ship and disappeared under it, the pilot lost and his body never recovered. The reason I recall the exact date was because I was informed that my wife had given birth to our first child the day before. As a teleman, I was assigned to the communications traffic center in the island structure and my shipmates in the radio shack were on alert for a notice of the event thru the general fleet messages on NSS. The message came thru early on that Thursday morning with a the Red Cross notification to me that I was the father of a new baby girl. There was another message to a new father that day. It was to a Navy flier (I regret I can no longer recall his name) who had become a new ! father of a baby boy I was excited and took the message to the officers ward room and personally delivered it. We congratulated each other and at about that time, scheduled flight operations were coming up. We both went to our duty stations very happy guys. But one can only speculate what might have been on his mind as he prepared for take off. He was the pilot of the Banshee that crashed. To this day, a feeling of sorrow still haunts me. As I write this in March of 2006, I wonder..... I am now the great grandfather of four boys. That pilot never saw his own son.


 1952 Med Cruise

F2H-2 of VF-62 in the water off of Coral Sea(CVA-43). Note that the entire tailplane has been wrenched loose, probably from a barrier strike.

[Crash]
[Image Source - Troy Prince
From November 2004 issue of Airpower Magazine]


 1952 Med Cruise

An AD-4 of VC-33 DET 6 is in the water after a landing gone bad. Notice the tailhook is down. One pilot can be seen to the right and a helmet from another crew member can be seen in the middle. Don't know the final outcome.

[Crash]
[Image Source - US Navy]


 1953 Med Cruise

[Submitted by - John Russell] - My father has told me stories of at least two mishaps.

First; Him and a shipmate were working under an aircraft when another went out of control. Seeing it coming he went to the shipmate, they both climbed into the wheel well for safety. One strut calapsed but both where un hurt. The out of control plane was either F4U or AD-4.

Second; Was a night landing gone wrong. An F2H (jet) was coming in with damage. He missed the flight deck and slammed into the fantail, just below the flight deck. The insuing fire caused GQ, and at one point was out of control to the point that the escorts were ordered to the horizon for their safety. He says though it was in the dead of night, when GQ was sounded, the fire lit the area as bright as day. The fire was so intense that the twin AAA guns located there were completely melted. Supposedly there was news coverage of the fire at sea.
Dad's name is Frank Daniel Russell.

[Follow-up - Ron Little] - One night, in the midst of swelling seas, CORAL SEA and ROOSEVELT were conducting flight operations when tragedy struck. After catapulting from the ROOSEVELT, a VC-4 pilot jettisoned the canopy to clear his smoke filled cockpit. He attempted to land his Banshee on the CORAL SEA which was standing by to recover aircraft. Just as the Landing Signal Officer signaled "Cut" a huge swell lifted the aft end of the ship. At about 0200 the jet slammed into the flight deck. The cockpit with the pilot still strapped in slid up the deck; but the rest of the plane with its full load of fuel caught fire and fell onto the fantail. Sadly, the pilot of the F2H-3 died with a broken neck. A guard, making his rounds, saw the aircraft coming in and took action that saved the ship from greater casualty. He hit the button to flood the ammo stored on the fantail for the twin gun mounts, and pulled the hatch behind him as he jumped into the hangar bay.

The gun mounts were destroyed. The flames swooshed around to the starboard side and spread through forty frames. Crewmen from the 02 level streamed out on the flight deck in their skivvies. As the thick clouds of smoke billowed into the night, fire fighters charged into the fray. Not all who donned equipment were heroes. One man, with his life line tethered to a tender, walked into the smoke wearing an OBA. After a half hour of little action the tender discovered the man's life line was fastened to the ship.


 1953 Med Cruise

[Submitted by - Bob Loving] - Here is a series of five photographs that show an F2 Banshee's landing gone bad. The first picture says it's a Phantom but I believe from the tailcode and the look of the plane that it is an F2H-3 Banshee from VC-4 Det 6. Photo's courtesy of the Ellis collection. Obituary of Pilot Ltjg. Robert E. Berger. Submitted by his nephew Bob Loving.

[Crash] [Crash] [Crash]
Picture 1 Picture 2 Picture 3
[Crash] [Crash] [Crash]
Picture 4 Picture 5 Pilot Obituary


 1953 Med Cruise

[Submitted by - James Taylor Cmsgt USAF Ret.] - I was a plane captain with VF-83 assigned to an F9F5 squadron # 311 serial number 126133. I was on the flight deck and watched the F2H3 bounce the Davis barrier and take the two AD's off the bow. Another serious incident occoured on the cruise.We were involved in a NATO operation Weldfast as I recall. General quarters sounded early one AM. I went to the flight deck to pre-flight and prepare my aircraft for flight.There was a very heavy fog that morning, shortly after arriving at the aircraft GQ was cancelled for weather. I resecured the aircraft and had no more than got back in my bunk when GQ was sounded again. The Captain came on the public address and stated the AIR BOSS was in sick bay and named his replacement. Aircraft were launched for the mission however the fog was still present when the aircraft returned. If I remember correctly we lost seven pilots and numerous aircraft that day. We returned to Naples where the Captain was relieved. I would like to know the official count of personell and aircraft lost on that cruise.


 April 1953 Med Cruise

"A Corsair fighter roared over the ramp of the Coral Sea. Althogh he saw the LSO give him the "cut", the pilot held off. Still airborne, the plane's landing gear snagged the #3 barrier. We see what happened next. The plane flipped over on its back so forcibly the fuselage cracked near the cockpit. The pilot's head struck the steel deck hard. As the heavy plane skidded down the deck, his head was dragged about 10 feet across the sandpaper rough deck covering. The pilot escaped from the accident without a scratch - only a stiff neck. The rough deck wore almost through the helmet - had he been without it, it probably would have honed down to his skull!!"

[Mishap]
[Image Source - Naval Aviation News]


 1954 Med Cruise - The Story of Ensign Austin E. O'Toole:

[Submitted by - by Lyle J. Howard, Airman, VF-11 Red Rippers] - I was a plane captain in VF-11 Red Rippers on the 1954 Med. Cruise. Of the 11 pilots and crewmen who lost their lives on that cruise , Ensign O'toole stands out the most vivid in my memory. O'toole came up the hard way. He came out of the enlisted ranks to become a Navy Fighter Pilot. He almost didn't make it because of his size. He was an enormous Irishman. No fat. Just size, bone and muscle. It was no easy chore getting him strapped into the cockpit. O'toole was loved by every man in the squadron. I think it had a lot to do with the fact that he came from our ranks. But, he was also a jolly Irishman, always smiling and joking with the guys. I was standing forward, waiting for my plane to land and taxi forward. O'toole was in the pattern to land next. Although we didn't know it was him at the time. Everything looked good until the last second before he would have gotten the OK to land from the LSO. The next thing we saw was the banshee suddenly losing altitude and smashing into the fantail. What was left of the plane and pilot veered to the left and sank out of sight. We were all shocked at what happened before our eyes. But, we all sank into a sense of deep loss when we learned it was O'toole. We had lost a friend, a good friend to all the guys in dungarees and different colored jerseys and caps who roamed the flight deck The rest of the cruise was not quite the same not seeing the big lumbering frame of Ensign Austin O'toole making his way to his plane and somehow hoping his plane was yours.

[Follow Up - Dale Waba VF-103 ,(1954-55)] - I read with great interest the story about Ensign Austin O'Toole and his air accident while landing on the Coral Sea. I knew and flew on a number of occasions with Ensign O'Toole while he was assigned to Fasron 6 at the Jacksonville Naval Air Station. While he was stationed at Fasron 6, he had the rank of Air Pilot Chief.  He was one of only a few with that rank in Navy at the time. When he decided to go to Pensacola and enter the Naval Cadet School for his Commission, we all asked why. After all, he was APC and got extra pay for hazardous duty  (flying) and the pay he was receiving as an APC would be more than what he could get as an Ensign!. He said it was just something he always wanted to do and so he w as off to Cadet School. When he got his commission, he came back to Jacksonville and was assigned to our sister Squadron VF-11, the "Red Rippers". I am most certain that his accident happened during a shake-down cruise when the Coral Sea was returning from Norfolk,Virginia to MayPort, Florida. His death came as big shock to all who knew him. He was a big red headed Irishman, as was stated in article, and liked by all who knew him. He was an individual who one took pride in saying that he was a friend. I always thought He resembled the TV star Arthur Godfrey. What was not included in the article, was that he not only left behind a wife but also had 4 or 5 children also.

 1954 Med Cruise - AJ crashes on launch

[Submitted by Jack Brennan] - Sometime in the fall of 1954, the Coral Sea was participating in "War Games" off the Coast of Turkey with the rest of the Sixth Fleet, and Naval and Air Forces of other Nato Countries. During General Quarters my post was in the lower deck Fire Control Computer and Radar Room where I helped search for and locate enemy aircraft. The anti-aircraft 3" guns and Fire Control Systems and Personnel in our Quadrant were under the control of a Gunnery Officer whose Battle Station was in the Fire Control Director Tower above the Flight Deck and was immediately in front of and slightly below the Admiral's Bridge. During the "War Games", but not during GQ, we were on a 4 hours on, 4 hours off watch. Every 4 hours, I relieved the Gunnery Officer in the Gun-Fire Control Director Tower.

On the morning of the crash, I relieved the Gun Officer at 4 AM. As a cold, grey dawn broke that morning, I happened to turn the Gun-Director toward the starboard rear and was suddenly startled to find myself staring directly into the eyes of the Fleet Admiral who was only about two feet away from me. The Admiral was looking straight ahead with his folded arms resting on the window sill of his Bridge and his chin resting on his arms.

As I remember it among the many differing types of aircraft aboard, were three AJ 2s. They were reputed to be the largest planes that could be landed and launched from our ship. These planes had two large wing mounted propellers and and a jet engine in its belly. Scuttle-butt had it that they were long-range carrier-based bombers capable of carrying Atomic weapons. In the exercises of that day, two AJ-2s were to make a practice run over Turkey simulating an atomic or other attack deep into Stalinist-Criminalcommunist Russia. The third AJ 2 was a tanker carrying Aviation fuel which was to re-fuel the two Bombers before entering Soviet air space.

Not long after Dawn, Flight Quarters was sounded, the AJ-2 Cow was first up to the launch position and hooked onto the catapult. ( Having served for almost three years on Carriers and always having sleeping quarters directly under th flight deck, I had witnessed many, many hundreds of landings and take-offs, from the side-deck cat-walks or Fire Control Directors. I had a pretty good idea what the Airdales had to do to land and launch planes.)

Preparing to launch planes, the Coral Sea had increased speed; the "Cow" was rev-ving up all three engines; and the longer than three-football-fields-ship started to heel over as it turned into the wind. Before the Coral Sea had completed its turn, and while the ship was still "heeled over" I heard the order or saw the signal to launch aircraft. The Ship had not fully turned into the wind and the Flight Deck was still canted over. I was astounded. I turned the Gun-Director around and looked directly into the Admiral's eyes and signalled with my hands that the ship was not level. The Admiral looked straight ahead with his chin on his arms.

The Pilot brought his engines up to take-off power level; the jet engine was blasting a red-white tail; the signal was made to launch; the huge fuel-laden plane shot forward. But because of the slant of the deck, the right wing was noticeably lower than the left wing. After clearing the Carrier, the Pilot immediately tried to level the wings; the move went too far. In a split second, the left wing was now lower than the right wing had been a moment before. The desparate Pilot made a radical move to right the plane but this time the right wing-tip caught the sea. The plane cartwheeled into the sea and there followed an instantaenous, gigantic, explosion of aviation fuel.

As the Coral Sea passed the tremendous fire-ball fifty yards to starboard, the radiant heat was so intense that I almost panicked as to whether I should get out of the Gun Director. As the flames moved furthur aft on our right hand side, I once again was looking directly into the Fleet Admiral's eyes. He never moved his eyes to mine; he just kept looking straight ahead with his chin resting on his arms.

Only the life-jacketed body of the enlisted crewman was recovered. I vaguely remember that the enlisted man aboard the crashed AJ2 was a Petty Officer. It seems that the only Petty Officer on your list of the deceased is AT2 Billie Patterso. AT2 may mean Aviation Technician Petty Officer 2nd Class. An enlisted man, as the third member of the crew of such an important aircraft, should be a Petty Officer of experience and maturity, whatever his duties were.

[Dialogue between Jack Brennan and Kay Chamberlain, a niece of one of the crew from the AJ]

[Kay] My uncle Leon Rex Grover was a pilot on the Med cruise in 1954. He and his navigator Garth Garreau were catapulted off the USS Coral Sea. I believe my aunt said he was overloaded with fuel. They crashed on take off.

[Kay] Thanks for the info. I can't help but wonder what was going on in the Fleet Admiral's mind. My Aunt has told me that my uncle had a predawn refueling flight. He had 5000 lbs. of fuel on the AJ. She said she was told there was not enough wind. The wing tipped to the right - then left - the AJ hit the water and exploded. I have to assume That you witnessed my uncle's demise. Your words and my aunts seem to confirm that it was the same event. This happened in November of 1954. He was promoted to Lt. Commander after his death. If you have anything to add please feel free to email me. Admiral Charles Stevenson had asked my aunt about her feelings on a Congressional Investigation into the accident. We all have felt that something "fishy" was going on.

[Jack] I did witness the crash. As a none expert, my opinion is that the plane left the ship before the ship had completed its turn into the wind and consequently, the ship had not leveled itself or returned the flight deck to level condition. The plane was catapulted off the deck at the same angle of cant as the flight deck. As I remember it, the plane took to the air with its right wing lower than its left wing. The pilot immediately took action to right the plane but the left wing went past level, and then the left wing was lower than the right wing. The pilot tried to level the plane in the opposite direction, but this time the right wing went too low and caught the sea and the crash ensued. The accident did not happen pre-dawn. It happened after dawn broke with plenty of daylight.

[Kay] Do you think the Admiral was lost in thought and didn't see your signal? I know this all happened a long time ago. It just amazes me to find someone who witnessed this event. I was almost 4 months old when this happened.


 1956 MED Cruise

[Submitted by Jerry Dempsey] - I was on cruise in Coral Sea from August 56 to Jan 57. Approximately, mid cruise, we had an AJ with a hydraulic failure (partial flaps, I think) go through the barriers and into the pack up forward. If memory serves me correctly, 13 aircraft were destroyed and the pilot was severely injured and sent to the hospital in Wiesbaden. Cannot remember if there were any fatalities but it was a heck of a wreck up fwd, particularly viewing it from my vantage point at about 5k in the dog pattern.

[Follow up - by Stephen Caton] -My name is Stephen Caton and I am the grandson of Roy Caton who was the pilot in the 1956 AJ Savage crash. This is the crash that involved the hydraulic failure and approx. 13 parked aircraft. The information about the pilot passing away during the mishap is incorrect. My grandfather spent the better part of a year in the hospital recovering from his injuries. He then lived a full and productive life until passing on in 1999. He was a wonderful grandfather that never forgave himself for that accident.
[Follow up - by Michael Delaney] - Attached are 5 shots of the 1956 AJ crash that I took as a Navy photographer on board the USS Coral Sea(CVA43).
Background...The AJ lost its hydraulics, therefore, the use of his ailerons to keep his plane airborne, at a reasonable landing speed, was not an option. On deck, the operations officer gave the order to clear the forward deck. The ship turned into the wind with all the speed it could muster in order to reduce, as much as possible, the plane's deck speed. But, on his approach, wanting(I assume) not to miss the 1st arresting wire, his hook hit the edge of the deck and snapped off...without a connection to the arresting wire the plane proceeded to crash, at high speed, into the planes parked on the forward deck.

All toll I took a 50 shots--from what you see here to the full rescue and damage/control exercise. The AJ photos were taken w/a K20 handheld aerial camera using B/W HS film at 1/500sec.
[Crash] [Crash] [Crash]
AJ touches down on deck-hook snaps off. If you look you can see the broken hook in the air just above the horizon. The AJ makes contact with both the low barrier wires and then sheds the nylon high barriers (High barriers not shown). Here the AJ has come through the barriers without any slowdown heading into the forward parked planes aircraft.
[Image Source - Michael Delaney] [Image Source - Michael Delaney] [Image Source - Michael Delaney]
[Crash] [Crash]
The AJ has made its first contact on its port wing. One interesting point--look at the forward deck, just to the left of the parked jeep, and you'll see one lucky sailor as he runs to port for cover. Full contact. See that piece of wing on the horizon --that sailed about 2 feet over my head before crashing into the main stack.
[Image Source - Michael Delaney] [Image Source - Michael Delaney]


- Pictures of the AJ crash aftermath.

[Crash] [Crash] [Crash] [Crash]
[Image Source - Joe Logeman] [Image Source - Joe Logeman] [Image Source - Joe Logeman] [Image Source - Joe Logeman]
[Crash] [Crash] [Crash] [Crash]
[Image Source - Joe Logeman] [Image Source - Joe Logeman] [Image Source - Joe Logeman] [Image Source - Joe Logeman]

[Crash]

[Crash]
[Image Source - Doug Riach] [Image Source - Doug Riach]


 1956 MED Cruise

The obituary and the picture of the a/c [F2H-2 Banshee]in the water (destroyed) go together. We were in the Caribbean (April 1956) and were just one hour from officially ending our exercise when the LCDR took a starboard wave off. Do not know (nor remember) why he took a starboard wave off - that was unheard of and costly.

[Mishap] [Mishap]
[Image Source - US Navy] [Image Source - Terry Hauck]


 1956-57 MED Cruise

Spad launch gone wrong. Here an AD-5W of VAW-12 DET 31 has lost power on takeoff and is crashing into the sea off the port side.

[Crash] [Crash] [Crash]
Plane banking hard to port. Impact! The entire engine compartment has been seperated from the fuselage in the accident. That probably helped the fuselage stay afloat a bit longer.
[Image Source - Terry Hauck] [Image Source - US Navy] [Image Source - US Navy]
[Crash] [Crash]
Plane guards move in immediately. Crewman are seen standing on the canopy. Back on board. Helped form the helo, all three crew members were recovered safely.
[Image Source - US Navy] [Image Source - US Navy]


 1956-57 MED Cruise

[Submitted by Grady Pittman] - I was an AE3 with VA-104 (AD'6s) during a qual cruise on the Coral Sea in the Caribbean Sea in 1956 and a Med cruise beginning in August, 1956 and ending in Feb., 1957. My duties required me to be on the flight deck at all hours of flight quarters and more. I remember seeing the F2H going in on the starboard side. We were two hours out of Norfolk. The plane took a waveoff and instead of banking to the port as usual he banked to starboard. Speculation was that because of his approach to land was wide he thought he had room to starboard. Flying low and banking his left wing tip hit the water and cartwheeled and sunk. Talk was he left a wife and 2 children.

Being in VA-104 my only sea time on the Coral Sea was the qual cruise to the Carribbean and to the Med so these pictures and details are still with me a 65. The AD-5 going off the port side is still vivid in my mind. This took place either in the Caribbean or Med,1956. As a matter of fact I have told the story of watching the Skyraider go overboard to several people over time. The plane was catapulted off the port cat, as it reached the end of the flight deck the pilot pulled back on the stick sharply causing the tailwheel to strike the deck causing it to cartwheel over the side. I ran to the port elevator and watched helplessly as the plane drifted by (see photo of crew on elevator, I was one of those) I recall that the pilot and observer (not a co-pilot) were up front with a enlisted radar operator in the rear, right side. If you look closely at photo #5 you can see the top of his helmet. The radar equipment is stored in the front panel when not in use. When the plane hit the water the equipment extended out in front of the operator slowing his exit. I remember looking down at him trying to get out and not able to help him. He did make it, although the plane was beginning to sink (water over the wings). The fact that the engine snapped off on impact saved his life and the other two. The pilot and observer stepped out onto the wing with no problem. I'll never forget that one.

NOW FOR THE BIGGIE.

I didn't see this one but I was on the hanger deck at our "shop" when it happened. I heard one hell of a noise, looked up and smoke was coming down into the hanger bay so I knew something was wrong. I ran up to the flight deck and saw fire around the port cat. which was crammed with parked planes. Several planes were destroyed and the crash crew put the fire out quickly. We were instructed to throw parts and pieces over the side in order to clean up.
The entire nose of the AJ-3 was sheared off showing the seats of the pilot and co-pilot with nothing around them but the bulkhead that they were attached to (pilot and co-pilot had been removed). I think 12-15 aircraft were destroyed.

The information I got was that the AJ-3 had lost hydraulic pressure and could not lower his flaps nor lock his tail hook in the down position. Having no flaps prevents the plane maintaining a safe air speed when landing. This situation was relayed to the Air Boss and the pilot had requested permission to proceed to land at some airfield. Permission was denied by the Air Boss (for those of you on the 1956 Med Cruise you can remember his famous expression- Expedite-Expedite). Anyway, the plane came in "hot" and the speed being such, it was too much for the tail hook and it snapped off. Being on a straight deck carrier there was only one way to go, straight. From the information I received I understand the plane jumped the barriers and the nose smashed into the wing tip tank of another AJ-3 parked forward (see photo #4 and you can see the right engine and nacelle of the parked plane. This is what sheared the nose off of the plane. You can see the AD-6s parked forward in the planes path. These belonged to my squadron, VA-104. We lost 5 aircraft in this accident as well as other squadrons, VF-103, VF-106, etc..

I understand the pilot lost his life with the co-pilot injured. A chief was sitting in the lower compartment behind the co-pilot and escaped uninjured. I understand that later he committed suicide. Not confirmed, just a rumor. We proceeded to Naples (I think) and off loaded what was left of the planes involved in the crash and returned to sea. I have tried to relive those days on the Coral Sea and hope that this information will fill some voids and enlighten our sailors as to what happened there and what life was like on a straight deck carrier with no air conditioning, no E-mail, no TV, and a very small gedunk and no game room. Our game room was on the flight deck.



 1960 Shakedown

Early on in Coral Sea`s return to the sea after her being re-commissioned, we were launching and landing aircraft off the coast of Washington. This was one of the very first operations following 1/25/60 and I don`t remember the date, but the ship lost an A-4D Skyhawk during a launch. I remember it was a night launch, and upon being launched, the steam in the catapult had a pressure loss, and immediately the pilot knew it, for you could see his futile skidmarks all the way to the end of the bow, where he plunged over, and was lost. There was speculation that the ship`s screws may have caught the plane in their path. I distinctly remember seeing those skidmarks, and how horrible it was.

[Submitted by Mont Monaco]

 1960-61 WestPac - June 18, 1960

This guy took off in his F3H-2 Demon and when he reached the end of the cat, the bridal cable bounced up and hit the belly of the a/c, breaking a number of fuel lines. He was airborne for maybe 7 or 8 minutes, in which time he managed to land back aboard, using one of the shortest 'finals' seen this side of a helo landing. He dribbled a couple of gallons of fuel on the deck, the engine shut down about the same time he hit the wires. No one hurt, so guess it worked out OK.

[Mishap]
[Image and story by Mike Brown]


 1960-61 Westpac's

[Submitted by - Fred P. Akins] - While on board the Coral Sea I had been given over to the Ships Service Department and worked in the laundry, at that time I like most everyone else in the navy didn't even know what a Illustrator Draftsman was. We had finally gotten out of dry dock and had gone out for a sea trial, when we returned to the dock we backed in. I was working in the laundry on the extractor, the laundry was located in the aft section of the ship, our storeroom was just under the fantail deck and only wire enclosed inside the laundry area. I had just stepped on the extractor brake and heard this terrible sound, I released the brake and the sound stopped, I hit the brake again and the noise resumed, finally the extractor stopped and so did the noise, I was the only one working in the laundry at that particular time, normally there were others there but they were all topside watching us pull into port. I have never been one to notice things around me when my mind is set on other things and apparently it was at that time. I left the laundry, locking the door behind me and never noticed the hole in the storeroom bulkhead until the next morning. We had backed into the dry-dock where the USS Iwo Jima was being built. I believe there is a before and after picture in the Bremerton Newspaper that says, "USS Coral Sea Launches USS Iwo Jima into the center of Bremerton." In the picture was all the yard workers on the Iwo Jima, welding and what not, the second picture was of the yard workers standing on top at the far end of the dry-dock as the USS Coral Sea came to rest, only a couple of minutes had passed, that is possibly an unchallenged record for the speed of yard workers.

 1960-61 WestPac

[Submitted by - W.D. Ravgiala, Jr. GYSgt. USMC Ret.] - Served aboard the Coral Sea with VMA 121 with our A4D Skyhawks and was pleased to see a photo showing the forward deck with our birds tail letters VK. It was that period where the ship had a massive deck fire resulting from a bad landing. The ship lost most of the aircraft parked on the left forward deck.
That crash involved a Navy jet on landing...we were in the process of recovering air craft, with the majority of birds secured on the forward deck. I was with my A4 VK 12 just recovered and going below on the starboard side forward elevator when the Navy bird missed the trap and continued down the deck taking out at least 6 air craft. The deck was engulfed in fire and I can tell you that those Navy fire fighters and deck crews performed outstandingly. The deck looked like a war movie scene.

 1960-62 WestPac's

[Submitted by - F. Colmenero B.M. 3 U.S.N.R.] Also remember a mishap while we were refueling. A clete that was used to tie off the cable that came from the refueling ship broke off the bulkhead. I believe there were four crew members throwen overboard.All from second divison. All bodies were recovered, although one was dead.

[Follow up - Charlie Smith] - I was 2nd Div officer when the refueling incident took place described above. It was my refueling station but I was just coming off OOD watch and my 2nd Div JO (Bruce Tharp? I think) was in charge on the station.:

What happened was that a shackle failed which was holding a snatch block to a padeye welded on the bulkhead on Station #5. That snatchblock had a saddle whip line passing through and the snatch block hit one of the men in the back while they were trying to fit the JP-5 hose onto the riser. They had to stand in the bight of the line because there was no room on that station (unlike the Midway which has loads of room on sta #5). The line swept 2 men overboard, one was BM2 Andy Anderson and the other was a BMSN whose name I cannot remember. he is the one who died because he had a partial dental plate and got choked while trying to fight the heavy seas. The rescue destroyer crew brought them both on board but the BMSN was dead. He was in his 30's and we all thought he was too old to be on deck! I remember the incident well because I had to work with the shipyard engineers who tried to figure out why a steel shckle failed before the manila line used for the saddle whip. They finally ended up rotating the padeye 45 degrees and rewelding it to the bulkhead! I told them that wouldn't make any difference because the contact was at a single point on the shackle to the ring padeye. They said yes but we have to do something!

 1961-62 WestPac

[Submitted by - Veryl Champine]Near the end of the 62 cruise we were paralleling the swells, the sea wasn't rough, it just had these gigantic swells that came by every few minutes. That was the perfect combination to set up an equally slow roll by the ship, we rolled far enough that the lift rafts on the port side of the flight deck went under water and when we rolled back the other way a substantial portion of them ripped loose and were left behind. During the middle of that some genius decided it was time to respot the deck, we were only about a day out of Alameda and I think they wanted to get everything lined up for the fly off back to the land bases. At any rate, Joe Zuni, an AQF3 from VF151 that was on plane captain duty, was sitting in the cockpit of one of the old F3H Demons that 151 was flying that cruise. The Demon had a fairly long nose strut and the cockpit was higher in the air than most of the birds. He was tied down on the elevator behind the port cat, were they called hurricane tie downs, nine chains & 6 cables if I remember right? Anyway they had taken a couple off when the ship rolled a long way to port and the rest of the tie downs started popping as it dragged the mule with it. When the wheels hit the outside of the elevator the plane with Joe still riding the brakes, and still attached to the mule, started to do a back flip. Joe decided it was time to get out and jumped just before it went over backwards in to the water. By the time he made his exit the cockpit was about 15 feet in the air and he suffered a rather badly broken leg. The Demons only had one more flight in them anyway, when we got back they were going to be flown to China Lake to get parked in the desert.

[Follow up - T.A. Zwetzig] Minor correction about Joe Zuniga.

The incident took place on the hanger deck. The elevator doors were open and the plane had to be moved inboard enough to clear the doors so we could close them to stop the water from coming in the hangar bay.

Joe got in the cockpit and the tug operator hooked up, as soon as all the chains and tiedowns were removed, except for two chains facing the starboard, the ship rolled to the starboard and the there was a mix of hydraulic fluid, oil and water on the deck. Chocks slid, the brakes held and the remaining chains snapped and the Deamon pushed the tug across the hangar bay and the bird and the tug smacked the starboard side of the hangar bay. Joe was on his was out of the cockpit but sat back down and again applied the brakes. The ship rolled to the port and Joe realized that he had better jump. Joe jumped and landed on the brass track for the port hangar bay door, four feet short of going overboard.The drop from the cockpit is 10 to 15 feet. Joe was lucky, the plane, chocks, screens, towbar and tractor went over the side. The tractor driver set the brake on the tractor and bailed off by the starboard hanger bay bulkhead.

How rough was it that night, rough enough that when I stepped over a hatch combing aft I got knocked off my feet while getting people up to muster for the man overboard check.

[Submitted by - Veryl Champine] - Does anyone remember the underway refueling when we ran in to a destroyer? I don't remember which destroyer it was but think it may have been the Wiltsie. They were along side in some fairly rough water when they started to get too close to us, our captain got on the, was it the 5MC that was the flight deck speaker system? and told them to pull away. They must have had a rookie on their wheel because instead of slowly moving away he cranked it over fairly hard with the result that the back of the destroyer swung in to the number 3 elevator hard enough to bend up the pipe supports under it and it took the aft 5" gun mount of the destroyer and just laid it over sideways. By that time the momentum of the destroyer was going away from the carrier at too high a rate to get it back and the fuel lines both broke, covering the destroyer with a thick coat of black oil. The destroyer had to go to Yokosuka for repairs and I think it was there for a couple of months before they got it all put back together. I don't think they ever did do anything to the bottom of our elevator. I remember on the next cruise that the bracing under it still had several members with kinks in them.

[Submitted by - Veryl Champine]In late 1963 an F8 Crusader was being returned from the rebuild shop at Atsugi, Japan. The plan was to have it stop off at Subic Bay before coming out to the ship. The touchdown was long and the pilot decided to take the Morest gear at the end of the runway and put the tail hook down. Apparently he had a last minute change of heart and decided to take it around for another landing. He was over the Morest gear and had rotated far enough that the hook caught the cable and the bird was slammed back to the runway resulting in severe structural damage. Fortunately the pilot came out unscathed. I do remember the quote in the accident report, "the tower was screaming at him to pick up the hook, but he probably couldn't hear them over the sound of the hook dragging down the runway" The bird was loaded aboard the next ship headed for Japan and sent back to Atsugi to be rebuilt again.

[Follow up - T.A. Zwetzig] - This may be the same incident as the story above:

Lt ******** was assigned to get a bird from Atsugi Japan rework facility and return to the ship via Cubi Pt. NAS. While attempting to land at Cubi Pt. he made a couple of minor mistakes. He first came in the wrong way, the morest cable was deployed on the end that he was going to use for touch down. Second was that he had his hook down. The angle of attack lights on the nose gear door flash when the hook is down, the tower saw this and advised the pilot to raise his hook and go around. The pilot refused and continued on to his, I believe, last landing as a navy pilot. It was raining, the runway at Cubi Pt has a high crown. When the F-4 touched down it started to slide to the side and the pilot added power to go aroud, whoops the tail hook caught the morest cable. The Phantom tried to take off but did not make it and returned to the runway. Neither the RIO or the pilot were injured.

After the accident I was standing ASDO watch and the skipper came in the ready room and asked me to watch the COD for the Lt's return to the ship and notify him when he arrived. As soon as the COD arrived and I saw the Lt on screen I called the skipper. When the Lt came into the ready room the skipper told me to give the ASDO arm band to our new permanent ASDO. As a side note the RIO was a former classmate of Joe Zuniga in AQ school.
 1960-62 WestPac's

[Submitted by - John Lyons] - '60-61 The XO of VA-153 (A-4s) had a lot of trouble getting back into the groove when he got back to sea-duty. He had been ashore (I think) for 2 years and we heard a lot of the time was flying a desk. Even though he requalified during the carrier quals off southern California before the cruise he had a lot of trouble with night landings, especially when there was any rolling motion going on. Daytime landings were OK for him, but pretty bouncy and some bolters among some of what many pilots considered less challenging.

One night he came in low, could not or did not correct power and pitch and hit the aft end of the flight deck. The A4 broke first in half and then into pieces and shot down the flight deck, burning fuel spreading and following it everywhere. Guys ran to get out of the way and 3 or 4 (I recall seeing the jackets of 3 of them outside sickbay, but heard there were 4 involved) ran right into the spinning props of a Willy Fudd. That was a very bad night. The fires were contained relatively soon but the carnage and wreckage took longer to sort out. I believe the XO was also killed (went of the bow just to the right of the angle deck after crashing through a bunch of parked planes forward).

[Mishap]
[Image Source - John Lyons]
[Follow up - John McCuen] - I served with Attack Squadron 153 (VA 153) from '59 to '62 as a Plane Captain and then an AO3 in the shop. Our sleeping quarters were just under the flight deck and the arresting gear. We were off the coast of Japan and the ship was recovering aircraft. It was just before taps if I remember correctly. I was secured and in the process of climbing up into my top rack when I heard a much louder then usual screech on the flight deck above me as the ship seemed to dip at the stern. I recall saying to my buddies, "What the hell was that?"

It was Lt. Tom Cress, one of our pilots in my A4-D, "Blue Tail Flies" squadron. On his attempted recovery I was told he hit the stern of the ship and his plane skidded forward on it's underside all the way to the right side of the angle deck. The aircraft hit at least two or three aircraft spotted just forward of the angle deck, and plummeted into the sea forward of the front of the angle deck. I understand two sailors happened to be on the catwalk forward of the angle deck at that instant. One was killed instantly and the other lived through the night but died just before reveille. I remember that I was carrying practice bombs across the flight deck the next morning. We stopped as the Chaplain said a prayer for our shipmates.

Another squadron member barely escaped. An EM2 was working in the cockpit of one of our aircraft spotted just forward of the angle deck. It was hit so badly that the entire tail section was sheered completely off while the electrician mate was sitting in the cockpit.

Directly after the crash a message came over the 1MC, "Do not come to the flight deck unless you want to fight a fire."  Our compartment door opened and one of our plane captains stepped in soaked head to toe with jet fuel. He was pretty shaken and I remember a few of the guys calmed him, stripped off his clothes soaked with JP5 and brought him to the showers to get the fuel off.

I knew Lt. Cress for some time before the cruise in the Moffett Field days. He was a good man, as we all were. He composed a poem that was run in the cruise book which I still have. There are ten names on the memorial page but I know we lost more while the book was being printed. At the end of his poem it says, Composed by Lieutenant Tom Joseph Cress, United States Navy. Lost at sea January 6, 1961.

[Follow up - Del Abercrombie] -

My name is Del Abercrombie cva-43 59-63. I was reading about the 60-61 Westpac mishap. In reading the article I didn't see anything about the Blueshirt that ran through thr E1-B (Willy Fudd) prop. I was the blueshirt. I was invloved in all the flight deck mishaps between 1960 and 1963. My accident happened Jan 6, 1961 at about 1900. I will never forget that night.

We were recovering A/C and had spotted the Fudd on the port side just forward of the angle deck. The fudd shut down before the starboard jury strut could be installed. The straboard wing began to droop toward the deck. The flt dk Chief, Willy Clarkson gathered some blue shirts and thge plane captain to try and raise the wing withput starting the engine. We tried several times to raise the wing to get the strut in with no success. The Chief finally decided to start an engine for hydtalic power to the wing. I think he thought the port engine would be used. However, the starboard engine was used since we were working on that wing. As we were working on the jury strut we heard a loud noise behind us and turned around too see 1/2 of an A4 coming up the deck right at us. Everybody scattered. I ran between the fuselage and the prop on the Fudd. The prop hit my mickey mouse ear and my right shoulder. I was dazed and was told that I was headed back to the prop when a marine grabbed me. Don't remember his name.

Two sailors were killed that night. One was hit on the flight deck and lost all his limbs, an arm, leg, hand, and foot. He was in sickbay with me being worked on when he died. The other one was found in the port catwalk forward of the angle deck with fatal head injuries. He was found by my shipmate Larry Sullivan. The pilot was LT Tom Cress, there was a pitching deck and a dark night. Lt Cress managed to get the A4 over the side saving the lives of alot of sailors. I received the nickname of Propstop.

[Follow up - Don DeKoker] - My name is Don DeKoker and I too was a plane captain; an AT3 (aviation electronics tech) with VA 153, the Blue Tail Flys, on that cruise, and the one following i.e., 1960,1961 & 1962. Looking at the photo of the front half of an A4 and another A4 on a barge in reference to fiery crash, and referring to LT Tom Cress's crash reminded me of that night. I saw LT Cress's plane explode on impact with planes parked on the port bow and disappear along with LT Cress that night: I'm assuming the wreckage fell into the sea off the port bow, near the front of the canted deck, immediately after the explosion. I don't recall any half of an A4 left. However, It's possible that there was a half left somewhere, as there were approximately 7 A4's on the port bow, with the rest of the forward flight deck loaded with  packed recovered planes, A4's and others, of all types. And, of course, the tremendous amount of activity and plane movements on the flight and hanger decks following.

On that night my plane, #308, had been recovered and temporarily spotted, and I was on the flight deck standing at the forward end of the island waiting on the final recovery of LT Cress, and his plane that carried the squadrons "buddy store". Apparently during the flight operation the buddy store malfunctioned and would not transfer fuel out of it, and flight recovery operations wanted all the other planes recovered in case there was a problem with his landing.... The buddy store is an "in flight refueling pod" that has a drogue and extendable hose that is used to refuel other A4D Skyhawks in flight. It is shaped like a fat drop tank and carried approximately 3,000 pounds of fuel. Apparently the decision to land with a full buddy store, rather than drop it into the ocean was made with the concern of the squadron's loss of it, and how that would impact the squadrons future flight operations........I don't believe for a minute, that our skipper would have ordered that landing, if he hadn't believed in LT Cress as an outstanding pilot; or that he (LT Cress) was going to be in any, out of the ordinary, amount of danger.

However, let me say this: I was only an Aviation electronics technician and a plane captain (AT, AT3 AT2) during my time with VA 153, and not privileged to know all the training and exercises that go into flight training; but during all the carrier qualifications, all the training missions to NAS Fallon Nevada and including 2 cruises to westpac, I never participated in, or saw an A4D Syhawk practice landings with a full buddy store, at any time, day or night: at a fixed base NAS or carrier operation exercise.

That night, as LT Cress came into the final landing, there was a great flash of sparks and an explosion starting at the round down; the tail end of the flight deck and coming up the deck in a fiery trail of flame and sparks. It appeared that the port landing gear, most of the port wing, and the tail hook had sheared off as the starboard wing was sticking up in about a 60 degree angle to the deck and sliding up the deck across the catch cables without slowing, traveling up the flight deck and into the planes stacked on the port bow. There was then, another tremendous explosion, followed by others and a furious fire all along the port bow near the front of the canted deck.... Almost immediately all the ships white lights came on and it seemed that the ship had come to a stop almost immediately. In those few brief moments, suddenly the wind had stopped, the red lights (for night vision standard operating condition) disappeared, glaring white lights came on everywhere and there was almost no noise; almost like a dream. Then came the ships emergency calls and alarms going off every where and men running to the crash area. Plane captains were ordered to our air craft and ordered to remain with them until final spot and tie down. I recall a large number of ships company hosing everything down, controlling the fires and working through all the pieces of shattered planes. The re spot and movement of other planes began almost immediately; everything seemed to be moving and finally, a great number of the flight deck crew hand scrubbing the forward area of the flight deck till very late....it was a long sad night.

I have never know the full extent of the fatalities, other than LT Cress that night, or heard of any report of exactly what happened. It's great to see this site and see the discussion. Lt Tom Cress was a great loss to our squadron, although it irked me that some of our senior officers and pilots were talking about what to do about the buddy store the next day. It was a great loss to me personally. Lt Tom Cress was a great guy; he flew my plane on several occasions and was always a handsome young man with a smile and down to earth personality; he always had a little something to talk about as he went through his preflight and I helped him strap in and get ready to fly; as he did with all the line crew he came in contact with. He was one of the best. He was very well liked, well respected as a fine pilot and Naval aviator; and we all felt a real sense of loss. His outstanding poem about the ship in our cruise book, along with the list of our other lost crewmen, is a poignant reminder of our outstanding and best; willing to put their lives at risk for us all. 

[Submitted by - John Lyons] - I was manning the phones in Ready 5 during night ops off Japan during WestPac 60-61 (VA155) when word came down from the flight deck that "503 is in the water!!". There was a lot of confusion in the Ready room and on the flight deck and it seems they never figured out why the A4 went in the water after launch. There was speculation about a cold cat (word was pressure checked ok) but more likely pilot error or ???.

The A4 banked sharply right immediately at the end of the launch and apparently stalled, hitting the water inverted to the right of the ship's course. The irony is that the pilot of 503 and the pilot of 504 had swapped aircraft on the flight deck without telling anyone (a big deal I think!). We thought the "other" pilot bought the farm, the one who was supposed to be in 503 but was still sitting behind the Cat prepared to roll forward. (the only items recovered, since the A-4 hit the water inverted) were a pack of Salems and a broken helmet.

When the Pilot who was supposed to be in 503 reported in (he was in line behind 503), he shut down (as did all AC on the flight deck....the search and rescue had begun), climbed out, and came down to Ready 5 and turned in his wings. He never flew again. Everyone was stunned he was alive, and equally surprised by his turning in his wings. He was a very good aviator and an excellent officer and leader. It was a double loss that night.

[Submitted by - John Lyons] - Toward the end of Westpac '61-'62, we were in the South China Sea in moderate conditions (some big waves occasionally) and fresh breezes. The Line crew of VA155 was in the shack just below the flight deck waiting for our birds to return and enjoying a break. The planes had only been launched a short time earlier so we had an hour or so before we had to reassemble, collect tie-down chains and recover the aricraft. I was snoozing a bit, sort of aware of the sounds of the ship when I felt the ship taking a hard turn to starboard, followed by a big lurch, then a god-awful CRUNCH....twisting metal and groaning sounds and feelings like we had hit something major.

It turned out we lost the number 2 elevator!!! (I believe that is the one behind the angle deck on the port side) It had caught a very large wave while the ship was heeling over...much of the water actually went over the elevator. The ship lost the battle with the water! The elevator ripped completely loose and went to the bottom. We went to Subic for emergency repairs (to seal up the holes) and made the rest of the cruise with only 2 elevators, both on the starboard side. I believe there were one or two aircraft tied down on the elevator (with plane captains aboard). Word was they sank like rocks with the elevator.

[Follow up - John McCuen] I was also aboard when the Coral Sea lost it's deck edge elevator while in the down (Hanger Bay) position on the starboard side. I had just walked past it while walking forward on the hanger deck when I heard screams behind me. Sure enough the sea came up from underneath as the ship rolled to the starboard side and sheered the elevator off in a flash. No planes or personnel aboard the elevator at the time, thank God.
[Submitted by - John Lyons] - (1962 end of WestPac cruise) Secret mission! (Right!) We were off the coast of South Vietnam escorting the jeep Carrier "Cord" into the Mekong river delta so she could get to Saigon with her load of helicopters...we stayed way off shore, and the USS Cord proceeded with it's load of helicopters (those with the binocs reported seeing the land mass but we saw nothing with the naked eyes). After the Cord entered the coastal waters of South Vietnam we turned around and headed to sea.

When we got out 50-plus miles we launched aircraft. The birds were fully loaded, bombs, rockets, guns loaded. Prior to launch we did some strange things...we smeared heavy grease over the markings of the aircraft and painted gray paint over the grease.....ostensibly so the planes could not be seen and tied to the US or the Navy (who else was flying A-4Ds, F8Us and A3Ds in 1962??).

The planes returned without ordinance, fresh powder markings from the guns and the painted out grease jobs had been wiped off by the force of the air....the markings were pretty clearly visible ("NL" and aircraft numbers)! We got a good laugh out of that brilliant idea!

[Submitted by - John Lyons] - One last story I recalled recently with another shipmate from 60-61 was during a very wet and sloppy night we had finished recovering aircraft and the deck was busy with planes being respotted for the next day's launch. A heavy tug was spotting an A-3 on the forward elevator, slowly backing the A3 to the point where it would be tied down to be sent below to the hangar deck. The ship suddenly heeled to the starboard (the direction the A3 was being moved). The deck was very slippery, the angle of heel kept increasing, the tug started to slip across the flight deck and the A3 brakes would not hold any longer. The aircraft, the plane captain and the tug slid right over the side of the number 1 elevator and sank out of site immediately.

Since the main gear had caught as the A3 went over, the plane sort of reared up and went over the side on it's back. The escape hatch on the top of the cockpit was in the water first and the PC wasn't strapped in anyway....he very likely was tossed around pretty badly during impact with the water and didn't know up from down. It would have been very, very dark in the water at night.

The operator of the tug was able to jump clear just before he would have gone over the side. Many of us plane captains felt deep chills about that night. "There but for the grace of God go I"... We all felt that ghost walk past our graves.

 February 3, 1963 WestPac

The USS Coral Sea, a gigantic 63,000-ton aircraft carrier, ran aground in heavy fog near the mouth of the Oakland Estuary Saturday. For more than nine hours she was held fast by mud. Then at 7 p.m., two hours before high tide, an armada of straining tugboats pulled her into deep water. Navy spokesman said a cursory inspection showed no signs of serious damage. No one was injured. At the time of the mishap fog bad cut visibility to less than 200 yards. On board were Navy Capt. Robert M. Elder, Coral Sea's skipper, and Capt Irving S. Tjalldeen, 48, of 630 Madison Ave., Albany, a civilian pilot for Navy Port Services. The Navy said it did not know which of the two men was directing the tricky navigation at the time of the grounding. The Coral Sea was headed toward her Pier 3 berth at the Alameda Naval Air station after a month of maneuvers. All of the planes, with the exception of those in need of repair, had left for land bases before the ship entered the Bay. The Navy dispatched a fleet of 10 tugboats to help pull the huge vessel free. After she was freed, the Coral Sea swung around and slid down the channel and into her berth where families of the ship's company had been waiting since morning.

[Stuck]
[Submitted by Chuck Bell]


 March 1963 WestPac Article from the Coral Sea publication Sea Breeze

Pilot In Launch Mishap.
A VFP-63 pilot was killed last month when his plane rolled over after launching and he ejected into the sea.
Lieutenant Delmar D. Young was being launched in an RF-8A on a photo mission when the accident occurred. According to Lt. David P. Burleigh, VFP-63 Administrative Officer, the launch was normal but the plane began to roll to the left when it became airborne. The pilot ejected, however the plane had turned on its back, and he shot into the water. His body was not recovered.
Exactly what caused the accident has not been determined, but a special board of officers from the photo squadron is conducting an investigation.
The crash was the worst accident to occur aboard Coral Sea in some time. In fact, during last year's Far East cruise Carrier Air Group Fifteen was presented with the 1962 Aviation Safety Award by the Chief of Naval Operations.
An accompanying document said that the Air group's "performance is in keeping with the highest traditions of the Naval Service".
Lieutenant Young is survived by his wife, Kay, and his two-year-old son, Eric, who live in San Diego, Calif.

- Follow-up from Hank Porter: I was in VFP-63 at that time but not on that cruise. It was later determined, or highly suspected, that the rudder package had somehow failed. Look closely at the video. The rudder is full left prior to and throughout the cat stroke. The pilot would have been giving full right rudder to correct the situation but to no avail. With his nose going left, his right wing was creating all the lift and the left wing stalled.

This should never have happened. His plane captain should have seen the rudder was left as he signaled the pilot to check his controls. The next guy in line would have been his squadron checker, on the cat, who also should have seen it. Instead he apparently handed the plane over to the shooter without really doing his job. Damn shame.

- View the video of this mishap here Look for video Title: F-8 Mishap 1963
- Deck log of incident:
[Mishap]
[Submitted by Allan Matthews]


 July 1963 WestPac Blue Shirt killed during flight ops. Here is the deck log describing the incident.

[Mishap]
[Submitted by Allan Matthews]


 1963 WestPac

[Submitted by - Lee Fuselier] - I was in the 1st division when we were refueling (' 62 or ' 63) when 3 sailors from the 2nd division were knocked overboard when a block and tackle broke. Only 2 (Prigmore and Kirby) were saved. 2nd class Anderson was never found. (I think the names are correct).

 1964-65 WestPac

[Author Unknown - Submitted by Herman Doernbach] - In 1964, on a training flight from NAS Lemoore above California's Sierra Nevada mountains, Lt. Ed Dickson experienced engine failure and was forced to eject from his A-4 Skyhawk. Dickson's rocket seat fired normally and there was a good seat separation, but the parachute did not open.

In a hard-to-believe scenario, Dickson landed on a steep slope in a heavy drift of soft snow. Cushioned by a soft impact and, after many yards of free-style snow sliding, the pilot was able to walk away from his unusual landing with only minor injuries.

When a rescue truck and crew arrived to transport Dickson down from the mountain recovery area, the malfunctioning parachute was tossed into the back of the truck. As the rescue vehicle worked its way back down the mountain trail and passed 10,000 feet of altitude, the dormant parachute surprised Dickson and his rescue crew. Performing as designed, the barostatic sensor popped and the chute deployed.

Needless to say, parachute barostatic sensors for aircraft operating over the mountainous ConUS were subsequently reprogrammed to open at 14,000 feet- higher than mountain peaks.

Sadly, a year following his miraculous survival in the snow-covered Sierras, LT Dickson was killed in action while assigned to the VA-155 Silver Foxes flying form USS Coral Sea (CVA-43). During an early (7 February 1965) strike mission over North Vietnam, Dickson's A-4E Skyhawk was hit by anti-aircraft artillery. Although his aircraft was on fire, Dickson, with determined effort, completed his bombing mission and subsequently nursed his wounded aircraft toward relative safety of the Tonkin Gulf. He was seen to eject about half a mile offshore but, coincidentally, his parachute failed to deploy.

Only the second Naval Aviator to be lost during a strike mission over North Vietnam in that long ago war, Ed Dickson was posthumously awarded the Navy Cross.

 1964-65 WestPac

[Submitted by - Mike Robertson] - If I remember right we were coming in to the port of San Diego for a few days of liberty. It was around 06:00 and in day light. I was on the fantail watch Port side. I was listening to the head set and the bridge all of a sudden it got awfully busy, more than normally with a little frantic in there voices. So I called to the Bridge and ask one of the BM on duty there what was going on. He came back and said we were headed toward the Iwo Jima That was anchored out in the harbor. Then he said can `t talk know were really busy up here. It was just a few minutes later I felt this bump or shake and then all hell broke loose on the bridge. I knew that we must have hit something. Well, when we docked there were more cars pulling up and brass every where. I learned later we bumped the Imo Jima and tore off and damage about 12 life boat racks that line the carrier around Her flight deck..

But let me tell you that un rep with that oiler was a mess. The hoses got lose and the oiler looked like a Texas oil well. That poor ship had oil all over her deck and bulk heads. When the oil hose came loose the pressure knocked down one sailor on his butt and he slid over board from the starboard whale boat sponson. We went to life drill and lowered the whale boat but a Helo got to him first. We were concerned that he would be pulled into the screws of either ship. But they retrieved him from the sea safely .

[Submitted by - Randy Kelso] - One time word filtered down to the AQ shop that a Phantom had hit the roundown, sheared its main gear, and was coming around for a gear-up barrier trap. It was right at sundown, and I stupidly went topside to watch the action. No, I didn't go up to the relative safety of Vulture's Row on the O7 level. I stood just aft of the island, right there on the flight deck, and watched from less than fifty feet away as the F-4 bellyflopped, skidded, and showered sparks from the wire to the barrier (parallel with my position) with airplane parts flying across the deck like cannon projectiles. It was not until I had ducked back behind the island superstructure that I realized what a stupid thing I had done. Can you imagine a more foolish way to get maimed or killed? It's the same thing that happens to rubbernecks who slow down for a wreck on the freeway. I know I had to be the dumbest guy in the squadron.

[Follow up - T.A. Zwetzig] - The story about the F4 that hit the round down is correct as far as basics. The full story is:

The pilot had his hands full with the F4. He had suffered a previous accident with a F3H Deamon where he stuffed the nose gear up thru the cockpit. In transitioning to the F4 he came in low, hit the round down and almost sheared off the right main. Full power applied the Phantom took off and made a go around, The arresting net was deployed and the pilot made a nose high pancake landing and the nose gear collapsed. The deck crew used foam to shut down the engines and removed the RIO and pilot. The pilot was a LtCdr and he turned in his wings and retired after that landing. I was in VF151 and got to do a close inspection of the plane as an electrician.

[Submitted by - Randy Kelso] - One sunny day I was up on the roof plying my trade while some blueshirts nearby shoved an F-8 aft very near the flight deck rounddown. There was parked a mule with two swabs talking. One was leaning back on the hood of the mule, only a few feet from me. I wasn't paying half attention but that changed when I heard him yelp and whistles started blowing. I couldn't believe it, but those morons had shoved the F-8's UHT (Unit Horizontal Tail, the horizontal stabilizer, which was rather sharp-edged) into the mule with the man's thigh inbetween! They shoved the plane forward a bit and chocked it while he squirted blood everywhere. The poor victim was taken below to sick bay, and I never heard what happened to him, but he must have had one serious cut from that accident. I'm not sure we were even at sea when that happened, so I don't think the deck was pitching at all. You know, a fella could get killed on those floating bombs.

[Follow up - Steve Stinnett ] - In reference to the 64-65 West Pac cruise, an incident where an F-8 was backed into my fellow blue shirt, (Wilson) is his name, he had his leg repaired, they sent him to a Naval Hospital near Seattle where he was from. I saw him a year later and he was still in rehab, the two 'swabs' talking were Wilson and myself, Stinnett, we were both assigned to V-1 Division. In that incident, Wilson did not feel any pain, after we got the yellow shirt to full the F-8 away, a little blood surfaced on his pants and Wilson said he felt weak, I told him to report to sick bay immediately, he hopped off t! he tractor and he passed out, blood was everywhere as he was carried away.

[Submitted by - Randy Kelso] - ...after finally finishing carquals and leaving Pearl, the ship made a speed run to Subic where we tied up to the pier for about 4 hours and took on stores and munitions. Then it was straight to Yankee Station where we relieved, I believe, the Bonnie Dick and officially became a part of the Tonkin Gulf Yacht Club. We were part of Task Force 77 under Admiral ******, who was flying his flag on our ship. When we entered enemy waters our ship's skipper, who was a Texan, came over the 1MC and said, "Boys, we're in Indian country now; hang loose!". The yankees aboard howled with laughter at this, but us southern boys knew exactly what he meant: we were in the waters of one of Russia's allies and there was every reason to believe they would come down on us as soon as the shooting started. Then we launched the first raids on North Vietnam. It was the first time I had ever heard, "General quarters, general quarters, all hands man your battle stations: this is NOT a drill...". The months that follow are all a blur in my memory, but I remember specific events without being able to place them in their proper sequence. I'll give them to you as they come to mind. I believe that first raid was a resounding success with all hands returning safely. We had sent out about 20 birds (F-8s, F-4s, A-1 Spads and A-4 scooters) which had joined with strike groups from the other two carriers on station (Ranger and Hancock, I believe). All went well, and the Dong Hoi Barracks and the Vinh oil storage facility were now lovely messes. We continued the raids for the next several weeks. I recall one A-4 coming back with a wounded pilot (I think he was paralyzed on his left side). He was determined to bring the shot-up scooter aboard, lineup or no lineup, since it was suicide to ditch in his condition. It was just after dusk, getting dark, and I was forward in the port catwalk looking aft. He lined her up the best he could and came down far left of center. The LSO's dove into their escape net and he hit the deck along the port angledeck catwalk. The port main gear dropped off the catwalk, the port wing sheared and the plane burst into flames while skidding down the catwalk. It flopped back onto the flight deck, minus most of its port side and wing, still on fire. The crash crew got the man out (he actually lived through this high pucker factor landing, although I'm sure he needed a change of laundry) but the aircraft was a total loss. Some yellowshirt jumped on a mule after throwing a mattress over its hood and began ramming the burning plane toward the angle deck edge, forward. I watched from a distance, expecting an explosion at any time, but this brave sailor succeeded in shoving the pile of junk overboard. Halfway to the waterline it burst into brilliant flames, lighting the ship just like it was daylight. Then it hit the drink and fizzled. I think that one was my first introduction to reality as a green boot. Up until then it had been a pleasure cruise, but now I knew this was no Campfire Girl outing. We were aware of the dangers of working on the flight deck: exhausts trying to blow you overboard or into intakes which can suck a man into an engine, whirling propellors and the possibility of a snapped cable sweeping the deck during a trap and cutting off the legs of anyone in its path. But add to all that battle damaged aircraft returning low on fuel with wounded pilots or hung ordnance at night in bad weather, and you have a very dangerous four acres on your hands. In retrospect it is amazing to me that we didn't blow ourselves to Kingdom Come, knowing that the average age on board was 19. I was one of those teenaged kids, and I think I became about 40 before that cruise was over.

[Submitted by - Randy Kelso] - ...we were flying almost around the clock and were working obscene hours for weeks. This particular at-sea period ended up being over a hundred days, and everybody was dragging their tailhook. The pilots were flown until numb, and that explains what happened next. During one launch sequence **** used the F-8's nosewheel steering to swing the airplane around counterclockwise, forward of the island, in order to line up with the #1 cat for hookup. Now, the Crusader's nose wheel is located considerably aft of the pilot, and it is not unusual for the pilot to be hanging over the side while executing one of these turns. This time he cut it too close, however, and the nose wheel dropped into the catwalk, bending the airplane. Ugh. A day or two later he was coming aboard in another F-8 and drew one of those unfortunate stern pitches from the rough sea just as he approached the deck. He caught the wire in a nose-high attitude and slammed the nose gear down onto the deck, collapsing it and folding the beautiful Crusader intake into two little ones, side by side. Strike two. I think it must have been only a few days later that ****, as it happens sometimes, got a little out of sync with the ship's motion and caught the rounddown with his main gear, shearing both of them off. As you know, seagoing pilots are trained to select full burner upon impact to facilitate a go-around, and that's what he did. Now he was airborne again, but with no gear. Although the barrier was rigged post haste, he lost all his hydraulics while trying to regain the pattern and had to eject. Bye bye bird. After he was fished out they finally granted him a couple of days to rest before being scheduled for any more hops. He was suffering from combat fatigue."

[Submitted by - Randy Kelso] - The A-4 I mentioned came down right at dusk one evening with a wounded pilot and went off the port side into the catwalk before righting itself, minus one wing, on the flight deck and skidding to a fiery stop. The crash crew got the pilot out while the plane burned. Somebody threw a matress over the hood of a mule and rammed the plane repeatedly until it went over the angle deck, still on fire. Halfway down it burst into brilliant flames, then hit the water and sank. I was forward in the port catwalk watching the show, but didn't have my camera. In recent years I bought a VCR tape of carrier crash footage, and there was a very short black-and-white segment that looked to me like the same Scooter crashing into the catwalk, taken from Vulture's Row.

[Submitted by - Randy Kelso] - One day a Spad returned to our ship under an emergency declaration. He was all over the sky as he approached and seemed to be having trouble just staying aloft. Somehow the pilot managed to get the plane right over the wires, chop the throttle and plop down on the deck. When I saw the aircraft up close I just couldn't believe it. This thing had a huge hole in the starboard wing which had taken out the flap on that side, and the entire empennage was a shredded skeleton with barely enough skin left on the rudder and elevators to maintain control in flight. I still marvel at the sight of that one."

Here are a series of pictures of a Spad that was shot up over Vietnam but made it back to the ship. I found these on eBay and the poster dated these 18 September 1966. Let me know if you have more details. May be related to the last story above?

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[Image Source - US Navy] [Image Source - US Navy] [Image Source - US Navy] [Image Source - US Navy]

 2 October 1966 - WestPac THE STORY OF A-3B 142633 - A Wounded Whale That Took A Dive

[Submitted by - Gary Schreffler] - It was a pleasant, sunshiny Sunday morning on the deck of the USS Coral Sea, the 2nd of October 1966. The ship had just completed a lengthy and grueling Yankee Station line period and was now heading towards Subic Bay for a deserved rest for the ships' crew and airwing 15. I was a B/N in VAH-2 Det "A" which had four A-3Bs, configured with tanker packages, onboard. My pilot was Charlie Cellar and our Crewman/Navigator(C/N) was Larry Sharpe. Our crew had been selected to fly off early to Cubi Point and we were looking forward to the Cubi Dogs and Cubi Specials and some relaxation time in the Cubi pool. We briefed our flight in the ready room and the weather was forecast to be good along our route and at Cubi upon our arrival. The only thing out of the ordinary for this flight was that we were taking a passenger along who would be sitting on the floor in the rear of the flight deck in what we called the "jump seat." He was a first class electrician, selected to fly in early to Cubi with us because of his outstanding performance during this line period. Larry briefed him on all the safety procedures. He was very excited to be going because it would be his first catapult(CAT) shot and also his first flight in an A-3B. We were also told that we would be carrying some mail bags and packages to Cubi.

At launch time we went out to the flight deck and preflighted our assigned A-3B, 142633 with side number 691, and manned up. We went through all the check lists and everything was proceeding normally. An E-2 was launched ahead of us, also going to Cubi. At our turn, we were directed onto the number two bow CAT. Everything was going smoothly and the CAT officer had now signaled for full power. Charlie checked all the gauges and saluted the CAT officer who saluted back, leaned forward in a crouch and touched the flight deck. Then it happened! Rather than the sharp, powerful jolt of a normal CAT shot, I heard a loud sharp bang and felt a very mild jolt. The nose bounced high and came back down as we started toward the bow of the flight deck at a slow speed. I remember some debris flying by on the starboard side and people ducking for cover. Charlie was as busy as a one-armed paperhanger. He had the brakes pushed to the floorboard while shutting down both engines and pulling the handle on the emergency air bottle for emergency braking. I thought Charlie was going to get the wounded whale stopped before we went over the bow but I could see we were angling off to the port side. We later learned that the eye of the bridle on the starboard side had been mis-positioned over the tip of the aircraft's CAT hook. When the CAT fired, the tip broke off which let the bridle release and swing violently across from the starboard to port side of the aircraft. The CAT shuttle, which is positioned behind the nose wheel on the A-3, struck and blew the nose tire during its forward movement. This is what had caused the nose to bounce up and had also turned the nose wheel to the left. The starboard main mount was on the greasy CAT track, which didn't help our braking efforts. When the nose gear went over the bow, I finally realized that we weren't going to stop and were going to get very wet. After the nose of the aircraft had dropped down over the bow, the starboard engine nacelle hung up on the round down for a few seconds before giving way, which allowed us to fall nose down in an inverted attitude. When we hit the water, I remember it as a violent impact with the cockpit almost immediately engulfed with water. It was dark and I couldn't see anything as I unlatched my lap belt and pushed off from my seat. But I felt a tug which held me back. I had forgotten to unhook my oxygen hose from the seat so I reached back, unhooked it, and pushed off again, reaching for the upper hatch. For those reading this who are not A-3 types, the A-3 upper hatch was always positioned open on all CAT shots and arrested landings for emergencies such as this. But we didn't need the upper hatch this time as the whole canopy was gone.

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Click on the image to view the video of this mishap.

Afterwards when we discussed the accident, we surmised that the pressure created at impact, and being inverted, had blown the canopy out. After I had exited the aircraft, I inflated my Mae West and ascended to the surface. I estimate we were about 15 ft. underwater at that time. Charlie said that he was right behind me on the way up to the surface. When I reached the surface, I removed my oxygen mask but was having trouble breathing. When Charlie reached the surface, he said that he looked around for the rest of the crew but at first saw only one other head. Then Larry's head finally popped up.

I noticed that I was about 15 ft. from the aircraft and that the tail was sticking out of the water at a 45-degree angle in an inverted position from about the speedbrake location. Charlie also noticed that the tailhook was down. Pictures of the accident taken as we were going over the bow showed the tailhook as being up so we're not sure what caused that to happen. I could hear a lot of gurgling sounds as the A-3 was sinking and could also smell JP-5 fuel. I tried to swim away from the aircraft but didn't make much progress as my right side was really hurting and I was still having difficulty breathing. Charlie swam over to me to check on my condition and noticed that my Mae West was not fully inflated. He pulled both toggles again and it fully inflated. I guess I hadn't pulled them hard enough, as one cylinder had not been activated. At about this same time a crewman in the rescue helo, who also noticed that I was having some difficulty, jumped into the water and helped me into the rescue sling. From there I was hoisted up and into the helo. I later learned from the doctors that I had suffered broken ribs and a collapsed right lung which had caused my pain and difficulty in breathing.

I do not recall seeing Larry or our passenger in the water nor, do I remember the Coral Sea bearing down on us. Charlie later told me that Larry and our passenger had made it to the surface and were rescued by helo. He also remembers that the Coral Sea was moving away from us as the Captain had put in full port rudder and then back to starboard, which caused the ship to move almost sideways away from us. Our passenger had a severely broken arm and was transferred to the Subic Naval Hospital. Charlie had a laceration on his leg and Larry a cut on one finger. They were both flying again soon. I was grounded for about a month while the superb Coral Sea doctors got me repaired. When I was given my up chit to fly again, it was with Charlie and Larry in our replacement aircraft with side number 691 and yes, it was from the number two bow CAT. Whew! But, this time it worked as advertised.

Our crew flew many more missions together without mishap for the remainder of our cruise. One side note that I should mention is the fact that for several months after our accident, the ships 1MC would announce: "Those personnel who lost money orders in the A-3 that went into the water report to the post office." They just wouldn't let us forget. Also, this accident is another reminder that carrier aviation is never routine. An unexpected accident is always just waiting to happen - so be prepared.

Dale V. Clark
CDR USN(RET)
[Follow up - Steve Stinnett] - In reference to the A-3B cold cat shot on Oct. 2, 1966, I was the PLAT operator and the film missed the most important aspect. I saw an explosion from the starboard wheel, I immediately zoomed in on that wheel to see if anybody was injured, I then panned to the nose wheel which appeared to be damaged, then went full image as the plane was going down the deck, I saw the face of the man in the starboard seat, an image of sheer hopelessness, so I zoomed in on his face, immediately went full image as the plane went overboard. When flight operations ended I went to the Photo Lab to be 'chewed' out by the Photo Officer CWO4 McManus. He informed me that by focusing in I lost valuable information which was not filmed, the entire aircraft, was out of the frame. This is true since the investigators could zoom in while viewing the film. While he was yelling, the Captain or Air Boss, I do not remember, came into the Lab and shook my hand to thank me for a great job.

This A-4 of the VA-23 Black Knights somehow made it back aboard despite having part of its port wing shreaded by a missile that fortunately didn't explode.

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[Image Source - US Navy] [Image Source - Jerry Shafer] [Image Source - US Navy] [Image Source - US Navy]
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[Image Source - US Navy] [Image Source - Norm Palosky] [Image Source - Norm Palosky] [Image Source - Norm Palosky]
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[Image Source - Norm Palosky] [Image Source - Norm Palosky] [Image Source - Norm Palosky] [Image Source - John Mittler]
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[Image Source - John Mittler] [Image Source - Jerry Shafer] [Image Source - eBay]  

 25 October 1967 - WestPac

Zuni Rocket Mishap - "The United States Navy disclosed yesterday that an air-to-surface rocket accidentally ignited on the attack carrier Coral Sea off North Vietnam this week, injuring nine seaman.
Three of the men were critically burned. All nine were flown to Clark Air Force Base in the Phillipines.
The incident occured Wednesday night while crewmen were assembling the Zuni rocket, used by Navy aircraft raids in Vietnam. The motor ignited and shot the rocket forward about 20 feet into a steel bulkhead.
A spokesman at the Navy fleet headquarters here said the rocket did not explode."

[Mishap]
[Image Source - US Navy]
Four of the men subsequently died of their injuries:
  • 10/29/67, SA Carlyle B. Pomeroy, Jr., Denver, Co
  • 10/30/67, AO3 Victor R. Wooden, White City, Or
  • 10/30/67, SN Ronald A. Hessman, Los Angeles, Ca
  • 12/7/67, AO3 Donald D. Maki, Hutchinson, Mn

[Submitted by variuos sources] - The rocket motor was next to the bulkhead and on the other side was the first class lounge where they had a hot plate on all the time which cooked off the zuni rocket.
The missle became lodged in the bulkhead without the warhead exploding. It was then decided to cut the bulkhead out around the rocket. The rocket and bulkhead were carefuly removed and gently thrown overboard. Walt "The Salt" Hardy who was on board in 1967 when it happened was also aboard in 1983. When he left the ship in 1983 the patched bulkhead was still noticable.

[Follow up - Lloyd Becker] - I was aboard the Coral Sea on Oct 25 1967 when the rocket launched, my GQ was two decks below the forward mess decks right under the resulting fire. The article you have is a little wrong. The rocket was accidentally launched as it was being assembled and lodged in the First Class Mess bulkhead, luckily it didn't arm.The fire was intense and the forward magazines were flooded which were next to us. the fire teams that put out the fire should have been commended because this deck was used for assembling weapons and was of course full, so the danger of something cooking off was possibility. After the fire was put out the warhead had to be cut out and be disposed of, as I recall after we were notified the fire was out it took about four hours for this to take place.
[Follow up - Albert Bodt] - The Zuni rocket incident. I had just showered and gotten into my rack at around 2145 when a fire alarm sounded. I was in the E-Div berthing compartment 3rd deck amid ship near the post office. A second alarm sounded and not long after that a third alarm then general quarters. I grabbed my clothes and shoes, and like everyone else headed for the ladder to the second deck, reminding myself of "port aft and starboard foreward" during GQ. The smell of burning paint and smoke was evident and it scared the crap out of me, not knowing how bad things were. We all started in the wrong direction but soon everyone had rememberd their mantra as well and we headed to our GQ stations. As I moved to my GQ station on the aft mess decks via the port side, the burned sailors were brought by me in litters. My GQ station was not 5 yards from the hatch going down to sickbay and I watched as the wounded were brought down. During the night there was a fire in 2C fire room and guys were going down to the bilges to get those poor guys who were passing out fron the heat. There were 10-20 guys lying on the aft mess decks, passed out from heat exhaustion. They took the liquid O2 tanks out of the A4 Skyhawks to administer oxygen to those guys.. I was an electrician and was involved in deengergizing the circuits so the fire could be fought safely, There was 4-5 inches of water in the passageways on the second deck juft foreward of the messdecks as well. In any event, they safely removed the Zuni rocket still embedded in the bulkhead, (they had cut a 2 foot hole around the warhead) and gently carried it by my damage control team and went up he ladder to the hangar deck on their way to the fantail (I presume) to dispose of it. Few people remember that the missile went through a live 440 volt 400 cycle power panel and had lodged between two live buss bars. The whole power panel had to be disassembled and removed before they could even begin to cut around the missile warhead,. That is why it took all night. By 0730 the following morning it was pretty much over. The reason I go into so much detail is that that incident, and my witness to the injuries and the heroics of the docs and copsmen in sickbay steered me into wanting to become a physician. Subsequently, after leaving the ship on 7 August of 1970, I started my education and ended up in med school in 1979. I am now a specialist in Internal Medicine and subspecializing in Nephrology (kidneys), a direct result of that incident.
[Follow up - Albert Bodt] - I was there during the incident. We were at GQ all night until around 0700. The Zuni pod, as I recall was on the starboard side of the foreward mess deck with the business end facing the bulkhead of the first class lounge, about 15-18 feet away. The tail end of the pod was about 4-5 feet from the starboard bulkhead. The inciting incident did not involve a hotplate but apparently the weapons crewman testing the pod for electrical continuity with a 1.5volt multimeter set off the live Zuni. He was sitting, straddled accross the pod with his legs testing the pins on the connector into which the plug fron the aircraft is attached. As he connected the multimeter to two crirical pins on the connector, there was enough current from the multimeter battery to light off the rocket. He took the full blast of the rocket exhaust and I remember seeing him as he was carried past me in a litter to sick bay as we were going to GQ. The first fire alarm was at precisely 2200hrs, then a second fire alarm was sounded 30 seconds later, then a third, then GQ was sounded at around 2202hrs. The rocket had launched from the tube into the first class lounge bulkhead knocking the television off the stand in the lounge, and had penetrated a 440V/400cycle controller panel which had to be removed before the rocket itself could be removed. It took all night until around 0730 the following morning. As I recall, the controller panel was replaced but the circular weld could still be seen behiond it where the bulkhead had been replaced.
[Follow up - Denis Howard] - I was onboard when this incident occurred. I was in the first class lounge when the rocket ignited and lodged in the bulkhead. The first class lounge (couldn't call it a Mess) was located in forward mess deck area starboard side, this area had been taken over for ordnance assembly. I spoke to one of the Explosive Ordnance Disposal Technicians who disposed of this rocket afterwards. Working party handled rocket pods returned from strike aircraft after missions (not all Aviation Ordnancemen as this was a low tech job) job was to visually insure no rockets remained in 4 rocket pod container, then with a battery pack RESTEP the firing switch. Crew apparently failed to inspect prior to resteping and a rocket remained in the pod. Cycling the switch fired the rocket which did not travel far enough to arm (rocket warhead had an impeller and had to travel a minimum distance to arm). Rocket warhead did not explode, it was safely extracted and disposed of by EOD Team onboard.
[Follow up - king@bus.orst.edu] - The Zuni rocket accident in October 1967 involved a lot more than merely the forward messdecks fire. The ship went to GQ because the rocket somehow managed to short out the ventilation systems to the main boiler room, the zuni rocket magazines on either side began to heat up, etc., etc. A damage control chief later told me it was a close call. I have told the story for years to various NROTC classes....
[Follow up - Jonathan King] - The ship also went to GQ when the ventilation systems for the boiler rooms mysteriously shut down. (Later, it was discovered that the zuni and/or zuni fire had short-circuited some electrical stuff, etc.) Meanwhile, zuni rocket magazine next to the boiler rooms began to heat up. "Naturally," one sprinkling system was down for repair and the other barely dribbled out water. A damage control chief later told me he figured the zuni's came within several degrees of cooking off. That would have been a real disaster!

Several crewmen were subsequently awareded medals for going back into the boilerroom to shut down the furnaces. Meanwhile, other folks were throwing all the zunis overboard and anything that looked like it might explode on the hanger deck. In fact, someone threw a box overboard containing a "silver rotary radar joint" for our E2A which cost upwards of $500,000. The plane guard later found it floating the the Gulf and returned it to us.

The ship secured from General Quarters about four hours later.
[Follow up - EN3 D.P. Dougherty A4 Division] - I was aboard Coral Sea during the Oct. 25 1967 Zuni rocket mishap. When GQ sounded I went to my battle station inside the first class mess manning fog foam machine 3. The compartment was full of smoke and ankle deep water and despite many calls on the sound powered phone to REP2 for an O.B.A., no one came[nor did my fellow machine operator] and as the smoke cleared after quite a while I saw the nose of the Zuni sticking through the bulkhead and I experienced a feeling like I was "passing a brick". After a while the hatch opened and the X.O. [I don't remember his name but the C..O.'s name was Capt. Shawcross] and a chief came in and the chief said "What the hell are you doing in here"? And I said "Waiting for an O.B.A., chief". They looked at the Zuni ,then came back to me,and the X.O. asked my name and said "You will get a medal that will help your career, but I think my career is over." The chief gave him a murderous look, and said "Come on,kid". We went and helped bring up hot rounds from a magazine. I will never forget that G.Q. or my brave shipmates, nor the cold words of the X.O.
[Follow up - Jim Doil] - I was one of the survivors of the '67 Zuni accident. There were 9 of us in the forward mess deck when the rocket was fired. The result was 4 died and I was the worst of the injured. I spent almost a year in the hospital with 37% 2nd & 3rd degree burns. I would like to find any of the other survivors. My time on the grand old lady brings back so many fond memories.

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[Image Source - Jim Doil]
[Follow up - Robert Skelton] - I was on board the Coral Sea during the 1967 Zunnie Rocket incident. I was a BT2 assigned to 2-B fireroom and my GQ station was in a berthing area little aft of 2-C fireroom. My assignment, when we were @ GQ, was nozzelman on a  firehose on a damage control team. When it came time to remove those warheads from the locker I was one of the work party to go into that storage area to remove them. Myself, as well as everyone else was pretty scared. We formed a line of about 30 people that went up the ladder to the hanger deck and acrossed the hanger deck and over the side at the elevator. As we relayed them out from the fourth deck up to the hanger deck and over the side they had fire hoses spraying on the overhead to keep everything cool and that sea water was cold. We all were in our scivies and tee shirts and we all looked like a bunch of drown rats. The Senior Chief said they were very unstable because of the heat and it would not be very good to have one of them detonate.  

When the rocket went off it went accross the compartment and lodged in the bulkhead where the rocket motor continied to run until it was out of fuel. When it went through bulkhead it lodged in a electricial distribution panel on the other side of the bulkhead in the First Class mess. It just so happens that was the distribution panel that supplied power to forced draft blowers in 2-C fireroom and any cooling vents that were running were out also. Right above the fireroom was the storage area for the rocket warheads. When the vent system in the fireroom was knocked out it rapidly allowed the fireroom temperature to rise which intern caused the heat problem in the rocket storage area to escalate. Under normal steaming conditions, when all ventilation systems were up and running, it was a continious 140-150 drgrees on top of the boiler which is directly under the rocket storage area. Sometimes we did some of our wash and hung it up on top of the boiler where it would dry in 10 minutes or less.   

After they finially got a handle on the problem, they realized they had to take 2-C boiler off the line. By now the heat in the fireroom was unbearable. They took our damage control team to the air trunk above 2-C fireroom where we went down in teams of three for 5 minutes only to try to wrap up the boiler. I don't know how hot it was but I do know it would turn your skin red after 5 minutes down there. I went down for three rounds and the last thing I remembered after the third round was looking up the air trunk and seeing people up at the top yelling for me to hurry up the ladder. The next thing I remember I was lying on the mess decks in my scivies with ice packed all around me and some guy was trying to wake me up. I did find out latter that a guy carried me from the air trunk to the mess decks. When I found out who it was I looked him up and thanked him. The only thing I really got out of it was the fact I looked like a lobster for a couple of weeks.     

One of other stories I read mentioned that some people got some awards for what they had done. I don't think that is true. I think those other guys as well as myself are not looking for a pat on the back but we need to try to get the story straight. We all did what we had to do for ship and shipmates and I would do it all again!


 Nov 25, 1967 Westpac

[Submitted by - Gary Chappell] - A-4 Deck Mishap involving CDR William .H. Searfus. The following is a letter to the Commanders son....

Dear Stan,

Your dad used to come and see Bill Shawcross quite a bit, and generally would have to wait awhile to see him.  I just remember your dad always asking me how I was doing, and where I was from?  Just nice little personal things, that many others did not bother with.  I could always tell he was sincere.  He just seemed like a great guy to me.

After I left the Marines, I became a professional pilot for many years of all things.  Flew Citations and Learjets mainly later on, with quite a bit of time spent flying in Europe and Middle East.  Caught the bug on Coral Sea of course.

I served two Tonkin Gulf Tours and being on the bridge most of the time, I witnessed many unfortunate accidents.  Several aircraft dead cat shots, shot up aircraft, and several guys either blown off deck or even driving tugs off deck. I grew up in Enid, Oklahoma, a somewhat small town, thus this was all pretty shocking to me to say the least.

I along with Captain Shawcross was on the bridge when your dad's accident happened.  I'm sure you know by now most of the details.  Really they are not that important now, as your father's memory is what we all want to remember.

However the following is what I recall:

The Skyhawk (Bill's plane) was parked last slot/port/fantail.  The F-4 was adjacent, and of course a full air strike was in progress, daylight hours, but late in day.  As you probably are aware some confusion may exist as to whether your dad was fully strapped and buckled in.  It was very hot and it was not uncommon for the pilots to wait until the last minute to get fully strapped.  In any event, the F4 pilot made a very simple, but critical error.  In applying thrust he under judged the required  power to get his aircraft out of the slot, and turned up the deck.  He obviously applied more power at about the 45 degree angle of the turn, when he realized he had mis judged his initial power application.  This of course meant his secondary power increase was directed straight at the A-4.  This coupled with about 40 knots of wind over the deck, turned the A-4's nose towards the fantail, and ultimately over the side.

Neither Captain Shawcross nor I actually witnessed the accident, as it was happening.  The Captain was of course notified immediately by the Air Boss, and it was at the end of the launch.  Of course the ship was immediately put into a search pattern for several hours.  No debris was found.

About 15 minutes after the accident occurred the Captain and I were escorted to the scene by other members of the crew.  Captain Shawcross was extremely upset.  More than I had ever seen him.  Arriving at the A-4 slot both of us basically had a tear in our eyes.  We could clearly see where your father had locked up the brakes in a desperate attempt to stay on the deck.  Solid rubber for about 20 feet in a nose first circular pattern was very evident.  Shawcross thought Bill was not strapped in and could not eject.  The plane was loaded with ordinance and hit the water inverted.

I have read couple different accounts on the internet about your dad, just doing a maintenance check on the aircraft, and not scheduled for the actual air strike that was in progress.  I do not remember that being the case at all.  In addition I do not think a maintenance run up would be occurring during a actual air strike.  That makes no sense to me.  Especially with an aircraft loaded with ordinance.

Lastly I recall what happened after all of the strike aircraft had been recovered.  I'm sure you have not heard this part.  The Captain ordered the F-4 pilot and Cmdr. Linder to the bridge immediately upon recovery.  Linder was on the strike also, and was chief pilot for all squadrons (forget what his actual title was).  In any event Linder and the young F-4 driver reported to the bridge, and the scene was not pretty.  The F-4 pilot was either an ensign or JG, and pretty young.  He was shaking like a leaf, and Cmdr. Linder was crying.

Then Shawcross basically lost it, and literally unloaded on the young F-4 pilot.  I had never seen the Captain in this type of emotional outburst ever.  It ended with Shawcross telling the F-4 pilot he was finished as an aviator.  I don't know if that proved true or not.

Having recited all of these material facts, as I witnessed them, it was clearly an accident.  Preventable sure, but an accident.  These young pilots were under tremendous stress, and it went on day after day for 7-9 months.

I will always remember your father.  I am not sure exactly why, but I think about him often.  I feel good just reciting this small bit of info to you.  Your dad knew he was risking it all.  He was a hero .  It is that simple.



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