Sea Story from USS America, March 1977

As all of you know, a sea story has to begin with "this ain't no s***". So moving past that....whenever there is a fire announcement on the 1MC, it has your complete attention. It seemed like there was a fire on the USS America about every other day or so. Most of the fires were electrical fires or catapault fires - no big deal - they would be extinguished quickly. We would have firefighting drills during general quarters, but the announcements on the 1MC would begin with "Now, this is a drill, this is a drill..." - so no worries. When we went through ORI, however, the simulated fires were called away on the 1MC as the real thing - there was no "this is a drill" on the 1MC. That made the crew jumpy. About that time, President Carter decided he wanted to know the state of readiness of the Navy, so he sent Graham Claytor Jr. out to tour the fleet. It was decided that he would stay aboard the USS America over night - having a dignitary aboard overnight was unprecedented. It was decided to let him observe night flight ops to impress him with how dangerous such operations were. The date was 28 March 1977. I was TAD to the Masters at Arms. I was just climbing into my rack starboard forward on the 01 level at about 23:00 when I heard a loud thump. Thought it was probably someone untricing their rack on the 02 level and letting it fall to the deck. But then, on the 1MC, we hear "Now, fire, fire, fire, fire on the flight deck". You pucker when you hear that. Hopped out of my rack and trotted into the crew "lounge". Someone had already changed the TV channel to the flight deck camera. It was pointed towards the waist cat which appeared to be steaming like usual. I thought "so it was a cat fire - no big deal". But then the camera panned toward the bow. The flight deck crew was huddled as far forward as they could get. I thought "wow, that must have been a really bad fire". The on the 1MC "Now, away the medical response team to the flight deck". I thought "man. that must have really been a bad fire if someone got hurt". Then on the 1MC "This is the XO - because of the possibility of a man overboard, we are having an all hands muster". While trotting down to muster in with the Masters at Arms, I was thinking "wow, it must have been a really bad fire if it might have forced someone overboard".  It wasn't until the next day that I heard what happened.  We had been following the usual practice during flight ops of having a plane guard destroyer several miles aft and a SAR helo closer in aft and off to starboard of the flight pattern. There was an F-14 in the pattern during the previously mentioned night flight ops.  The F-14 came in low and the LSO waved him off.  That happened several more times.  Then the F-14 came in anyway.  The starboard main gear impacted the rounddown, and that impact slammed the port main gear into the rounddown which punched the port main gear through the port engine and FODed it.  The nose gear broke off.  The F-14 was now flat on the flight deck with no port engine and the starboard engine at full afterburner.  As it turns out, that was fortunate because it caused the F-14 to yaw to port, thereby missing the fully fueled six pack near the island.  By the time that the F-14 was adjacent to the island, the pilot realized he hadn't caught the arresting cable, so he and the WSO in the back seat punched out.  The canopy ended up on the flight deck (I saw it later in the debris which was afterward collected and stored on the hangar deck).  The F-14 went off the angle deck and exploded when it hit the sea.  The SAR helo found and rescued both the pilot and WSO.  You could conclude that Graham Claytor Jr. was probably suitably impressed with the danger of night flight ops.  BTW, the thump I had  heard at about 23:00 was the F-14 impacting the rounddown.

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  • Great story with details. I wish I could remember my days as well. I look forward to reading more of your writings. Thanks

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