Paul Gallagher, fellow VAW alum, dropped by a short bit ago to pass along a remembrance of one of the crews we lost in the early ’90s. See, one of the hallmarks of the E-2/C-2 is the (still) relatively low mishap rate. Mishaps, and in particular, mishaps that result in the loss of some or all of the crew were relatively rare events. In the early 1990′s though we had a spate of losses that spiked the rate. In one relatively short period two aircraft were lost – Closeout 602 (VAW-126) and Bear Ace 603 (VAW-124) – the latter 16 years ago tonight/tomorrow AM…and, well, let Paul tell the story:
I was the Maintenance Officer of the VAW 124 Bear Aces in 1993. Turbo Tom Parker was the Skipper, Billy Wo Wolters was the XO. He was off the ship the night of the mishap at some operational meetings ashore.
The circumstances of this mishap formed in my mind at the time, the intractable opinion that nobody except aviators should ever command aviators. The following facts (to the best of my recollection) are germane:
The Bear Aces were embarked in USS THEODORE ROOSEVELT. As we departed the U.S. we were right in the path of what would become known as the storm of the century. As a result, the airwing was not able to accomplish our refresher CQ. The decision was made to push to the Med because we needed to relieve the JFK on time to insure they did not exceed the 6 month deployment rule.
The translant was slow due to extremely rough seas, so we were never able to accomplish any flying enroute, and we were late getting to the Med. There was a great deal of pressure to get us into the Adriatic because of the Bosnia Herzegovina tensions, and the JFK had to get out to make the 6 month timeframe. Once inchopped to the Med we were ordered to steam directly into the Adriatic to replace them without having yet CQ’d. Our CAG Willie Moore and the CARGRU Jay Johnson were known to have strenuously objected, but higher authority only relented to the extent that they allowed us ½ day of flight ops to allow the pilots who would fly our missions the next night one day trap.
That was the circumstance leading up to the mishap. That first night we were scheduled to fly in support of some airdrops of food to starving Bosnians for our first real mission of the deployment, but the night we were to commence the weather was terrible. Once again, we were aware our leadership had requested that we not fly due to our lack of NATOPs qualifications, and the fact that the weather was forecast to be below minimums. Despite the persistent objections of our aviation leadership; at the EUCOM level it was directed we fly the missions – a decision probably made by an Army infantry officer. Bear Ace 603 took off and was in the goo immediately off the deck. As I understood it from others who flew that night they probably never broke out. A couple of airwing pilots who were airborne that night estimated it went above 25,000 ft.
During the recovery Bear Ace 603 made a good approach, but was waved off fairly late for reasons I don’t recall however, it was NOT for technique. They did a shallow climb, reached about 700 feet, nosed over and flew into the sea. The last broadcast from the aircraft while in their fatal descent was a calm acknowledgement of the climb and turn downwind directions from CATCC.
The XO of the Tomcat squadron was head of the mishap board. Their conclusion was that the mishap pilots must have been suffering from debilitating vertigo. There simply was no other explanation.
The crew of Bear Ace 603 was John “Frenchy” Messier, Pilot, Billy Ray Dyer, copilot, Jon “Rooster” Rystrom was the CICO, Pat “Aardvark” Ardaiz was the ACO, and Bob “McFly” Forwalder was the RO. For many years, a day would not go by in which I wouldn’t think of them, now after even more years I’d have to say a couple of days doesn’t go by… you never shake that sadness when something like that happens to the guys in your outfit, I know for the Bear Aces that were there, we never will.
“you never shake that sadness when something like that happens to the guys in your outfit, I know for the Bear Aces that were there, we never will.” Amen Paul – know that there are others who feel the same way too…
And a reminder that those still here can do something good for the families of those we’ve lost…