Man overboard from the carrier during flight ops.


Yankee Station, late summer of 1966

The time was about 0100, and the carrier was just going to flight ops.  I had the conn and was turning to maintain station on the carrier, 12 miles on the threat axis.  We had never had an incursion of Migs out into the gulf, but we never could let our guard drop, in case the NVA decided to try something.  We were there to sanitize the returning flights, and to be able to take out any threat to the carrier if someone decided to try something.  The carriers had some pretty bad conditions on board.  They always had a ship or two alongside when they weren’t in flight ops, giving or getting fuel, groceries, or ordnance.  The crew was sitting on 500 pound bombs at mealtime, where the bombs were being stored temporarily before being loaded on board the planes.

 As we were getting lined up and ready for the first launch, the Carrier began turning off the course for launch, and I had to change my course accordingly or lose station.  The carrier came up on PriTac, announcing “Man overboard”.  She went into a circle, with the destroyer astern of her going to GQ and beginning to search for the man.  The ready helo took off and flew back down the wake of the carrier, searching for the man in the water.   As the carrier went around the circle  for the third time, almost an hour had elapsed, and everyone was just about ready to call off the search.   Off the starboard side of the carrier came the sound of a whistle, then sighted the little flashlight that is pinned to the lifevest.  The man had decided that he’d better help, or he wasn’t going to be rescued.  He was one lucky dude, because they didn’t have his position anywhere within a mile of where he was found. The helo flew to him and pulled him from the water, and the carrier resumed flight ops.


We heard later that the OOD on the carrier had gotten the word that the man told his buddy that he was going over,  took off his shoes, put on the lifejacket, and dropped over the side.  This was about the third case where someone decided he could get back to the States by appearing to attempt suicide.  The carrier could not get an unprejudiced courtmartial board from among their officers, and we were called upon when we got back to Subic Bay to convene a court martial on the guy.  He wound up doing six months in the brig on board the carrier – and we never had another case where someone decided that he just couldn’t take it any more.