NavWeek: A Grim Reminder

Sep 15, 2014by in Ares

At some point, the U.S. Navy will reveal the results of its investigation and detail, to the best of its ability, why two F/A-18s apparently collided in the Western Pacific. It will be a thorough and dry analysis of what happened.

But that report will never be able to capture the true meaning of such an accident, which resulted in the death of a 26-year-old aviator. In the final “analysis,” Lt. Nathan Poloski died because he was performing very risky business in the service of his country.

The young Navy officer from Lake Arrowhead, California, was performing some “routine flight operations” in his F/A-18C Hornet in the western Pacific Ocean Sept. 12 when his aircraft apparently contacted another Hornet from the aircraft carrier USS Carl Vinson. The other pilot involved in the incident was rapidly located and received medical attention.

“Routine Flight Operations,” indeed. Rarely can three little words belie such danger. Because despite all the training in the world, there is little that is routine when it comes to flying fighters off carriers. To get to that level, naval aviators must prove they are the best of the best. But sometimes, even being the best may not be enough.

In Congress, lawmakers blithely banter about cutting funds meant to train these officers. In the Pentagon, they explain how they will try to do the best they can with what they get. Again, the best may not always be enough.

Poloski graduated from the Naval Academy in 2009. “Nathan was an outstanding person, naval officer and aviator,” said Navy Cmdr. Michael Langbehn, the commanding officer of Poloski’s squadron, Strike Fighter Squadron (VFA) 94, of Carrier Air Wing 17. “My personal thoughts and prayers are for his family, friends and shipmates as they endure this immeasurable loss.”

Following the apparent collision, the Navy conducted an extensive search for Poloski, covering more than 3,000 square miles using the USS Carl Vinson, guided-missile cruiser USS Bunker Hill, guided-missile destroyers USS Gridley, USS Sterett, USS Dewey, helicopters assigned to Helicopter Sea Combat Squadron 15 and Helicopter Maritime Strike Squadron 73, P-8 Poseidon aircraft from Guam, and satellite imagery.

They, too, did their best. Sometimes, unfortunately, it is not enough.

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