Terrifying cable snap sent Navy plane plunging off aircraft carrier

Meghann Myers, Navy Times

One sailor remains hospitalized and three others are in recovery after an arresting cable snapped during a carrier landing in a rare and terrifying flight deck mishap on March 18.

Sailors on the carrier Dwight D. Eisenhower’s flight deck saw the landing go horribly wrong in an instant that Friday afternoon. An E-2C Hawkeye snagged the metal cable stretched across the deck. But the plane didn’t slow, instead careening down the runaway and plunging over the edge, according to a squadron member who has spoken to eyewitnesses and those injured.

Behind it, the cable came unhooked from the port side and whipped around toward the superstructure, striking eight members of Carrier Airborne Early Warning Squadron 123.

Their injuries range from cuts and bruises to a skull fracture and broken bones, according to the squadron member, who asked not to be identified amid an ongoing investigation.

It had been more than 10 years since an arresting cable, a thick rope of wires that catches an aircraft’s tail hook to slow it down and complete a carrier landing, has parted on a carrier deck, according to Naval Air Force Atlantic spokesman Cmdr. Mike Kafka.

One maintainer is still at Sentara Norfolk General Hospital, Kafka confirmed.

The sailor was treated for a severed blood vessel that nearly resulted in a foot amputation, the VAW-123 member said. He was scheduled to go home April 7, he added, but has had to stay to treat an infected skin graft.

He is the last of four flown off the ship and treated either at Sentara or Naval Medical Center Portsmouth on March 18. Their injuries included a fractured skull, broken arms, legs and ankles, and dislocated hips. The rest were treated on the ship, according to a Navy release.

Close call

The plane made it back to Naval Station Norfolk undamaged, but not without surviving a harrowing near-miss. The pilots said that rather than the arresting gear slowing them down, they hit the cable all at once. The Hawkeye went nose-down off the bow, but had enough momentum to pull up before hitting the water.

“It came back, but it had friggin’ salt water on the bottom of it, it was that close,” the sailor said. “The pilots were all shaken up,” he said. “One of them, you could tell it messed him up, because they thought they were going to die.”

Ike resumed flight operations two days later, and a week after the incident, only one sailor was still in the hospital.

In the meantime, the VAW-123 member said, the chain of command has been providing updates on the guys’ conditions and visiting the hospitalized sailor.

“There’s no brain damage as far as I know, but they’re both looking at medical retirement, I bet,” he said of two of the squadron members who’d been hospitalized. “The other two, I can’t imagine how long rehab’s going to be for two broken ankles, and the other guy with rods and pins in his legs.”

The command investigation into the incident is still in progress, Kafka said.

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