Crew 13 - 1973

wings

In early 1973, I was still a LTJG and had finally completed all my UBAAA training and aced the NATOPS and TACCO syllabus final check rides.  We were gearing up for the 1973 Sigonella deployment and doing a lot of training to ensure that all crews completed all “Quals” and attained “ALFA” status.  Back then, our nine brand new P-3C aircraft were numbered 10, 11, 12, 20, 21, 22, 30, 31 and 32.  But we had 12 crews.  The crews’ numbers matched the aircraft side numbers except the three extra crews were numbered 33, 23 and 13 (yes 13!).  I was assigned as TACCO of Crew 13.  The PPC was LCDR Larry Scott, 2P LT Marty Rogers and the 3P LT Dave Boyle.  LTJG Halsey Fisher was my NAV and AWCM Hendrick and AW1 Dave Laslo were SS-1 and SS-2 ; SS-3 was CWO4 Chuck McCoy.  I don’t recall the names of the rest of the crew but they were all either senior to me or had been in the Navy a whole lot longer.  Essentially, with the exception of my NAV, I was the junior guy on the crew.ln 20

But the important thing in this recollection is that I got “CREW 13.”  Buildings still don’t have a 13th floor.  Having a Crew numbered 13 is NOT a good idea.  Why tempt fate?  But the squadron did!

This was my very first operational flight as a “crew holding” TACCO…a huge deal for me.  I believe the mission was battle group ASW support for some WestLant exercise.  We took off out of Jax mid-morning and had about an hour transit to onstation.  After setting Condition 3, I pulled out my OPORD, comms list, ASRAPS and other paperwork and tried to find room for all that around my trackball and keyboard.  Up front, Larry was in the left seat and Marty was in the right.  The rest of the crew was chilling out in the back.  Dave Boyle, the 3P, lowered the Nav Step (under the celestial port) and sat between me and Halsey with a hot cup of coffee.  We reached our enroute altitude, cancelled IFR and "went operational." As Dave slurrped his coffee, I tried to ignore his attempts to talk to me about stuff other than the mission as I crammed for my first real operational flight. 

BAM!!!   Holy Crap!!   BAMMMMM!!!  Gotta get…..BAMMM!!!

I found myself still in my seat and that only because I was still loosely harnessed in.  There was no question in my mind that we had just had a mid-air collision or an inboard engine explosion – though I had no idea what those events actually should feel or sound like.  For about five seconds, I was positive we were all going to die.  That feeling is heart wrenching and chilling and feeling like that for five seconds is a REALLY LONG TIME!

Dave Boyle, on the Nav Step had disappeared.  I looked up front to the flight station and Marty in the right seat was being rained on by some liquid dripping from the overhead instrument panel.  I then looked back and saw Dave lying on the deck back between the CP-901 and the Main Load Center.  He wasn’t moving.  I screamed up at Marty (I couldn’t see Larry in the left seat) “What’d we hit?”  He yelled back “Nothing!”  Then he listened to something Larry said and yelled back at me, “Should we continue?”  I looked back at Dave’s prostrate body and the pool of liquid forming on the deck under his head….either coffee or blood.  It was blood.  I replied “Are you shitting me?  NO!  And if it is safe to get up I need to go aft and check.”

bill hobgoodMarty said it was clear air turbulence and we turned back to Jax.  I asked him not to fly through the same area if he could avoid it and I unstrapped and headed aft.  Dave was not unconscious when I got back to him but he wasn’t making much sense.  I found his ball cap nearby and told Chuck, the SS-3, to use that to keep pressure on his head wound.  The back of the aircraft was a mess.  Anything not bolted or tied down had been tossed about...including crew members.  One guy had a broken collar bone and Dave Laslo had been hit in the face by a PDC (practice depth charge) that flew out from under one of the seats in the galley…he was bleeding but not too badly.

I got everybody strapped in and Dave Laslo and Dave Boyle were able to keep pressure on their own wounds.  Larry declared an emergency and we received priority handling back to JAX.    Upon arrival we were met by three ambulances.  My only injury was a cut on my forehead.  When I was thrown upward my head hit the Weapons Select/Arming panel (just lightly, thanks to my lap belt) and the two little metal clasps holding the silver LTJG bar on my ball cap lacerated my forehead.  The brown liquid raining down on Marty had been his coffee and Dave Boyle had smashed his head on the sextant mount above the Nav Step.  Many stitches later he was OK.

The episode was determined to have been severe CAT.  Although there was a lot of superficial damage to the inside of the P-3, there was no structural damage.  My logbook confirms the date as 19 FEB 73 and the aircraft was BUNO 158566.

I submitted a chit to the CO via the chain of command recommending that we change my crew number to 777.  That request was shot down before it got to the Ops Officer.


Submitted by Bill Hobgood (VP-45 '71 - '74)

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