The Flight Deck
By Bruce Lonardo
One sad reality for any sea going vessel is that risks and dangers are simply a part of life at sea. Unfortunately at times, this sad dilemma was as much a reality aboard Midway as much as any other ship in service upon the sea. I remember one evening when we were in the vicinity of Singapore, it was just past midnight and I had just relieved the 2000 - 2400 watch on the mid section of the hangar deck. It was my duty to stand the 2400-0400 watch in that section of the ship while there were two other men pulling similar watches in other areas of the hangar deck. One of them was posted in the forward section and the other guy was standing watch in the aft section. On intervals of every 30 minutes or so, at least two of us would coincide our posts for a brief time in the same area of the hangar deck and we would pass on any information to each other that was in the order of our duties.
Suddenly, at about 1:00 am, about an hour after I assumed the watch, an emergency alarm blurted out over the 1MC. It was the OOD urgently requesting an on-duty hospital corpsman and a medical response team to the flight deck. Within minutes, several hospital corpsmen dashed at lightning speed through the hangar deck where I was standing watch. This was the most immediate route to the flight deck via a huge steel stair ladder on the portside midsection of the hangar deck and ran directly up to the flight deck. Everybody on the hangar deck was asking everybody else what all the commotion was topside. Since I was the watch who was the closest flight deck access, the other two watches covered for me while I ran up on the flight deck to see what was going on. When I got there, I was horrified by what I saw.
Apparently an E-2 Hawkeye on the flight deck was preparing for a night mission and a terrible accident occurred. An E-2 Hawkeye is a fixed-wing, duel propeller engine, early warning systems aircraft. Most people can easily identify this aircraft due to the enormous flat round dish stilted directly above the fuselage. Needless to say, the obvious danger this aircraft presents to any ground crew working in the direct vicinity is its two enormous props. When propellers are operating, they present an extreme hazard to anyone who comes too near it's not hard to imagine what ghastly fate awaits someone who does. Besides the obvious dangers that lie directly in front or behind a moving propeller, there is also an updraft suction force which exists for about a four to five foot distance beyond the side edges of the propellers. Whenever an aircraft of any type prepares for any kind of flight, the Plane Captain is the essential member of the ground support team who assists the aircraft's aircrew in every phase of the pre-flight and flight commencement procedures, right up to the point where the aircraft taxis out to the steam catapults to be launched off the ship.
The normal parking place for a Hawkeye on a carrier is directly next to the portside of the island. This evening it was in its normal spot with the ship's flight deck fire truck parked directly next to and on the left side of it. The flight deck fire truck routinely parks about ten feet from the props edge and this night was no exception. The plane captain who was preparing this particular aircraft for its night time flight that evening was a young sailor assigned to the line division of the E-2 squadron; VAW-115. One of his last duties before the aircraft began to taxi to the catapults was to close the aircraft's crew access hatch which, on an E-2 Hawkeye, is located on the portside fuselage directly under the port wing behind the propeller. From what I heard in the pandemonium following this unfortunate incident, this crewman had attempted to walk between the flight deck fire truck and the E-2's prop edge. The prop's vortex caught him and the blades completely severed his left arm. When I arrived up on the flight deck to see what all the commotion was, I witnessed this unfortunate young man laying on the flight deck unconscious, bleeding profusely and his left arm was gone. It had completely vanished and no one could find it! This dismembered crewman was lying in a pond of blood and there were several corpsmen working feverishly to arrest the flow of blood from his severed arteries so he wouldn't bleed to death.
It was an undeniable danger that went with the job for anyone working up on the flight deck. It is literally one of the most dangerous places on Earth to work. It requires you to be constantly alert and you have to have the utmost respect for all of the aircraft and potential death hazards that were all around you. In any single unsuspecting second, anyone of us who worked up on the flight deck could very easily find himself facing the same horror that poor sailor met up with that night. I myself had a certain degree of fear every time I went up on that flight deck when aircraft were operating, especially during flight operations when just about all of the aircraft up on deck were operating (anywhere from 40 to 50 aircraft). All around there were jet intakes that could suck you into the turbine blades, quickly reducing you to mincemeat in the blink of an eye. Jet engine thrust could easily blow you right off the flight deck into the sea as easily as we swat a fly away from food. Propeller blades could chop you into chum in a millisecond and helicopter rotor blades which are just as dangerous. Besides all that, we also had the dangers of flight deck landing cables breaking, the hazards of the steam catapults, and of course the possibility of aircraft crashing or exploding on deck. One only has to observe film footage of the major disaster which occurred on the flight deck of the USS Forrestal in 1967, claiming the lives of 133 sailors, to realize just how real that possibility is on the flight deck of any aircraft carrier. May God watch over and keep safe, all of the men, and now women, who work everyday for our country in those extremely dangerous surroundings. Their jobs and their duties are no easy task!