The Essex-class aircraft carrier USS Hancock (CV-19) was conducting flight operations on July 14th 1955 in the Pacific. As he approached the Hancock’s axial deck for recovery, Lieutenant Commander Jay T. Alkire settled in close while drifting left of the center line and was unable to gain sufficient engine thrust to clear the round down at the end of the flight deck- the ramp. Alkire’s aircraft, Vought F7U-3 Cutlass Bureau Number (BuNo) 129595, side number 412, struck the ramp and the jet exploded and disintegrated around him. Burning jet fuel was deposited in the port side deck edge catwalk. This video, uploaded to YouTube by Jeff Quitney, includes extensive footage of the mishap. It’s not easy to watch.
Several Cutlass traps are shown, including one barricade engagement which resulted in the collapse of the jet’s port main landing gear on 410. Another F7U-3 (402) loses its starboard main gear wheel. The film of Alkire’s crash begins at 1:47 into the video. At 2:44 in there is footage of the mishap in slow motion shot from the ship’s port side catwalk- the same vantage point as that in the sequence below. The Landing Signal Officer (LSO), Ted Reilly, can clearly be seen running across the aft end of the flight deck in front of the doomed jet.
Many of the narratives of this mishap claim several members of the deck crew were killed that day. While injuries were definitely suffered by some Hancock crew members, including several in the port side catwalk where the much of the jet’s burned for several minutes, they were all treated by the ship’s medical personnel. The ship’s logs clearly indicate that LCDR Alkire was the only fatality associated with the mishap. LCDR Jay Alkire was VF-124’s executive officer at the time of his death. During this single 1955-1956 deployment aboard the Hancock, VF-124 Stingarees lost 5 of their 16 Cutlass pilots.
Ironically the carrier was decommissioned after the end of this deployment and became the first Essex-class carrier to receive the full SCB-27C modernization, including the angled deck, mirror landing system, and steam catapults. Had the Hancock been equipped with the angled deck and mirror landing system at the time of Alkire’s recovery the outcome might have been different. Hancock had made seven World War II combat cruises earning four battle stars, and would go on to deploy a total of 16 times before she was decommissioned in January of 1976.
During the deployment Carrier Air Group ONE TWO (CVG-12) consisted of VF-121 Pacemakers flying the Grumman F9F-8 Cougar, VF-124 Stingarees flying the Vought F7U-3 Cutlass, VA-125 Rough Raiders flying the Douglas AD-5 and AD-6 Skyraider, VMJ-1 Banshees Detachment One flying McDonnell F2H-2P Banshees, VC-3 Blue Nemesis Detachment G flying the McDonnell F2H-3 Banshee, VC-61 Eyes of the Fleet Detachment G flying the Grumman F9F-6P Panther, VC-35 Flying Eagles Detachment G flying the Douglas AD-5N Skyraider, and VC-11 Early Elevens Detachment G flying the Douglas AD-5W Skyraider.