If At First You Don’t Succeed…
The burial at sea nearly wasn’t. After VA-72 had removed everything they wanted from 158830, VA-46 was given permission to take whatever else they could remove from the jet. One component the Clansmen removed was the speed brake actuator. So, when the carrier’s “Tilly” heavy-lift salvage crane carried AC 403 over to elevator 3 and prepared to deep-six her, the unsecured speed brake caught the edge of the elevator and hung up the works. Later that day, 25 January 1991, after the speed break had been strapped up and looking like she had been parked too long in a really bad part of town, Tilly successfully flipped her off the boat and into the Red Sea. But the story doesn’t quite end there either.
One Last Shot at History
One thing the “looters and taggers” couldn’t remove were the fuel bladders in AC 403’s wings. So the burial at sea didn’t exactly go off without a hitch. In true Navy style, the jet petulantly refused to go down without a final fight. But the Marines assigned to the carrier brought some M2 .50 caliber firepower to bear on the still-floating carcass and punched enough holes in AC 403 that she eventually sank. BuNo 158830 became the last A-7E Corsair II to take the barrier, the last A-7E Corsair II to be buried at sea, and the last A-7E Corsair II to be sunk by naval (Marine Corps) gunfire. We’d be surprised if parts from 158830 weren’t worn by the rest of the SLUFs aboard the boat by the time JFK’s ODS deployment ended on 28 March 1991.
Social Media Distortion
During the years since Steamer’s debacle some confusion has muddied the waters of the story. The first: Dostie’s callsign. He’s been referred to as both Steamer and Lobster online. We went with Steamer thanks to some shared first-hand knowledge. Some available resources (we usually trust) report the BuNo of AC 403 as 158930. That BuNo belongs to a VP-50 Blue Dragons Lockheed P-3C Orion that was lost in a midair collision with P-3C BuNo 159325 off the coast of San Diego in March of 1991. There is also an A-7E located at Museum Parco Tematico dell’Aviazione, Cerasolo, Emilia Romagna in Italy. The jet is painted as a VA-72 A-7E wearing BuNo 158830 alright, but unless the crew of the JFK gave the wrong jet the heave ho (with full military honors) into the Red (Sea), clearly the Italian SLUF is another airframe impersonating Steamer’s faithful if deep-sixed Corsair II. Another A-7E replaced 158830/AC 403 for the remainder of VA-72’s ODS combat cruise. That jet, BuNo 159999, is pictured below.
Note that the video below is, by the poster’s own admission, not great quality, but it belongs with the story. Most of the footage was shot by LCDR John “Lites” Leenhouts, who as VA-72 Exec during the squadron’s ODS deployment. There’s lots of great SLUF action here- even if you have to squint a little. At 16:28 on the counter another VA-72 A-7E loses its canopy as it comes aboard. Can you say FOD walkdown? Perhaps this jet was the recipient of the canopy pulled from 158830. At 16:58 the sequence with Steamer’s barricade engagement begins. You can see that remaining nose wheel detach and continue forward after the jet comes to a stop in the barricade, and of course the ceremony. The video was uploaded to YouTube by Michael Shasteen.
Author’s note: Should anyone with first-hand knowledge of the events that January aboard JFK find any of the details above inaccurate please let the author know. Thanks very much to readers Tony Dicapo (VA-72 AT in 1991) for the clarification about Dostie’s callsign and the pics as well as Robert Goggin (PRCS(AW) USN, Ret) for the details about the first attempt at the burial.
This video contains quite a bit of the audio between the carrier, the LSOs, and Steamer during his flight and approach. Like the previous video there’s plenty of other impertinent content. The good stuff is between the beginning and the 4:23 mark. After that it’s mostly generic barricade engagement aftermaths and still shots included in this piece. Enjoy!