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When Arresting Cables Snap Chaos Rules the Flight Deck

There’s a Whole Lot More to This Story Than a Miraculous Climbout

VAW-123 Hummer. Image via US Navy

Unless you’ve been living under a rock without Wi-Fi you’ve probably seen the PLAT (pilot’s landing aid television) video making the rounds these days of the E-2C NP Hawkeye barely making it off the deck after an arresting cable parted aboard the carrier USS Dwight D. Eisenhower (CVN-69) back on Friday 18 March 2016. The Hummer pilot definitely deserves the credit for keeping the bird out of the drink after going off the angle seemingly without enough speed to remain airborne. Here’s the video of the mishap (a carefully chosen word in this case) uploaded to YouTube by The Virginian-Pilot. There’s much more to the story though. Stick around for the rest…

At the time the Ike was conducting workups prior to their 2016 Mediterranean Deployment off the Virginia coast. Carrier Airborne Early Warning Squadron ONE TWO THREE (VAW-123) Screwtops was one of the squadrons making up Carrier Air Wing THREE (CVW-3). CVW-3 was preparing for their first deployment aboard Ike in quite a while. The carrier had completed an extensive overhaul and returned to sea during September of 2015.

VAW-123 Hummer. Image via US Navy

At 1352, a VAW-123 Hawkeye, side number 602 piloted by Lieutenant Matthew “Noodle” Halliwell with Lieutenant Commander Kellen Smith in the right seat and NFO Lieutenant Commander Thomas Browning also aboard, entered the break and prepared to trap aboard the Ike. “Noodle” called the ball and got lined up. The approach wasn’t exactly textbook, with the Hummer settling a bit in close, but the aircraft’s tailhook still caught the number 4 cross-deck pendant. During the runout of the arresting cable something that hadn’t happened aboard a US Navy aircraft carrier since 2005 did- the arresting cable parted. As snapped arresting cables are wont to do, the 1.5 inch wide cable whipped around the deck injuring several crew members working on the roof.

Deck crew trying to avoid parted cable on the Ike. Image via YouTube video capture

By all appearances the Hawkeye was done for. Those who have seen similar footage of or witnessed aircraft dribbling off the forward end of the angle after a hook failure or partial arrestment surely expected a large splash to appear marking the watery demise of the Hummer. During a deep settle to an estimated altitude of ten to 15 feet above the waves the aircraft dropped completely out of sight for almost four seconds. Inside the Hummer training kicked in; they sucked up the gear and blew the ditching hatches; everything in the cockpit was firewalled and the controls were fervently set for climb. Miraculously the aircraft responded and climbed back into the frame in one dry piece. LT Halliwell didn’t take a chance on a recovering aboard with a potentially damaged hook though. He recovered instead at Naval Station Norfolk Chambers Field, the East coast home of the VAW community.

VAW-123 Hummer. Image via US Navy

Back on the deck of the Eisenhower, the carnage was incredible. Injuries suffered by two of the deck  crew and six VAW-123 maintainers ranged from cuts and bruises to broken arms, legs, ankles, and dislocated hips and more, some of which took more than a year to heal. At least one man’s life was saved by his “cranial”, the helmet every deck crewman wears while working on the roof. Six men were evacuated and treated ashore. A VRC-40 Rawhides C-2A (R) Greyhound and a HSC-7 Dusty Dogs MH-60R Knighthawk were damaged by the cable.

Navy deck crew wearing their cranials (helmets). Image via US Navy

Two days later the Ike was conducting flight ops again. The three men aboard the Hawkeye received the Armed Forces Air Medal. An investigation revealed that the arresting gear for the number 4 cross deck pendant had been improperly serviced earlier in the day. The mishap aboard the Eisenhower was the first of its kind since 2005, when the #3 arresting cable on the carrier USS Kitty Hawk (CVA-63) snapped causing the loss of a VFA-102 Diamondbacks F/A-18F Super Hornet and injuries to six of the Hawk’s deck crew. The crew of the F/A-18F was recovered.

VAW-123 Hummer. Image via US Navy

From 1 June 2016 to 30 December 2016 CVW-3 aboard the Eisenhower during the carrier’s 2016 Med Cruise consisted of VFA-32 Fighting Swordsmen flying the Boeing F/A-18F Super Hornet, VFA-86 Sidewinders and VFA-105 Gunslingers flying the Boeing F/A-18E Super Hornet, VFA-131 Wildcats flying the old-school McDonnell Douglas (Boeing) F/A-18C(N) Hornet, VAQ-130 Zappers flying the Boeing EA-18G Growler, VAW-123 Screwtops flying the Grumman E-2C NP Hawkeye, HSC-7 Dusty Dogs flying the Sikorsky MH-60S Knighthawk, HSM-74 Swamp Foxes flying the Sikorsky MH-60R Seahawk, and a Detachment from VRC-40 Rawhides flying the Grumman C-2A(R) Greyhound.

Here’s the news story with pilot interviews also uploaded to YouTube by The Virginian-Pilot.

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Bill Walton

Written by Bill Walton

Bill Walton is a life-long aviation enthusiast and expert in aircraft recognition. As a teenager Bill helped his engineer father build an award-winning T-18 homebuilt airplane in their Wisconsin basement. Bill is a freelance writer, an avid sailor, engineer, announcer, husband, father, uncle, mentor, coach, and Navy veteran. Bill lives north of Houston TX with his wife and son under the approach path to KDWH runway 17R, which means they get to look up at a lot of airplanes. A very good thing.

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