Readying for War...
In the Atlantic Ocean
8 November 1998
The world's first nuclear-powered aircraft carrier, the U.S.S. Enterprise (CVN-65), left on its 16th overseas deployment, from the naval station at Norfolk, Virginia, on 6 November 1998, in support of Operation “Desert Fox” against Iraq. The families of those sailors aboard the super-carrier braved the cold weather as the vessel departed the dock to the classic tune of “On the Road Again” and the theme music from Star Trek: The Next Generation. Less than forty-eight hours, the joy of “Anchors Aweigh” would turn to panic as the crew of the historic ship would be engaged in search and rescue operations to find their fellow shipmates.
The ship spent the first days of the deployment off the coast of Virginia, taking on board the Carrier Air Wing Three (CVW-3), and qualifying them for flight status. On the night of November 8th, the carrier was re-qualifying (“carquals”) their aviators and deck crews for night operations.
Over a hundred mile off of the coastline, and late during the landing operations a S-3B Viking, naval bureau # 159733, and an anti-submarine warfare aircraft assigned to Sea Control Squadron 22 (VS-22 - the “Zappers”), landed on the Enterprise's flight deck. At the flight controls was Commander James G. Wallace, 44, of Jacksonville, Florida, and Lieutenant – Junior Grade Kirk A. Schneringer of Cardiff, California. Typical of the fast-paced tempo on a carrier's flight deck, another plane, a EA-6B Prowler, was slated to land on the flight deck in short order.
Dropping like a Rock...
The Prowler, a radar-jamming jet assigned to Tactical Electronic Warfare Squadron 130 from NAS Whidbey Island, Washington, was quickly bearing down onto the landing zone. The carrier's Landing Signal Officer (LSO) recognized the potential hazard, and quickly declared a Fouled Deck, signaling a “go-around” to the Prowler. But, as the jet powered up to retake to the night skies, it clipped the landed Viking, causing a large explosion and fireball on the carrier's deck.
Both flight crews quickly ejected from the inferno, and the burning wreck of the Prowler was slung forward into the cold ocean water below. The ship sounded “general quarters”, and the crash & salvage team immediately responding to the blaze by applying of fire extinguishing foam within seconds of the collision, and brought the fires under control within seven minutes all together. Overall, the damage control teams were able to limit damage to other aircraft on the flight deck, and insure no one else was injured, although after the crew stood down from the alert, the forward battle dressing station remained available to those who suffered from minor wounds and burns.
Much to the surprise of the ship's crew, one of the ejected Viking crewmembers was quickly found, entangled by his parachute in the antennae complex of the carrier's command island, the other crewman was found in the cold, choppy seas, and was quickly rescued. Both were rushed to the Naval Medical Center in Portsmouth, Virginia, and the wreckage of their Viking was jettisoned overboard.
The crew of the Prowler, however, was less fortunate. All four aboard - Lieutenant Commander Kurt W. Barich, 35, of Oak Harbour, Washington, and Lieutenants – Junior Grade Brendan J. Duffy, 27, of Annapolis, Maryland; Charles E. Woodward, 26, of Herndon, Virginia; and Meredith C. Loughran, 26, of Sanston, Virginia; were all lost overboard. In the search, the body of LtJG Duffy was found that night.
But even with the assistance of two other Navy ships operating near the Enterprise, the destroyer USS Gonzalez and the frigate USS Nicholas, in the search, along with HH-60 helicopters from Antisubmarine Squadron 7 based in Jacksonville, the remaining three were not found. After covering more than 100 square nautical miles on the water, and 700 nautical miles in the air, the search was suspended after 24 hours. The three missing were presumed dead in the 58 degrees waters.
Spiraling Out of Control...
The crew of the Enterprise held a memorial service for their fallen shipmates in hangar bay 1 at 0800 on the 11th. The following day, the Enterprise received orders to proceed at “best speed” to the Arabian Gulf in response to a growing situation in the Middle East regarding Iraq. Following a high-speed Atlantic transit, on November 23rd, the carrier entered the Strait of Hormuz, relieving the carrier U.S.S. Dwight D. Eisenhower (CVN-69).
In accordance with Navy policy, every landing on an aircraft carrier's flight deck is recorded, for training and investigative purposes. The PLATtape, as it is called, from this collision, was released by the Naval Safety Center after the conclusion of the accident investigation.