|Cat terrified at a dog. From life, by Mr. T. W. Wood.|
Illustration from Charles Darwin's The Expression of the Emotions in Man and Animals. Public Domain
Now that essay left me thinking deep thoughts. Watching that Tomcat lose an engine on launch, seeing both crewman eject, neither surviving is what I would call a significant emotional event (an SEE, as they taught us in sergeant school, BITD - never pronounced "see" but always spelled out "ess-ee-ee," for those who just have to know). An SEE is something that leaves its mark upon your psyche, something you will not forget. Ever.
I've had a few of those in my time, each having its own affect on me, each leaving its mark, so to speak. An SEE generates powerful emotions, remembering an SEE can kindle those emotions all over again. (Note that these are my definitions, I did some research online regarding SEEs and the web of world-wideness is all over the place regarding the topic. I think the Air Force must have given us the Psychology-Lite explanation of an SEE. Or I might just be "misremembering" things. I do that from time to time. I'm using the whole SEE terminology as shorthand for the point I'm trying to make. Yes, I'll get back to that. Even when I'm trying to be serious I tend to digress.)
One of my earliest memories is of a jet crash. It's as clear in my mind as if it had happened yesterday. I'm not sure what year it was, other than it was sometime in the mid-60s.
It was a beautiful summer day, The Olde Vermonter and I were inside, no doubt taking a water break from running through the woods and generally enjoying life. I remember Mom and Dad sitting in the living room. My youngest kid brother was still a baby, if I rightly recall.
It was then that we heard a low flying jet, something very rare in Vermont back in those days. Oddly enough we used to see the occasional P-2 Neptune come booming over the house at very low level. Not sure what that was all about, but we kids loved it and would rush outside to wave and revel in the sight.
|A Lockheed P2V-7 Neptune (BuNo. 135588) assigned to patrol squadron|
VP-7 Black Falcons flies over the Atlantic in 1964. Public Domain Photo
So we heard a jet, a small one from the sound of it, and it was low. So we started outside.
I remember stopping short in the doorway, my brother pushing to get through.
Why did I stop short? I could see the jet, a Lockheed T-33. It was shiny and all silver. But something told me, "This is not good."
|USAF Lockheed T-33A Shooting Star Public Domain Photo|
Because just as I saw the aircraft, which was beginning a shallow dive, it rolled over onto its back. I watched in horrified dismay as the aircraft proceeded down towards Cherry Hill. I could not for the life of me understand why the bird was upside down and getting lower.
Then there was an explosion. It was like a fiery orange and red blossom.
Bear in mind that this was not over a half a mile from our house. We lived on the side of a hill, Craig Hill it was called. Cherry Hill was not far away on the other side of the Black River Valley.
I dashed inside to tell my parents what I had seen, looking towards Cherry Hill from our living room, I saw another explosion. This time (thinking back on it) the explosion was different, it seemed to spring from the trees. (Later I learned from the girl up the street that the jet had exploded in mid-air, then again when it impacted the terrain. She, being at a higher elevation, had a better view of the event.)
When I saw the second explosion, the noise from the first was just rolling over us. Oddly enough all I remember is a hollow "boom," I don't remember any noise from the second explosion.
My Mom was convinced that the Russians were bombing us (this was at the height of the Cold War, not long after the Cuban Missile Crisis). I reassured her that it wasn't bombs.
We all looked across the valley at a column of black smoke rising from the woods. Wondering what had happened. Were the crew still on board? Did they manage to get out? What caused the crash?
Later we learned that the Air Force lost two pilots that day. While the government did come in to investigate and had sealed off the crash site, the local ghouls managed to get there at night and collect "souvenirs."
Most of the people in town were aghast at such behavior. Two of "our boys" died in that crash, how dare they scavenge the area?A few folks were actually turned into the police when they exhibited a scorched bit of metal they'd found. Different times back then.
I later learned that the Air Force suspected hypoxia was to blame for the crash. Something had caused the pilots to lose consciousness and that was all it took. No doubt a fault in the oxygen system. It happens. Anyone familiar with hypoxia knows that it can sneak up on you.
I have searched a number of on-line sources to determine the date of the crash and the exact circumstances. It has haunted me to this day, who those men were. Men who wore the same uniform as I did in later years.
Which brings me to this.
The WSO was in the DC area in early December on a cross-country flight. Lemoore to DC and then back again. (She and her pilot were in town long enough to catch the Army-Navy game. Good timing!)
On their flight back West, they had to put down in Texas. Seems their On-Board Oxygen Generating System (OBOGS) was having issues. As in, wasn't working right. Yes, the oxygen system had malfunctioned.
Yes, some memories came back when my daughter called me from Texas. Unpleasant memories. Triggered an emotion or two as well.
It's cool and awesome to have a daughter (and a son-in-law) in Naval Aviation.
It's also bloody terrifying at times.