Navy pilots awarded for quick reaction in March aircraft carrier mishap

By COURTNEY MABEUS | The Virginian-Pilot (Tribune News Service) | Published: August 11, 2016

NORFOLK, Va. (Tribune News Service) — Three pilots who saved an E-2C Hawkeye aircraft from crashing into the Atlantic Ocean following a March arresting-cable break on the flight deck of the USS Dwight D. Eisenhower have received the Armed Forces Air Medal for valor, the Navy said Thursday.

Lt. Cmdr. Thomas Browning, Lt. Cmdr. Kellen Smith and Lt. Matthew Halliwell were awarded for reacting in time to prevent the loss of the Hawkeye, which is assigned to the Norfolk-based Carrier Airborne Early Warning Squadron 123, or “Screwtops.” The award is presented for heroic actions or meritorious service while participating in aerial flight.

Halliwell was the pilot of the Hawkeye on March 18 when it attempted an arrested landing on the Ike. The steel cable broke and backlashed, injuring eight sailors on the deck.

Video of the incident shows a harrowing few seconds during which the aircraft disappears below the level of the Ike's deck. The Hawkeye got as close as 10 feet to the water before recovering and flying back to Norfolk Naval Station.

Smith was the Hawkeye's co-pilot and aircraft controller during the incident, the Navy said in a news release Thursday. He has been flying for 12 years.

"It all happened in about eight seconds," Smith said in the release. "While we were decelerating we heard a loud snap. When we would normally be coming to a stop, we weren't. Our years of training kicked in and we reacted on instinct."

The Hawkeye is an turboprop aircraft used for "command and control." It is recognizable by its 24-foot-diameter radar rotodome, a large disc attached to its upper fuselage.

Smith and Browning remain with the squadron, which left with the Ike on a seven-month deployment June 1. Halliwell is now working as a Hawkeye instructor, the Navy said.

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A video screen grab shows an E-2 Hawkeye landing on the USS Eisenhower in March 2016. A landing cable that was intended to stop the aircraft snapped and injured 8 sailors. The plane went overboard, but was able to regain air speed and altitude before hitting water.

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