Philippine Sea crash reminds veteran of similar air incident in 1969

A sailor with Fleet Logistics Support Squadron helps prepare a C-2A Greyhound at U.S. Naval Station Guantanamo Bay on Jan. 23, 2010. The recent crash of a Navy C2-A Greyhound in the Philippine Sea reminded a West Virginia veteran of a similar incident in 1969.



A recent crash of a Navy C2-A Greyhound in the Philippine Sea reminded veteran Wilbur England of a close call he once had and brought up painful memories of friends he lost in a similar incident.

On Nov. 22, the C2-A carrying 11 crew and passengers crashed into the ocean, leaving three missing. The other eight were rescued.

England, 70, of Granville, W.Va.,  joined the Navy in 1967 after graduating from high school.

England said he was telling his story now because this was a good opportunity to remind people that even while not at war, the men and women of the Armed Forces risk their lives for our freedom.

"I wanted to be a sailor,"  England said of joining the Navy.

He served at Naval Air Station Atsugi, Japan, in VRC-50, a fleet logistics squadron, as a crew member aboard a C2-A.

England enlisted as an aviation engine mechanic, but said that when he found out he could volunteer for the air crew, he did so.

The C2-A is designed specifically to deliver mail, troops and other high priority cargo to air craft carriers, England said.

As a Greyhound crew member, England was responsible for loading and unloading cargo and making sure the plane was properly configured for the cargo that was being carried.

England said the turnaround time was often less than 25 minutes from landing on an aircraft carrier to taking off again.

On July 2, 1969, 22,000 feet in the air, England said, the port, or left, propeller separated from the plane, cutting a hole in the plane. Part of the gearbox fell away.

"They dived immediately," he said.

The pilots descended to 12,000 feet as England and his fellow aircrew made sure the eight passengers on board had their air masks on.

England said he next went up to the cockpit to find out what happened and discovered that all radio communication was lost.

The pilot pointed out the window. England looked out and saw half the gearbox and the propeller were missing.

"There was a hole [in the plane] about 8 inches wide and 8 feet long," he said.

He moved to the hole and looked for leaking hydraulic fluid or sparks, but discovered none.

The pilot used the plane's remaining engine to travel about 200 miles to Cubi Point, Philippines, and did a flyby of the tower to make sure the landing gear was still usable.

England said that once he looked at the damage and saw no hydraulic fluid, he knew the plane would make it back.

He received a citation for his efforts, but England said he was just doing his job.
Everyone on board the plane survived.

Several months later, on Oct. 2, 1969, five of England's friends were not so lucky. England was home on leave when he heard the news.

A C2-A Greyhound returning from the USS Constellation crashed with 21 crew and passengers, killing all aboard.

England knew all five pilots and crew, and even trained one of them.

"It affected me," he said.

England said the pilot in the most recent crash "flew the hell out of that plane," landing in the ocean to save eight people.

"We need to be thankful," England said of all men and women in the armed forces.

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