USS Kitty Hawk sailors recount rescue after F/A-18 night landing accident
The crew of a fighter jet lost at sea when they tried to land on the USS Kitty Hawk — and troops who saved some of those crewmembers — recall last Saturday night as one they won’t soon forget.
The F/A-18F Super Hornet from Strike Fighter Squadron 102 was attempting a night recovery, or landing, about 6:30 p.m., according to a Kitty Hawk spokeswoman. When the Atsugi Naval Air Facility aircraft couldn’t stop, both pilots ejected.
“The aircraft was lost after landing when the No. 3 arresting gear wire parted,” Chief Petty Officer B. Natalie Dias, Kitty Hawk’s deputy public affairs officer, said Monday.
The Super Hornet subsequently fell off the aircraft carrier and into the Pacific Ocean about 100 miles southeast of Yokosuka Naval Base, the Kitty Hawk’s permanent base of operation.
“An SH-60F Seahawk of Helicopter Antisubmarine Warfare Squadron 14, which was on the flight deck at the time of the accident, sustained substantial damage to its tail section” when the plane hit it, Dias added. “No damage impacting the operational capability of USS Kitty Hawk occurred.”
Six servicemembers were injured in the accident, with three still hospitalized as of Monday afternoon, the spokeswoman said. The Navy on Monday released the names, ranks and medical conditions of those injured and stated that the incident remains under investigation.
The Super Hornet pilot, Lt. j.g. Jon Vanbragt, and weapons system officer, Lt. Cmdr. Markus Gudmundsson, were uninjured but had a few tense minutes in the drink.
“We saw the aircraft’s tail … and it looked like the ship was about to run us over,” stated Vanbragt in a ship news report Monday.
“But then we saw the rescue team coming and we knew we would be all right.”
Two swimmers — Petty Officers 2nd Class Jerard Cook and Bennie Romiti — were lowered from separate rescue helicopters. “At first, I didn’t believe that it was for real when I heard the call coming in over the radio,” said Cook, an aviation warfare systems operator with Helicopter Anti-Submarine Squadron 14.
In the ship news report, Romiti, also an aviation warfare systems operator with HS-14, described the rescue as almost surreal. “As soon as I hit the water, my adrenaline shot through the roof,” he stated in the report. “I did everything I was trained to do when it comes to rescuing people in the water.”
Cook hooked Vanbragt to the helicopter cable. “He was calmer than I was,” Cook recalled in the report. “I was so excited, I didn’t even notice the water was cold.”
But others noticed the two petty officers’ efforts. Cook and Romiti, said spokeswoman Dias, were honored and congratulated Sunday by Capt. Tom Parker, Kitty Hawk skipper, and Rear Adm. James D. Kelly, commander of Carrier Strike Group 5, who presented them with memorial coins.
“It feels great to know that we saved two people,” Romiti stated, “so they can go back to their wives and kids.”