God seems to like toying with military aircraft.

In 1991, Lt. Keith Gallagher, the bombardier/navigator of a KA-6 tanker plane flying off the carrier Abraham Lincoln, suffered a "partial ejection". During a mild negative-G maneuver, the latch retaining the ejection seat in place broke, and the explosive charge that was supposed to deploy the crewman's parachute punched a hole in the canopy. The pilot, Lt. Mark Baden, heard and felt the cabin depressurize, looked over, and saw his partner halfway out of the cabin.

The pilot responded quickly, slowing the plane down as much as possible and calling the carrier to request clearance for an emergency landing. Audio clips of the communication between the plane and the carrier are remarkable for the calm professionalism shown by all parties involved.

Gallagher tried to pull the ejection handle on the seat to complete the ejection, but to no avail; he crossed his arms over his chest to try and keep them from being torn off by the 270 kph airstream, but lost consciousness soon after.

Approaching the carrier, the pilot was worried that the jagged break in the plexiglass canopy was going to cut Gallagher in half on touchdown, but saw no choice other than to go ahead and land the plane.

Miraculously, Gallagher's parachute had wrapped around the tail of the plane -- loosely enough that the plane's control surfaces were still workable, but tightly enough for the parachute harness to restrain him from flying through the broken canopy. This was Gallagher's 100th carrier landing, on his 26th birthday.

Gallagher dislocated one shoulder, and seriously stretched a nerve in the other shoulder, but recovered and flew again six months later. It turned out that a lot of aging ejection seats on naval tactical aircraft were accidents waiting to happen; they were all inspected and many replaced as a result of this incident.

More information on is available at http://www.gallagher.com/ejection_seat/.

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