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
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.
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