Three pilots received the Armed Forces Air Medal after they managed to avoid a crash in a E2-C Hawkeye on the USS Dwight D. Eishenhower.
The arresting cable snapped when they were touching down on the aircraft carrier forcing them to fly off the edge of the fight deck. Miraculously, they were able to keep the plane from crashing into the water.
Lt. Cmdr. Thomas Browning, Lt. Cmdr. Kellen Smith and Lt. Matthew Halliwell with Airborne Early Warning Squadron 123 were honored for saving their own lives as well as the fate of the aircraft.
In a Navy statement, Smith said they were going through the Ike Strike Group’s pre-deployment Composite Training Unit Exercise. The plane hit the fourth landing cable on Ike’s flight deck and went down the runway before it snapped at the last second.
“While we were decelerating we heard a loud snap,” Smith said. “When we would normally be coming to a stop, we weren’t. Our years of training kicked in and we reacted on instinct. I slapped back the ditching hatch as we cleared the deck and began a deep settle. I would guess we were about 10 feet from the water before we lifted back up, but Lt. Smith expertly kept us climbing away. It was a sigh of relief when we were back in the air. It helps to know that at the critical moment, all we practice for this scenario actually works. The experience has made me much more confident in my training.”
Two Ike sailors and six VAW-123 maintainers were hit by the cable after it had snapped and six of them were evacuated for their injuries ranging from a sprained ankle to a fractured skull and a collapsed artery. Two aircraft on the flight deck were also damaged.
Three maintainers in charge of the arresting gear were disciplined and re-trained following the incident and the investigation that determined the Number four cable was not properly programmed.