Close Shave II
By CDR. Jim Newcomb
I have read Grampaw Pettibones account of the Whale breaking a
NUMBER 2 wire and it reminded me of mine board Ticonderoga on the 13th of
November 1961, VAH-4 DET BRAVO, BuNo 138966. My account is similar but I flew in ground
effect and luckily didnt contact the water. It goes like this... I was tasked by my
OinC Cdr. Frank Haak to fly the skipper of the F-8 Squadron, Cdr. Bob Baldwin and the
Skipper of the F3H Squadron....Cdr. Smith to Cubi Point. I reluctantly left my B/N, LT.
Ziggie G. Williams on board and took my Third Crewman, Chuck Connell with me so I could
have him do the tough part of refueling and repacking the chute, if required, after
dropping off the two COs.
Things went well on the drop off and the turnaround. Got back over Tico and had plenty of
fuel, 5000 pounds plus. Approach was uneventful and as we touched down, did the
"power and speed board" NATOPS thing That Ziggie always LOUDLY reminded me
about, and that is when I felt the wire let go....it left us slow, nose high and looking
down the port bow catwalk. I dropped the left wing, slapped the gear handle up and when
the starboard wing cleared the catwalk, leveled the wings, picked a white cap about 200
yards out on which to splash down on. As I approached the water, those beauteous J five
sevens p one zeros were turnin' and burnin' and ground effect kicked in and we flew out of
it. As we were climbing out I gave a call " Panther tower, this is Hollygreen 10, Did
I break a wire or my hook point?" No answer. I called again, as Im climbing for
all Im worth ...still no answer. I opined to Connell that because they werent
answering we probably broke a wire and the flight deck was a mess, so I kept on climbing.
Tower finally came up as we were passing through 20,000 feet and tells us to go to Strike
Control. Connell switched us to button 12 and they give me a heading and distance "
pigeons" to Naha but no info as to what happened. We landed at Naha and spent a week
in that Mecca with little money and in our flight suits as they turned greener and until
we got a message from Tico to go to Cubi.
We were not cleared back aboard until the 27th until the mishap evaluation was
The max trap weight was reduced to 48,000 # gross weight from 50,000# and I recall
thinking for the rest of the cruise that I sure wish I had that extra two thousand pounds
of JP 4 to play with. The report I was given was that the port purchase cable parted at
about 180 feet down from the cross deck pendant swage fitting. The interior of the
multi-stranded wire has a core of hemp which gives the cable elasticity. The hemp had
degenerated from sitting in salt water in plugged up guide tubes. I never saw that report
so I am reporting what was given to me and I dont recall by whom. Upon breaking, the
frayed end apparently went supersonic in a whipping motion and sprayed the starboard side
of the vertical fin and the underside of the starboard horizontal stabilizer and elevator
with hundreds of small pieces of West German Solengin steel wire as it fed through the
hook. I know that doesnt make sense but I do know that the holes were there. They
looked like they were pierced with an old-fashioned beer can opener.
The wire went up forward and amazingly did not hit anybody or anything. It did break the
windows in Pri-Fly and came back along the area between the right landing foul line and
the Island, hit a Wakasha and then wrapped around the Starboard mirror (yes, we had two
mirrors on the Tico at that time, a port and a starboard but to this day but I dont
know why). A CPO, whose name I wish I could remember, had taken refuge behind that mirror
had his legs badly broken. I pray that he recovered fully.
The postscript to this tale is that we had another broken wire on the Tico by the same
aircraft Piloted by Cdr. Frank Haak (Rear Admiral RET) and crew within a month after mine.
I can let him tell that one but I can tell you he flew out of it as well.
CDR USN RET
Editors Note: A-3 landing weights were steadily reduced until the
maximum landing weight was set at 48,000#s. EA-3Bs, RA-3Bs, EKA-3Bs all had basic weights
around 44,000 so you didnt have much room to play with when it came to bringing a
Whale home. ERA-3Bs were so heavy they were not allowed aboard CVs.