Navy Pilot Killed While Ejecting from a Crashing Phantom F4

A United States Navy pilot lost his life when an F-4 Phantom – an aircraft known as the Navy’s fastest, highest flying and longest-range fighter – was taking off from the famous USS Midway. As the pilot began his flight from the deck of the USS Midway, the harness attached to the steam catapult leading from the “horse” broke free from the wings, leaving the 45,000-pound fighter jet speeding toward the bow. There was a ram under the deck attached to the “horse” designed to hit a water brake cylinder to stop the catapult in a few feet. Because the aircraft had broken free, the cylinder exploded because the catapult was going too fast. The blast launched bolts and other foreign object debris (FOD) into the F-4’s starboard engine, causing it to lose power.

The power loss caused the jet to begin to roll and prompted the Air Boss, who commands each cycle of takeoffs and landings to yell over the radio, “Off the cat, eject eject.” The radar intercept officer sitting in the rear seat began the ejection sequence and safely ejected. But in the single second afterward, when the pilot is automatically ejected, the F-4 had rolled to the left and the pilot was killed when he was propelled into the water. We represented the pilot’s widow and young children in a lawsuit against the manufacturer, designer and heat treater of the water brake cylinder. Although the cylinder had been on the aircraft carrier’s deck for many years, metallurgy established it had been corroded from the inside out, a fact not detectable by visual inspection. We argued the cylinder had been improperly heat treated, making it brittle and subject to corrosion, which led to this tragedy.

AWARD: Confidential settlement

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