USS Hancock (CVA-19) 1967

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  1. Thanks to the wonderful world of the internet, I was able to compile the following chain of events of the day of Jim Hise’s accident. As I had witnessed the result of the mishap, from a distance of no greater than 50 yards, my memory of the event has stayed vivid for 49 years now (confirmed by the below information).

    The date was Saturday, March 25, 1967. You and me, Nick, (along with the rest of the ship’s complement) awakened to a clear, sunny day and calm seas at HANCOCK’s assigned location on Yankee Station in the Tonkin Gulf. That night would usher in with a full moon. Unlike most nights with a full moon at sea, this one was preceded by the day’s ‘main’ event, and not to be enjoyed.

    The day’s plan consisted of strike mission FLT OPS. Both Jim and his brother George were flying that day; I’m not sure if they were in the same sortie flight group. Upon returning to ship from his mission, Jim made a perfect #3 wire landing at 1415 hrs.. Unfortunately, the arresting cable broke somewhere in the below deck arresting machinery. The cable played out to the end of the angle deck, before releasing from Jim’s F8-E tail-hook. At the time, I was approximately half way between the angle deck and the port forward flight deck. I had just written the numbers of the returned A/C requiring LOX, on the side of the LOX cart, with my grease pen. Jim’s plane would have been the next in line, for me to query for LOX status. As it happened, I looked up just in time to see Jim’s F8 beginning to stall. As he passed me at eye level, I saw him grab the face curtain handles and pull forward, jettisoning the canopy. I could clearly see the silver wrist-watch on his right arm glinting in the sun as he pulled on the face curtain. By the time his Martin-Baker seat ignited, the nose of his plane was in the water. As the seat separated from the plane, it had already entered the water and immediately sank… leaving a trail of bubbles on the surface, as it descended. His plane sank just as quickly.

    Wanting to do something to help, I grabbed my flashlight from the LOX cart and threw it overboard. By then, we were approximately half a ship’s length past the impact location. Nothing remained on the sea surface to show what happened. I remember looking around for our rescue helo, and not seeing it. I finally spotted it far in the distance, aft and starboard. I remember it being further afield than normal. As it turned out, even if it were hovering immediately adjacent to where Jim went in, there was no hope of a different outcome. I don’t think Jim was at any time aware of his fate, as the face curtain concealed his view, and there wasn’t time to comprehend all that was transpiring. It was all over in milliseconds.

    You will note in reading Jim’s entry from the Vietnam Memorial Wall (link below), that there are inconsistencies with the above narrative. One of Jim’s former room mates has left a note on Jim’s page, commenting about the tabulated errors.

    Below that link, you will find HANCOCK’s deck log for March 25, 1967. Happily for me, the deck log confirmed my 49 year old recollection of the event. It also provided additional detail. If you expand the images of the deck log, the information can be easily read. Note that, what at first appears to show the BuNo. of Jim’s F8 as 147147, is actually 149147, when zoomed in on. When double checking the BuNo. 147147, I quickly learned that number was assigned to a helicopter. I then went back to the deck log, and found on closer inspection, that the BuNo. was actually 149147.

    Next task was to determine why my friend, who I always think, is capable of exhibiting near total recall, from the day his eyes opened at birth, does not recall the above event. I quickly found the answer in your flight log. One of the days flight op missions, was to launch you off to Da Nang that morning in 038. From Da Nang, you flew to ENTERPRISE, before returning to HANCOCK. You weren’t aboard, to be in PRI FLY to have seen the accident.

    You will see in your flight log entry, that you shared flying that day with someone else. Is it possible that Gene was with you that day? Also, upon your return to ship that day, you had to ‘choose’ between wires 1,2 & 4, as #3 was disconnected and dragged to the starboard edge of the landing zone following the accident. If you were credited with grabbing #4, you could have argued that you ‘aimed’ for #3, and only missed because it wasn’t there.

    As our old friend Paul Harvey used to say… “and that’s the rest of the story – Good Day!”

    Regards,

    Ron

    P.S. – Be sure to look at the images on the Vietnam Memorial Wall link. You will note in the image of Jim standing in front of the A4, that the right sleeve of his flight suit is rolled up.This is how it was when I saw his wrist watch glint in the sun. There is also an image of his March 31, on-board memorial service program.

  2. Author

    Captain Mike Sweeney, USMC

    “Nick: Just found you, I was Marine on Hancock. Saw you last in Subic when you were Ranger. “Love ’em to death,Sir.”
    You were the best leader of men I ever saw.

    Captain. Nick

    “This is the ‘Mike Marine’ that I tell Sea Stories about? The Marine I would fly into Danang, Vietnam when the carrier headed to Hong Kong for R&R. The Marine I would pick up and fly back to the ship covered in mud when we returned to the Gulf! The first thought I had when your e-mail arrived was “why the hell are the two of us still on planet earth talking to each other!!” We owe a huge debt of gratitude to the Almighty, Mike.

    1. My comment is in addition to Ron Jones’ rendition of the F8’s crash. I worked in the V6 GSE shop, and helped other Airdale buddies on the flight deck with their daily routines. Having just left the Para-loft just seconds before the Crusader went over the port side angle deck, I also witnessed the canopy blow from the aircraft. Next thing I remember about the day was seeing the F8 floating in the sea. I watched as the sea water rolled into the open cockpit. Next the tailpipe and vertical stabilizer went under the dark blue water.
      The starboard wing of the doomed plane slowly rose skyward and the aircraft rolled to the left. Just as the tip of the starboard wing disappeared under the water I remember seeing many violate flashes under water. I assume them to have been from the hot engine of exhaust system.

      The horror point of this deadly accident was a moment or so later when a P.R. friend and I saw the pilot in the South China Sea as the Hancock passed him. As I recall, the aviator was face down in the water with his flight helmet still on. His arms were beside his body, and I saw absolutely NO movement of his own. I knew if the parachute filled with water it would take the Pilot under the waves. Pilots carry a shroud cutter in their sleeve pockets for quick access so they may cut shroud lines when necessary.

      My thoughts of that exact moment was to jump into the sea and make an attempt to render any help I could to the Pilot. Because I had no flotation device readily available I guess I may have felt I really could not be of any real help. Hancock slipped past the downed Aviator and the helicopter from the port side finally came on the scene. I recall the helo hovered over the sea below them in a frantic search for the pilot. I saw a rope ladder from the rescue chopper as it dangled over the sight.

      I too have had many nights I couldn’t get the day’s recreation in my mind to subside. I am now on medication for some of the death and destruction I recall from the two cruises I made aboard the Hanna.

  3. Hey Captain Mike, this is Sgt Castile, Marine detachment, USS Hancock, 1965-1967, glad to see you made it

  4. If i am recalling correctly my ship USS Henderson DD-785 witnessed the event. We were in plane guard having escorted Rampage to the gulf in January 67 with DD-790 Shelton. I have several photos of our action with Hancock during 67 and will add from time time with your page’s permission. Joe Quinn, Lt. Jg.

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