Depart 5 – Arriving WestPac

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ABE-3 Jim Gardner
“I was going over your site where I saw your video on the F-4 ramp strike. I was sitting in the “hell hole” where we kept the barricade ramps where I was not supposed to be. At the time I was wire checker/hook runner. I watched him as he turned final and it seemed he was having problems staying lined up and he was chasing the glide slope as he would “drop below the fantail” out of my view then come back up into view. As I remember the deck was also pitching more than usual so I attributed some of what I was seeing to that until he was long in the groove and he disappeared again, as I began to stand up I saw the reflection of his burners on the water so I took a dive to the cat walk. I looked up as he hit the ramp, ducked down but still watching I saw the burning fuel washing across the deck and saw both ejections. The next thing I remember is collapsing the pilot or RIOs chute as it came by me on its way to the fantail. I almost wasted his harness as I really did not know how to get him out of it except with my barricade removal tool (buck knife). Lt. Koblitz, our A/G officer got to him at that point, stopped me from cutting the harness and flipped the release.
I learned a lot in those few seconds. I did not hear the impact, I did not hear the explosion(s) in fact, I did not hear anything until you or the air boss was calling “Fire on the Flight Deck” and I think I remember “Man Overboard”. It was a very surreal moment of time. When I walked back across to A/G deck edge I looked over at the stack of barricade ramps where I had been sitting only to see the tail hook of that F-4. From that point on I embraced a few more rules such as I never pulled my jersey sleeves up and I never sat in the hell hole! I did go see the big dent in the bulkhead of the safety office where the tail hook hit.”


  1. Author

    Captain Nick,

    First, it was great to hear from you, sir, and thanks so very much for sending the info on the A-7B that I shelled out of! Naval Aviation, as you know so very well, is a small world! So very few of us, in the big picture, had the opportunity and honor to fly Navy jets and serve our country.
    I want you to know, sir, that I do a lot of public speaking, contracted with American Speaker’s Bureau, and I refer to you in my Leadership presentation. As I learned from you, Lew Chatham and numerous others, the most important trait of Leadership is “Take care of your people”! I’ll never forget the night the F-4 hit the ramp, and your response to the Admiral, who ordered us to fly that night. Also, your countless actions that simply showed your constant support of your troops.

    It was an honor to serve under your command on Ranger and it was a bittersweet feeling leaving the Navy for the airline world, as I loved it so. ( with the exception of an 8 month vacation in the Hanoi Hilton…)
    Thank you sir for your selfless service to our country and being the ultimate representative of what Leadership is all about.

    Lt. Michael Penn, USN

  2. Author

    “Skipper I remember that night vividly. I ran up on the flight deck to make sure that Greg “Rugdance” Wooldridge was ok and he was after landing just prior. I ended up dragging our XO off the deck as he was trying to direct the yellow shirts and getting in the way. Just to show it can happen to anybody on a dark night the F-4 driver was Gary Caswell one of the best. Fortunately no one was hurt. It was the hook checker’s first night solo. As he approached the foul line and the a/c exploded he fainted fortunately as the debris flew overhead. On a last note I think that same Admiral disapproved Ranger getting underway as a major typhoon approached Subic. Would have been much safer underway as you wanted instead of tearing up the pier and putting Ranger in jeopardy. Oh well what does a LT know.

    Press on Skipper.

  3. I remember us working on the (4) 40,000 GPD evaporators in 2 AUX prior to the hurricane. The repairs continued during the hurricane with many in P-4 Division working around the clock nonstop. If I remember correctly repairs completed just after the hurricane subsided and some repair parts arrived.

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