It was time to go.
The aircrew of the US Navy E-2C Hawkeye aircraft had been working through the NATOPS1 emergency procedure for “ENGINE FIRE IN FLIGHT” and had reached the final point on the checklist:
“If fire warning light remains ON, and fire is still evident: BAILOUT, DITCH OR LAND.”
The twin-engine Hawkeye had just launched from the aircraft carrier when the starboard engine fire warning light illuminated, and despite working through the engine fire emergency checklist, the entire engine nacelle was engulfed in flames. Of the three choices in the procedure, landing or ditching always had been preferred to the bailout. The E-2C does not have ejection seats, and the five-man crew knew that successful bailout scenarios had not happened before. This crew chose to bailout. At an altitude of 4,000 feet, the crew released the parachutes from their seats, made their way to the main entrance hatch and jumped out, the three naval flight officers (NFOs) first, then the two pilots.
1. “Naval Aviation Training and Operational Procedures Standardization,” the prescribed flight operating instructions for naval aircraft, includes emergency checklists that aircrew commit to memory.
2. U.S. Navy Safety Center Mishap report, “161343 08JUL1991_E-2C-VAW-122_LOST_AT_SEA”
3. The “Plane Guard” SH-3 Sea King helicopters are always the first to launch. They provide active search and rescue capability for the area near the carrier and are also the last to recover as the end of flight operations.
4. The author will use aircrew ranks as were held in 1991.
5. Peter Mersky, “5 Survived!” Approach 37, no. 10 (May 1992): 16. The NATOPS procedure warns negative air pressure caused by open escape hatches may prevent jettisoning of the main entrance door. The Hawkeye launches from the catapult with the these hatches open to accommodate possible ditching.
6. Allen was the Operations Officer for the CVW-6 Carrier Air Group Commander and not a member of VF-11.
7. The NATOPS procedure calls for the pilot in the left seat, where Lemmon was flying, to bail out last.
8. Lieutenant Steven “ABREK” Zilberman was unable to bail out and was sadly lost in this mishap during Operation Enduring Freedom. https://rememberingtrueheroes.home.blog/2019/04/02/navy-lt-miroslav-s-zilberman/.