Apr 15

I Still Hear Her Scream

Friday, April 15, 2016 12:01 AM



Morning colors has just been played and Old Glory streams from the flagstaff. The morning muster formations are breaking up and the enlisted men and officers are heading for their duty stations. It’s Tuesday and I have a meeting with my boss to discuss a proposed air show that we are considering for Armed Forces Day. It is May 14, 1968, and the Vietnam War is raging in southeast Asia and enraging our nation. The consensus of the senior officers is that we should put on an aerial acrobatic display for the local community as part of the annual commemoration. We felt strongly at the time that we needed to re-instill some pride in our military.

Commander William Winfrey and I work on the military side of a larger facility called Naval Air Development Center Johnsville in Bucks County in eastern Pennsylvania. It is a place rich with history. Purchased by the Navy in the 1940s, the facility built and modified military aircraft, including the famous Brewster Buccaneer dive bomber. At the time, it also housed the largest centrifuge, capable of spinning a man up to 16 Gs. Here, Project Mercury astronaut training took place. Commander Winfrey was charged with the responsibility of providing men and maintaining the equipment for this facility.

That morning, I meet with Commander Winfrey and the conversation turns from discussing the morning flight schedule to the proposed air show. He informed me that there would be two pilots coming to do a demonstration show for us that day. After lunch, we walk back over to the airfield just in time to see the second demonstration pilot perform his rehearsal. A bright yellow biplane completes its landing and taxis over to the parking area. A pilot climbs out wearing a Navy flight suit with a white silk scarf draped around his neck. He looks like he has just stepped out of a barnstorming magazine from the 1930s.

As we approach him, a black automobile pulls up in front of the hanger and two men get out. One is carrying a large television news camera and the other person looks familiar. As they approach, we immediately recognize one of the men as Tom Snyder from the local NBC affiliate, WCAU-TV. He does the nightly news in Philadelphia. He later became a national television personality, best known for hosting The Tomorrow Show and The Late, Late Show. Tom introduces his cameraman and Commander Winfrey introduces the pilot to all of us. He is Paul H. Maguire, a lieutenant commander in the Naval Reserve who lives in nearby Jenkentown. He flies a yellow 2T-1A Great Lakes Special: a biplane with an open cockpit that has been outfitted as a highly maneuverable aerobatic airplane. The instruments normally found on the flight panel directly in front of the pilot are embedded in the trailing edge of the upper wing so that the pilot can see them when his head is cocked back doing aerobatic maneuvers.

The pilot explains the complicated aerial maneuvers that he will perform for the demonstration. We are impressed. He climbs back into his aircraft and we walk to the corner of the hanger to watch the cameraman set up his equipment. As we watch the yellow plane taxi to the run-up area, we hear the throaty roar of the engine as Lieutenant Commander Maguire puts it through its pre-flight tests. And soon he is taking position on the runway.

With the tower’s permission to takeoff, he begins his roll, gaining speed and then quickly lifting the plane into the air. Racing down the runway about a hundred feet above the runway, he suddenly rolls the aircraft inverted and continues to fly upside down past us. The plane begins to climb, but it is upside down! He rolls upright and begins a series of spectacular maneuvers that make all of us stare in awe. Diving down towards the runway, he inverts again. Halfway down the runway, he rolls upright and increases his speed. And then he pulls back on the stick and it looks like the airplane has just made a ninety-degree turn straight up. It keeps climbing and falls over onto its back and continues to fly inverted. Then it makes a ninety-degree dive straight down pulling out at the last possible minute and touches his wheels to the ground. The tires smoke at impact and he slows the plane to a crawl! He quickly turns off the runway and taxies back to the hanger. We just stand there with our mouths wide open, still not believing what we had just witnessed. A Square Loop! It can’t be done, but we just saw it.

Tom Snyder is yelling at his cameraman. “Did you get that?”

“No!” he replies. “I ran out of film!”

“I am going to ask him to do it again so load your camera,” responds Snyder. And he walks over to the pilot and talks to him. The pilot nods and climbs back into the aircraft.

“He’s going to do that square thing again,” yells Snyder.

Snyder, Commander Winfrey, the cameraman and I are standing on the crash pad. The camera is loaded and the operator is focusing on the approaching plane. Lieutenant Commander Maguire makes his roll and continues toward us inverted and then begins his climb out. Once past the end of the runway, he rolls over and continues his climb for altitude. He then turns down wind and flies back to the opposite end of the runway. Turning, he begins to dive for the deck and races towards us at about fifty feet off the concrete. Just as he approaches us he begins a rapid rate of climb to straight up but, as he does, the lower wing separates and folds back along the fuselage. Simultaneously, the upper wing fold backs over the cockpit. Pieces of debris are tumbling down towards us. We are running to avoid being hit and still looking up at the stricken plane. The momentum of the aircraft through the air continues, as it appears to continue to fly towards the end of the runway. It is coming down and fast.

We start to run after it. Men who had stopped work to watch are racing from the hanger in the same direction. The plane is falling as if in slow motion. It hits just inside the airfield perimeter fence and bounces back into the air. It flips and comes down again, only this time inverted. And then there is stillness, broken only by the screaming siren of the approaching crash vehicles. Men have reached the airplane and, in a Herculean show of strength, they lift and flip the plane right side up.

Commander Winfrey turns to the cameraman. “Stay right there, we will need to develop that film for a formal investigation.”

The ambulance rolls down the taxiway and pulls up by the crowd. It quickly opens as the paramedics run to the plane. They carefully extract the pilot and lay him on the grass. And then the lights are turned off and we know it is over.

Commander Winfrey turns to me and says, “Emil, call the chaplain. I am designating you CACO. I want the both of you to go and inform the widow of the tragedy and tend to her needs.”

“Aye Aye, Sir.” I replied. Geez, what the hell is a CACO? I wondered as I head back to the hanger. An abbreviation for a Casualty Assistance Calls Officer, the CACO is the title of the designated officer that works closely with a military chaplain to inform the family of a death and makes all of the arrangements if they need assistance.

What am I going to say to the pilot’s widow? His children? I have never done this before. I sank down into a chair, taking in the fact that I had just witnessed a violent death. I was numb, and I just didn’t know how to prepare myself for the task at hand.

A few minutes later the chaplain arrives and we speak. He offers to break the news to the family and we get into the car. This is the longest drive I will ever take. As we pull up in front of the pilot’s house, we see children playing in the back. The front door is open because the weather is warm. A lady wearing a house dress, her hair swept back comes to the door and freezes. She looks at us and lets out an unforgettable scream: “NO!!” It was chilling and echoed throughout the neighborhood.

Before we could say anything, she slumps back against the open door. She knows. She has heard on the radio there was an aircraft accident nearby and the two of us stepping out of that Navy car confirms her fears. I was sweating profusely as I introduced the chaplain. He guided her over to the couch and sat next to her as I scampered to a straight back chair and tried to compose myself before I blurted anything out. Calmly he delivered the message that I could not seem to let come out. I had experienced my share of near-death experiences as a test pilot, but this was different. I was picturing someone making the same call at my house and that was terrifying.

We call the funeral home and we wait until one of her family arrived. The sound of the children gleefully playing outside is unnerving. They are unaware of the tragic news. As we drive away, the chaplain pats my shoulder and says softly, “The first time is always the hardest.”

Later that night my wife and I are watching the evening news, waiting to see what Tom Snyder would say. He hurries through the local news and then he looks into the camera and there are tears in his eyes. He slowly tells the story as the film begins to appear on the screen. Dubbed into the tail end of the film is some additional footage taken by some observers at the air field that were filming from the roof of the main building. Their visual perspective is different than that of the cameraman shooting straight up at the crippled plane. You can see the pilot. He is holding up the upper wing with one hand as he attempts to steer the crippled plane. It falls behind another building and Tom continues his story: “This man knew what was about to happen to him but he also knew that there was a factory of people just off the end of the runway on one corner and a gas station on the other. When the crash crew got to the aircraft and looked inside, they found that the pilot had turned off the engine, and turned off the gas to prevent a fire in case he hit one of the buildings.” And then the screen went blank.

The air show was cancelled for Armed Forces Day that year and in its place a tribute was staged for the deceased pilot. I still dream about this pilot, his final flight, and his heroic efforts to avoid more casualties. Some nights I wake up with a jolt because I still hear his widow’s scream. займ онлайн

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