Guemes Island Environmental Trust:

Intruder Roulette

Despite the reassurances offered by the Navy and the press, grave concerns for our safety continue as yet another A-6 Intruder crashed on November 6 - this one only moments in air time from our community.

The Navy rushed to assure us after the last pair of A6 crashes (July 24 in San Diego and August 9 at NAS Whidbey) that the A-6 itself is quite safe-after all, it is meticulously maintained and most of these incidents have been due to pilot error. Did you feel better knowing that?

This time, however, it was complete failure of the mechanisms that operate the plane's flight control surfaces that caused the crash. Fortunately, the crew ejected just before their aircraft plunged into the Strait of Juan de Fuca, one mile off the southern tip of Lopez Island. This was the 16th crash of a Whidbey-based plane in the last 10 years.

If you examine a map of the region, you'll notice that the Navy's decision to route its flights over Guemes Island requires each aircraft to "thread-the-needle" between the City of Anacortes and the refineries at March Point. Not only does the Navy assault us with tremendous noise and imperil us with planes whose safety record would bankrupt them instantly if they were a commercial carrier, they also place a densely populated and industrialzed area in jeopardy. The regional environment as a whole is at risk, as well, should one of these aircraft strike the refineries.

In a recent meeting with the Directors of the Guemes Island Property Owners' Association, the Navy said that they are not concerned about flying over the refineries since "the refineries are constructed to withstand catastrophic occurrences (such as the crash of one of their jets)." This attitude is flippant and cavalier. Do they consider human bodies to be so constructed too?

Why are these aircraft flying so far north, out of their historic patterns? What operational necessity justifies this level of risk? Is this the proper place to fly training maneuvers?

- Joseph Miller, Winter 1990

What? Me Worry?

When an A-6 aircraft plunged into Rosario Strait last November, safety concerns of Guemes Islanders, already high, rose still higher with that near miss. Since then, other accidents involving this hapless plane have occurred (such as the disappearance of an A-6 in the South China Sea in July). More disturbing, however, is information contained in the report from the Navy team investigating November's crash.

Several hydraulic system leaks occurred in this particular aircraft in August and September. In October, the aircraft managed to make a forced landing at a Grant County airport in spite of a "dual hydraulic system" failure before the combined hydraulic system failed.

Cmdr. Starling stated that he and Lt. Eagle, aware of the history of this aircraft, discussed emergency procedures for hydraulic failures before their flight-if both systems failed, the crew would eject. (This level of confidence in one's aircraft echoes Lt. Cmdr. Garcia's remark approaching the aircraft before his doomed flight last August-striking the landing gear door, saying, "This piece of sh- airplane.") Four minutes after takeoff, they reported the loss of both port and starboard hydraulic pressure and requested permission to land.

The landing gear would not retract. Starling then reported that the controls felt "disconnected." Recognizing the sound of a hydraulic pump self-destructing, Starling told Eagle to prepare for ejection. Moments later the A-6 plunged into Rosario Strait, about a mile and a half from Lopez Island.

According to Captain Toft, Chief of Staff, NAS Whidbey, "Failure of the flight, combined, and backup hydraulic systems resulted in the loss of control of the aircraft."

The investigation concluded that the crash was most likely due to the failure of an unreliable part-the pressure filter manifold fitting, which has a high failure rate. "Its failure is primarily due to fatigue resulting from bending loads and will result in a total loss of hydraulic pressure in the system (flight or combined)," according to the crash report.

The Navy promises to review corrective measures for the failed part real soon now.

- Joseph Miller, Fall 1990

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