Broken Launch Bar Linkage
The USS Forrestal (CV-59) was on its last operational cruise in the Med in 1990. We were conducting night flight ops off the coast of Turkey in support of Operation Provide Comfort. I had just shutdown my aircraft and was walking across the flight deck when the sound of snapping metal amidst a Tomcat launch off the port waist cat caught my attention. I turned to see the F-14 sliding sideways towards the edge of the flight deck. Apparently a component of the launch bar had snapped midway through the catapult stroke sequence, giving the Tomcat only a gentle push (approx. 20-30 knots) instead of the huge kick in the butt required to get the aircraft up to flying speed. The pilot had immediately realized something was wrong, and in a split second reacted to attempt to hit the brakes and stop prior to falling off the edge into the ocean 80 feet below. As they approached the edge, a tire blew sending the F-14 sliding sideways, and the pilot judged they wouldn't stop in time and initiated ejection. As the pilot and RIO rode the seat rails up into the night, one of the F-14s main landing gear jumped the deck edge rail but miraculously stuck just over the edge, and the aircraft remained perched precariously partially over the deck edge. The RIO was soon sighted landing further aft on the flight deck, and although he received some bumps, bruises and scrapes from his ejection and rough landing on the flight deck, he was was happy to walk away from it with a good story to tell that night over midrats. Meanwhile, a full scale search was underway for the pilot. The airborne SAR helicopter had witnessed the ejection and was on the scene so rapidly that the image of the RIO floating down in his parachute canopy nearly filled their windscreen as they whipped across the fantail. They quickly set up for an approach to the datum, and commenced a hover search. Flight operations were suspended and all airborne aircraft were given instructions to hold overhead (or expeditiously recovered if low on fuel). Fifteen minutes later there was still no sign of the pilot. As the search proceeded with additional helicopters and ships in the area, the flight deck began to quiet down. An alert deck hand thought he heard a faint cry for help, but didn't see anything over the deck edge. The sound of yelling for help persisted, and suddenly the deck hand looked up, and with the aid of his flashlight, was able to make out the shape of the pilot hanging from his parachute 100 feet above him in the radio antennae and masts at the top of the carrier's superstructure. Although the recovery of the pilot took an additional half hour, he was recovered uninjured.