Three U.S. Navy pilots were recently awarded the Armed Forces’ Air Medal for valor after their quick thinking and reaction saved a plane and potentially their own lives.
The pilots, assigned to the “Screwtops” of Airborne Early Warning (VAW) Squadron 123, were awarded the medal aboard aircraft carrier USS Dwight D. Eisenhower (CVN 69) (Ike) following a flight deck mishap March 18, according to a Navy release.
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Lt. Cmdr. Thomas Browning, Lt. Cmdr. Kellen Smith and Lt. Matthew Halliwell were given the award “for reacting in time to prevent the loss of an aircraft by maintaining positive control during the mishap,” according to the release.
The award is presented for heroic actions or meritorious service while participating in aerial flight.
With Halliwell in the pilot’s seat, the Hawkeye touched down on the flight deck and caught the wire. As they began to decelerate, the arresting cable snapped and they found themselves rolling ever closer to the edge of the landing area.
“It all happened in about eight seconds,” Smith said in a statement. “While we were decelerating we heard a loud snap. When we would normally be coming to a stop, we weren’t. Our years of training kicked in and we reacted on instinct. I slapped back the ditching hatch (Hawkeyes do not have ejection seats) as we cleared the deck and began a deep settle (significant descent). I would guess we were about 10 feet from the water before we lifted back up, but Lt. Smith expertly kept us climbing away. It was a sigh of relief when we were back in the air. It helps to know that at the critical moment, all we practice for this scenario actually works. The experience has made me much more confident in my training.”
After steadying the aircraft, Smith’s focus turned to the crew on the flight deck, who were not so lucky.
The Navy Times reported that while the pilots avoided serious disaster with the aircraft, the crew on the flight deck was not so lucky.
Two Ike sailors and six VAW-123 maintainers were hit by the cable as it whipped across the flight deck. Six were medically evacuated from the ship and treated for injuries ranging from a sprained ankle to broken limbs, a fractured skull, a broken pelvis, torn ligaments and a collapsed artery that almost cost one mechanic his leg.