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Mon, Dec 20, 2004

Navy, Coast Guard Team Recovers Blue Angel F/A-18

How They Did It

Sailors from Mobile Diving and Salvage Unit (MDSU) 2, along with the crew of US Coast Guard Cutter Cypress, have recovered the Navy Flight Demonstration Squadron's F/A-18 Hornet that crashed near Perdido Key in early December.

Cypress, a 225-foot buoy tender homeported in Mobile, AL, was on scene within hours and first patrolled the crash site to pick up floating debris and secure the area for investigators. For the next week, MDSU 2 personnel localized the wreckage from aboard USNS Apache (T-ATF-172) using sector-scanning sonar.

MDSU 2, from Naval Amphibious Base Little Creek, VA, dispatched members from their area search detachment Dec. 13. The crew deployed an unmanned underwater vehicle named Reamus, which pinpointed the exact location of the Hornet that same day. Coast Guardsmen from Coast Guard Station Pensacola, FL, and Sailors from Naval Air Station (NAS) Pensacola, FL, assisted MDSU 2 by transporting their gear and personnel to the cutter, as well as piloting smaller vessels during the recovery effort.

Eighteen MDSU 2 divers and four enlisted Blue Angels deployed with Cypress' 54-person crew Dec. 14. Three hour-long dives yielded loose debris, such as wing flaps and landing gear, from the jet. Two more dives were completed Dec. 15 to securely rig the jet, allowing Cypress’ crane to pull the bulk of the fuselage aboard at approximately 1600.

"The plane was mostly intact, which is unusual in these operations," said Chief Warrant Officer O2 Jeff Annon, the MSDU 2 diving officer for the recovery. "Working with the Coast Guard isn’t something we normally do, and it was great. It was a good dive overall, because we knew going in that the pilot was safe," the Madison, IN, native said.

Lt. Ted Steelman, 32, from Star, Idaho, was flying the unnumbered jet on a routine training flight Dec. 1 when the incident occurred. Following his ejection, he was evaluated at the Pensacola Naval Medical Center and released that same evening.

Prior to the recovery, Cypress had spent the last several weeks repositioning 80 navigational aids near US ports in the Gulf of Mexico following Hurricane Ivan. The cutter is responsible for maintaining navigational aids from Apalachicola, FL, to the US-Mexican border.

"This was quite a different operation than we’re normally used to," said Cypress’ First Lieutenant, Chief Warrant Officer 3 Michael Hoag, a 22-year veteran from Jones, OK. "We blended with the Blues and MDSU 2 in a couple of days, and I was amazed at how we became one crew."

Hoag added that lifting the jet was a complex process while trying to maintain a stable salvage platform in the choppy seas. The aircraft was extracted from approximately 40 feet of water and transported to NAS Pensacola aboard Cypress.

The jet was relocated to a secure location at NAS Pensacola Dec. 16, where investigators will be allowed to examine it.

The cause of incident remains under investigation.



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