Fri, Aug 24, 2012
Plane Went Down During A Training Mission In 1974
Divers have discovered the wreckage of a Vaught A-7C Corsair II (similar airplane pictured in file photo) which was involved in a mid-air collision during a training mission in 1974. The pilot of the airplane, Bob Besal, ejected safely from the stricken airplane after he collided with one flown by his commanding officer, but the plane was lost. The other aircraft made it safely back to Cecil Field near Jacksonville, FL, then a naval aviation training base.
Besal is now 62, and retired with the rank of Real Admiral after a 30 year Navy career. Now a resident of Charleston, SC, he told CNN he can still vividly recall the accident. He said they were flying between 300 and 350 knots on simulated bombing runs at 15,000 feet when he admits he got too close to the plane piloted by Cmdr. Peter Schoeffel, the unit's commanding officer. He said he remembers free-falling about 2,000 feet before the parachute opened automatically and set him down in the water. The accident happened in December, and the air temperature was about 40 degrees. He managed to get the attention of a helicopter flying nearby on a routine training flight shooting pencil flares from his life raft. "Pilot error. It was entirely my fault," he told CNN. Schoeffel managed to fly his damaged airplane back to Cecil.
The wreckage was recently found quite by accident by Joe Kistel, the executive director of the Jacksonville, FL-based group TISIRE (Think It Sink It Reef It) which is in the business of building artificial reefs. Kistel and his dive team found the wreckage about 20 miles off the coast of St. Augustine, FL, in about 80 feet of water while conducting a routine mapping dive. Kistel recovered the airplane's data plate, which led to the positive identification of the aircraft.
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