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Plane Manned By Student Pilot Crashes on Deck of Aircraft Carrier; 5 Killed

October 30, 1989 GMT

PENSACOLA, Fla. (AP) _ The pilot of a training jet that crashed into the USS Lexington, killing him and four others, was making his first attempt to land on an aircraft carrier, the ship’s captain said today.

The two-seat T-2 Buckeye, based at the Meridian, Miss., Naval Air Station, slammed into the carrier’s tower and cartweeled in flames into the flight deck Sunday afternoon during a practice flight about 30 miles south of here in the Gulf of Mexico.

″As I see it,″ said Capt. C. Flack Logan, ″he ended up in a position which in naval aviation is known as being ‘low and slow,’ which is a very terrible place to be when you are coming aboard a ship.″

As the World War II-vintage carrier, the oldest in the Navy, returned to its dock late this morning, several sailors’ wives burst into tears and waved wildly as they spotted their husbands on the deck - the first confirmation that their loved ones were safe.

″We weren’t sure what kind of news they were giving us,″ Kayleen Edwards said after finding her husband. ″They said they had hit where he works, and they couldn’t identify some of the bodies.″

Names of the dead were not released pending notification of next of kin. One was a civilian worker, Logan said. In addition to the five dead, 17 were injured, one critically.

Logan said landing officers told the pilot, who was alone in the plane, to add power and waved him off but for some reason he was unable to comply. The man was a qualified pilot, Logan said, but was only beginning to learn the difficult skill of landing on a carrier.

″The nose pitched up and he lost control of his ability to fly the aircraft and it went up and came into the island,″ Logan said.

The plane was upside down when its wing tip hit the island, or tower of the 46-year-old ship, the captain said. The jet then smashed into the side of the island before crashing in flames on the flight deck.

The wing tip broke off and remained imbedded in the superstructure today, but overall, damage to the ship was described as minor. Three planes parked on the flight deck were hit by debris. Logan said the damage to the planes was not severe.

When the plane crashed, aviation fuel ignited on the 889-foot-long blacktop deck, but the fires were quickly brought under control, said Navy Cmdr. Dennis Hessler.

The ship, which came under a deadly Japanese kamikaze attack 45 years ago this week, has 1,440 crew members and is the Navy’s only aircraft carrier used exclusively for training. It is also the only carrier on which women serve.

Two of the 17 injured people were taken by helicopter to hospitals in Alabama and Pensacola. Crew member Mark Anthony Lopez, 21, of West Valley, Utah, was listed in critical but stable condition at University of South Alabama Medical Center in Mobile, said Suzette George, nursing supervisor. He had burns over nearly half his body.

Crew member Sandra Bailey, of Haleyville, Ala., was admitted to the U.S. Naval Hospital in Pensacola. Logan said her injuries were not life- threatening.

In Pensacola, relatives of crew members worried about finding out who the casualties were.

″We’re all just shaken. We don’t know what to think one way or the other. I just want to know something,″ said Cathy Webb, whose boyfriend serves on the carrier.

The crash occurred six days before the anniversary of the Nov. 4, 1944, attack that killed 47 and injured 127 on the ship in World War II.

The original crew plans to hold a reunion next weekend in Pensacola.

The Lexington was commissioned Feb. 17, 1943, and its planes sank or destroyed more than a million tons of Japanese shipping and 1,039 enemy aircraft during World War II.

The carrier was dubbed ″The Blue Ghost″ by Japanese propagandist Tokyo Rose because she had reported it sunk several times only to return to battle painted a solid blue-gray color, unusual in wartime when ships are usually camouflaged.

After the war, the Lexington was mothballed until being reactivated in 1955. It reported to Pensacola on Dec. 29, 1962, to serve as the Navy’s training carrier. It is scheduled to continue that role after moving next September to Corpus Christi, Texas.

The ship has been a favorite of movie producers with roles in the film ″Midway″ and the television miniseries ″War and Remembrance.″