Four Perish in Test Flight
|Good maintenance is the key to having any piece of equipment ready when it’s needed. For complex machines like aircraft, highly skilled individuals spend many hours ensuring that Coast Guard aircraft are really when called upon, possibly to save lives. |
The Coast Guard is unique in the world of military aviation in that, with rare exceptions, generally there are no separate ground crews and aircrews. In the Coast Guard, the person repairing an engine, or working on the navigation system in the morning is just as likely as anyone else at the air station to be out flying in that same aircraft that afternoon, perhaps on a rescue mission. Not that anyone would be any less careful working on a plane they knew they wouldn’t be flying, but one can’t help but think it must have some affect on ones attention to detail knowing they could be the next to fly in the aircraft they just finished working on.
On August 22, 1957, Coast Guard Grumman UF-2G Albatross #1259 was undergoing a routine inspection and maintenance at the Coast Guard Air Station at Floyd Bennett Field, New York. Many aircraft components are routinely inspected at designated intervals in an effort to spot any undue wear or fatigue. Some of the inspections can be rather elaborate, requiring specialized equipment while others are simple visual inspections. On this day the plane was undergoing an inspection of the control columns. They were removed and inspected for fatigue cracks in the bottom casting.
After the work had been completed, to ensure that all was in working properly, a test flight was in order. Gathered for the test flight was LCDR Claude. S. Labaw, pilot, LT Rolland A. Faucher, co-pilot, Aviation Machinist’s Mate Third Class Matthew R. Ross, Aviation Electronics Technician Third Class Gerald F. Fox, Aviation Electronics Technician Second Class Frederick E. West, Jr., and Aviation Machinist’s Mate Second Class John R. Lowell who was called in off of leave for the flight.
If was around 2 p.m. in the afternoon as the crew boarded for the Albatross for the test flight. The plane was cleared for take-off and instructed to turn right immediately after take-off to avoid other traffic. Witness on the ground said the take-off was normal but immediately after leaving the runway the plane banked slightly to the left, hesitated, and then banked and then banked very rapidly to the left until it was in a 90° bank. One witness said the one of the plane’s engines appeared to have stopped as soon as the plane became airborne.
As the plane came down, the left wing tip struck the ground. The impact broke the plane in two and engulfed it in flames.
Frederick West escaped virtually unharmed. He walked away from the crash site suffering from shock. Another crewmen, John Lowell wasn’t as lucky. Lowell says he doesn’t remember much of the flight. "The last thing I remember was strapping in as we were taking off," he said. "The next thing I knew it was a week later and I was in the hospital." Lowell had been seriously injured in the crash and was flow by one of the station's helicopter to St. Albana Naval Hospital in nearby Queens. Besides being badly burned, he had a fractured neck, a severe cut to his scalp, broken fingers and numerous cuts and bruises.
As for the other four members of the crew, Labaw, Faucher, Ross and Fox, it was several hours before the intense heat dissipated enough so that their bodies could be removed from the wreckage. Other than the tail section and a one wing there wasn’t much left of the Grumman Albatross.
Cause of the Crash - Uncertain
|The Coast Guard Accident Board was not able to determine the exact cause of this accident but certain items all pointed strongly toward reversed aileron control cable rigging as the most probably cause. |
Did someone make a mistake when checking and inspecting the aircraft? Did an engine fail during the critical take-off phase? Or was it simply a failure of some other critical part that led to the crash?
We’ll never know for sure.