On Jul. 9, 1991 the US Navy was forced to shoot down one of its own aircraft over the Mediterranean when the crew of an E-2C Hawkeye from USS Forrestal bailed out due to a fire. The plane continued to fly, so an F/A-18 downed it with a 20mm to prevent it from crashing in a populated area.
The Hawkeye was attached to Carrier Airborne Early Warning Squadron 122 (VAW-122) based at Norfolk Naval Air Station and its crew members were recovered by helicopters from the Forrestal and the cruiser USS Yorktown.
As Daily Press reported, the most severe injury was a cut on the chin that required ”two or three” stitches.
Cmdr. Steve Honda, then spokesman for the Atlantic Fleet Naval Air Force, said that the Hawkeye, with its distinctive radar disc, was flying over the Mediterranean on a ”routine air patrol” in support of the allied relief effort in northern Iraq when its starboard engine caught fire at about 5 a.m. EDT.
After determining that the fire could not be extinguished the E-2C crew bailed out about 40 miles southeast of Cyprus. Then the Hornet shot down the Hawkeye with its 20mm M61A1 Vulcan cannon.
US Navy officials decided the plane was a potential hazard to civilian populations in Cyprus and Syria as well as to ships.
The Hawkeye (still today) provides all-weather airborne early warning, airborne battle management and command and control functions for the Carrier Strike Group and Joint Force Commander. Additional missions include surface surveillance coordination, air interdiction, offensive and defensive counter air control, close air support coordination, time critical strike coordination, search and rescue airborne coordination and communications relay. An integral component of the Carrier Strike Group air wing, the E-2 uses computerized radar, Identification Friend or Foe and electronic surveillance sensors to provide early warning, threat analysis against potentially hostile air and surface targets.
According Retired Rear Adm. Eugene Carroll Jr., a former commander of a Mediterranean carrier task force and then deputy director of the private, Washington-based Center for Defense Information, there was no armament on board. ”There would be some encryption devices, a few classified technical manuals and some intelligence reports, but probably nothing above the secret classification,” a mid-level security designation.
However, Carroll said that the decision to shoot down the plane didn’t involve any fear of loss of equipment to an unfriendly power.
What Carroll said he found interesting is that the plane continued to fly long enough for the carrier task force commander to be found and briefed on the situation, and the Hornet sent to destroy it.
The Hawkeye’s pilot ”probably put it on auto-pilot to make sure everyone got out OK. It must’ve flown along for a while,” he concluded.
Photo credit: US Navy
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