Losses and Aviation Safety

The sad Story of EA-3B Ranger 12 Crash on USS Nimitz and the End for the Whale in US Navy Service

The deaths of seven crew in the crash of an EA-3B during a night recovery onboard USS Nimitz (CVN-68) in the Mediterranean rapidly solidified the effort to get the `Whale’ off the boat.

The sad video in this post features the terrible VQ-2 EA-3B accident which took place on Jan. 25, 1987 aboard USS Nimitz (CVN-68) aircraft carrier.

At that time the end for the A-3 in US Navy service was only four years away. There was growing concern within the Naval Aviation community as to the safety of the aircraft due to a continuing string of accidents since the end of the Vietnam War. While the number of jets involved (ten) was significant in itself, it was the loss of 43 men during this period that was considered most alarming. The deaths of seven crew in the crash of an EA-3B during a night recovery onboard USS Nimitz in the Mediterranean rapidly solidified the effort to get the `Whale’ off the boat.

As explained by Rick Morgan in his book A-3 Skywarrior Units of the Vietnam War, on the evening of Jan. 25, 1987 ‘Ranger 12’ (BuNo 144850) launched on a surveillance mission with a full crew of seven. Following several unsuccessful approaches at the back of the ship the ‘Whale’ was sent to the duty A-7 tanker for more fuel. The Corsair II’s package proved to be ‘sour’, or unusable. Faced with the prospect of having the crew bail out into the winter waters at night, the ship decided to rig the barricade. The final pass was like all of the others — high all the way in and the pilot did not quickly cut (shut-off) the engines as required over the ramp. The A-3 floated over the wires and impacted the top strap of the barricade (which was also mis-rigged, as it lacked a critical piece of gear to properly tighten the upper strap) with the nose gear. The aircraft duly flew through the barricade and went over the angle, where it impacted the water. The rescue helicopter was quickly overhead and noted no movement inside the aircraft, which temporarily floated on the surface of the water. All seven men went down with the EA-3B when it sank a few minutes later.

This print is available in multiple sizes from AircraftProfilePrints.com – CLICK HERE TO GET YOURS. EA-3B Skywarrior VQ-2 Sandeman, JQ12 “Ranger 12” / 146448 / 1980

The list of the seven men who gave their lives:

LT Stephen H. Batchelder (Intelligence Evaluator)
LCDR Ronald R. Callander (Navigator)
AT2 Richard A. Herzing
LT Alan A. Levine (Pilot)
CTI3 Patrick R. Price*
LT James D. Richards (Junior Evaluator)
CTI3 Craig H. Rudolf

This accident was followed on the night of Jun. 26 by the crash of VQ-1 EA-3B BuNo 144854 while conducting carrier landing practice at NAS Miramar, California. All three onboard perished. After consideration of both mishaps, and another incident where a VQ-2 jet trapped with a failed nose gear, orders went out to halt A-3 carrier deployments. Both VQ-1 and VQ-2 had removed their aircraft from carrier duty by the end of 1987, although they retained them for use from the beach. The FRS within VAQ-33 continued to day qualify carrier instructors for proficiency reasons for another two years, however. The last ‘Whale’ trap and cat took place in August 1989 off the Atlantic coast.

The final crash involving an A-3 occurred on Jan. 13, 1988 when VAK-208 KA-3B BuNo 147665 impacted Pyramid Lake northeast of Reno, Nevada, while flying in the late afternoon on a low-level mission. All three crew onboard were killed. It was the last of more than 100 Skywarriors destroyed in crashes — a toll that accounted for a staggering 42 per cent of production. In at least 20 other cases A-3s were stricken following in-flight incidents or gear-up landings. Nonetheless, within the ‘Whale’ community it was frequently said, only half-jokingly, that the reason the aircraft had lasted so long was the fact that it didn’t have ejection seats!

A-3 Skywarrior Units of the Vietnam War is published by Osprey Publishing and is available to order here.

Photo and video: John Herndon / herndonjtexas

Dario Leone

Dario Leone is an aviation, defense and military writer. He is the Founder and Editor of “The Aviation Geek Club” one of the world’s most read military aviation blogs. His writing has appeared in The National Interest and other news media. He has reported from Europe and flown Super Puma and Cougar helicopters with the Swiss Air Force.

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  • I crewed Ranger 12 out of NAS Boca Chica in the mid 1970s after the EC-121Ms (Super Connies) were decommissioned. I was serving aboard USS Sphinx in 1987 when I received a wirenote from a buddy in VQ-2 about the loss of the aircraft and all crewmen. I was shocked. Later that year when I transferred to Rota I got the whole story from a Chief I had flown with on the WVs.

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