The story of the US Navy A-6 Intruder that was accidentally shot down by a Japanese destroyer

The story of the US Navy A-6 Intruder that was accidentally shot down by a Japanese destroyer

By Dario Leone
Jul 20 2020
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On Jun. 3, 1996 a Japanese destroyer accidentally shot down a US Navy A-6E Intruder with a Phalanx CIWS during RIMPAC training exercise off Hawaii.

On Jun. 3, 1996 a Japanese destroyer accidentally shot down a US Navy A-6E Intruder with a Phalanx Close-in Weapons System (CIWS) during Rim of the Pacific (RIMPAC) training exercise off Hawaii. The Intruder crew from then Attack Squadron 115 (VA-115) ejected and were recovered.  It was the first plane shot down by Japanese forces since 1945.

The A-6E was towing a gunnery target. According to The Seattle Times, the Japanese vessel Yuugiri fired at the target but hit the plane, which crashed in the Pacific.

The accident took place 1,550 miles west of Hawaii, or about 730 miles southwest of the Midway Islands, the scene of a major naval battle between the United States and Japan during World War II.

The pilot, Lt. Cmdr. William Royster of Kansas City, Mo., and bombardier-navigator, Lt. Keith Douglas of Birmingham, Ala., were rescued by the Yuugiri.

VA-115 was then based on the carrier USS Independence, which operated out of Atsugi, Japan.

The story of the US Navy A-6 Intruder that was accidentally shot down by a Japanese destroyer
The Japanese Navy destroyer JDS Yūgiri (DD-153) pulls into Pearl Harbor, Hawaii.

A helicopter took the men to the Independence for treatment. Royster had facial lacerations and was listed in good condition; Douglas was treated for abrasions and returned to duty.

The Japanese Defense Agency apologized to the U.S. military and decided to halt shooting practice using live ammunition, said spokesman Tomohide Matsumura.

This was the first such accident involving Japan since it began participating in the RIMPAC exercises, Kobayashi said.

Japanese officials said the A-6E was towing the target at the end of a 100-yard-long cable.

The Jun. 3, 1996 accident represented the second time in less than eight months that Japan mistakenly shot down a friendly aircraft. In November 1995 in fact, a Japanese F-15 fighter shot down another Japanese F-15 training in the Sea of Japan when an armed air-to-air Sidewinder missile accidentally went off.

Beginning with the TBF/TBM Avenger, the “Eagles” of today Strike Fighter Squadron 115 (VFA-115) have flown some of the most storied aircraft in carrier Aviation including the Douglas A-1 Skyraider, the Grumman A-6 Intruder, and the Boeing F/A-18C Hornet.  In 2002, VFA-115 again made history in becoming the first squadron to fly the Navy’s most advanced Strike-Fighter today, the F/A-18E Super Hornet.  Today, VFA-115 is based at MCAS Iwakuni, Japan and deploys with Carrier Air Wing FIVE onboard the USS Ronald Reagan (CVN 76), America’s only forward deployed carrier.  Through their annual deployments in the FDNF, the Eagles of VFA-115 continue in their squadron’s rich legacy of defending the Pacific and carry on its tradition of excellence in Naval Service.

A-6 Intruder Print
This print is available in multiple sizes from – CLICK HERE TO GET YOURS. A-6E Intruder VA-35 Black Panthers, AJ502 / 151582 / 1977

Photo credit: US Navy

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Dario Leone

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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