The day Clint Eastwood almost drowned after crashing in a US Navy Skyraider off the coast of Northern California

The story of when Clint Eastwood almost drowned after crashing in a US Navy Skyraider off the coast of Northern California

By Dario Leone
Feb 4 2024
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The AD Skyraider

The airplane that became the AD (later redesignated A-1) Skyraider evolved from a Navy decision in 1943 to combine the World War II dive-bombing and torpedo missions in one aircraft. Built around a barrel-like fuselage, it possessed rigid lines that made it anything but graceful in appearance. However, it emanated power and could carry 8,000 lb. of ordnance, more than a World War II B-17 Flying Fortress.

First flown on Mar. 18, 1945, Skyraiders entered fleet service the following year and no aviator that flew one then and later would forget the experience of taking to the air for the first time. “My first impression was that I was in for the ride of my life. I was surrounded by noise and vibration…,” recalled one. “That first flight behind a 3350 radial all alone was something to behold.”

On Sep. 30, 1951, two US Navy AD-1 Skyraiders left Naval Air Station Seattle for a routine flight to Mather Field in Sacramento. As reported by The Mercury News, Lt. F.C. Anderson, the pilot of one of the Skyraiders, low on fuel and after having lost its wingman in the fog ditched off the coast of Northern California. He and his passenger survived impact, but the swim back to shore, off Point Reyes, was rough and they barely made it.

Clint Eastwood almost drowned after crashing in a US Navy Skyraider

The modern history of American filmmaking is far richer because the pilot and his passenger survived. Actually, a then-unknown US Army private named Clint Eastwood was the passenger that nearly drowned on that fall day in 1951.

When the Skyraider crashed into rough seas the future actor and director — 21 at the time — was en route back to Fort Ord after visiting his parents in Seattle.

The following is the Independent Journal’s Oct. 1, 1951 account of Clint Eastwood’s plane crash off Point Reyes:

‘Two servicemen, who battled a thick gray fog and a strong surf for almost an hour last night following a plane landing in the ocean near the Marin shore, are returning to their service units today uninjured.

‘Army Pvt. Clinton Eastwood, who wandered into the RCA radio station at Point Reyes after struggling in the ocean, told radio operators he and the pilot were forced to land their AD bomber in the ocean and left on life rafts.

‘Eastwood said he was returning to Ford Ord from his house in Seattle when the mishap occurred.

VF-54 Skyraider
VF-54 Skyraider

‘The pilot, Naval Lt. F.C. Anderson, landed his life raft on the shore at Kehoe Ranch near Pierce Point. He is stationed at Mather Air Force Base in Sacramento.’

A stark fear

“What was going through my mind was just a stark fear, a stark terror, because (in the) first place, I didn’t know anything about aviation at that particular time — I was just hopping a ride,” Eastwood said in 2015, recalling the incident.

He explained that he and Anderson kept their life rafts together until they were separated after hitting the breakers near the rocky Marin coast. Eastwood continued to paddle through the strong surf until he was thrown from the raft.

Eastwood told Earl Foster, a radio operator on duty at the station the night of the incident, each time he advanced toward the shore, the strong breakers would carry him out to sea again. At one spot, he said, he was almost drawn down by the undertow.

A shocked Clint Eastwood

Eastwood said he could not say how long he was in the water. When he reached shore though, he recalled, he fell to the ground and crawled to the station house.

Eastwood walked into the building cold, wet and in a state of shock and spoke incoherently of the plane running out of fuel and how the pilot made a dramatic landing on the rough ocean. The Skyraider in fact was landed upright on the water by Anderson.

After a brief rest in the house where he was warmed, Eastwood was taken to the Coast Guard Life Boat Station at Point Reyes where he met Anderson. At the station the men received medical attention and started on their way back to their units.

“In those days, you could wear your uniform and get a free flight,” Eastwood said in a talk at Loyola Marymount University’s School of Film & TV. “On the way back, they had one plane, a Douglas AD, sort of a torpedo bomber of the World War II vintage, and I thought I’d hitch on that. Everything went wrong. Radios went out. Oxygen ran out. And finally we ran out of fuel up around Point Reyes, California, and went in the ocean. So we went swimming. It was late October, November. Very cold water. (I) found out many years later that it was a white shark breeding ground, but I’m glad I didn’t know that at the time or I’d have just died.”

Photo credit: U.S. Navy, U.S. Government and Westerns All’Italiana

The day Clint Eastwood almost drowned after crashing in a US Navy Skyraider off the coast of Northern California
7-21-1987 President Reagan shaking hands with Clint Eastwood before the Take Pride in America event in the Oval Office

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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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