Military Aviation

Video shows Soviet Tu-16 Badger bomber Crashing Into Sea After Buzzing USS Essex Aircraft Carrier

The Tu-16 Badger made four passes over the US Navy aircraft carrier USS Essex, and on the last a wing clipped the sea and it crashed with no survivors.

On May 25, 1968 a Soviet Air Force Tu-16 Badger-F piloted by Colonel Andrey Pliyev buzzed the US Navy aircraft carrier USS Essex (CV-9) in the Norwegian Sea. The Tu-16 made four passes, and on the last a wing clipped the sea and it crashed with no survivors. Parts of three bodies were recovered by the US.

As the video in this post shows, after the first low flyby the bomber seemingly disappears into the sunny haze of the horizon but then it returns. And this time flies even lower, appearing to slow down as it does so. It looks like it’s almost parallel to the deck of the carrier as it passes, that’s how low – and slow – it’s flying.

The video pauses at the 27-second mark – perhaps to denote the moment things went amiss. The Tu-16 banks up and briefly disappears back into the haze, this time in the opposite direction. It returns into view, now flying in the horizon perpendicular to the aircraft carrier. The video cuts to sailors and airmen now on the deck of the carrier, clearly engrossed in what’s going on out at sea. In the distance, a plume of thick dark smoke can be seen.

At the end it’s possible to see a second Tu-16 flying around trying to find out what happened to the other plane.

Stephen Garbarini was a former USS Essex crew member who attended the accident. He remembers: ‘I was there on the flight deck. I was an aircraft electrician in VS 34. I remember him coming over the flight deck from starboard to port flying a couple hundred yards and appeared to have stalled hitting his starboard wing tip cartwheeling and exploding. We were launching planes and had helos up as plane guards they went right over to the crash site to see if they could help to no avail.’

Another former USS Essex crew member recalls: ‘I was there and watched the entire thing while working on the flight deck.  I was a helicopter mechanic in HS-9 at the time. When it overflew the flight deck you could feel the heat and smell at jet exhaust. After the flight deck overfly (starboard to port) he continued to fly away from the ship at low level. He gained a little altitude and started to make a left turn, leveled back out, lost altitude and just when it looked like he was going to make a controlled ditching his left wing dipped and hit the water and then he cartwheeled in a ball of flame.. Our helicopters were in the air already and made a beeline for the crash, hovered in the smoke but no one survived.’

Footage from The National Archives in Washington.

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 was a LTjg co-pilot in an SH-3A, which was the first to launch that day prior to USS Essex normal flight ops. We had a about a half hour to kill before flight ops, so, my HAC flew us aft of the boat, about 20+ miles or so and I was the first one, that day to 'spot' the Soviet Tu-16, flying at a wave-top level, so low that the engine exhaust was shooting up "rooster tails" behind it. They were, obviously, headed for our boat, so, I immediately got on the radio and warned the boat about the "incoming". As soon as I finished the radio call, I dug out my brand new Pentex Spotmatic 35mm camera that I had bought at the NAS Naples store a few weeks earlier and shot a bunch of photos. Jimmy Lee, my HAC, turned around and we high-tailed it back towards the carrier and got there just in time to see the Badger dip a wing in a turn, catching it and cartwheeling into the ocean. There was a big explosion and we hovered there, looking for any possible survivors, while the boat launched other helos and small boats. What all the stories DON'T tell is that there was one "survivor" that was picked up and brought to the ship's "hospital", but, he never revived consciousness. The Admiral confiscated all the "onboard" cameras and caught a flight to the British Embassy, which was closest to show that "we" had nothing to do with the crash. Our NATO cruise was immediately cancelled and we steamed, full speed ahead, back to NAS Quonset Point, our home port . Regardless of what has been written, it was simply "bad flying" on the part of that pilot! He was TOO LOW to be making a "turn" like that and his wing tip 'caught' the ocean. I can imagine the Adrenaline was running high after making those "low passes" of our carrier!

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