A Navy pilot making his first landing attempt on an aircraft carrier was “low and slow” before his training jet crashed on the Lexington, killing him and four others, the ship’s captain said Monday.
The T-2 Buckeye slammed into the ship’s island, cartwheeled across the deck and exploded in flames Sunday afternoon, Capt. C. Flack Logan said. Nineteen other people were injured.
The pilot, Ens. Steven E. Pontell, 23, of Columbia, Md., was the only one aboard the two-seat trainer.
The Navy identified the other dead as Petty Officer 3rd Class Burnett Kilgore Jr., 19, of Holly Springs, Miss.; Petty Officer 3rd Class Timmy L. Garroutte, 30, of Memphis, Tenn.; and Airman Lisa L. Mayo, 25, of Oklahoma City, all Lexington crew members; and Byron Gervis Courvelle, 32, of Meridian, Miss., a civilian employee of DynCorp, which has a contract to maintain Navy aircraft.
The dead other than the pilot were all on the flight deck, officials said.
Their names were not released until after next of kin had been notified, and, as the World War II-vintage carrier, the oldest in the Navy, returned to its dock late Monday morning, several sailors’ wives burst into tears and waved wildly as they spotted their husbands on the deck--the first confirmation that their loved ones were safe.
Kayleen Edwards said after finding her husband: “They said they had hit where he works, and they couldn’t identify some of the bodies.”
Airplanes normally land on the Lexington’s 910-foot blacktop flight deck at about 110 to 120 knots, or up to 138 m.p.h., Cmdr. Denny Major, the ship’s air officer, said. They stop by catching their tail hooks on cables stretched across the 192-foot-wide deck.
Lt. Cmdr. Jack Ross estimated that Pontell was traveling between 90 and 100 m.p.h.