Dazed, bleeding and battered after punching out of his crippled attack bomber, Lt. Cmdr. William Royster had only one thought as his parachute carried him downward toward the blue Pacific.
“He couldn’t believe he was alive,” Royster’s wife, Carol, said after he called her Wednesday at their home in Japan from his hospital bed aboard the aircraft carrier Independence.
Royster and his bombardier-navigator, Lt. Keith Douglas, were plucked safely from the ocean late Monday by the same Japanese destroyer that accidentally shot down their A-6E Intruder during war games about 1,500 miles west of Oahu, the main Hawaiian island.
The Japanese rounds, fired by the destroyer’s U.S.-made Phalanx weapons system, hit the center of the plane and not the cockpit, Royster told his wife of five years, “and that’s why we’re alive.”
The attack bomber’s engines caught fire almost immediately, and Royster tried to pull up but had lost hydraulics, he told her. The flaming jet began to roll, and the two crewmen bailed out.
The violent, high-speed ejection from the cockpit “almost took his nose off,” she said. “They had to sew part of it back on.”
Douglas, of Birmingham, Ala., was treated for minor bruises and returned to duty.
Royster was resting and being given morphine, his wife said in an interview at her home near Naval Air Facility Atsugi southwest of Tokyo.
The Roysters are in the process of moving to Lemoore, Calif., south of Fresno, where he is to switch to piloting the F/A-18.
As Carol Royster awaited a call from her husband, the movers had arrived to begin packing.
“This was going to be one of his last flights with the A-6,” she said. “I guess they went out with a bang.”