What caught my interest while reading through McCain’s Wiki bio entry was the number of times he was involved in a flying mishap that resulted in the loss or near loss of his airplane. There are five all totaled, four of which resulted in the loss of an aircraft and one that was “a close call.”
Not all of these were McCain’s fault, in fact, it’s not clear if any could be directly blamed on him (except possibly the close call incident). But it sure does seem like an amazing run of bad luck for one pilot. How common was it for pilots to lose aircraft like this?
The first incident occurred sometime prior to 1960 while McCain was in flight school in Texas.
During a practice run in Texas, his engine quit while landing, and his aircraft crashed into Corpus Christi Bay, though he escaped without major injuries.
Next came the “close encounter” in 1962:
His aviation skills improved, but he had another close call when he and his plane emerged intact from a collision with power lines, after flying too low over Spain.
The third incident occurred in December 1965:
...he had his third close call when a flameout over Norfolk, Virginia led to his ejecting safely, and his plane crashed.
Then, perhaps the most bizarre and deadly incident occurred onboard an aircraft carrier in the Gulf of Tonkin in July 1967:
The crew was preparing to launch attacks, when a Zuni rocket from an F-4 Phantom was accidentally fired across the carrier's deck. The rocket struck McCain's A-4E Skyhawk as the jet was preparing for launch. The impact ruptured the Skyhawk's fuel tank, which ignited the fuel and knocked two bombs loose. McCain escaped from his jet by climbing out of the cockpit, working himself to the nose of the jet, and jumping off its refueling probe onto the burning deck of the aircraft carrier. Ninety seconds after the impact, one of the bombs exploded underneath his airplane. McCain was struck in the legs and chest by shrapnel. The ensuing fire killed 132 sailors, injured 62 others, destroyed at least 20 aircraft, and took 24 hours to control.
Wow! Talk about bad luck! This guy seemed to be destined for trouble. It makes me wonder if anyone was really surprised when McCain got shot down and taken prisoner just a few months later:
McCain was flying as part of a 20-plane attack against a thermal power plant in central Hanoi, a heavily defended target area that had almost always been off-limits to U.S. raids. McCain's A-4 Skyhawk had its wing blown off by a Soviet-made SA-2 anti-aircraft missile while pulling up after dropping its bombs. McCain fractured both arms and a leg in being hit and ejecting from his plane.
He parachuted into a lake where he nearly drowned before being dragged out by an angry mob that nearly beat him to death. He might have died from his injuries, except that the Vietnamese figured out that he was the son of an Admiral and decided to keep him alive so that they could torture him and try and use him as a propaganda tool.