This drunken fiasco started on a 6 Jun 1967 ferry flight from Wethersfield to Aviano. Don Duff (my 55th TFS Ops, high-time Hun driver, and Aviano Det/CC) climbed to the cockpit and said: “Mal Ryan (Aviano DO) called a mandatory meeting so how about taking my 1410L flight ?” I responded “You Betcha!” and briefed with one of two 2-ship low-levels. I proceeded to 55-3676 (which had “Mafia 1” painted on the nose wheel door). Configuration: 2-450 gal tanks, SUU-21A Dispenser, and 800 rounds of HEI. The other flight members remain anonymous to protect the guilty.
My flight lead aborted and I joined the other flight as #3. Then #2 aborted on takeoff. The flight consisted of a 79th puke with the Flight Surgeon in the back seat and me (and I had no idea where we were going). According to the sanitized accident report “en route to checkpoint No. 7, a course deviation toward the coast was made to avoid clouds in the (deleted) Mountains. The planned course was again intercepted east of (deleted) and the flight proceeded normally to target.” I swear that we avoided the Leaning Tower of Pisa (aka deleted Mountains) by at least several hundred feet vertically and horizontally.
At 1510L, passing Lake Trasimeno at 1,000’ AGL, I had about 7,000 lbs when the engine quit (enormous compressor stall). My lightning reflexes (Panic) caused me to jerk back hard on the pole (excessive rate of climb). Made several calls with a dead transmitter while trying 3 airstarts (2 emergency & 1 normal fuel) which caused great plumes of flame. Lead kept telling me I was on fire and should get out, and I was telling him that the bird wouldn’t start and I would probably have to get out. I tried a hard left to plant it in the lake but just didn’t have enough smash. The trees were getting large, so I punched at about 1,500’ AGL (I believe I had the 1st F-100 rocket seat ejection). The 7,000 lb Napalm can spreading over a hill was spectacular. Lead lost me at ejection and couldn’t confirm I was alive, so I was incognito for several hours. I was drifting along rapidly (wind about 25 kts), but not getting any closer to the ground. I figured I would impact about half way
down a cliff, dead ahead, and die a horrible death. Climbed the left risers and dumped it. Penetrated a tree (1” to 2” thorns), and impacted the 20º down-slope in a perfect PLF (heels – face). Couldn’t breathe and couldn’t feel anything from the neck down. Convinced that I was now a paraplegic, I looked up the slope at my feet, saw them move, and decided to stand up. After much fumbling, I was free of the chute, stood up with difficulty, and for the next 20 minutes had no balance as though I were drunk – which actually did not occur until a little later.
A group of 7 or 8 grape farmers, accompanied by a small boy, climbed down the cliff toting a 2’ tall clay jug of Grappa. We emptied the jug, exited the canyon and retrieved a tiny Fiat to go to the wreck. This was the beginning of the best drunk of my life. Reaching the town of Magione we gassed up with Benzina and a bunch of F-104s buzzed the town, part of a full blown SAR by the Italian Air Force. My wreck was equidistant (roughly 70 miles) from Rome, Rimini, and Grosseto. All 3 launched helicopters and Rome added an SA-16 in case I was in the lake. Grosseto won the Great Race. Hell, they had intel on the crash site from the F-104s. My rescuers showed me off to their friends at a local pub where we consumed many shots of Vecchio Romana. We finally staggered out of the bar and headed west. At the crash site, this inebriated pilot found that the rescuers had returned my survival gear and chute and the canopy and ejection seat were in the back of a Land Rover. The biggest pieces of the aircraft were vertical stab, slab, and engine.
Shortly, a radio went off and a CID guy, who spoke English told me “How you say – wop, wop, wop – you – 10 minootes.” I was rolling on the ground but there is no way he would understand the old Italian Fighter Pilot joke. In 10 minutes, a single-seat helicopter from Grosseto appeared, driven by a kid with 3 stripes. I suspected I was about to die. We proceeded to Grosseto (F-104 Training on the East side and F-104 fighter squadron [IX Gruppo] on the West) and saw a group of 200 people on the West ramp. Where does an Italian Fighter Pilot land? – Dead center of the crowd and watch ‘em run. He did and they did.
The Commandante of IX Gruppo, Maggiore Pilota SAVORELLI Giovanni, former leader of the Tri-Colori Demonstration Team, pinned the Italian Air Force version of the Caterpillar to my flight jacket, led me into the Squadron to trays of hors d’oeuvres and my own personal 40-pounder of Black Label. They promised to take me downtown for a real party. They patched me to Aviano and then to Wethersfield so I could “distinguish” myself in a short conversation with Col Edmund B. Edwards (20th TFW/CC). He patched me to my wife Ruth (after assuring her that I was definitely uninjured as I was drunk as a skunk). I then spoke with Mal Ryan who informed me he was launching the Gooney Bird (with guilty Flight Surgeon on board) to bring me home that night. After calling him everything except an American Patriot, I calmed down a little. I was downright unhappy to miss a night of debauchery with the Italian Air Force. The Gooney Bird dragged me back to Aviano included a complete airborne physical (I was too plastered to help the Flight Surgeon).
The Accident Report stated:
“The primary cause of the accident was engine failure from lack of lubrication due to loss of oil from undetermined cause.
“Most probable cause for loss of oil: nut on manifold assembly, oil suction to pump not properly installed.
“Possible contributing cause for oil loss: No. 5 spacer and carbon seal failure.”
A reliable source later told me that TAC, USAFE, and Oklahoma City Air Materiel Area communicated (argued) for three years over what really happened to the oil.