Grampaw Pettibone

Gramps from Yesteryear

July-August 2006

Illustration by Ted Wilbur


Power Line Peril

A Fleet Replacement Squadron T-34C Turbo Mentor, crewed by two instructor lieutenants exited the target area after performing forward air controller (FAC)(A) duties for a division of F/A-18 Hornets practicing close air support. The T-34 did not fly a direct profile back to base; rather, it started its journey home by flying along a canal repeatedly, descending lower with each pass. The pilot, who had a history of flying unbriefed air combat maneuvers (ACM) in the T-34, then headed for a nearby lake where he flew just feet above the water for nearly a minute. After that, the T-34 entered a canyon area, sometimes flying below the canyon walls.

Power lines run across this particular canyon. The towers have two static lines that run nearly straight across the top and three power wires that sag approximately 30 feet lower at the center of their droop. The lower lines are about 70 feet above the canyon floor. The T-34 was heading west along the shape of the canyon in an attempt to fly under the static lines. The aircraft flew into the lower three lines and crashed in a near vertical attitude. Both aircrew members were killed.

During the mishap board, it became known that two days before the mishap the pilot at the controls had flown a similar profile with a replacement pilot in the back seat. Just before the power lines, the pilot had pulled up, rolled the plane on its back, and remarked over the internal communication system (ICS): “We could make it under there.”

“He thought he could make it under there.”

It’s a shame when a Brownshoe writes his own epitaph, isn’t it?