On 20 November 1961, 1st Lt. Anthony D. Miller and 2nd Lt. William H. Wright, both attached to VMA-212, were assigned a two plane section night familiarization mission. Norm said that he was on the flight line waiting for the planes to taxi back after their mission. His first indication that there was a problem was when sirens started going off at MCAS Kaneohe.
As I remember it, as they approached the field in diamond formation, they went to single file before turning onto base leg. As they were flying over Kailua, 2nd Lt. Wright’s plane contacted the vertical ‘stabilizer of 1st Lt Miller’s at the left wing root of Wrights’ plane. That impact would have sent FOD into his engine and probably killed it. I brought 1st Lt. Miller’s jet into the chocks after he landed and he wanted to stay in the cockpit with power plugged in an NC5 power truck so he could hear any radio reports of rescue hoping that 1st Lt. Wright ditched. At first, it looked like he may have ditched into Kailua Bay on the other side of the town, but sadly it was just a false report. He pancaked on the bank of a canal, jumped the canal, sliced through a house, crossed the street, and sliced through a second house. What was left of the cockpit rolled up in a chain link fence that bordered the backyard and schoolyard behind the house across the street. A little boy was killed in one of the houses.
Norm remembers seeing the pieces of the plane that were later trucked onto base. He was part of the crew that off loaded the wreckage and helped to lay out the wreckage in its approximate position on the floor of a hangar used by HMM-161, the helicopter squadron next to his hangar. He said that there was a medical officer there to identify body parts. He found the top of the pilot’s helmet with the top of his head still in it.
Norm said “The pieces told the story. At only 500 feet altitude he didn’t have much time to think, but he did act. He survived the initial impact. The engine throttles were pulled back behind the idle detent and the “T” handle that ejects the canopy was pulled indicating that he made a split second decision not to eject and save himself, but to try to dead stick it over the town and into the bay. If he elected to eject the canopy, it would have blown off automatically with activation of the overhead “D” handle used to fire the seat. The canopy itself was found later in a wooded area, virtually unscratched. Quick thinking, training, and self sacrifice come to mind when I think of this young lieutenant. He was truly a hero who saved the school and the town.” “I believe in Lt. Wright’s case, he had only seconds to decide what to do and he chose to try to dead stick his bird into Kailua Bay or at least to clear the school and houses. He could have ejected and saved himself. I think Lt. Wright was an unsung hero that saved the town. Lt. Wright was a good guy, well liked by the troops.”
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