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Irish Luck – Surviving Partial Ejection from A-6 Aircraft

Irish Luck – Surviving Partial Ejection from A-6 Aircraft

Keith Gallagher’s Story

Irish Luck – Surviving Partial Ejection from A-6 Aircraft
USS Abraham Lincoln Aircraft Carrier (CVN-72)
Indian Ocean, July 1991

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A-6 Landing with LT Gallagher ejected

LT Keith Gallagher is seen
above the canopy as the A-6 aircraft touches down on the deck of the
Note that LT Gallagher’s parachute has deployed and is wrapped around the
tail of the aircraft.

in this site:

Introduction and Navy Jargon used in the story

Mark Baden’s (pilot) Account of the Incident
(audio and video clips

Keith Gallagher’s (BN) Account of the Incident

Aspects of LT Gallagher’s Mishap

(by a Navy Technician)

Log of the Activities of the USS Abraham
Lincoln in 1991

Feedback from Readers and Related Information

A-6 Landing with LT Gallagher ejected - closeup

Close-up view of LT
Gallagher   (Navy photo)



is a true story about  my cousin – Keith Gallagher surviving a very
unusual and life threatening incident while serving as bombardier navigator on a A-6
aircraft off the USS Abraham Lincoln
in the Indian Ocean on July 9,
1991.  Keith would recover from this accident, return to flight
status, and complete his service in the Navy.  Keith
now works in the telecommunications industry and lives in Atlanta with
his wife Michelle and their two children. 

The aircraft in this story is a Green Lizard KA-6D
aerial tanker and this was a aerial refueling mission
overhead the carrier. On July 9, 1991 the USS Abraham Lincoln is four days out of Singapore heading
northwest for patrol duty in the Persian Gulf. 

used here:

– a direction 90 degrees (perpendicular) to the side of the ship.

“aft” –
toward the stern (rear) or “blunt end of the boat”.   
“astern” – behind the ship

“attitude” – in the
context of this story (during landing on the deck of the carrier), it is a
request to raise the nose of the aircraft so the hook at the back of the
aircraft is low enough to catch the arresting wire

– any navy ship, the aircraft carrier is “THE Boat”. 

– aviator trained as bombardier and navigator

– the Air Boss, he rules the flight deck

Zulu” – praise for a good job.

– wheel chocks holding the aircraft in place on the deck

pull-forward” – the pilot declares an emergency situation exists that
requires a priority landing on the carrier as soon as possible

– junior officer, usually with all the answers

– a mission or flight

– The Naval Air Training and Operating Procedures Standardization program,
responsible for rules and regulations governing safe and correct operation of
all naval aircraft, (sometimes used in jest to mean “Not Applicable to
Our Present Situation”).

– Landing Signals Officer – aids pilots in landing aboard a carrier

up” – straighten the ship (stop turning) 

– an arrested landing on the carrier

Naval Aviator Slang / Jargon

Mark Baden’s (pilot) Account of the Incident

As we finished the brief,
my BN (bombardier navigator – Lt. Keith Gallagher) told me that it was his birthday and that our recovery would be his 100th
trap on the boat. To top it off, we were assigned the plane with my name on the

we taxied out of the chocks, I was still feeling a little uneasy about all the
recent mishaps.
To make myself feel better, I went through the “soft
shot/engine failure on takeoff” EPs (emergency procedures), touching each
switch or lever as I went through the steps.

least if something happens right off the bat, I’ll be ready,” I thought.

first few minutes of the hop were busy. Concentrating on the package-check and
consolidation, as well as trying to keep track of my initial customers,
dispelled my uneasiness.


The  KA-6D
is a tanker version of the A-6 Intruder. 
total of 90 KA-6Ds were produced by Grumman for the Navy by modifying existing Intruder airframes. To make
the conversion, certain radar and bombing equipment is removed and replaced with
an internal hose-and-reel refueling package, with the drogue fairing protruding
from underneath the rear fuselage. The KA-6D retained a visual bombing
capability (which was seldom exercised). The A-6 had a long and outstanding
record of reliable service for the Navy from 1963 to 1997.

about the A-6 (KA-6D tanker)

we approached mid-cycle, that most boring time in a tanker hop, we kept
ourselves occupied with fuel checks. We were keeping a close eye on one drop
tank that had quit transferring with about 1,000 pounds of fuel still inside. I
had tried going to override on the tank pressurization, but that didn’t seem to

My BN and I discussed the problem. We decided it was
probably a stuck float valve. Perhaps some positive and negative G would fix it. 
We were at 8,000 feet, seven miles abeam the ship, heading aft.  I clicked the
altitude hold off and added some power to give us a little more G.

230 knots I pulled the stick back and got the plane five degrees nose up. Then I
pushed the stick forward. I got about half a negative G, just enough to float me
in the seat.Moment of partial ejection

heard a sharp bang and felt the cockpit instantly depressurize. The roar of the
wind followed. I ducked instinctively and looked up at the canopy expecting it
to be partly open. Something was wrong. Instead of seeing a two or three inch
gap, the canopy bow was flush with the front of the windscreen. My eyes tracked
down to the canopy switch. It was up.

scan continued right. Instead of meeting my BN’s questioning glance, I saw a
pair of legs at my eye level. The right side of the canopy was shattered. I
followed the legs up and saw the rest of my BN’s body out in the windblast. I
watched as his head snapped down and then back up, and his helmet and oxygen
mask disappeared. They didn’t fly off; they just disappeared.

mind went into fast forward.

the hell happened?” I wondered. “I hope he ejects all the way. What am
I going to do now? I need to slow down.”

jerked the throttles to idle and started the speed brakes out. Without stopping,
I reached up, de-isolated, and threw the flap lever to the down position. I
reached over and grabbed for the IFF selector switch and twisted it to EMER. I
was screaming “Slow down! Slow down!” to myself as I looked up at the
airspeed indicator and gave another pull back on the throttles and speed brakes.
The airspeed was passing 200 knots.

had been looking back over my shoulder at my bombardier the whole time I was
doing everything else. I felt a strange combination of fear, helplessness and
revulsion as I watched his body slam around in the windblast. After his helmet
flew off, his face looked like the people who get sucked out into zero
atmosphere in some of the more graphic movies. His eyes were being blasted open,
his cheeks and lips were puffed out to an impossible size and the tendons in his
neck looked like they were about to bust through his skin as he fought for his

200 knots I saw his arms pulled up in front of his face and he was clawing
behind his head. For a moment, I thought he was going to manage to pull the
handle and get clear of the plane. I was mentally cheering for him. His arms got
yanked down by the blast and I cursed as I checked my radio selector switch to
radio 1.

Mayday, this is 515. My BN has partially ejected. I need an emergency

reply was an immediate, “Roger, switch button six.”
I switched freqs and said (or maybe
yelled), “Boss (Air Officer), this is 515. My BN has partially ejected. I
need an emergency pull-forward!”

Radio Communication – LT Baden and the Boss
(mp3 file, 14 seconds)

slapped the gear handle down and turned all my dumps on (in an effort to get
slower, max trap never crossed my mind).

Boss came back in his ever-calm voice and said, “Bring it on in.”

Checking out the BNAs
I watched, the indexers move from on-speed to a green chevron I worked the nose
to keep the plane as slow as possible and still flying. The plane was holding at
around 160 knots and descending. My BN’s legs were kicking, which gave me some
comfort; he was not dead. But, watching his head and body jerked around in the
windblast, being literally beaten to death, made me ill.

had been arcing around in my descent and was still at seven miles. The boss came
up and asked if the BN was still with the aircraft. I think that I caused a few
cases of nausea when I answered, “Only his legs are still inside the
cockpit.” It made sense to me, but more than a few people who were
listening had visions of two legs and lots of blood and no body. Fortunately,
the Boss understood what I meant.

In the sound clip
below, the pilot asks “How’s the deck looking?”, meaning is the deck
clear and ready for an emergency landing.  You also hear the Boss attempt
to better understand the situation by first asking the pilot a question and then
he contacts other aircraft in the area.

Second Radio Communication – LT Baden and the Boss 
(mp3 file, 59 seconds)

I turned in astern the boat, I called the Boss and told him I was six miles
behind the boat. I asked how the deck was coming. He asked if I was setting
myself up for a straight-in.

told him “yes.” He told me to continue.

was then I noticed that my BN had quit kicking. A chill shot through my body and
I looked back at him. What I saw scared me even more. His head was turned to the
left and laying on his left shoulder. He was starting to turn gray. Maybe he had
broken his neck and was dead. Bringing back a body that was a friend only
minutes before was not a comfortable thought. I forced myself not to look at my
bombardier after that.

front windscreen started to fog up about four miles behind the boat. I cranked
the defog all the way and was getting ready to unstrap my shoulder harness so I
could wipe off the glass when it finally started clearing.

saw the boat making a hard left turn. I made some disparaging remarks about the
guys on the bridge as I rolled right to chase centerline. I heard CAG paddles
(landing signal officer) come up on the radio. He told the captain he would take
the winds and that he needed to steady up. My tension eased slightly as I saw
mother begin to leave her wake in a straight line.

was driving it in at about 300 feet. I had been in a slight descent and wasn’t
willing to add enough power to climb back up to a normal straight-in altitude
for fear I would have to accelerate and do more damage to my already battered BN.
I watched the ball move up to red and then move slowly up towards the center.
Paddles called for some rudder and told me not to go high. My scan went
immediately to the 1-wire.

had no intention of passing up any “perfectly good wires.” I touched
down short of the 1-wire and sucked the throttles to idle. The canopy shards
directly in front of the BN’s chest looked like a butcher’s knife collection. I
was very concerned that the deceleration of the trap was going to throw him into
the jagged edge of the canopy.

A-6 Landing with LT Gallagher ejected

 (Navy photo)

I cringed when I didn’t immediately feel the tug
of the wire. I pulled the stick into my lap as paddles was calling for attitude.
I got the nose gear off the deck and then felt the hook catch a wire.

In the sound clip
below, listen to landing signal officer, “paddles” 
make requests
to the Tower and the Captain to “steady out” or “steady up”. The
Captain is turning the ship to
face the wind, but there is not enough time and paddles is saying “I’ll
take the wind”, meaning straighten the ship (steady up) and I will take
the wind direction as it is.

at the very end of the audio clip, the call by paddles for “attitude
is an urgent request to the pilot to raise the nose of the aircraft so the hook
in back is low enough to catch a wire. 

Third Radio Communication – LT Baden and Paddles 
(mp3 file, 62 seconds)

breathed a sigh of relief. Testing the spool-up time of a pair of J-52s as I
rolled off the end of the angle was not the way I wanted to end an already bad

note: In the sound clip below, the rescue aircraft on the Lincoln have been
advised of an “ejection” and are preparing for a water rescue. Here
they are updated on the current status. 

Fourth Radio Communication – After Landing
(mp3 file, 52 seconds)

soon as I stopped, I set the parking brake and a yellow shirt gave me the signal
to kill my No. 2 engine. Immediately after that, I heard a call over the radio
that I was chocked. I killed no. 1 and began unstrapping. As soon as I was free
of my seat (I somehow remembered to safe it), I reached over and safed the BN’s
lower handle, undid his lower koch fittings and reached up to try to safe his
upper handle.

I was crawling up, I saw that his upper handle was already safed. I started to
release his upper koch fittings but decided they were holding him in and I
didn’t want him to fall against the razor-sharp plexiglas on his side.

got back on my side of the cockpit, held his left arm and hand, and waited for
the medical people to arrive. I realized he still was alive when he said,
“Am I on the flight deck?”

wave of indescribable relief washed over me as I talked to him while the crash
crew worked to truss him up and pull him out of the seat. Once he was clear of
the plane, they towed me out of the landing area and parked me. A plane captain
bumped the canopy open by hand far enough that I could squeeze out. I headed
straight for medical without looking back at the plane.

I found that ignorance can be bliss. I didn’t know two things while I was
flying. First, the BN’s parachute had deployed and wrapped itself around the
tail section of the plane. Second, the timing release mechanism had fired and
released the BN from the seat. The only things keeping him in the plane were the
parachute risers holding him against the back of the seat
Technical Aspects of LT Gallagher’s Mishap by a Navy Technician)


Lt. Mark Baden was awarded the Air Medal for his decisive action on that day.
The LSO, LCDR Mike Manazir, received the “Bug Roach Paddles Award” for
his part in the recovery.  The crew of the Lincoln was recognized for a
well- executed emergency pull-forward – LT Baden had the jet on deck about six minutes
after the emergency began.  The Captain of the Lincoln would later read over
the PA system, a portion of a letter written by Michelle Gallagher (LT
Gallagher’s wife) where she thanked the crew of the Lincoln for saving her
husband’s life.

Mark Baden is currently a pilot with United Airlines. 

Lieutenant Keith Gallagher’s Account of the Incident

Law says, “Whatever can go wrong, will, and when you least expect it.”
(And, of course, we all know that Murphy was an aviator.) Murphy was correct
beyond his wildest dreams in my case. Fortunately for me, however, he failed to
follow through. On my 26th birthday I was blindsided by a piece of
bad luck the size of Texas that should have killed me. Luckily, it was followed
immediately by a whole slew of miracles that allowed me to be around for my 27th.
Not even Murphy could have conceived of such a bizarre accident (many people
still find it hard to believe), and the fact that I am here to write about it
makes it that much more bizarre.

were the overhead tanker, one third of the way through cruise, making circles in
the sky. Although the tanker pattern can be pretty boring midway through the
cycle, we were alert and maintaining a good lookout doctrine because our airwing
had a midair less than a week before, and we did not want to repeat. We felt we
were ready for “any” emergency: fire lights, hydraulic failures and
fuel transfer problems. Bring ’em on! We were ready for them. After all, how
much trouble can two JO’s get in overhead the ship?

my third fuel update call, we decided that the left outboard drop was going to
require a little help in order to transfer. NATOPS recommends applying positive
and negative G to force the valve open. As the pilot pulled the stick back I
wondered how many times we would have to porpoise the nose of the plane before
the valve opened. As he moved the stick forward, I felt the familiar sensation
of negative “G”, and then something strange happened: my head touched
the canopy. For a brief moment I thought that I had failed to tighten my lap
belts, but I knew that wasn’t true. Before I could complete that thought,
there was a loud bang, followed by wind, noise, disorientation and more wind,
wind, wind. Confusion reigned in my mind as I was forced back against my seat,
head against the headrest, arms out behind me, the wind roaring in my head,
pounding against my body.

the canopy blow off? Did I eject? Did my windscreen implode?” All of these
questions occurred to me amidst the pandemonium in my mind and over my body.
These questions were quickly answered, and replaced by a thousand more, as I
looked down and saw a sight that I will never forget: the top of the canopy,
close enough to touch, and through the canopy I could see the top of my pilot’s
helmet. It took a few moments for this image to sink into my suddenly overloaded
brain. This was worse than I ever could have imagined – I was sitting on top of
a flying A-6!

confusion, panic, fear and denial surged through my brain and body as a new
development occurred to me: I couldn’t breathe. My helmet and mask had ripped
off my head, and without them, the full force of the wind was hitting me square
in the face. It was like trying to drink through a fire hose. I couldn’t seem to
get a breath of air amidst the wind. My arms were dragging along behind me until
I managed to pull both of them into my chest and hold them there. I tried to
think for a second as I continued my attempts to breathe.

some reason, it never occurred to me that my pilot would be trying to land. I
just never thought about it. I finally decided that the only thing that I could
do was eject. (What else could I do?) I grabbed the lower handle with both hands
and pulled-it wouldn’t budge. With a little more panic induced strength I tried
again, but to no avail. The handle was not going to move. I attempted to reach
the upper handle but the wind prevented me from getting a hand on it. As a
matter of fact, all that I could do was hold my arms into my chest. If either of
them slid out into the wind stream, they immediately flailed out behind me, and
that was definitely not good.

wind had become physically and emotionally overwhelming. It pounded against my
face and body like a huge wall of water that wouldn’t stop. The roaring in my
ears confused me, the pressure in my mouth prevented me from breathing, and the
pounding on my eyes kept me from seeing. Time had lost all meaning. For all I
knew, I could have been sitting there for seconds or for hours. I was
suffocating, and I couldn’t seem to get a breath. I wish I could say that my
last thoughts were of my wife, but as I felt myself blacking out, all I said
was, “I don’t want to die.”

A-6 Landing with LT Gallagher ejected

LT Gallagher’s upper-body and
arm are seen above the canopy as the A-6 comes in for an emergency
(Navy photo)

LT Gallagher above the A-6 - closer view

LT Gallagher is unconscious and his arms are outstretched from the wind
blast as the A-6 lands on the deck of the Lincoln.
(Navy photo)

turned on the lights and I had a funny view of the front end of an A-6, with
jagged plexiglas where my half of the canopy was supposed to be. Looking down
from the top of the jet, I was surprised to find the plane stopped on the flight
deck with about 100 people looking up at me. (I guess I was surprised because I
had expected to see the pearly gates and some dead relatives.) My first thought
was that we had never taken off, that something had happened before the
catapult. Then everything came flooding back into my brain, the wind, the noise
and the confusion. As my pilot spoke to me and the medical people swarmed all
over me, I realized that I had survived, I was alive.

didn’t take me very long to realize that I was a very lucky man, but as I heard
more details, I found out how lucky I was. For example, my parachute became
entangled in the horizontal stabilizer tight enough to act as a shoulder harness
for the trap, but not tight enough to bind the flight controls. If this had not
happened, I would have been thrown into the jagged plexiglas during the trap as
my shoulder harness had been disconnected from the seat as the parachute
Technical Aspects of LT Gallagher’s Mishap by a Navy Technician)

are many other things that happened, or didn’t happen, that allowed me to
survive this mishap, some of them only inches away from disaster. These little
things, and a s-hot, level headed pilot who reacted quickly and correctly are
the reason that I am alive and flying today. Also, a generous helping of good
old-fashioned Irish luck didn’t hurt. 

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The text above was written by Lt. Mark Baden and Lt. Keith Gallagher and
originally published in Approach Magazine in November, 1991. 

more stories from Approach Magazine – Navy Publication.

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Keith Gallagher’s Describes His Injuries:

My most serious
injury was that 1/2 my right arm (the shoulder, bicep,
forearm) was paralyzed due to a stretched nerve in my shoulder. In addition, my
left shoulder was damaged as well. I have all of the damage of someone who
dislocated his shoulder, but it was not dislocated when I landed. My supposition
is that it dislocated, and popped back in upon landing. Other than that, I was
just extremely beat up. Via physical therapy, I recovered within 6 months. My
right shoulder “came back” in about 1 month, my forearm in about 2-3
months, and my bicep returned in about 4-5 months. I had to re-do all of my
physiological qualifications (swimming, etc) to prove that I was OK, but I flew
again 6 months to the day after the accident.

* * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * *

Aspects of LT Gallagher’s Mishap


AME1(AW) Jung, a Navy Safety and Survival Systems Technician who was the VA-95’s Aircrew Life Support Systems
(ALSS) Quality Assurance Representative at the time of Keith Gallagher’s mishap..

* * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * *

from Dalton Wright to Keith Gallagher

Ejection from an A-6 in 1971

A friend and
former naval aviator Bob William’s forwarded the story and photos of your
ejection seat malfunction and chute deployment that occurred in 1991 and I
thought you might find my experience of interest.  On Nov. 15, 1971, I was
on a maintenance test flight for VA 42 in an A-6 A out of NAS Oceana. 
While leveling off at 10,000 feet, my seat fired leaving my BN LT. John Adair
without a pilot and forcing him to eject.

The cause of the
ejection was determined to be a faulty drogue gun that fired and ripped the
drogue chute out the top of the seat pulling the two ejection seat cables, which
initiated the ejection.  After I was ejected, I thought I had a 
midair as I was tumbling through the air and did not know why I was there and
assumed the airplane had been torn apart.  I did not get automatic chute
deployment because the chute was shredded or fouled due to it being pulled
through the ejection cables.  As I fell I wanted to give up, but something
inside kept me working on the problem.  After a period, I realized I had
the chute pack on my back, but I could not find the D ring due to the wind
buffeting, tumbling, and confusion.  In desperation, I grabbed the
parachute bag and I could see the steel pin and rigging.  I grabbed it and
gave it pull and the chute deployed.

During the
accident investigation the seat was found and it was determined that
the drogue gun caused the problem.  After my accident, the
safety center identified five or six other flight accidents that had
resulted in fatalities and one probable hanger incident that could
have been caused by the drogue gun problem.  The A-6 fleet of
GRU-5 (Martin Baker Back breaker) seats were inspected for excessive
play/tolerances in the drogue gun firing mechanism and were
replaced. John and I were very fortunate in that we survived and
were not
injured.  I was flying again in 2 weeks and John continued to fly after a
short layoff.

I am glad you came away from your harrowing experience alive and in one piece. 
It was one heck of a story and it sure made me think back about my accident. 
Before I close, I was wondering if you have a relative by the name of Bob
Gallagher who served as an advanced jet flight instructor in VT 26 during the
late 60’s.  I had an instructor by that name and he was terrific teacher
and aviator.

Take care and God bless the Irish,

Dalton Wright

* * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * 

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