Update: Our article originally said that John McCain had “accidentally killed 134 American sailors,” during his time serving in the Navy. There is no evidence for this. The original Washington Post article clearly states “U.S. Navy records make clear that no blame can be attached to McCain for either of these incidents.”
As mainstream media outlets heap praise on the late Senator following his death Saturday, it is easy to forget that just a few years prior they were viciously attacking him when he ran against Obama.
“I crashed a plane in Corpus Christi Bay one Saturday morning. The engine quit while I was practicing landings…I took a few painkillers and hit the sack to rest my aching back for a few hours….I was out carousing, injured back and all, later that evening.
–John McCain, “Faith of My Fathers.”
Controversy has surrounded a series of crashes involving planes piloted by John McCain while serving in the U.S. Navy. In his autobiography, the Republican presidential candidate maintained that a couple of the accidents were caused by engine failure.
But an official investigation by the Naval Aviation Safety Center makes clear that the first accident, in March 1960, was caused exclusively by pilot error.
During the course of his flying career with the U.S. Navy, John McCain was involved in at least five major mishaps or crashes involving his plane. The most dramatic incidents occurred in 1967. He barely escaped with his life after a missile exploded aboard an aircraft carrier, the USS Forrestal, in July of that year, killing 134 of his fellow crew members. In October, McCain was shot down over Vietnam by a surface-to-air missile.
U.S. Navy records make clear that no blame can be attached to McCain for either of these incidents. McCain was awarded the Distinguished Flying Cross on his return from Vietnam and cited for his “superb airmanship” in the abortive raid on the power plant in Hanoi that ended with his capture and imprisonment by the North Vietnamese.
Mystery has surrounded the precise circumstances of the three earlier incidents, and particularly an accident on March 12, 1960, while McCain was still in flight school at Corpus Christi in Texas. The McCain campaign has either ignored or failed to respond to requests by The Washington Post and other news organizations for the release of the candidate’s full military records, which could shed light on the accidents and the pilot’s personal involvement.
The official Navy report into the Corpus Christi accident on March 12, 1960, concludes that the AD-6 Skyraider trainer crashed because McCain failed to “maintain an airspeed above the stall speed.” It attributed the accident to “the preoccupation of the pilot coupled with a power setting too low to maintain level flight.” The single-engine prop plane sank to the bottom of Corpus Christi Bay. McCain was rescued by a helicopter after swimming to the surface.
The accident report excluded a series of other possible factors, including engine failure and disorientation of the pilot due to vertigo. It recorded pilot error as “the sole contributing factor” to the accident. A copy of the report was obtained by The Washington Post from the Democratic National Committee, which conducted research at the Naval Historical Center in Washington. McCain’s responsibility for the accident was first reported by the Los Angeles Times here.
McCain had another accident with a T-2 trainer jet in November 1965, while flying between New York City and Norfolk, Va. The Naval Aviation Safety Center was unable to determine the precise cause of the accident or the degree of pilot error. McCain wrote later that his engine “flamed out” and he had to eject.