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Plane Slips Off Aircraft Carrier

Plane Slips Off Aircraft Carrier

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ABOARD THE USS CONSTELLATION (AP) -- A plane veered off the USS Constellation's flight deck and slipped into the water after landing early Tuesday. The two pilots ejected into the water and were rescued by helicopter.

The S-3B Viking airplane, which is generally used for anti-submarine warfare, malfunctioned while taxiing on the flight deck and slid off the left side, said Rear Adm. Barry Costello, the commander of the Constellation's battle group. The plane hit the flight deck's safety netting before going into the water.

Both pilots were rescued by a Search and Rescue swimmer and lifted into a helicopter. They were then transported to Constellation and were seen walking off the helicopter, although one collapsed in the arms of a medic and had to be carried away in a stretcher. No one on the carrier flight deck was injured.

The two pilots were identified as Lt. Ben Folkers, from Mason City, Iowa, and Lt. Matt Wilder, from St. Louis, Mo.

The ship's commander, Capt. John Miller, said one of the pilots had superficial burns near one of his shoulders from the ejection seat going off and both had "minor trauma" to their ankles.

The plane sank in 200 feet of water and was considered lost, said Capt. Mark Fox, the commander of the Constellation's air wing.

He said a mission to recover the plane may not be "worth the investment," and would be considered only if an investigation failed to reveal the cause of the problem.

There was a fine mist in the air at the time of the accident, but the weather was otherwise good. Officials said flight operations on the ship would continue as scheduled.

USS Constellation is deployed in the Persian Gulf in support of the war in Iraq.

In addition to anti-submarine warfare, S-3B Vikings are used for surveillance and precision targeting and for refueling other planes. The plane was part of the VS-38 squadron on USS Constellation, known as "Red Griffins."

The aircraft also is equipped for mining and limited electronic surveillance. The sound of its engines are often compared to that of a vacuum cleaner, hence its nickname, the "Hoover."

Tuesday's incident was the first time the Constellation has lost a plane since August 1991, when an F-14 Tomcat fighter crashed into the Indian Ocean during a nighttime training mission. The pilot and radio intercept officer on board were killed.

(Copyright 2003 by The Associated Press. All Rights Reserved.)

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