The captain of the aircraft carrier USS Lexington praised his crew's performance after the crash-landing of a training jet that killed five people and sent flames rolling across the flight deck.
The crash killed the pilot, three sailors and a civilian technician and injured 19 aboard the Lexington, a training ship fondly called "Lady Lex" because it is the Navy's only carrier that allows female sailors. One of the 180 women in the crew of 1,440 was among those killed.A sailor from West Valley City - Mark Anthony Lopez, 21 - was critically injured in the accident but was reported in stable condition Tuesday at the University of South Alabama Medical Center.
"Members of the crew responded superbly. They demonstrated they were very well-trained and they moved. Their shipmates were injured and they did all that they could to take care of them," said Capt. C. Flack Logan after the ship arrived at its home port here Monday.
One crew member who said she never thought of running for safety was Airman Dee Votolato, a camera operator who kept her videotape running until the instant the T-2 Buckeye jet crashed at her feet Sunday and cartwheeled in flames.
Votolato, 21, of Houma, La., was knocked to the deck when the jet flipped upside down and crashed into the carrier's tower. But she got back up and kept taping as shipmates put out a fire.
"The women were in fighting the fire, taking the medical precautions, taking every step the men were taking," Votolato said. "A ship is not a beautiful place, it's not, but when you are here to do your job and when you get the job done you are not a woman, you are a sailor."
The Lexington crash took place in near-perfect flying weather when the ship was in the Gulf of Mexico, about 30 miles south of Pensacola, Logan said, adding that the pilot didn't report mechanical problems. Votolato said the plane was coming in too low, appeared to overcorrect and climbed at a steep angle before flipping upside down and hitting the ship.
"As I see it," Logan said, "he ended up in a position, which in naval aviation is known as being low and slow, which is a very terrible place to be when you are coming aboard a ship."
Landing signal officers radioed the pilot to add power and waved him off, but for some reason the airplane was unable to comply, Logan said.
The pilot, Ensign Steven E. Pontell, 23, of Columbia, Md., was making his first attempt to land on a carrier, Logan said. Pontell was a member of Training Squadron 19 at Meridian (Miss.) Naval Air Station.
Also killed were Petty Officer 3rd Class Burnett Kilgore Jr., 19, of Holly Springs, Miss.; Petty Officer 3rd Class Timmy L. Garroutte, 30, of Memphis, Tenn., and Airman Lisa L. Mayo, 25, of Oklahoma City, all Lexington crew members; and Byron Gervis Courvelle, 32, of Meridian, Miss., a civilian employee of DynCorp, which has a contract to maintain Navy aircraft. All four were killed on the flight deck.