CHARLES D. SCHOONOVER, LCDR, USN

From USNA Virtual Memorial Hall

Charles Schoonover '54

Date of birth: September 18, 1931

Date of death: January 16, 1966

Age: 34

Lucky Bag

From the 1954 Lucky Bag:


Loss

Charlie was lost when his RA-5C crashed on January 16, 1966 while attempting to land aboard USS Ranger (CV 61) off the coast of Vietnam. His co-pilot was also killed.

From a email conversation with Captain Mike McGrath, USN (Ret.) '62 on March 21, 2017:

Wow, you surely hit home with this loss. Although I didn't know him personally, I was the last human being to see LCDR Schoonover slowly sink below the surface of the sea as he entered Davey Jones' locker.

I was sitting in the VA-146 ready room that night watching the recovery on the PLAT. As you know, the PLAT camera is in perfect alignment with the pilot's head...regardless of aircraft type. I saw the aircraft's sudden sinking in-close as the LSO was yelling "POWER, POWER." The A5 sank to the lower half of the camera (as seen on our ready room TV monitor), definitely a dangerous approach. There was a flash. I remember it. It was either the aircraft hitting the rounddown, or the impact drove the landing gear through the airframe into the engine (or engines). The aircraft couldn't catch the arresting wire as the hook and snubber system was probably destroyed. The aircraft skidded across the PLAT camera with lots of flames and sparks. The PRI-FLY camera picked up the aircraft as Schoonover added power and attempted to climb. The aircraft climbed a couple of hundred feet, leveled off and seemed to turn right 10 degrees matching the ships' heading. It looked to me like he was in afterburner the entire time. There was a long flaming exhaust out the rear of the engines. I did not witness any "explosion" as described by one description of the accident. If there was an explosion, it must have occurred between the time I left the ready room and I arrived at the port catwalk.

The LSO yelled, "BOLTER, BOLTER" as the pilot added power and left the deck. Almost immediately after the aircraft reached level off at 200 feet, the LSO announced, "YOU'RE ON FIRE, EJECT!" The LSO continued to make the same call for the pilot to eject...several times. No transmissions were heard from the pilot. Maybe the aircraft radios were damaged and the crew could not hear the calls. I don't know why the Navigator did not eject. We suppose the pilot was still trying to save the aircraft.

By this time, I ran outside the ready room to the port catwalk, beside the no. 2 catapult. About one to two miles ahead of the carrier, I watched the aircraft suddenly sink into the ocean...and the flames were snuffed out. The carrier slowed from about 20 knots to about 5 knots when it passed the floating A5 along side the port bow. All available ship's spotlights were on the aircraft, still barely afloat and slowly sinking. I could see that both canopies were still on the aircraft. I thought I could see both helmets in the cockpit. The aircraft was about 200 feet below me, directly beside me, when the mild waves went over the cockpit and the plane went beneath the surface.

The recovery helicopter was there and had its spotlight on the canopy, but there was nothing the helo crew could do.

That's one of those memories which will haunt me forever. Mike McGrath, then a LTjg with VA-146 Blue Diamonds

Other

He was selected for Naval Test Pilot School in 1962.

Related Articles

Gary Hopps ’59 was lost from a different squadron aboard USS Ranger only a few weeks later.

Memorials

Charlie is among those names on the Vietnam Veterans Memorial in Washington, D.C.

Memorial Hall Error?

Charlies is not listed on the killed in action panel in the front of Memorial Hall. While not an obvious error, inclusion on the panel for crashes like this (incidental to combat flights) has been inconsistent across WWII, the Korean War, and the Vietnam War.


Class of 1954

Charles is one of 38 members of the Class of 1954 in Memorial Hall.