ROBERT S. WOOD, JR., LT, USN
Robert Wood, Jr. '90
Date of birth: December 21, 1966
Date of death: October 25, 1996
From The Florida Times-Union on June 13, 1997:
A Navy pilot known for his on-the-edge flying style was showboating in his Jacksonville-based helicopter when it crashed last year in the Persian Gulf, killing himself and two others, a report said.
The Navy investigation into the Oct. 25, 1996, crash also revealed "a disturbing history of a command where some of the squadron's pilots were routinely flying aircraft beyond [safe operating] limits," the crash report said.
The pilot in this case, Lt. Robert S. Wood Jr. of Helicopter Antisubmarine Squadron 15, was doing an unauthorized "course reversal" maneuver to the thrill of his Navy SEAL passengers when the HH-60H helicopter hit the water, the report said.
Wood, along with another Jacksonville-based HS-15 pilot, Lt. Cmdr. Jeffrey Allen Hilliard, and a Navy SEAL, Petty Officer 1st Class Steven Mark Voight of Waverly, Ga., were killed in the crash. Nine other people survived.
Helicopter wing and squadron officials at Jacksonville Naval Air Station, where HS-15 is based, declined comment.
The report said a safety briefing was held to make sure all pilots are aware that unsafe flying is "unacceptable - period."
Obtained under the federal Freedom of Information Act, the report portrays Wood as a top pilot in his squadron, but one who pushed the helicopter to its limit and beyond.
"It was well known that Lt. Wood was a 'hot dog' in the aircraft. He did everything to the extreme," said one person, whose name was whited out of the report by the Navy.
The report notes that Wood, who felt he had mastered the helicopter and wanted to fly jets, was known as "Stamp," because he flew at the edge of the envelope.
The morning of the crash, Wood and crew had finished a ship boarding exercise and were waiting to land aboard USS Enterprise when the pilots decided to do some maneuvers - sharp turns, rocking left to right and "porpoising" up and down, the report said.
"The passengers enjoyed the maneuvers, laughing and encouraging the pilots on," the report said.
Wood, the co-pilot, said there was time for one more "course reversal" maneuver before landing. According to the report, he put the helicopter into a steep, 60-degree climb. At the top of the climb, the aircraft came to a virtual stop, giving the passengers the feel of floating.
He then spun the helicopter 180 degrees, pointed it nose down and increased the air speed. The aircraft, however, came out of the dive too low and crashed into the water.
"We were almost level, when I realized we were too close," said an unnamed passenger on board. "The helo's nose was buried into the water, throwing all of us forward. I was under water for a while getting the 'washing machine' ride."
Another passenger in the report said he looked toward the door and saw that the helicopter was very low.
"I felt an extremely hard slam and heard a roaring and cracking sound," he said. "I felt myself doing back flips, then I was in the water. When I popped to the surface, I saw wreckage all around me, and I pulled [inflated] my life jacket."
The report faults Wood for prohibited "flat hatting," or conducting maneuvers at high speed or low altitude to get a thrill. Hilliard is blamed for for failing to exercise his duties as the helicopter commander to ensure the safety of the flight.
The report also criticizes the former squadron commander, Cmdr. Howard S. Bayes Jr., for failing to "maintain a command climate which ensured a safe operating environment." Bayes was relieved of his command as the result of the investigation.
The report said some officers thought a conservative pilot was not as good as a more aggressive one and felt some of their colleagues were "driving the hot rod like the station wagon."
The report says Bayes either was not aware flights that exceeded safety limits were routinely taking place or that he failed to take action to correct the problem.
There were numerous indicators, the report concluded, that Wood was potentially at risk, but most of them went unchecked. The commanding officer, it said, was not fully briefed on many previous potential flight dangers until after the crash.
Only a few days before the crash, for example, the report said the 30-year-old Wood had performed an "aggressive maneuver" in which he headed directly for a merchant ship then did a high-speed buttonhook turn around it.
Bayes told investigators he served Wood a "stern warning" about his airmanship on Oct. 22 after Wood put his helicopter into an excessive nose-down attitude and bank during a carrier takeoff and landing.
From the January/February 1997 issue of Shipmate:
LT Rob Wood '90 was the co-pilot of Red Lion 614, which was lost at sea on 25 October 1996. "Woody" was a magnificent pilot, and a great officer, and his many Classmates and friends in '90 will miss him as much as his squadron mates.
Rob was a native of Newton, MA. He was Winged in January 1993, after temporary duty at Rotary Wing Aircraft Test Directorate NATC Patuxent River, MD. He reported to HS-15 at NAS Jacksonville, FL in February 1994, after completion of FRS training in the SH-60R At HS-15, he served as Schedules Officer, Aircraft Division Officer, and Quality Assurance Officer. He was about to finish his second Mediterranean deployment, one aboard SARATOGA (CV 60), and one aboard ENTERPRISE (CVN 65).
We will think of Rob Wood, who would gnaw pensively on a dill pickle while breaking down the principles of flight as easily as describing his sock drawer, which in itself was another phenomenon. We will remember Rob Wood, roommate, who's favorite thing was busting open and sharing his mom's chocolate chip cookies while talking about home, family and friends. We will never forget the story of when he went into the forest, found the stoutest elm, and fashioned a skateboard. We will never forget the stories of flying in Wyoming and fishing in Mexico. We will never forget the stories because he so relished sharing them.
Looking back at all the memories, we see a common thread: fellowship. When he wasn't testing the limits of laminar flow, all of his favorite things included fellowship. For Rob, the opportunity to commune with his fellow man was gold. People say that the thing that he loved most was flying. To us, the thing Rob loved most was us.
We salute Rob for the way he lived. He always strove not to be better than others, but to be the best that he could. What exactly happened to him out there, we don't know other than he was probably flying at about 200 feet when something went wrong. The time to impact from that altitude is about the equivalent of time it takes a man on the street to recite his phone number. Yet, in that fragment of time, whoever was flying his helicopter realized, analyzed and reacted to a critical emergency well enough that nine passengers walked away from the crash. So, for every one of us who grieve, nine are grateful.
Rob is survived by his father, Robert S. Wood, Sr. of Jackson, WY; his mother, Julianne L. Schworm of Marion, MA; and Angelik Mclntire, of Jacksonville, FL, to whom he was engaged to be married. Rob's family has asked that donations be made to the National Museum of Naval Aviation in Pensacola, FL.
Again, our thoughts and prayers are with Woody and his family. We know that the Entire Class of '90 joins us in this sentiment.
LT Pete Gwynne '91 and Capt Matt Stromberg '90