Attrition: Flight Deck Fatalities

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October 18,2008:  The U.S. Navy recently lost another sailor to a flight deck accident. The 31 year old victim, Boatswain's Mate 2nd Class Robert Lemar Robinson, was hit and killed by an F-18F during a catapult launch. Robinson was an aircraft handler. Fatal flight deck accidents happen very rarely, about once or twice a year. There are nearly 100,000 aircraft catapult launches a year on U.S. carriers. By way of comparison, the navy lost 37 sailors last year to off duty motorcycle accidents, and more sailors are lost to other types of accidents (like falling overboard).

When on duty, especially on the flight deck of a carrier during takeoff and landing operations, there is a fanatical dedication to safety. New sailors, assigned to the flight deck, are not allowed out there for at least two weeks, as they are first drilled on all the safety procedures. These must become instinctive. To that end, officers and petty officers (NCOs) keep a close eye on the new guy for weeks after he is allowed on the flight deck.

When active, the flight deck of a carrier is a very dangerous place, and whenever a sailor dies on the flight deck, the incident is intensely scrutinized to find out if procedures, equipment or deck layout can be changed to make another accident less likely. The layout of the new class of U.S. carriers, now under construction, will be markedly different from current carriers, partly because of lessons learned from these accidents.

 


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