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Mishaps mark John McCain's record as naval aviator

Tuesday, October 07, 2008

Three crashes early in his career led Navy officials to question or fault his judgment.

By Ralph Vartabedian and Richard A. Serrano, Los Angeles Times Staff Writers 

John McCain was training in his AD-6 Skyraider on an overcast Texas morning in 1960 when he slammed into Corpus Christi Bay and sheared the skin off his plane's wings.

McCain recounted the accident decades later in his autobiography. "The engine quit while I was practicing landings," he wrote. But an investigation board at the Naval Aviation Safety Center found no evidence of engine failure.

The 23-year-old junior lieutenant wasn't paying attention and erred in using "a power setting too low to maintain level flight in a turn," investigators concluded.

The crash was one of three early in McCain's aviation career in which his flying skills and judgment were faulted or questioned by Navy officials.

In his most serious lapse, McCain was "clowning" around in a Skyraider over southern Spain about December 1961 and flew into electrical wires, causing a blackout, according to McCain's own account as well as those of naval officers and enlistees aboard the carrier Intrepid. In another incident, in 1965, McCain crashed a T-2 trainer jet in Virginia.

After McCain was sent to Vietnam, his plane was destroyed in an explosion on the deck of an aircraft carrier in 1967. Three months later, he was shot down during a bombing mission over Hanoi and taken prisoner. He was not faulted in either of those cases and was later lauded for his heroism as a prisoner of war.

As a presidential candidate, McCain has cited his military service -- particularly his 5 1/2 years as a POW. But he has been less forthcoming about his mistakes in the cockpit....(Click for remainder).

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