On February 27, 1950 President Truman signed a Presidential Proclamation proclaiming that the third Saturday of May each year would be Armed Forces Day.
The people of Salem, Mass gathered for what had by then become an annual event, however on this day, tragedy would strike, taking the lives of two Coast Guard airmen.
It was a beautiful sunny spring day in Salem and over a 1,000 people had gathered around Salem Harbor to see the Armed Forces Day activities. One of the featured events of the day was to be the Jet Assisted Takeoff (JATO) for one of Air Station Salem's UF-1Gs.
JATO bottles, still in use today by the military, are small solid propellant rocket motors, mounted on the side of an aircraft in multiples. On the UF-1G, JATOs were mounted near the rear, two on each side. A JATO launch allows an aircraft to take off on a short runway with a heavy load, or in the case of an amphibious aircraft, allows them to get in the air faster in rough seas.
As was usual, prior to one of the stations UF-1G doing a water take-off, the station's 30 Foot "crash boat" swept the channel to make sure nothing was in the way, clearing any obstacles for the aircraft to get airborne.The UF-1G (No. 1278) water taxied into position and began its take off run. Each JATO bottle provided 1,000 pounds of thrust for 14 seconds. As the pilot applies full engine power and the aircraft begins its take off run, the JATO is electrically fired and 4000 extra pounds of thrust help lift the aircraft out of the water and into the air. It's magnificent to see and it's a method that has helped many military aircraft get safely into the air when then might not have been able to otherwise. But on this day something went wrong.
One person who had a front row seat to the accident was then LT Robert Carlston, who was the co-pilot aboard the UF-1G. Also on board for that day were the pilot LCDR Albert P. Hartt, Jr., Aviation Radioman Henry Hagermiester, Aviation Ordnanceman William J. Tarker, Jr., Aviation Ordnanceman Robert W. Allen and Aviation Ordnanceman John J. MaCala "We had been practicing the JATO take off for the Armed Forces' Day demonstration the week before, but we had been using only two JATO bottles instead of the usual four.""On the day of the event, we talked it over and planned how were would coordinate our actions during the take off," said Carlston. "Part of that was that after LCDR Hartt fired the first two JATO bottles, I'd reach up and flip the switch to arm the second set for firing. Apparently LCDR Hartt was still pressing the JATO button on the yoke, for when I flipped the switch to armed the second set, they immediately fired."On the day of the event, we talked it over and planned how were would coordinate our actions during the take off," said Carlston. "Part of that was that after LCDR Hartt fired the first two JATO bottles, I'd reach up and flip the switch to arm the second set for firing. Apparently LCDR Hartt was still pressing the JATO button on the yoke, for when I flipped the switch to armed the second set, they immediately fired."
According to Carlston, at that point LCDR Hartt pulled back hard on the yoke. "We didn't have enough speed when Hartt pulled back and as a result the plane went up about 100-feet, started to shutter, then stalled. The plane did about two thirds of a spin before it hit the water. The left wing hit first and there was enough rotational force on the plane to cause the nose to rip off." As the nose ripped from the aircraft, Carlston and Hagermiester were thrown from the aircraft into the water, still strapped to their seats. "We sank to the bottom of the bay, a depth of about 30 feet. We both had to release our safety belts and try to swim to the surface," said Carlston.The UF-1G had hit the water hard, ripping it almost in half and killing two. When it came to rest, the tail section was sticking out of the water. Dead were Hartt and Tarker, while Carlston and Hagermiester were seriously injured. Two other crewman, Allen and MaCala received only minor injuries.In a matter of seconds, what was a day of celebration, had turned to tragedy, and had become perhaps the darkest day in the history of Air Station Salem.
[Permission to use obtained from the U.S. Air Force by Carole Dick and contributed to Genealogy Trails by Carole Dick]
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