40 years ago today: Plane crash killed 14 sailors on USS Nimitz carrier

Military

PORTSMOUTH, Va. (WAVY) — Wednesday marks 40 years since the deadly plane crash onboard the USS Nimitz supercarrier (CVN-68).

According to naval records, the crash happened on May 26, 1981, when the Nimitz was conducting night training exercises 60 miles off the coast of Jacksonville, Florida.

14 sailors died and more than 40 others were hurt when the EA-6B Prowler surveillance plane crashed on landing.

The report from Judge Advocate General (JAG) to the Chief of Naval Operations said “the unfortunate circumstances surrounding this tragic accident were many and varied. Therefore, it is highly doubtful that any one factor can be singled out as the primary cause. In combination, however, the end result was the tragic loss of human life. To this end, we must do everything within our capabilities to ensure that such accidents do not occur again.”

10 On Your Side spoke with Bob Williams, a U.S. Navy veteran who was on the Nimitz when the crash happened. Williams was below deck but watched the events unfold on the ship’s closed-circuit tv in shock.

“It was a huge fireball and an explosion, and you knew people were dying,” recalled Williams. “It was sad and we were in shock. We just don’t realize until something happens how dangerous and how much we take life for granted.”

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