Inconvenient News,
       by smintheus

Monday, October 06, 2008

  Crash McCain

Ralph Vartabedian and Richard A. Serrano of the LA Times have examined unclassified military records concerning John McCain's multiple crashes while he was a naval aviator. It could hardly be clearer that McCain was known as a reckless pilot; he admits that he was clowning around and "flying too low" over Spain in 1961 when he flew into electrical wires. But the thing that stands out the most are the false excuses he gave for two incidents, which McCain blamed on mechanical malfunctions. In each case, investigators subsequently rejected McCain's story. Lying to military investigators is arguably an even more serious offense than screwing around with expensive aircraft. The Times deserves credit for exposing McCain's record.

He was able to get away with such behavior and retain his wings because, as a son and grandson of admirals, he led a charmed life in the Navy. Even as a midshipman at the Naval Academy, the rules simply didn't apply.

His grandfather's name and his father's forbearance brought McCain a charmed existence at Annapolis. On his first trip at sea — to Rio de Janeiro aboard the USS Hunt — the captain was a former student of his father. While McCain's classmates learned the ins and outs of the boiler room, McCain got to pilot the ship to South America and back. In Rio, he hobnobbed with admirals and the president of Brazil.

Back on campus, McCain's short fuse was legend. "We'd hear this thunderous screaming and yelling between him and his roommate — doors slamming — and one of them would go running down the hall," recalls Phil Butler, who lived across the hall from McCain at the academy. "It was a regular occurrence."

When McCain was not shown the pampering to which he was accustomed, he grew petulant — even abusive. He repeatedly blew up in the face of his commanding officer. It was the kind of insubordination that would have gotten any other midshipman kicked out of Annapolis. But his classmates soon realized that McCain was untouchable. Midway though his final year, McCain faced expulsion, about to "bilge out" because of excessive demerits. After his mother intervened, however, the academy's commandant stepped in. Calling McCain "spoiled" to his face, he nonetheless issued a reprieve, scaling back the demerits.

Indeed, McCain finished fifth from the bottom of his class at the Naval Academy. He should never have received one of the coveted aviation billets because graduating midshipmen get to select among available career paths according to class rank. If he were not born to the naval aristocracy, McCain would have ended up counting machine screws at some supply depot. Instead, he was handed the most prized career path and then permitted for years to carry on with antics that would have gotten another pilot grounded, or worse.

Which brings me back to the lies he told to cover up his crashes. According to the documents reviewed by the Times, McCain blamed his first crash into Corpus Christi Bay in March 1960 on an engine failure that investigators were able to prove didn't occur.

While he has contended that the engine quit, investigators collected extensive evidence indicating otherwise. Cockpit instruments that froze on impact showed the engine was still producing power. When water quenched the exhaust stack, it preserved a bright blue color, showing that the engine was still hot. And an aviator behind McCain reported that the engine was producing the black smoke characteristic of Skyraiders.

Investigators determined that McCain was watching instruments in his cockpit that indicated the position of his landing gear and had lost track of his altitude and speed.

The report concluded: "In the opinion of the board, the pilot's preoccupation in the cockpit . . . coupled with the use of a power setting too low to maintain level flight in a turn were the primary causes of this accident."

McCain's aviation career did not end there, however. A year and a half later he nearly destroyed another plane by flying through electrical wires. We don't know what excuse if any McCain was able to offer. His career did not end.

Then in 1965 he bailed out of a plane over Virginia's eastern shore. He said that there'd been an explosion in the engine and the plane lost power. Investigators found otherwise:

In a report dated Jan. 18, 1966, the Naval Aviation Safety Center said it could not determine the cause of the accident or corroborate McCain's account of an explosion in the engine. A close examination of the engine found "no discrepancies which would have caused or contributed to engine failure or malfunction."

The report found that McCain, then assigned to squadron VT-7 in Meridian, Miss., had made several errors: He failed to switch the plane's power system to battery backup, which "seriously jeopardized his survival chances." ...

Edward M. Morrison, a mechanic for VT-7 who is now retired and living in Washington state, said that the plane McCain checked out that day had just been refurbished and that he knew of no engine problems.

A third crash should have ended McCain's career, particularly after another uncorroborated claim of mechanical failure. It didn't. Instead, somebody intervened to change the investigators' findings:

About two weeks after issuing its report, the safety center revised its findings and said the accident resulted from the failure or malfunction of an "undetermined component of the engine."

The vagueness of the new finding, and the timing of the revision, suggests that an order was sent down the chain of command as McCain faced a potentially devastating review of his performance. So it looks like John McCain lied repeatedly about his failures and in at least one case got others to lie to cover up for his lies.

It's remarkable that McCain now has the gall to run for president on the slogan of 'putting country first'. Even more, that he wants voters to judge him based on his character, honor, and integrity.

Back in the summer of 2000 I wrote an op-ed about how George W. Bush and Dick Cheney had handled the selection of Bush's running mate. I thought it showed decisively that both men believe the normal rules just don't apply to them. And behold, that's exactly the kind of administration they've given us. John McCain's entire record tells me that he has a similar attitude toward following the rules and holding himself accountable. In his military record, that attitude is especially stark.

For all the nonsense that was tossed around four years ago about John Kerry's honorable record of service, it's amazing how little serious investigation we've seen from journalists of John McCain's troubled record in the military.

crossposted at

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