Naval Air Station Oceana, Virginia Beach, Virginia

I heard about the jet crash as I was leaving the Bachelor Officer Quarters for the hangar. The jet was an F-8 Crusader, and I was thankful, once again, that I was flying a fighter with two engines—the far more forgiving F-4 Phantom. When I got to the squadron ready room, more details emerged: the pilot didn’t make it; he waited too long to eject. Our four-plane air-to-ground training flight was canceled, and we were instead sent to the simulators for emergency procedures practice.

Before dinner that night we watched the evening news: the local anchor led with the story. He said that eyewitness motorists on both Oceana Boulevard and Potters Road agreed that the jet appeared to lose power and turned left, losing altitude. One witness, a plane watcher parked at the junction of the two roads, said that the pilot ejected at treetop level, in all likelihood trying to ensure that the plane would crash in open space, which it did. The Navy, the anchorman said, identified the young pilot as Lieutenant Junior Grade David Todd Wadsworth of Huntington, New York. The coverage switched back to more eyewitnesses, but I didn’t hear a thing. I could hardly breathe.

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