Editor's note: The 1973 crash of a Navy jet into an Alameda apartment building was in the news again this week when Miami freelance journalist and former Island resident Theo Karantsalis published an article indicating the plane had a history of maintenance problems. His article was based on U.S. Navy documents withheld from the public for nearly 40 years. You may read about his findings in "40 Years Later, Navy Documents May Shed Light on Cause of Deadly 1973 Jet Crash in Alameda."
Former Navy pilot Drew Kinder was flying back to Naval Air Station Alameda that night and witnessed the fire caused by the plane crash. He shares his memories here.
By Drew Kinder
I was flying one of three or four A-3 Skywarriors that night on a routine flight to Naval Air Facility Crows Landing, a runway out on the east side of the San Joaquin Valley near I -5 just a few minutes past Livermore by jet. Each A-3 had one pilot and one Naval Flight Officer. The NFO, among other duties, navigated and handled the radios.
In contrast the A-7 Crusader was a single seat jet, so that pilot was alone in his cockpit.
We flew over there to practice so-called Field Carrier Landings, which were quite loud. Crows Landing is surrounded by farmers fields so we didn't bother anyone.
It was also very dark.
After about an hour of continuous touch and go landings designed to mimic night landings on an aircraft carrier we would fly back to Alameda. The return flight took 15-20 minutes, as I recall.
On the night in question, I was piloting the last A-3 to depart the Crows Landing pattern. I couldn't see the other A-3's in my group, but I knew they were up ahead because I heard them talking on the various air traffic control frequencies as my plane checked in.
The A-7 was never on our frequency because he was up high and we were down low. We had no idea he was anywhere near us.
The first indication I had of a problem was when we switched frequency from Approach Control to Alameda Tower once we cleared the Oakland Airport.
That's when we first noticed the fire.
After we checked in to tower frequency I casually asked the controller about the large fire very close to the landing pattern, thinking it must have been a big house fire. He responded very curtly that it was a possible plane crash.
From that moment on none of the A-3s said anything on frequency other than the minimum required transmissions. Importantly, I heard all the other A-3's call for landing permission. I knew I was last in line, so I knew the crash couldn't be one of the Crows Landing planes.
Immediately as I taxied my plane to the parking spot, our Commanding Officer met me in civilian clothes. I was about 25 at the time and a Lieutenant Junior Grade and he was a full Commander at least twice my age.
I didn't even think he knew my name. He was all over me as I climbed out of the plane wanting to know if one of our planes had crashed. As I have explained, I knew it wasn't one of ours, but I got all tongue tied when I tried to explain to him why it couldn't be a Whale (A-3).
As I remember he got frustrated with me and hustled off to find a more coherent source of information.