Above & Beyond: Man Overboard!
- By Keith Monroe
- Air & Space magazine, May 2000
(Page 2 of 3)
The two Navy men took off and angled up toward where Osipoff was bouncing and flipping. The crew aboard the transport had by then managed to pull him a third of the way back in.
Suddenly Osipoff felt a wrenching smash. Something banged his aching back and shoulders. Then he was twirling again. Cautiously, he opened his eyes. Below him was the wing of another airplane.
From the ground, I could see that Lowrey had maneuvered the biplane under Osipoff, but the aircraft was whipped in the transport’s slipstream and Osipoff twice got dragged across the wing. Lowrey then flew alongside the transport and signaled Johnson to try climbing to find calmer air. Soaked in sweat, Johnson let the nose come up again. He had enough fuel for another 10 minutes.
Time was shortening for Osipoff too. Being jerked through the hatch had broken his chest strap, and his leg straps were hanging on his ankles. “We could see that he was in pretty bad shape because there was blood dripping off the helmet,” McCants later said.
At 3,000 feet Lowrey tried another pass. With McCants standing up in the rear cockpit, Lowrey got Osipoff lined up with the biplane’s left wing and edged in, fighting to keep the propeller away from the jumpmaster’s head. Then Osipoff was above the aircraft, almost close enough to reach. Ahead a little more. Up a little. McCants and Osipoff grabbed each other’s waists and held on. Osipoff’s head went into the rear cockpit. But he was still enmeshed in the lines, and try as he might, McCants couldn’t make room for more than Osipoff’s head. The cockpit was too small.
Osipoff lay on top of the fuselage, propped in a machine gun crotch aft of the second cockpit, clinging to McCants. Both were hampered by the shroud lines that were tangled in the static cable. Knife in hand, McCants sawed hard to cut Osipoff free. Each second counted—the two aircraft could not stay precisely in position for long.
Then a gust flung the SOC up. With a grinding scream, its propeller sliced 12 inches off the transport’s tailcone fairing.
Lowrey told me later, when I interviewed all the players for a magazine article, that the impact dizzied him for an instant. He realized that by some miracle he was still flying, and so was the transport, a safe distance above him. Osipoff was still horizontal on the top of the biplane’s fuselage. The parachute swirled behind, caught in the SOC’s tail.