Low passages of Russian planes on U.S. Navy warships (and vice versa) are somehow frequent as the recent flybys of Russian Su-24 Fencer bombers on USS Donald Cook in the Baltic Sea prove.
Usually, such “shows of force” are uneventful, however, about 50 years ago, a close encounter at sea had a deadly ending.
On May 25, 1968 a Soviet Air Force Tu-16 Badger-F piloted by Colonel Andrey Pliyev buzzed the US Navy aircraft carrier USS Essex (CV-9) in the Norwegian Sea.
The Tu-16 made four passes, and on the last, a wing clipped the sea and it crashed with no survivors. Parts of three bodies were recovered by the US.
After the last pass, the aircraft, piloted by Colonel Andrey Pliyev, stalled and crashed into the sea.
According to “Cold War Warriors” the footage was considered classified by the Soviets and never shown in Russia until 2008.
May be, he was trying to get better photos. Efforts to blame US Navy fighters failed after footage has appeared, but still there were a rumours that Pliev went into manoeuvre trying to “…avoid collision with RC-controled drone from Essex.
Some personal notes about this incident:
I was aboard the Essex as a yeoman in the Captain’s Office. On this day, a very nice day in the Norwegian Sea, a co-worker and I were running on the catwalk right outside the Captain’s Office located on the starboard side by the superstructure.
We witnessed Crazy Ivan Pliyeev’s plane making this mock attack on the Essex. These flights were nothing new but they increased in intensity and proximity the closer we got to Russia’s equivalent to our Gulf of Mexico.
We watched in amazement as the plane flew level and alongside the flight deck and then flew out about a mile off our port bow and when he went to turn to make another pass, his long left wing hit the water and the plane crashed into the sea.
Related link: Videos of Thunderbird F-16 fighter jet Crash at Airshows
The next day, pictures of the pilot’s remains and film canisters of the crash came thru the Captain’s Office and we were able to view the photos but not the film of the actual crash.
I don’t remember exactly, but I think we assembled and processed all of this documentation for delivery to a Soviet warship (a sleek cruiser as I recall) that or the next day along with the bodies we had recovered.
I can tell you flatly, a plane hitting the water at 300 mph/500 kph really does a number on an aircrew, as the picture of an airman’s leg stump in his combat boot will attest to.
There was no joy in any of this and the transfer of the remains and documentation to the Soviet ship was a solemn affair on both sides. Regarding the film the Russians discovered in Washington archives, I don’t believe it was the version we sent to them on May 26/27, 1968.
We want to give them proof positive we had no hand in the crash and would not have sent them a video leaving out the most important part: the actual crash.
You’ll notice in the YouTube video it was interrupted just before the crash.
I’m no video expert but it seems the crash was edited/spliced out (note those squiggly lines) for the censored version placed in the archives, but I’m reasonably certain the film the Soviets received at the time (1968) showed the crash in all it’s glory.
I’ll make another reply soon and give my take on this incident and why I believed it happened in the context of the Cold War and battles being fought below the waves in 1968. Four (yes 4) submarines were lost in the first 5 months of 1968, including the USS Scorpion which was lost/sunk just 2 days before the TU-16 crash off the Essex.