Tuesday, September 21, 2021

Training, Dramatic Rescue Saves Ga. ANG Pilots Who Ejected Over the Atlantic

 By Maj. William Carraway

Historian, Georgia Army National Guard


Pilots of the 128th Fighter Interceptor Squadron in June 1958. Second Lieutenant Oliver Trotter is in the top row, second from the right.
Squadron commander, Maj. Fletcher E. Meadors is in the first row on the left. Captain Eugene Parrott kneels fourth from the left and
Capt. George Lindsey kneels far right. Photo courtesy of Gary Parrott.

September 21, 1958 began uneventfully for Georgia Air National Guard Capt. Eugene Parrott and 2nd Lt. Oliver E. Trotter Jr., both of Chattanooga, Tenn. The pilots were on a routine tow-target mission 50-miles off the coast of Savannah. Parrott, a veteran of more than 100 combat missions in the skies over Korea was at the controls of the T-33 jet trainer. Oliver, in the seat behind him, had graduated flight school in March.[1]

In the era before computer scored target hits, aerial target practice was facilitated by aircraft towing targets, often a large sheet of canvas. Pilots of the Georgia Air National Guard flying B-26 bombers and T-33 jets had towed targets for nearly 10 years supporting aerial gunnery training as well as towing targets for ground-based antiaircraft artillery units.[2] Whereas AAA training was conducted at Fort Stewart, aerial gunnery took place over the Atlantic Ocean where jet pilots fired individually colored bullets to mark their hits on the target.[3] 

T-33 pilots of the 128th Fighter Interceptor Squadron prepare to take off on an aerial gunnery training mission in 1958. Georgia National Guard Archives.

Towing targets provided excellent combat training but was not without its risks. Pilots on gun runs might pepper the tow aircraft as well as the target. It was also possible for a pilot to lose sight of the lead aircraft or overcorrect resulting in a mid-air collision. 

Parrott and Trotter were flying at 400 knots at an altitude of 12,000 feet when they experienced a slight jarring sensation. Parrott, a combat veteran and experienced pilot, instinctively began a visual inspection and noticed fuel pouring from the right aileron. Trotter observed the damage as Parrott reported his situation informing the pilot as smoke began to emerge from the wing. Realizing the craft was on fire, Parrott immediately advanced the throttle in an effort to put the fire out; however, the heat from the fire had already melted half of the aileron which subsequently fell off. The loss of the aileron caused a vibration which threatened to shake the wing to pieces. Assessing the situation, Parrott calmly advised Trotter, “Let’s get out of here.” The pilots ejected from the aircraft and were momentarily unconscious from the force of the ejection rockets. Nevertheless, the parachutes deployed automatically and when the pilots recovered from the initial blackout, they discovered that they were quietly floating within shouting distance of one another towards the ocean below.

Parrott called to Trotter and instructed him to inflate his rescue raft then attempted to inflate his. While Trotter successfully inflated his raft, Parrott's emergency inflation cylinder only partially inflated his. Fortunately, as he drifted ever closer to the waves below Parrott was able to completely inflate the raft and upon landing claimed that he didn’t even get his head under water. 

Observing the drama, Capt. George Lindsey circled his F-84 above the pilots maintaining a vigil over the descending parachutes and calling their location to Savannah Ground Control Intercept Station Glena which scrambled a Marine rescue helicopter from Beaufort, S.C. A Ga. ANG C-47 was also dispatched and dropped additional rafts; however, the waters were too choppy for the pilots to reach them.[4]

With a rescue helicopter inbound, Lindsey maintained his vigil over the downed pilots despite his fuel nearing exhaustion. He departed the scene only when relieved by Capt. Roland Rieck of the Savannah-based 158th Fighter Interceptor Squadron. Rieck helped vector the rescue helicopter to the scene until the Marine rescue crew could observe the sea marker dye the pilots had released from their life vests. Arriving less than one hour after incident, the helicopter plucked Lt. Trotter from the ocean using a sling hoist then retrieved Capt. Parrott. The rescue was completed 62 minutes after the pilots bailed out.

The pilots were transported to Hunter Air Force Base in Savannah where they were treated for minor injuries and released.


Second Lieutenant Oliver E. Trotter Jr. and Capt. Eugene Parrott are congratulated on their rescue by Maj. Fletcher E. Meadors, commander of the
128th Fighter Interceptor Squadron. Georgia National Guard Archives.


Trotter left the Georgia Air National Guard to concentrate on his studies at the Georgia Institute of Technology. Lindsey remained in the Ga. ANG until 1965 rising to the rank of major. Rieck, who relieved Lindsey of his vigil over the downed pilots remained in the Ga. ANG until 1968 and left the service as a lieutenant colonel.

Parrott remained in the Ga. ANG and was promoted to lieutenant colonel in 1965. He left the service in 1966 to become a test pilot for Boeing. He died in 2020 at the age of 91 and is buried in Chattanooga National Cemetery.


Eugene Parrott. Images courtesy of Gary Parrott.

[1] “Two Ga. Pilots Rescued at Sea.” The Georgia Guardsman Magazine. Sept-Oct 1958, 10.

[2] “116th Ftr.Bmr.Wg., Attached ANG Units Set Aerial Records at Travis.” The Georgia Guardsman Magazine. Sept, Oct 1954, 2.

 [3]“Photo review of 116th Ftr Intcp Wing Encampment“ The Georgia Guardsman Magazine, Aug, Sept 1955, 4.

[4] “2 Guard Pilots Parachute from burning Plane.” Brunswick News. Sept. 22. 1958, 1.

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