FIGHTER PILOT REQUESTED VERTICAL TAKEOFF BEFORE TOMCAT'S FATAL\CRASH.
The last thing Lt. Cmdr. John Stacy Bates told his parents was to leave the airport by the southern route so they would get a better view of his takeoff.
Shortly before heading down the Nashville International Airport runway, the Navy pilot asked for a high-speed, vertical takeoff. His F-14 Tomcat went into a steep climb and minutes later, plunged back through the clouds and crashed into a residential neighborhood.
Bates, 33, and his radar intercept officer, Lt. Graham Alden Higgins, 28, were killed when their fighter hit a brick home. Ewing T. Wair, 53, who was visiting Elmer Newsom, 66, and his wife, Ada, 63, also were killed.
Bates, who was flying back to Miramar Naval Air Station in San Diego on a training mission after a layover to visit his parents in Chattanooga, Tenn., lost another F-14 Tomcat during a routine training mission in April.
In that case, Bates' F-14 and a second Navy fighter took off from the deck of the USS Abraham Lincoln west of Hawaii in an exercise designed to teach evasive maneuvers, said Lt. Pat Moore of the Commander Naval Air Force, U.S. Pacific Fleet, San Diego.
Bates' fighter, the lead aircraft, stalled while performing an evasive move and went into a flat spin. "He lost control," Moore said. "They ejected because he couldn't recover control."
Neither Bates nor the second airman on board was injured. A subsequent investigation blamed Bates for the loss of the plane but after a review, he was cleared to resume flying.
Monday's accident was the 30th crash of an F-14 since 1991, including 11 in 1993, five in 1994 and seven in 1995, the Navy said.
The crash also was the fourth in the past 16 months for the VF213 Squadron, to which Bates was assigned.
After Monday's crash, the squadron was ordered to stop flying until further notice.
The "standdown," a routine procedure after an accident, usually lasts a few days, giving squadron members time to reflect over the crash and review safety procedures.
Navy investigators spent Tuesday combing the area, mapping where each piece of wreckage lay and interviewing witnesses for clues on why the $35 million fighter crashed.
Unlike commercial airliners, most military aircraft do not have flight data recorders that yield valuable information and data in the event of a crash. Bates' conversation with the airport tower was the only recording before the crash.
Pentagon spokesman Kenneth Bacon said it was premature to discuss whether Bates' vertical takeoff was hot-dogging; Navy officials say such steep climbs are not unusual for pilots trying to clear a civilian airport's airspace.
When the plane crashed, the pilot's parents, Les and Peggy Bates, were at a Nashville restaurant sipping coffee. They heard the sirens of fire engines and saw smoke billowing from the nearby airport and thought perhaps a warehouse had exploded, said family friend Maura Phillips.
As soon as the couple learned that a Navy fighter had crashed, they knew their son was aboard because his was the only F-14 at the airport, said neighbor Marsha Hyman in Chattanooga, about 110 miles southeast of Nashville.
Phillips said the Bateses had gone to the airport with their son, who told them to drive south of the airport on their way back to Chattanooga so they would get a better view of the runway and his takeoff.
They did not see the crash or notice anything unusual about the takeoff, Phillips said. "They are devastated," she said.
Friends snapped a photo of John Stacy Bates and his wife, Christina, during a 1993 visit to Chattanooga, Tenn. Associated Press