Shocking: as soon as I touched the ratchet to the contactor and gave it one turn, I experienced a jolt of pain in my thumb and saw a surprising flash of light.
The flight schedule had ended for the night, and the AE shop had a few discrepancies to work on. An AE3 and I went down to the hangar bay to begin work on Canyon 403. He climbed into the cockpit to work on corrosion prevention and some light-intrusion problems on the cockpit panels.
The AE3 asked me to grab a power cable so he could apply power for cockpit panel lighting. Only reset power was applied, which is quiet and not obnoxiously loud like full power. Reset power means that the aircraft has the power load applied, but the power is held at the contactors waiting to be distributed throughout the various systems. Many AEs use reset power for a multitude of reasons: charging the battery, testing lights and reading voltage.
While the AE3 was in the cockpit working, I had a few discrepancies of my own to work on. A contactor in the left avionics-bay door and another in the right door needed to be sealed. I started on the one in the left door. I could seal all the terminals without removing anything.
After sealing the first contactor, I moved to the other side of the aircraft to seal the other one. There were many harnesses in the way, so I decided to disconnect them to have more room to work. I also had to take off the contactor cover because this contactor was in a much smaller area than the first one. I removed the top cover with a flathead screwdriver. To reach the bottom terminals, I had to take off a second cover. I grabbed a ratchet, extension, and 3/8-inch socket to remove the second cover.
As soon as I touched the ratchet to the contactor and gave it one turn, I experienced a jolt of pain in my thumb and saw a surprising flash of light. The bottom of the ratchet had grounded out on a door latch, which allowed electricity to flow from the contactor through my tools and me.
I was escorted to medical, where I received an EKG test of my heart and provided a urine sample for testing. The medical doctor gave me thumbs up to return to work after reviewing the results of my tests.
The Navy has instructions, manuals, and publications in place to prevent mishaps like this. I had read the proper publications before starting the job but lost focus of what I was working on. Even the simplest task can turn into a mishap if you fail to remain aware of your surroundings.
Petty Officer Childress wrote this story while assigned to VFA-105.
By AE2 (AW) Timothy Childress