By lex, on February 18th, 2007
When I was a junior officer, we suffered a much higher mishap rate than we do now, and the Naval Safety Center would issue a weekly summary of mishaps for prominent display on the tack boards in squadron common rooms. I first became aware of the weekly summaries in my first jet training squadron, but couldn’t by myself puzzle out the coding used to classify aircraft damages and personal injuries. Finally I mustered up the courage to ask an instructor what the various codes meant.
He told me that an “Alpha” code against an airframe meant that the plane had either been destroyed or suffered over a million dollars worth of damage, “Bravo” level damage was between $100,000 and $1 million, and “Charlie” was less than $100k. I asked him what the personnel injury codes meant, and he replied that it was analgous: “Alpha” meant that the crewman had died, “Bravo” meant that he had sustained permanent, debilitating injuries and “Charlie” meant that he would probably make a full recovery.
Eventually I came to notice another injury code that seemed to recur, but that didn’t fit into the previously described categories. I asked the same IP what the injury code “Lima” meant.
“Lima,” he said, “means ‘lost at sea.’”
This reduction of human loss and tragedy to bureaucratic code seemed the most chilling thing I had yet discovered. Each week I’d read the summary, trying to learn from the dry language printed there a way of avoiding a similar fate. It was always very brief recitation of the barest facts:
Aircraft Type: A-6E / Mishap Category: ALPHA / Narrative: Failed to return from mission / Injuries: 2 LIMA
That “2 LIMA” meant that two souls had been lost at sea – a fate that seemed to me the most horrible of all. Death is death of course, but we do need our closure rituals and mourning rites. There is something so especially tragic about lives lost at sea and therefore imperfectly mourned that this news ** in the LA Times seems almost welcome:
The bodies of three helicopter crew members killed in a crash off San Clemente Island have been recovered, the Navy announced Saturday.
Recovered were the remains of Lt. j.g. Laura Mankey, Lt. Adam Dyer and Petty Officer 1st Class Cory Helman.
“These were our shipmates, our friends; we are proud to have served with them and to now have them home,” said Capt. John Hardison, Commodore, Helicopter Sea Combat Wing Pacific.
The MH-60S Knighthawk helicopter crashed Jan. 26 during routine training. Efforts to recover the wreckage to help determine the cause of the crash will continue, officials at Naval Base Coronado said.
Some times we must give thanks for small blessings.
** 07-26-2018 Original link gone; replacement found – Ed.