Friendly fire incident leaves plane wreaked, pilot injured.
by Jonathan Copsey / Appen Newspapers
March 28, 2011
MILTON, Ga. - Local resident Mike Ross has a unique story to tell about his time in the U.S. Air Force – he was shot down by friendly fire during a training exercise.
Now retired, Lt. Col. Ross recently told the Cumming Chapter of the Vietnam Veterans of America about what happened and the injuries he has had to live with since.
Ross said it all took place on Sept. 22, 1987 during NATO training in the Mediterranean Sea, with forces from the U.S., Britain, Italy, France and Germany taking part.
Ross and his co-pilot were refueling mid-air with a tanker plane, when he noticed a Navy fighter jet flying alongside him.
"As we're refueling with the tanker, I looked over and saw a Navy F-14, and I think, 'That's really weird.' Flying close to another plane is where a lot of bad things can happen," Ross said.
The Navy plane was not where it was supposed to be, said Ross. It was well within the Air Force training area, miles away from where the Navy was training.
It was when Ross finished refueling and the fighter plane began following him that he thought something might be wrong.
"At first, I thought he was lost," Ross said. "But he just kept following me. After 10 minutes, I started worrying about it."
Ross and his co-pilot neared their simulated target – several ships in the middle of the sea – when they lost sight of the other plane behind them. Then, Ross heard something he wasn't expecting.
"We were 30 seconds out from the boat, when all of a sudden, there a huge thump on my plane," said Ross. "The thump was indescribable. Almost like you would take your hand or a bat and bang it as hard as you could on the top of your house. The airplane just started shaking like crazy."Ross' plane was attacked by the other jet, its tail breaking off on impact. The plane went into an uncontrolled spin at 700 mph at an altitude of 5,500 feet, falling toward the sea. Fire began to spread through the cockpit, but the G-forces of the spin pushed Ross so hard against his canopy, he could not reach the eject lever.
His co-pilot finally did, and the two of them were sent flying from the doomed plane, parachuting safely in the water.
"As I was looking down at the water, I saw our airplane burning."
The pilot who shot Ross down apparently showed no remorse.
"We didn't even think we were shot down. Friends don't do that to friends," said Ross. "[The other pilot] went nuts. He lost his mind."
Ross said during the investigation into the accident that the pilot claimed he would "shoot him down again," if given the chance.
Ross was lucky to be alive, walking away from the incident with only compression fractures of spine, both shoulders dislocated and a broken left hand, left knee and right ankle. The injuries continue to plague him so many years later.