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Commanders Await Results of Safety Stand-down

November 18, 1989

NORFOLK, Va. (AP) _ The Navy’s two-day freeze on normal operations to concentrate on safety ended Friday, with commanders awaiting the results of the exercise triggered by an unprecedented series of accidents.

In one case, they didn’t have to wait long. Shortly after the operational stand-down ended, mechanical problems forced a training jet to ditch in the Gulf of Mexico, a Navy spokesman said. The two pilots ejected safely.

The TA4J jet went down on a routine training mission at 3:40 p.m. about 20 miles south of Pensacola, Fla., only nine hours after the Naval Air Station Kingsville, Texas unit completed its stand-down, said Navy spokesman Rod Duren in Pensacola.

The pause in operations was ordered Tuesday by Navy Secretary H. Lawrence Garrett III and Adm. Carlisle A.H. Trost, chief of naval operations, after 10 accidents over a three-week period killed 10 and injured at least 71.

Under the stand-down order, all Navy units worldwide were to halt normal routine and concentrate on safety inspections, reviews and lectures for 48 of the ensuing 72 hours, beginning Tuesday evening.

Trost ordered all commanders to report their findings from the stand-down to him.

Navy officials said the stand-down was not ordered because the service was operating in an unsafe manner, but because Garrett and Trost wanted to ensure that everything that could be done was being done to protect servicemen.

For the Norfolk-based Atlantic Fleet, that meant the reorganization of training and operations schedules for approximately 200,000 people and 300 ships.

″Most of the ships will be finished by this evening,″ Lt. Cmdr. Steve Burnett, a fleet spokesman, said Friday. ″Some helicopter units on base began the stand-down Wednesday, though most units needed Wednesday to prepare for the stand-down.″

Line commanders said the procedures of the stand-down were no different from their daily training regime.

″The only difference is that this is a dedicated period. We’ve stopped our routine activities. Every individual aboard ship is devoted to the safety stand-down,″ said Capt. Frank J. Lugo, commander of the guided missile cruiser Josephus Daniels.

Lugo ran his 470 crewmen through a series of lectures, inspections and demonstrations Thursday and Friday while the warship was docked at the Norfolk Naval Station.

″What you’re seeing here is no different than any other day, except we’re not flying,″ said Lt. Cmdr. Chris Wuethrich, executive officer of Squadron VF-41 at the Oceana Naval Air Station.

Wuethrich said squadrons normally go on stand-down after the holidays to review flight safety and past accidents.

Navy safety officials said there was no common thread linking the accidents, which ranged from men washed overboard to plane crashes to ship fires to the accidental bombing of a cruiser.

″Never in the history of the modern Navy have so many mishaps happened at one time,″ said Capt. Ferguson Norton, the Navy’s top safety officer.

According to Navy figures, 1989 is the safest year on record with 69 major accidents reported so far. In 1984, 118 major accidents were reported. Every year since then, the numbers have declined.

Where 1989 varies from the previous five years is in fatalities. There have been 102 this year, including the 47 sailors killed in the April 19 gun turret explosion aboard the battleship USS Iowa. In 1984, 64 people were killed in accidents.

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