THE VIRGINIAN-PILOT Copyright (c) 1996, Landmark Communications, Inc. DATE: Sunday, April 21, 1996 TAG: 9604210046 SECTION: FRONT PAGE: A19 EDITION: FINAL TYPE: National News SOURCE: BY MICHAEL E. RUANE, KNIGHT-RIDDER NEWS SERVICE DATELINE: SEQUIM, WASH. LENGTH: Long : 135 lines
One good thing, the old captain was saying, at least his son died quickly: screaming along at Mach 1.2, a few hundred feet off the water, he would have felt the speed, the turbulent buffeting of the jet, then . . . oblivion.
No pain. No suffering. The wingman said later he couldn't tell if the F-14 blew up first and then hit the ocean, or just exploded on impact. It wound up in pieces on the bottom. The bodies of the captain's son and the jet's pilot were found afterward, floating.
It was a mercifully abrupt demise - the kind that retired Navy Capt. L. Scott Lamoreaux often envisioned for himself over Hanoi or some hot test range. But not for his boy. And not in an F-14.
When Navy Cmdr. L. Scott Lamoreaux III was killed in the Feb. 18 crash of an F-14D off the coast of California, it was a family tragedy. The younger Lamoreaux, 39, had died in an aircraft that his father, 69, had helped give birth to a generation before.
Not only that, but the controversial F-14 had become almost a part of the Lamoreaux family, with father introducing the first model into Navy squadrons in 1972, and son introducing the last model, exactly 20 years later.
In between, father and son had seen the glory years of the jet, the ``Tomcat'' of book and movie fame.
But in the past three months, four F-14 crashes have killed the younger Lamoreaux and six other people, led to a three-day stand-down for the plane in February, and darkened the cloud already hanging over the aircraft.
In the first case, on Jan. 29, an F-14 went out of control after taking off from the airport in Nashville, Tenn. Both crewmen and three people on the ground were killed in the crash.
In the younger Lamoreaux's case, the jet was flying low at high speed, simulating an enemy missile, when it crashed. Diving units later retrieved the aircraft's two engines from the ocean floor, and the right engine was found to have a mysterious hole burned in its lining.
The crewmen in the third crash, on Feb. 22 in the Persian Gulf, ejected safely when the plane went down, and were later rescued.
The most recent in the spate of crashes occurred Wednesday at Oceana Naval Air Station in Virginia Beach. The two crewmen ejected safely.
All this has passed before the eye of the veteran aviator and father of the Tomcat, who now lives outside this misty hamlet between the Olympic Mountains and the Strait of Juan de Fuca.
``I cried a lot,'' Lamoreaux recalled as he sat in a rocking chair one recent drizzly day. ``I still think about him every day, not with sorrow necessarily, but with a lot of pride. He did a lot of good things. He was a good father, a good son, good husband.''
``He went doing what he loved doing,'' he said, as he explained how the life of his family became entwined with that of the F-14.
Lamoreaux, a native of McKeesport, Pa., has deep roots in Naval aviation. The adopted son of a World War I blimp pilot, he joined the Navy out of high school in 1943 and qualified to become an aviator, but had only been schooled on old Stearman trainers when the war ended.
He flew the World War II-era F-4U Corsair during the Korean War, and the F-4 Phantom in Vietnam. Thirty years later, he can still go to the tiny 1965 logbook he kept - green ink for combat missions; red for night flights - and find the date, Oct. 22, that he was hit by enemy antiaircraft fire near Hanoi.
After his tour, he came home, helped found the Navy's Top Gun fighter school to produce better pilots, and then was asked to help the Navy get a better airplane: the F-14.
He spent four years at the Pentagon as F-14 program coordinator, working to get the Navy the bigger, faster, more maneuverable and better armed aircraft that was the Tomcat.
It was a tough assignment: He was present, for example, when the very first F-14 crashed on its second flight, in 1970. And he had to settle for the cheap but notoriously under-powered and stall-prone engines that plagued the jet for 18 years. But he got the Navy what it wanted.
All the while, his son had been watching - enthralled by the lure of the big jets and bent on a career in naval aviation himself. He attended a naval ROTC program at the University of Nebraska and received his commission from his father upon graduation.
``I was very proud,'' his father said.
The younger Lamoreaux served in a series of F-4 squadrons, as his father had, and in 1982 he was selected to attend the Top Gun school his father had helped found.
Later he moved into the F-14 and eventually commanded his own F-14 squadron. But before that, in 1992, the Navy asked him to lead the team introducing the F-14D model, with more powerful and reliable engines, to the fleets.
It seemed a fitting closure to the family's involvement with the Tomcat. That same year F-14 production ceased.
Last November, after more than 4,000 flying hours and 1,000 carrier landings, the younger Lamoreaux became the air operations officer for a cruiser-destroyer group. Though it required much less flying, his father said he still tried to hop jet rides as often as he could.
That's what he was doing the day he died. He had been in a meeting with an admiral that had run long, had missed an earlier ride and had to go out later. Had he been on time, his father mused, ``it would have happened to somebody else.''
The call came from his son's wife, Jayne. ``She was just in tears,'' he said. ``She said he was killed in an F-14.''
His son and the F-14. It didn't add up. The captain was the one who figured to go this way. ``I never expected to get to the age I'm at,'' he said. ``I thought an airplane would get me.''
Even knowing that in naval aviation death lurks just offstage and danger is ``the nature of things,'' the elder Lamoreaux was deeply wounded.
Lamoreaux said his son had two children, 7-year-old daughter Lauren and 10-year-old son Jonathan. He said the boy, like his father and grandfather, wants to be a Naval aviator. Lamoreaux said he would be proud to see his grandson a Navy pilot.
But will the aging F-14 last long enough for three generations of Lamoreaux to fly it?
``Who knows,'' the captain said quietly.
``Who knows.'' ILLUSTRATION: Now retired, Navy Capt. L. Scott Lamoreaux, 69, left, stands in
front of an F-4 with his unidentified radar-man in a 1961 photo. His
son was killed in an F-14 crash in February. ``He went doing what he
loved doing,'' Lamoreaux said of his son, as he explained how the
life of his
family became entwined with that of the F-14.
Retired Navy Capt. L. Scott Lamoreaux's son was killed in February
in a jet that Lamoreaux helped design and introduce to the military
in the early 1970s.
Navy Cmdr. Scott Lamoreaux III is one of seven people who have died
in the past three months in F-14 crashes.
KEYWORDS: F-14 by CNB