In the language of the United States Navy VP-50 was “Fixed Wing Patrol Squadron 50” – also known as the Blue Dragons. From 1946 until June 30, 1992 they were an active squadron of the United States Navy. I once flew for the U.S. Navy. The death of any aviator or any sailor has an impact on all of us who earned Navy Wings of Gold – or any of the other hard-earned insignias of naval service (surface warfare, submarines, SEALS, and the other specialties).
On March 21, 1991 two P-3C Orions of VP-50 collided about 60 miles southwest of San Diego, CA in bad weather. One aircraft was relieving the other on a normal anti-submarine patrol watch. The aircraft were stationed at Naval Air Station Moffett Field, south of San Francisco, CA. I distinctly remember reading the first newspaper reports the day after the accident – 27 U.S. Navy personnel missing at sea. That is a horrific toll for any Navy squadron, whose total personnel would only be a few hundred officers and enlisted men – especially when it happened in a single instant, in peacetime. I could only imagine the shock and sorrow within the VP-50 family and NAS Moffett Field community that day.
The cause of the accident was never determined beyond it being a mid-air collision. Pilot error was probably a contributing cause – and weather, crew fatigue, and perhaps a mechanical problem additional factors. The human cost, however, was almost instantly quantified – 27 young souls lost at sea – lost forever to their wives, children, parents, friends, and shipmates. Lost, but not forgotten.
Moffett Field Naval Air Station has been closed, but Moffett Field as a civilian airport remains. Located on its grounds is a plaque listing the names of all 27 men who perished in the Pacific Ocean that night. There is another monument to these same men in Arlington National Cemetery.
I have included three photographs in this post. One is of the monument at Moffett Field, listing the names of those who perished that night. Another is of four VP-50 aircraft in flight. And one is of two P-3C Orion aircraft flying over the Golden Gate Bridge. These are not VP-50 aircraft, but I know every man who ever flew with VP-50 out of Moffett Field witnessed this view. They loved flying for moments like this.
Please visit the VP-50 web page devoted to the men who died that night at: http://www.vpnavy.com/vp50mem_04dec98.html