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THE VERTICAL VISION

More Than a Few Good Men

The Vertical Vision / Part Iii: Casualties

December 17, 2002

She knew it was her turn when she saw a chaplain approaching at the Cherry Point base hospital, where she had taken their second child for a routine checkup. Witnesses saw Franovich's AV-8A descend into the Bay River in the rain and explode. An investigation couldn't determine the cause. Franovich was 32.

Four months after his death, Kinard gave birth to their third child, a son she named Tony.

*

CAPT. CHARLES G. REED

Call Sign: Husky Died: Sept. 6, 1977

Reed flew into a mountainside during a bombing training run at Nellis Air Force Base in Nevada.

The cause was never determined. But investigators surmised that Reed, 30, didn't realize how close he was flying to the rugged terrain -- perhaps partly because his altimeter wasn't working properly. He had complained to a fellow pilot that the device was acting up during a flight the previous day, the accident report said.

Investigators recommended that the Marines equip all AV-8A aircraft with an audio and visual low-altitude warning system. It was added to the plane over the next few years.

A highly regarded pilot, Reed left a pregnant wife and three children between 1 and 4. His father, a private and commercial pilot, had died in a plane crash about three years earlier.

*

CAPT. JOSEPH GALLO

Call sign: Cobra Died: Oct. 2, 1978

Dana Gallo said her husband advised her to sue if he died flying a Harrier.

"He had lost too many friends in accidents," she said. "He loved the aircraft, loved what it could do, but it was not a forgiving aircraft."

His AV-8A Harrier crashed in the Chocolate Mountains east of California's Salton Sea during a bombing training run. He flew into the ground inverted, according to his wingman. No cause was ever determined, Dana Gallo said. She never sued.

Gallo had flown Cobra helicopters in Vietnam and was one of the first Marine helicopter pilots to make the transition to the Harrier. After learning to fly the plane, he had served in Japan and the Mediterranean.

The son of a career Army officer, Gallo was due for a promotion to major when he was killed, Dana Gallo said. He was 34. He left two sons, who were 2 and 5 at the time of his death.

*

1st LT. ROBERT C. MURRAY

Call Sign: Sweet Biscuit Died: Oct. 12, 1979

Murray was a by-the-book Marine who wore his hair short and regularly attended Bible study.

He grew up in Mississippi, son of a World War II military pilot and a schoolteacher. He was an Eagle Scout, played high school football and tinkered with the piano, trumpet and French horn. His father told him he would buy him a car if he didn't take a drink or smoke a cigarette before graduating from Mississippi State. Murray had little trouble meeting the challenge. He got a shiny new Ford.

As a Marine, he was a cautious but fearless pilot, family members say. "One day I said to him, 'Robert, I know what you're doing is terribly dangerous,' " recalled his mother, Marjorie Murray. "But he said: 'Mama, don't worry about me. If anything happens to me, I'll be face to face with my savior, Jesus Christ.' "

His AV-8A crashed during a training flight over the Atlantic just off Cape Lookout, N.C. He hit the water at a steep angle and a high rate of speed. He never ejected. His body was never found and the plane was destroyed. No cause was ever determined.

Murray was 25.

*

CAPT. ARTHUR G. MORRELL

Call Sign: Otter Died: March 13, 1980

Morrell flew into a 200-foot-thick cloud bank at the start of a short trip back to base at Cherry Point, N.C. Two fishermen in a waterway below heard the AV-8A crash and reached the wreckage first.

The family was never told the cause of the accident, said his father, Wallace Morrell, who died earlier this month. "The explanation was simply that he went in the water and they didn't know why."

Arthur Morrell had co-captained the football team at Indiana University of Pennsylvania and married his high school sweetheart the day before graduating with a degree in mathematics. He had two sons, one 7 months and the other 2 years old, when he died at the age of 26.

"I tried to be mad at him and the Marine Corps for about two seconds," said his widow, Blenda Morrell Long. "But flying is what he wanted to do with his life, and he accomplished it. How many people can say that?"

*

1st LT. DONALD P. BECKER

Call Sign: Dirt Died: May 1, 1980

When the Marines assigned Becker to the AV-8A, his wife felt some trepidation.

"We had heard there were accidents and different things that tended to go wrong with the plane," said Catherine Waid Keating. "There was definitely a sense of a safety issue."

The crash that took his life was one of the most spectacular in Harrier history: During a vertical takeoff at Cherry Point, his plane rolled, dropped to the runway, bounced into a ditch, burst into flames, flipped, slid through a hangar and into a parking lot, where it damaged 20 vehicles.

The Marines never determined the cause of the crash, though an engineering analysis found no evidence of mechanical failure.

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