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THE VERTICAL VISION

More Than a Few Good Men

The Vertical Vision / Part Iii: Casualties

December 17, 2002

Richards, 26, grew up in Charleston, S.C., the son of a physician, and attended the University of Virginia. His parents remain bitter about the assignment of pilot error, saying their son was pushed into attempting a maneuver he was not prepared to perform. "They've got to protect the instrument," said his father, James T. Richards, "because other people are going to be using it."

*

1st LT. EARLE J. ANDERSON

Call Sign: Edge Died: Jan. 26, 1990

Anderson was a native of Clemson, S.C., and a graduate of the Citadel, which he attended on a Marine Corps scholarship.

"He was an all-conference, all-state wrestler," said Richard Anderson, his brother. "You looked at him and you just thought he was invincible."

He died while on a training flight from Kadena Air Base on Okinawa to Osan Air Base in South Korea. His AV-8B Harrier fell from 35,800 feet, sliced through a cloud bank and disappeared into the water. Neither the plane nor the body of Anderson, 25, was ever found.

The cause of the accident remains unknown. Investigators guessed that Anderson lost consciousness, perhaps from a depressurized cockpit. He may have missed danger signs because he had become "task saturated" while flying the plane, their report speculated.

*

CAPT. THOMAS KOLB

Call Sign: Magnum Died: Feb. 12, 1990

"Magnum, you're on fire! Eject, eject, eject!"

1st Lt. Ricardo L. Fresquez radioed those frantic instructions to Kolb while flying in formation with him near Twentynine Palms. Smoke was pouring from the hot nozzles of Kolb's AV-8B. Seconds later, Kolb ejected and his Harrier crashed into a mountainside. He was found dead on the ground with a broken neck.

The accident investigation found a compressor blade broke, which caused a fuel leak that ignited. The report was not conclusive about Kolb's death but suggested the ejection seat malfunctioned. An internal report found evidence that some of the lanyards that stabilize the seat had deteriorated.

"They knew of the problems previous to my brother's dying," said Kolb's sister, Linda Stovall. "Why did it have to come to the point of so many young men dying?"

Kolb enlisted in the Marine Corps in 1988, two years after graduating from San Diego State University. He finished first in his flight class and chose to fly the Harrier because he wanted to support Marines on the ground, said his father, Leonard Kolb.

Kolb was 28.

*

MAJ. ROLAND P. WHEELER

Call Sign: Wheels Died: Oct. 2, 1990

At 37, Wheeler was an experienced Marine pilot and flight instructor with 1,759 hours of flying time, the vast majority of them in the Harrier.

He died of brain and heart injuries after ejecting from his AV-8B during a low-altitude training flight over a dense North Carolina forest. He hit the trees before his parachute opened.

The investigation could not determine the cause of the crash, though it found that "human factors must be considered."

Another pilot and a witness on the ground reported seeing flames coming from the plane shortly before it crashed. But investigators found no physical evidence of fire before impact and concluded that the witnesses may simply have seen the detonation that launches the ejection seat from the plane.

Wheeler, father of three, had been in the Marine Corps for 15 years.

*

CAPT. MANUEL RIVERA JR.

Call Sign: Buick Died: Jan. 22, 1991

Rivera made 29 landings aboard his squadron's ship in the three weeks before his crash. But on the night he died, while conducting a training mission during the Persian Gulf War, he smashed into the Omani coastline while approaching the deck of the amphibious assault ship Nassau for a landing, according to a Marine investigation.

The cause could not be determined. Investigators initially speculated Rivera may have become disoriented by a false horizon or that his vision may have been obscured by condensation on the AV-8B's canopy. But senior officers dismissed those explanations as guesswork.

The son of a career Marine, Rivera grew up in public housing in the South Bronx as the oldest of four children. He was a champion racquetball and handball player who aspired to become an astronaut.

After his death at the age of 31, a school, a housing project, a street and a park in the Bronx were named for him. He left his estate to his mother with instructions that she use the proceeds to buy a house.

"He said flying was like going to heaven, that it was gorgeous up there," said Lydia Rivera, a sister.

*

CAPT. THOMAS P. DRISCOLL

Call Sign: Biscuit Died: Nov. 11, 1991

When his AV-8B was in trouble, Driscoll steered away from the Spanish village of Villagarcia de la Torre and ejected with the plane upside down. His parachute broke away before he reached the ground.

The investigation determined that a problem with the ailerons caused the crash but offered no explanation for the parachute failure.

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