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Donald S. Jones, 76; Recovery Pilot for Apollo 11 Astronaut

December 17, 2004|From Times Staff and Wire Reports

Vice Adm. Donald S. Jones, 76, the naval helicopter pilot who in 1969 plucked Apollo 11 astronaut Neil Armstrong from the Pacific Ocean after he returned from the moon and who in 1986 was one of five Pentagon officials initially involved in the Iran-Contra scandal, has died.

Jones died of cancer Dec. 13 at a hospice in Lancaster, Pa.

In the late 1960s, Jones was commanding officer of a helicopter anti-submarine squadron when he was designated the helicopter recovery pilot for the first moon flights of Apollo 8 and 11.

In 1986, he was named military assistant to Defense Secretary Caspar Weinberger.

That year, Weinberger secretly and illegally ordered his deputies, including Jones, to transfer Army antitank missiles and antiaircraft components to the CIA, which shipped them to Iran in exchange for American hostages held in Lebanon. Profits from the sale went to Nicaraguan Contras.

Weinberger, who was charged with four counts of making false statements and perjury, was pardoned before trial by President George H.W. Bush. Jones, who was not charged, retired from the military in 1987.

Born in Madison, Wis., Jones earned degrees at the University of Wisconsin and George Washington University, did postgraduate work at the Industrial College of the Armed Forces and became a naval aviation cadet in 1950. He had seven command assignments at sea and was commander of the 3rd Fleet, based in Hawaii, in the mid-1980s.

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