USS MOUNT WHITNEY (LCC/JCC-20) -- "If it can happen, it will." We have all heard that phrase before, but as Petty Officer 2nd Class Cliff B. Lyons, aviation electronics technician and H-46D Sea Knight crew chief, found out, this particular little phrase sometimes hits home a little harder that one might imagine. Feb. 7, 2002, was the day Lyons found himself going in the most dreaded direction for an aircrew, straight down in a helicopter crash.
Currently assigned to Combined Joint Task Force - Horn of Africa, Lyons was working with the "Nomads" of HC-6, detachment four, Norfolk Naval Base, Va., on the first day of his first deployment last year. That day, he was involved in a crash while USS Seattle was conducting a vertical replenishment with USNS Mount Baker.
"We had flown for a little less than two hours that day and had just refueled," said Lyons, native of Philadelphia, Penn. "As we were hovering over the flight deck we lost an engine and went down. As soon as we hit the water, the helicopter flipped."
"I remember putting my HEEDS Bottle (helicopter emergency egress breathing device) in my mouth and searching for an exit," said Lyons. "I think I tried two windows before I was finally able to back-track my way up to the cockpit and climb out the side door where everyone else was at."
Luckily everyone made it out alive.
After spending most of the day in shock at medical, his fellow crewmembers encouraged him to get "back in the saddle."
"I was with a good crew then that encouraged me to continue," said Lyons.
He gives credit for his survival to the training at his military occupational specialty school in Pensacola, Fla. There, each crewman attends aircrew school and search and rescue school. Each one is one month long.
"The way I reacted was purely from repetition because otherwise I would not have been able to react properly and get myself out," he said.
Learning how hard it is to gain back the trust for flying that he once had, Lyons is here less than two months after that deployment, fighting in the war on terrorism.
"Now, I just find myself being more cautious than I used to be," he said. "You make sure everything is strapped down properly and you listen to every little noise."
Coming from a long lineage of military family members, Lyons was almost destined to join the military at some point and hopes others, his family in particular, might learn from his experiences.
"I have an older brother in the Navy, a younger brother who is coming to my squadron in two weeks as an H-60 Night Hawk crewman, and a brother in high school planning to join the military after he graduates," he said. "Maybe from the things I've been through, they will learn what the aircrew is all about."