If you, like many pilots, build relationships with the airplanes you fly, this story may tug at your heartstrings. Retired Navy pilot Robert Jones was recently reunited with an airplane he was forced to eject out of 57 years ago.
As a 22-year-old Navy pilot, Jones was forced to eject out of the FJ-4B Fury after the fighter jet's single engine overheated and failed during a test flight. Jones found no other solution than to abandon the airplane, which had all of 12 hours on it at the time.
Jones parachuted through clouds to safety while the airplane flew on. While the Navy found the airplane and retrieved its engine not long after the incident, Jones had no idea where it ended up, and ever since that day he had wondered what happened to the Fury.
That is until last week when the U.S. Marine Corps flew the now 79-year-old veteran to the crash site in the northern part of Rancho Guejito — a 23,000-acre area northeast of Escondido, California. The Navy had long forgotten about its location, but wreckage was found a few years ago by Rancho Guejito cowhands.
And last fall, Hank Rupp, the chief operations officer and general counsel for the ranch decided to research where the airplane had come from. The Navy and Marines were notified and helped the ranch official track down Jones.
"Frankly, it's very emotional because all pilots love their airplanes," said Jones as he went through and identified some of the remaining parts of the wreckage. Jones ended up flying as a commercial pilot for United Airlines for more than 30 years before he retired. He is still an active pilot.