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The tailfin of F-14A BuNo 162594 was washed ashore on an isolated beach west of Cork, in Ireland, on 5 May 2006.
Retired Aer Lingus captain Charlie Coughlan was enjoying his daily walk along Long Strand at Owenahincha, near Rosscarbery, when he noticed a large grey object, measuring eight feet by four feet, partially obscured by gritty sand on the beach a short distance from the waterline. On closer inspection, he recognised that it was part of an aircraft. ‘I just couldn’t believe it’, he told a reporter from The Irish Examiner. ‘The paint is still perfect. It appears to have broken off the aircraft. I could see a spar inside -- it’s cracked, not cut. It is quite a substantial piece. You would think it would have sunk, but the inside is layered with honeycomb material and that could have made it buoyant. There are no barnacles on it, so I would say it has only been in the water a few months’.
Coughlan immediately notified the Irish Aviation Authority, which in turn contacted the Gardaí (Irish Police). The scene was duly sealed off, and the wreckage handed over to the Aircraft Accident Investigation Unit. Being an aviation enthusiast, Coughlan had quickly recognised that this large chunk of flotsam was in fact a fin from an F-14 Tomcat. A significant clue as to where it had come from was provided by a faded, diving ‘Grim Reaper’ marking and the number ‘36’ emblazoned on one side of the fin.
The Gardaí had told The Irish Examiner that there were no reports of any aircraft missing in the area. The Irish Police also stated that the U.S. Navy seemed to be equally mystified by the fin’s appearance, with a spokesman from the Pentagon telling the local press that they were not aware of any missing tail fins!
Within 48 hours, the identity of the aircraft to which the fin belonged had been pinned down. F-14A Bureau Number 162594 of VF-101 had been lost during a routine training flight over the Gulf of Mexico from NAS Key West, Florida, during the early evening of 3 October 2002. Both crewmen had ejected safely and been rescued by a U.S. Navy UH-3 Sea King. Treated for minor injuries, the naval aviators had been released from the Lower Keys Medical Center at 2125 hrs that same night. Quite how the fin had become separated from the bulk of the jet and floated 4900 miles across the Atlantic remains a mystery.
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