36 years ago: Guantanamo-bound plane goes down in river off NAS Jax

14 people died in previous crash into St. Johns River

A Mandarin resident caught this photo of the Convair C-131F returning to NAS Jacksonville with its port engine on fire. (Photo obtained by WJKS (now WCWJ) via UPI's archives)

JACKSONVILLE, Fla. – Friday night's crash of a plane between NAS Jacksonville and Guantanamo Bay, Cuba, into the St. Johns River is being called miraculous by many, especially anyone who remembers an eerily similar crash from 1983.

All six crew members and eight of nine passengers on board died when a Navy Convair C-131F military transport plane crashed into shallow water while on an emergency approach to Jacksonville's riverfront Navy base on April 30, 1983.

"At 12:09 (p.m.) the pilot radioed the tower that he had a fire in his left engine and was returning to the base," Navy spokesman Nick Young said at the time.

The plane crashed in the water about 100 yards short of the runway as it attempted to return to the naval station.

Residents in Mandarin saw the plane returning to the base with flames coming from its port engine.

'"It was on a straight path right toward the runway. It didn't falter at all, and then it went down," W.D. Thompson, who also watched from across the river, told the UPI.

The lone survivor of the crash, Petty Officer Melissa Kelly, was hospitalized with multiple injuries.

"I guess the first question is, 'Why me?' But I'll worry about that later," she told a reporter from her hospital bed.

The flight was a regular biweekly personnel transport between the two Navy bases.

Unlike Friday night's crash, the weather was not a factor in the 1983 crash. It was sunny, with temperatures in the 60s that day.

And in another incident in September 2005, two people were killed when a Navy S-3B Viking crashed and caught fire while on approach to NAS Jacksonville. The plane crashed in a nearby park.

A report later found that a downdraft related to a thunderstorm caused that crash.

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