Kenneth Schechter, Survivor Of Blind Landing, Dies At 83

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Howard Thayer (left) and Kenneth Schechter reunited aboard the aircraft carrier Valley Forge at the end of their Korean War deployment.

Kenneth Schechter, who died earlier this month in Fairfield, Calif., at age 83, had been just 22 years old when he survived an unusual blind landing in Korea. Schechter was flying an A-1 Skyraider above the Korean coastline on his 27th combat mission, in 1952, when an enemy shell blew the canopy off his airplane and metal fragments struck both of his eyes. "I'm blind! For God's sake, help me!" he cried into his radio. "I'm blind!" He was answered by Lt. j.g. Howard Thayer, who served with him on the aircraft carrier Valley Forge. Thayer flew close beside him, and talked him all the way down, until 45 minutes later Schechter was able to land safely at a dirt airstrip.

"My plane hit the ground, lurched momentarily and skidded to a stop in one piece," Schechter wrote, in 2001. "A perfect landing. No fire. No pain, no strain. The best landing I ever made." Schechter regained sight in his left eye but the right eye was permanently blinded. Schechter wrote (PDF) that he was unwilling to bail out because he'd seen other pilots drown or die of exposure after bailing out into the frigid waters of the Sea of Japan. His immersion suit was damaged and wouldn't protect him from the freezing waters. "To my mind, bailing out meant certain death," he wrote. Schechter worked as an insurance agent after the war. He was awarded the Distinguished Flying Cross in 1995.