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Update, Oct. 12: We have further updated this article to include details from newly released Navy records of an investigation that found McCain’s first crash was due to pilot error, and not, as McCain has stated, an engine failure. The L.A. Times story also pinpointed the dates of early incidents more closely, and we have rewritten and re-ordered some sections to reflect this new information.
Update, Sept 19: This item was originally posted Sept. 5, 2008. We have updated it to include additional details of the 1967 Forrestal disaster from official documents, which differ from McCain’s own, widely accepted recollection. We have also included McCain’s admission of “daredevil clowning” in an accident that did not result in loss of his plane.
We have had numerous questions about this widely circulated claim. Some say McCain “lost” five planes, others that he “crashed” five planes. All offer this alleged “fact” as evidence that he was a bad pilot. All are incorrect.
McCain did lose two Navy aircraft while piloting them. One crash was found to be be McCain’s fault, the other due to an engine failure of undetermined cause.. A third was destroyed on the deck of the carrier USS Forrestal when a missile fired accidentally from another plane hit either the plane next to McCain’s or, less likely, his own aircraft, triggering a disastrous fire that killed 134 sailors and nearly killed McCain. A fourth plane was lost when he was shot down over North Vietnam on a bombing mission over Hanoi.
A fifth alleged “crash” turns out to be a misinterpretation of a flight accident that did not result in the loss of the aircraft. McCain admitted to causing that incident through “daredevil clowning” but returned safely.