In August of 1961, Ferdinand “Doc” Dugan was piloting a Navy A4D-Skyhawk fighter jet aircraft over Ashburn, Georgia when a thunderstorm caused his jet to lose all electrical power sending the aircraft into what is known as a split-S configuration.
The split-S is an air combat maneuver where the aircraft descends rapidly toward the ground before leveling out and requires about 7,000 feet of free air to perform. Doc was at 11,000 feet altitude, screaming through the sky at an incredible rate of 450 knots or 518 MPH.
Plummeting toward Earth and realizing his fighter jet was doomed, Doc had seconds to exit the craft by ‘blowing the canopy’. The term ‘blowing’ stems from the explosives which are used to propel a pilot a safe distance from the jet.
Doc had no clue if he were upside down or right side up when he engaged the mechanisms for ejection and in a split second, a series of events led to Doc smacking against the canopy railing, breaking his shoulder. Doc was then thrown into darkness.
In the descent, Doc had trouble making adjustments to his parachute rigging because his left shoulder was immobilized from the break and he couldn’t position himself for an ideal landing. Upon crashing to the ground, Doc broke his left leg; then the ground wind dragged the rigging thus dragging Doc along with it. He managed to release his rigging and stop dragging along what he determined was a farm field.