Members of Congress and military brass were watching as Briggs, 28, brought his AV-8A in for a landing during a military exercise near Camp Lejeune, N.C. His plane banked, rolled, then crashed. He didn't survive an ejection into a wooded area, said his widow, Marv Briggs. Investigators blamed pilot error and noted he was flying on five hours' sleep. An experienced A-4 Skyhawk pilot, he had just 44 hours of flight time in the Harrier. His logbook showed he flew 6.2 hours in the month before his death and 10.2 hours the month before that, his widow said. His wing commander used the incident to write that Harrier pilots needed to fly 17 to 20 hours a month to stay proficient. Marv Briggs remembered him as a "warm, funny and kind man." A U.S. Naval Academy graduate, he flew in the first Harrier squadron trained in this country. "He was very excited about the possibilities of that plane," she said. "It was a whole new part of aviation."
All shared a devotion to the corps and to the Harrier's special mission of using Marine air power to protect Marines on the ground. Some came from military families, with fathers and even grandfathers who had flown or fought in America's wars. Others stunned their parents when they announced plans to enlist and learn to fly. They typically were high achievers in school and in flight training. Some chose to fly the Harrier, invigorated by the challenge. Others were assigned to the plane by the Marines. They died in fiery explosions and ill-timed ejections. Some made fatal mistakes. Some did everything right and perished anyway.
Marine Attack Squadron 542 (VMA-542) is a United States Marine Corps fixed wing attack squadron that consists of AV-8B Harrier (V/STOL) jets. The squadron is based at Marine Corps Air Station Cherry Point, North Carolina and falls under the command of Marine Aircraft Group 14 (MAG-14) and the 2nd Marine Aircraft Wing (2nd MAW).