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“I’ve been through naval aviation training, survival training and a dual-degree program in college,” he told the magazine, “and nothing came close to the rigors of first-year law.”
The flattering profile does not mention what Capt. Dorsey did in 1987 as a rookie Tomcat pilot, with 245 flying hours, in one of the naval air community’s most embarrassing incidents.
Then-Lt. Dorsey was taking part in a non-fire flight exercise over the Mediterranean Sea.
He was given a command to simulate a missile firing but took it literally, armed his Sidewinder missile without telling his back-seat radar intercept officer, and shot down the Air Force plane. Its two aviators ejected moments before the plane exploded.
The Navy’s 1988 investigative report on Lt. Dorsey was blunt and damning, according to the Associated Press, which obtained a copy via the Freedom of Information Act in 1988. It said Lt. Dorsey knew the plane was “friendly” and knew he was on a routine exercise.
“The September 22, 1987, destruction of USAF RF-4C was not the result of an accident, but the consequence of a deliberate act,” the investigator wrote. “His subsequent reaction [to the radio command] demonstrated an absolute disregard of the known facts and circumstances.
“He failed to utilize the decision-making process taught in replacement training and reacted in a purely mechanical manner. The performance of Lieutenant Timothy W. Dorsey on September 22, 1987, raises substantial doubt as to his capacity for good, sound judgment.”
Vice Adm. Kendall E. Moranville, who had headed the 6th Fleet, said: “We necessarily rely on the self-discipline and judgment of pilots to prevent such incidents; we have no other choice. Nothing, in my opinion, can mitigate Lieutenant Dorsey’s basic error in judgment.”
Jon Ault, a retired F-14 pilot, said Capt. Dorsey never took responsibility.
“I would never have guessed he’d ever make it to commander, much less admiral,” he said. “In fact, I thought his career was over back when the shoot-down happened. He refused to accept any blame for the shoot-down and swore he was just following [rules of engagement] even though he knew it was a friendly. I mean, the guy did it on purpose.”
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