It was a normal flight day on June 7, according to U.S. Marine Corps Capt. William Mahoney. He took off from the USS Bataan in his AV-8B Harrier aircraft. Suddenly Mahoney realized something was not right with the Harrier.
"As I was climbing away from the deck, I put my gear up," the captain recalled in a video documenting the incident. "[I] realized I had a gear malfunction."
Mahoney slowed down and called for help. He was flying solo and communicated with a landing signal officer, who can act as a co-pilot of sorts from the ground. Mahoney approached the USS Bataan at about 300 feet, so the LSO could see the landing gear and diagnose the issue. The LSO, nicknamed "Paddles," confirmed that the nose gear did not come back down.
It was then that Mahoney was informed of a stool built for this particular situation. By lining up the nose of the jet with this invention, it was possible for the pilot to conduct a vertical landing. Mahoney had no experience with this.
By aligning the ship's lighting configuration and slowly descending to the flight deck, Mahoney could attempt the vertical landing. He reached 20 feet and stabilized.
"And I can't see the stool," he revealed. Yes, that's the same stool on which he needs to place the nose of the Harrier for this landing to work. "I don't even know it's there. I didn't see it coming over the end of the ship."
The Marine Corps captain thought to himself, "Oh boy, this is going to get interesting." And it did, in the most fortunate way possible. All of the necessary parts aligned. Despite a visible bounce as the aircraft hit the deck, the vertical landing was a success.
Mahoney's crewmates immediately flooded onto the deck after the jet landed to congratulate and check on him.
"I had to sit there for a minute and remember how to shut the jet off," Mahoney, who noted he was shaking, said. "It was a pretty big relief."