Faller’s heroic act remembered by community

Faller’s heroic act remembered by communityBy THERESA GOLDSTRAND

News Review Correspondent

The return to school this year coincides with the 36th anniversary of the death of Lt. Cmdr. Theodore “Ted” Faller, a fallen Navy pilot whose selfless actions are still remembered by the local military and civilian communities.

On Aug. 13, 1979, Faller was flying on a routine mission from China Lake (then the Naval Weapons Center).

Shortly after he took off in his QF-86 Sabre, the engine failed. Instead of ejecting, he chose to remain in the cockpit so he could guide the failing craft away from a densely populated area of the community — which included the Ridgecrest Heights Elementary School near the intersection of Upjohn Avenue and Guam Street.

He crash landed in an empty field about 600 yards from the school.

Off-duty NWC Firefighter Cory Collins was the first on the scene. He reportedly leapt onto the aircraft in a struggle to release Faller. Collins reported that Faller was conscious and alert, but trapped in his harness. Shortly after Collins reached the plane, it erupted into flames.

Faller’s chase plane was piloted by Lieut. Rosemary Conatser, who was also flying a QF-86 Sabre. Apparently, Conatser was just getting airborne as Faller’s plane began losing power. She circled above the wreckage before returning to the NWC flight line after rescue personal began to arrive on the scene.

By that time, other Ridgecrest and China Lake firefighters had responded, though they were unable to control or dowse the aviation-fuel-fed flames. Newspaper accounts reported that civilians also rushed to the scene in an attempt to help. Many who tried sustained serious burns.

Faller, age 36, perished in the conflagration. He left behind a wife and daughter.

The Distinguished Flying Cross was later posthumously awarded to Faller to honor the memory and the courage of the young pilot. “While leading a flight of two aircraft on a routine training mission, Lt. Cmdr. Faller experienced mechanical problems with his aircraft shortly after take-off,” reads the citation. “Unable to rectify his aircraft problems to maintain flight, he elected to remain with his disabled aircraft maneuvering the craft away from a heavily populated residential district and an elementary school. He managed a controlled crash landing in a clearing within the residential area.

Faller’s superb airmanship and selfless, courageous actions and the ultimate sacrifice of his own life undoubtedly saved the lives of others.”

Faller was also honored with the American Legion’s Aviator’s Valor Award for 1979. Sierra Sands Unified School Board renamed Ridgecrest Heights Ele-mentary to Faller Elementary in honor of the aviator. The Aviator’s Valor award medal is displayed in the lobby of the school that bears his name.

Pictured: Faller Elementary School Principal Melissa Christman shows the display case that honors Faller’s sacrifice. -- Photo by Theresa Goldstrand

Story First Published: 2015-08-14