Family says grounded pilot's record being ignored

A decorated fighter pilot whose low flyover at a Georgia Tech football game cost him his career as a naval aviator is headed to Afghanistan for his third deployment in the Middle East, his family told the AJC.

This time he'll serve on the ground.

"He is still grateful for the opportunity to serve his country in Afghanistan on the ground," the parents and siblings of Lt. Cmdr. Marc Fryman wrote to the AJC in an email, saying Fryman leaves in June for a one-year deployment.

"We are astounded by the fact that he still remains grateful of heart to serve in whatever capacity his career takes him -- even if that means he can never fly for the Navy again. We see that as a heart-wrenching consequence of this incident."

The "incident" happened between the national anthem and kickoff of the Nov. 7 Tech-Wake Forest game. Fryman and Lt. Cmdr. Christopher Condon, both Tech grads, thrilled the crowd by flying F/A-18 Super Hornets a few hundred feet above Bobby Dodd Stadium, according to several media reports.

Navy rules require flyovers to be done at 1,000 feet or higher, according to the publication Navy Times. The Navy permanently reassigned Fryman and Condon to non-flying jobs.

Several videos of the flyover are posted on

ExploreThis video

is a view from the upper deck, while

Explorethis one

is ground-level.

Fryman's family said he was upset about the incident and reported it immediately upon landing.

"He would never intentionally put his career or lives on the line to give ‘a good show,'" the family wrote. The email was signed by his parents, Donn and Kathleen Fryman; his sister, Melissa Drudge; and his brothers, Scott Fryman and Brad Fryman.

But in documents obtained by Navy Times, Rear Adm. R.J. O'Hanlon asserted that "Fryman failed to provide effective [crew resource management] for his flight lead and allowed an unsafe flyby to occur with nearly tragic consequences. ... Despite his spotless record, his complacent, passive response to a major altitude transgression is unforgivable in my view.

"Continued aviation service involving flying is not in the best interest of Lt. Cmdr. Fryman or the United States Navy."

Fryman's family said his response was not complacent at all. In fact, they said, he agonized for weeks and asked them to pray for him while the incident was being reviewed.

They wondered how the Navy weighed his service -- combat missions during Operation Iraqi Freedom, his work as a pilot instructor, seven medals -- against "an incident where no one was hurt, no lives were lost, and no damage done."

"Instead of looking at what went wrong, why didn't anyone see the 2,500 hours of what went right?" they wrote. "Please do not reduce him to a 'spotless record.' He is, to us, nothing shy of a hero."

Fryman, 36, graduated from Tech in 1996 with a degree in Earth and Atmospheric Sciences. He went on to become the top jet pilot in his Navy flight school class and earned the "Top Hook" award for most consistent landings of an F-14 onto an aircraft carrier, his family said.

"Our son and brother has wanted to be a Navy fighter pilot since he could say the words," they wrote.

A Navy evaluation board found the pilots' lapse was neither intentional nor malicious, the Virginian-Pilot newspaper reported. The board recommended putting both pilots on probation.

The board concluded the pilots chose to use barometric altitude measurements (feet above sea level) instead of radar altitude measurements (feet above ground level) but failed to adjust their warning systems accordingly, the newspaper reported. By the time the alarm sounded, it was too late to correct the mistake.

But O'Hanlon wrote that he did not consider the incident an honest mistake, calling Condon "a senior, very experienced department head who placed his aircraft and wingman in a very dangerous position."

Condon ignored low-altitude warnings, O'Hanlon wrote.

His report did note it was only Condon's second flyover, his first as pilot of the lead jet, and described both men as motivated and dedicated officers.

The Navy is not commenting publicly on the situation.

Lt. Cmdr. Phil Rosi, a spokesman for Naval Air Force Atlantic, confirmed to Navy Times that the incident happened but said "it would be inappropriate to comment further as these are not public figures and have an expectation of privacy.”