Wonder Lake, IL Air National Guard Plane Crashes, Mar 1982


Wonder Lake, Ill. (UPI) -- An Air National Guard tanker carrying 24 people exploded into flaming pieces and crashed in freezing rain, fog and a flash of lightning Friday night, strewing wreckage for two miles and apparently killing all aboard, authorities said.
Rescue workers who made the difficult tramp to the swampy, wooded crash site had recovered the bodies of nine victims, but said they didn't think any of the four crew members and 20 passengers survived.
The cause of the explosion and crash was unknown -- but Lt. Col. WAYNE SWINLEY of the Illinois Air National Guard said lightning may have struck the plane before it burst into flames.
But Capt. RICHARD WIEGAND cautioned it was impossible to tell whether lightning caused the crash until a special Air Force investigation team arrived at the scene.
A witness said he saw a burst of lightning and the sky flashed yellow as the plane went down in flames.
"I opened the door and saw flames coming down and parts flying," RONALD NAVLYT said. "You couldn't believe the flame."
"The plane is scattered over a wide area," McHenry County Sheriff's Police Sgt. JIM CONNELLY said. "One of our deputies saw a major explosion. We believe it was in the air close to the ground. There were several secondary explosions."
CONNELLY said the largest piece of wreckage he saw was a 3-foot by 5-foot piece of steel.
The plane, which crashed on approach to O'Hare International Airport about 40 miles to the south, cut a swath a quarter mile wide and a mile long, CONNELLY said.
Rescue workers had difficulty reaching the crash site because of the swampy ground.
CONNELLY said the crash occurred half a mile from a residential area of Wonder Lake and near an elementary school where a science fair was in progress. No injuries of area residents were reported, he said.

The Chronicle Telegram Elyria Ohio 1982-03-20



Emergency crews searching on foot and horseback through muddy fields in McHenry County Saturday recovered the bodies of 26 of the 27 airmen killed when an Illinois National Guard tanker jet piloted by a Hoffman Estates man exploded in midair Friday night.
The search fot the 27th victim was set to resume at daybreak today.
Eyewitnesses said the KC-135 tanker, on its way to O'Hare International Airport during a thunderstorm, exploded in a ball of fire at approximately 9:11 p.m. near the town of Wonder Lake. The explosion showered the ground with wreckage that scattered over more than two square miles.
Some pieces of the large jet, the military version of a Boeing 707, fell between homes and a nearby school, where about 400 persons were attending a science fair. No one on the ground was injured, however.
National Guard and Air Force officials were just beginning their investigation into the cause of the crash late Saturday and no theories had yet been developed, said MAJ. KATHLEEN LESJACK. Members of rescue squads at the scene speculated the jet may have been hit by lightning, but the Federal Aviation Administration later said that was unlikely.
LT. COL. DUANE SWIMLEY of the National Guard said the last communication from the jet came about 10 minutes before the crash, and the crew indicated no danger. Unlike commercial aircraft, military craft such as the KC-135 are not equipped with "black boxes" that record flight informatiion and radio communications, LESJACK said.
The pilot of the aircraft was identified as MAJ. WILLIAM S. DIXON, 35, Hoffman Estates. Other crew members were CAPT. ROBERT NICOSIA, 33, Algonquin, nagivator CAPT. KENNETH L. HERRICK, 36, Urbana; and the boom operator, M. SGT. RICHARD CROME, 39, Wilmette. All were members of the 126th Air Refueling Wing out of O'Hare.
The passengers were air force reservists assigned to the 928th Tactical Air Lift Group who had hitched a ride back to Chicago when their own plane on its way from the state of Washington developed engine trouble and landed at K. I. Sawyer Air Force Base in northern Michigan.
One passenger, Capt. FRANK J. C. PATTON, was from Prospect Heights. The others were Senior Airman SPYRIDON AGRIOPOULOS, Chicago; Master Sgt. JAMES A. ALEXANDER, JR., Evanston; Sgt. FRANK C. BADONI, JR., Chicago; Senior Airman FRANK BARBERINI, Elmwood Park; Airman 1st Class JOE L. BRANCH, Chicago; Staff Sgt. EUGENE W. GRYGIEL, Chicago; Senior Airman HAUNANI A. HOLT, Chicago; Tech. Sgt. KENNETH J. JARECKI, Chicago; Airman 1st Class ORVAL D. JONES, Chicago; Airman CARLOS R. MELENDEZ, Chicago; Sgt. STEPHEN J. OLCZYK, Carol Stream; Airman 1st Class JOHN A. POWELL, Rockton; Sgt. AUGUSTINE J. SALINAS, Chicago; Staff Sgt. JOSE SANDOVALGARCIA, Chicago; Staff Sgt. JAMES A. VANCE III, Chicago; Staff Sgt. RONALD W. WALKER, Esmond; Airman ANITA L. WALTON, Chicago; Master Sgt. FREDERIC C. WILLHOIT, Wood Dale; Tech. Sgt. ALLEN R. WOODIN, Milledgeville; Staff Sgt. JOHN LEE WOOLRIDGE, Orland Park; Maj. RICHARD A. STARK, Wiinnetka, and Capt. RICHARD W. SUNDERMAN of St. Ann, Mo.
Emergency crews from the Wonder Lake Fire Department began the grisly chore of recovering bodies minutes after the crash. RANDY McCAFFERTY, a paramedic with the fire department, had seen the explosion in the air while driving his car.
"It looked like lightning at first, and then there was orange followed by a bright white flash," McCAFFERTY said. "It was bright for about five or six seconds, like a big flash burn. I thought it was the weirdest lightning I'd ever seen."
McCAFFERTY'S father, JACK, the chief of the Wonder Lake Fire Department, said five bodies were pulled from the cockpit section of the tanker, which landed in a broken heap just off a residential street between several houses.
"I just hope God took them before they hit the ground," he said. "The explosion must have just blown them all over. We've had bodies turn up within a two-mile radius."
The elder McCAFFERTY said the search was hampered by mud, fog and darkness, but rescue squads nevertheless combed the area through the night in search of possible survivors and the bodies of victims. When fire department vehicles became stuck in the muddy fields, search parties riding horses were formed.

Daily Herald Chicago Illinois 1982-03-21


Terry - My Contact Information


Sorry, I just now saw your request for me to contact you. I have not checked this site in over a year. If you still wanted to reach me, my e-mail is [email protected].


No Masks or Parachutes Evident


You may have seen some of my other comments on this site in the past. I have done years of research on this crash, gone through hundreds of pages of documents, drawings, and photos of all of the victims from the crash. I would agree with you that there was no evidence that anyone was wearing an oxygen mask or parachutes. In fact, people need to remember that plane was only supposed to have 4 to 5 crew on it that day for training of KC-135A touch and go landings. The only reason the other 20 plus passengers ended up on the plane was because there was a group of other military crew whose plane was grounded at Sawyer AFB and needed a ride back to Chicago (so this KC-135A was helping give them a lift back here). So the plane definitely would not have had enough oxygen or parachutes to accomodate a large group.

In the coroner inquest transcripts (which I have read many times word for word, and my mother was a juror on that inquest into the causes of death), there was mention that one of the passengers in the fuselage may have had a parachute strap partially put on. So to some people that suggested someone may have tried to prepare to leave the plane after the explosion. But there was terrible ground fire to the fuselage after it hit the ground, and I can tell you from seeing the pictures it would be virtually impossible to tell whether someone had tried to strap on a parachute. Also, one observation was that someone could have even just have been sitting on a parachute as a cushion and they were not trying to put it on.

I have read all of the transcripts of the pilots conversation to the ground control up to the moment of the crash. There was no indication they thought there was about to be an explosion or crash. Though I have always felt you can sense their concern for the weather because moments before the plane lost contact the pilot asks ground control if they "can get us a heading to get through this" and the control responds by saying "I am not painting that on my radar" (like as in, I do not know what bad weather you are talking about). Then lots of witnesses on the ground in the air report bright white lightning strikes followed by the two orange flashes of the main explosions. That is why I am convinced weather (lightning) played a role in the ignition of the explosions (despite the USAF meteorologists testifying later there was no evidence of lightning in the area - that is plainly not true).

Sorry to run on, but I can tell you first hand from seeing more pictures from the scene and the victims, there is no suggestion anyone had the opportunity to prepare or react much to what happened.


Location of The Crash / Debris


I have done years of research about his KC-135A explosion and crash (I was about 13 years old living in Woodstock, Illinois nearby when this happened in 1982). I was just looking at GenDisasters again to see any new postings since I looked at them more than a year ago, and saw your posting about wanting to go visit the crash site / area. It appears you probably already came to Chicago and left (in the fall of 2012).

But if you come back in the future, I would be glad to give you details of where the crash occured. I travelled back up to Greenwood on March 19, of last year (2012) to mark the 30th anniversary of the crash. There were a small handful of people that met there including two widows of crash victims, the County Coroner (who had been the coroner back in 1982 involved in the aftermath and still was in March 2012 thirty years later), and some other military employees and veterans who knew people from the crash. We placed a wreath in the area and the local newspaper was there to take photos (and ran a long article about the 30th anniversary of the crash that week).

Feel free to e-mail me if you ever want to regarding where this occurred. The debris was spread over a very large area, but I could give you a sense of where the main parts of the plane came down. I also have some diagrams showing were the victims were specifically found, so if you wanted to know more specifically where your family member was located I could probably help with that.


Thank You

You have no idea how helpful this article has been to me. My family finds this too hard to talk about, even thirty plus years after the fact, so it's hard to get any information on the matter at all. John Lee Woolridge was my uncle. With the date, I can now visit his memorial on the anniversary. Thank you.

contact me

I would like to chat about this Accident.
Please contact me threw e-mail and i will provide you with a phone number so we can chat.

My father was with your brother

You saw the pictures of them all wearing masks and parachutes? How certain are you that it was them? My father died in this crash, my family that went to all the things that occured when they were giving out information and no one recalls seeing what you saw. I ask only because I am trying to find out as much as I can about what happened to my dad. I would love to be able to piece together his final moments,in hopes he didnt suffer. I appreciate your post,it is comforting to know I am not the only one still hurting and still thinking about this tragedy. We will not forget. Thank you

Thank you for the memories

Every word I read regarding memories of my dad is absolutley precious to me. Thank you for sharing,I think the one common denominator amongst all of us in these replies is that we will never forget. Words cant describe how it feels to see all these people in one place whose lives were forever changed and to this day are all affected by the tragedy. It is comforting to see finally that I am not the only one who thinks and is saddened by it still. Although I will never have closure, hearing about him helps dissolve the question mark. My e-mail is now updated on this site so I should get your replies, if any right away, thank you so much, Mr. Brinner.

Thank you so much, Jim

Thank you for your reply. To listen to stories and things about him is absolutely priceless especially because I didnt get a chance to be old enough to remember him, I do hear that alot, that he was a great friend and I also remember my anticipation that he would be where I was real soon and then the sadness when he was not. My aunt (his sister) did recover a camera with film that was able to be developed from the wreckage, mainly pics of the day of and the day or two before, I think you are in one of them, your name is familiar. Thank you so much, Jim!

I was wondering if you would

I was wondering if you would please email me some of the photos from the accident. My uncle Staff sergant JLuis Sandoval was in that plane.
thanks in advance

Your Dad

I flew with your dad he was a great man I was supposed to be on this flight, since I flew most every friday night mission for more than 7 months. I was a Boom Operator with the 126th AREFW/ 108th ARS. I was proud to have known him as well as all those who perished that night.