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


Request for location of crash site

I would like to thank all those who have contributed to this article. My father died in this tragic accident. Can anyone tell me the location the cockpit came to rest? Something like an address or GPS coordinates? I am going to visit the Chicago area this Oct/Nov and would like to pay my respects. Thank you.


John Woolridge

Leslie my name is Rion Moore, and I was stationed At Yokota Air Base Japan with John. We worked together on swing shift for almost 2 years. He was my supervisor for a short time before he rotated back stateside to New Jersey. We spent time off work together as well, taking train rides to different parts of Japan. We took leave together and caught a hop to Korea for 5 days. I am so sorry to hear of his loss. I had learned of the tragedy several years ago, and just happened to come across this post while having a discussion with my wife about your brother. I was listening to Tanya Tucker on you tube and came across the song San Antonio Stroll. John used to play that song along with the rest of the album continuously. A website has been set up Called 610 Mass alumni. It covers the history of the unit your brother and I served in. There is a section that lists members who served between 1960 something and seventy something. I recently contacted the website manager and will be forwarding your brothers information to him so that John can be recognized as a past member who has passed on. I really am sorry fro your loss and would like to hear from you. God Bless and may God rest Johns soul

My Father was on that plane

Your post truly informed me more of a subject I have been speculative on since I have been a child. My father was MasterSargent Fredric C. Willhoit with the 928th. I have been teaching fifth grade for the past 14 years and still work in the town I grew up in. This one day forged the life and man I have become today.

I appreciate your investigation and all that you researched and concluded. I am curious if those photos are still held in Woodstock. I have family that lives there.

Fredric K. WIllhoit
[email protected]


I'm retired from the 126th, but joined the unit long after this crash, after the move to Scott AFB from O'Hare.
It's been 30 years now, and the 126th just dedicated a new memorial to the crew and passengers lost. The 126th has a Facebook page, and they posted great pictures of the ceremony just today (3/19/12).
I can tell you that to this day, the crew members and our brother and sister airmen who were lost are still on the hearts and minds of the men and women of the 126th ARW.

My Father

I am curious if you knew my father, Fredric Clarence Willhoit.

I am a teacher in Wood Dale, IL. My email is [email protected]

KC-135 crash

I was a active duty member of the 126th Security Police. (SS) I got the call that night that one of our birds had gone down NW of the base and we were needed to report ASAP to base. When I arrived, I releved the guard on the alert bird. I stood my post for a few hours untill some of the part timers arrived then got releved and loaded weapons and supplys into trucks and went to the crash site. At day break we assisted in search operations and provided security. Due to the graphic details of what we saw that day and the next few days, I will not go into them. But it is a time that I will never forget in my life. From what I remember of the investagtion, they beleave it was a spark from the radio wires in the rear of the plane ignighting fumes which caused the tail to blow off,( landed in field) resulting in the aircraft tumbling breaking the foward cockpit section off ( landed between two homes) then the center section pancaked futher out and fell into the woods.
The town people were totaly amazing in the help and support we got from them, in finding and reporting aircraft and body parts. I have a ton of photos from the days there. I for one can never forget.


My father in law, Maj Richard Stark died in this accident. We are planning a trip to Chicago and were wondering if you know what happened to the memorial at O'hare. My wife was 16, she had a 13 y/o sister, 3 y/o sister and a 1 year old brother. They would like to visit the memorial and of course know one knows anything about it. My wife's mother passed away recently and we have not been able to find any information about the crash. Any help you can give will be greatly appreciated.

Your dad was a great friend

Your dad was a great friend and sorely missed.My heart sank when I heard of the crash; him and I had just spent the day prior together talking about him leaving for AZ so he could be close to you.

My father also died in this crash

My father also died in this crash. I don't have any information to add to what you already know, but just wanted to say you weren't the only girl left without a father from this accident. I can't believe it's been so many years now.

Frank Badoni was a friend of

Frank Badoni was a friend of my husband and myself. This was a terrible time in our lives. Your mom might remember us from the east side of Chicago. We still think about him from time to time. What a terrible loss. We also had a friend who was one of the fireman at the scene of the accident. Who relayed the accident to a group of firemen that my husband was in. It was like reliving that for him. He may be able to help you with your questions. You may find me on fb Jenny if you want to talk more