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


Investigation of 1982 USAF Plane Crash Neary Greenwood, IL

I was one of the Wonder Lake FD first responders to this crash. My father was the Wonder Lake Fire Chief. I saw the bright flashes in the sky as I was driving west into Wonder Lake. I was also member of the 63rd AEF stationed with the 928th TAC at O'Hare at the time. I knew and flew with many of those lost in the crash. I remember this incident like it was last week. I remained on site for at least 3-4 days. We put out the fire in the plane where it crashed in the swamp, looked for remains and assisted the USAF and local agencies in the investigation. I knew the commander of the 126th and was one of the first to meet him at the crash site. He remembered me as I held training sessions for the 126th ARG Guard unit on base. I was at the ceremony in Greenwood and O'Hare for these Airmen. I will never forget you....

Investigation of 1982 USAF Plane Crash Near Greenwood, Illinois

I recently found the postings on this site about the 1982 explosion and crash of a USAF Reserves plane near Greenwood, Illinois. I lived in the area at the time and have spent many hours and days over the years researching the possible cause(s) of this accident and would be glad to share those details with anyone that is interested in knowing about them. I see that some family members of the victims from that flight have posted here and thought they may want to know that someone has taken the time to look into the possible causes of this. Please contact me individually via e-mail ([email protected]) and I can tell you what I have learned about the event and answer questions you might have.


Investigated 1982 Plane Crash Near Greenwood, Illinois


I recently read on the GenDisasters website that your father was on the U.S. Air Force Reserves plane that exploded and crashed near Greenwood, Illinois in 1982. I actually have done a lot of research about that accident and would be glad to share what I know about it is you are interested in knowing. I tried to post some information about it to the GenDisasters website but I am not sure if it posted correctly or where. You can reach me on e-mail at [email protected].


Angela, I recently read on


I recently read on the GenDisasters website that your father was on the U.S. Air Force Reserves plane that exploded and crashed near Greenwood, Illinois in 1982. I actually have done a lot of research about that accident and would be glad to share what I know about it is you are interested in knowing. I tried to post some information about it to the GenDisasters website but I am not sure if it posted correctly or where. You can reach me on e-mail at [email protected].


Investigated 1982 Crash Near Greenwood, Illinois

Hi, Lesle -

I was reading today that your brother was on the U.S. Air Force Reserves KC-135A plane that exploded and crashed in 1982 near Greenwood, Illinois. I have actually done a lot of research about that accident and would be glad to share what I found out if you are interested in hearing about it. I tried to post some information about it to this GenDisasters website but it does not seem to have posted. You can e-mail me at [email protected].


Investigated 1982 Crash Near Greenwood, Illinois

I was glad to find this recent online discussion about this 1982 plane explosion / crash because I actually have spent many hours and days researching and investigating it in recent years. I was a teenager growing up in the Woodstock area at the time and remember the events well. My family was also good friends with some of the McHenry County officials back then so I was later able to get some first hand information about the event.

In the early 2000's I was talking with some family members about this explosion / crash that we all remembered from 1982 and I asked if they knew what the cause of the crash was ever determined to be. One of my family members had actually been on the coroners inquest that was held in Woodstock after the crash to officially "determine" the causes of death for all of the members. But she said no one ever told them what the cause of the crash was. So I decided to begin doing some digging on my own about this crash. I began by writing to the U.S. Air Force asking for any records about this incident. They later sent me some minimal files but had blacked out many portions of the reports and completely redacted additional information under the premise that it could jeopardize national security. This really bugged me, so I took another step... I called a family friend of ours who worked for the McHenry County government back then (and still did in the early 2000's). She knew the case well because she had been on scene after the crash and was involved in the recovery. She told me that the county still had all of their files and records from the explosion / crash in storage and said I could go look through those files. So I went up to Woodstock, Illinois to the county offices soon after and spent a whole day going through their old files, pictures and other documents from this incident. I made many, many pages of copies to bring home to later read and study.

After reading a lot of details including maintenance logs for the plane, witness testimony, coroner inquest transcripts, looking at pictures and maps and more I came to some of my own conclusions. I also got in touch with the mother of one of the crash victims and we spoke on the phone once to discuss what she had been told by the Air Force about the incident versus what I found from my research. To make a very long story short, there were some interesting clues in the maintenance logs and testimony of plane mechanics. One mechanic testified about how they had done work on that plane just days before for leaking fuel bladders in the fuselage of that plan (since that plane was a KC-135A refueling plane it had several fuel storage areas). That mechanic testified that there was jet fuel residue very evident in the areas that they worked on and that they had done their best to clean it up but may not have cleaned it all up. Another thing that showed up in the plane maintenance logs was that a VHF antenna had been installed into the plane under the fuselage at O'Hare and was later found to have been incorrectly installed in the wrong location, but was never moved. Normally installations like that were done at a Boeing facility and typed into the planes maintenance logs, but this one was done at O'Hare and hand-written into the logs. That specific detail is important because of some other things I found in the research (that I will mention shortly). Also of note in the planes records were complaints by other crews that had flown that plane that the VHF transmissions were not always working well and seemed to cut in and out intermittently. Again - this detail is important later. Fast forward now a few months after the crash... In the U.S. Air Force investigation results that I was able to get a copy of, they noted a few interesting things. For starters, they noted that the plane had some lightning entry/exit marks on the skin of the plane. They could not determine if that was from recent lightning strikes or old marks from old strikes. They also noticed that the connectors for that hastily installed VHF antenna showed signs of short circuiting and had signs of melted Teflon connectors. The Air Force even went so far as to try to re-create those short circuits and on a similar VHF antenna in a lab and could not recreate a spark strong enough to melt Teflon. Teflon melts at very high temperatures so they never concluded in their reports what cause those extreme short circuit signs in that VHF antenna wires and Teflon connectors. Another thing that was interesting were the reports about the weather that night. The U.S. Air Force records state there was no signs of lightning in the area that night. But that completely contradicts a lot of other sources. For starters, I read testimony of other pilots that were flying in that area that night and they all reported very heavy cloud-to-cloud lighting. One was a commercial pilot approaching O'Hare at the same time and one was a small plane pilot flying nearby who described it as some of the worst weather he had flown in. Last, I also read the transcribed conversations that the KC-135A crew was having with ground control as they approached O'Hare. That KC-135A plane that night was flying under the handle of "Happy 33" and was communicating with multiple ground personnel. At one point just before the communications abruptly stopped the pilot of "Happy 33" asks ground control if they are "painting this on radar" and if they can give them a heading to "get away from this." The ground control responds by saying they are not seeing anything on their radar that matches what the crew was seeing. The communications then end shortly after that. So it is my belief that what the flight crew was "painting on radar" that they wanted to get out of was very bad weather in mid-flight.

Soooo, all of that said I can share what my personal opinion is about that explosion and crash. I am not an expert or pilot but I am an engineer and am pretty careful and details about troubleshooting. I think that the signs of heavy lighting in the area and the lightning marks on the planes skin suggest it was hit by lightning that night. Further, I think that the electrical energy of that lighting strike may have travelled across the surface of the plane and reached that improperly installed and faulty VHF antenna. I think that antenna was not entirely installed securely (also evident by the complaints of crews having poor VHF transmissions) and lead to a high temperature short circuit. This was definitely evident when the Air Force found the remains of that VHF antenna and even went so far as to lab test what might have caused melted Teflon. I think that was a strong short circuit "spark" from a lighting strike. I further think that there may have still been JP-4 jet fuel residue in the immediate area of that VHF antenna in the fuselage. The mechanics testified about fuel leaks in that area recently and residue possibly still left behind. And because that VHF antenna had been installed in the wrong, forward area of the bottom of the fuselage it happened to be nearby that fuel source and lead to the initial explosion. People that witnessed the explosion from the ground, and pilots in the air, described seeing two explosions close together. One small explosion followed shortly after by one large explosion. My guess is that the first explosion could have been when lightning struck and cause a short circuit in the VHF antenna area near fuel residue and that in turn lead to causing ignition and explosion of the full set of fuel in the planes wings and fuselage area.

Like I said, I am not an aircraft mechanic so I am open to other input and feedback. I have spoken and e-mailed with some past KC-135 mechanics and they said they had heard this explosion was due to overheated fuel pumps due to low fuel conditions in the plane. That sounds very similar to someone else description about the KC-135 that exploded on the ground in Alaska for that reason. But I tend to disagree with that concept because the records for this plane showed it was nearly full loaded with fuel as part of the exercises the crew planned to fly that day.

I also ready that someone else here heard that the people on the plane had put on parachutes and masks to prepare to jump. But from everything I have seen and read, I think that was unlikely. For starters, this plane only planned to have four crew members on the plane that day. It was an unfortunate twist of circumstances that it happened to pick-up added passengers that were stuck at another base due to their plane being under repair. Additionally, I have seen pictures of the scene and the victims. About half of the victims were clearly thrown from the structure of the plane in mid-air. There were some people that were in the fuselage when it came down to the ground (the fuselage and one wing fell together to the ground largely intact). When that portion of the plane hit the ground it ruptured into flames. There is a possibility those victims were still conscious when that part of the plane fell but unlikely they had the ability to prepare to parachute out. The plane fell from about 13,000 altitude so there was some time to react, but not much (given there had just been a major in air explosion of the majority of the plane). There was one comment by the coroner at the time in the transcripts of the coroners inquest that was about a parachute. One of the members of the coroners jury asked if the victims had tried to escape from the plane. The coroner commented that one person appeared that they may have tried to put on a parachute but that was not certain. I find it hard to believe that the investigators could come to that conclusion because the evidence of heavy fire in that fuselage in evident in the pictures of the victims.

Well, that is my explanation of what I found in my research. One more interesting note... I appealed the U.S. Air Force decision to redact portions of their findings. They finally said that once 25 years had passed after the incident, they would release their final conclusion and findings about the explosion / crash. So a few years ago I wrote them and asked for that report conclusion. They sent me one short page that simply said the incident was due to a mid-air explosion -- that was it. It astounded me that their final findings and recommendations would simply just say "it exploded" -- no kidding.

If anyone involved with the incident has any questions for me, feel free to get in touch with me. I would be glad to share the files and information I have accumulated about this.


National Guard plane crash memory

I did not witness the explosion or crash but was made aware of it by a friend with a police scanner. At first it was believed a small plane had crashed in bad weather near Galt Airport in Greenwood, Illinois. Only much later was it was determined to be a military jet plane. I was a Senior at Woodstock High School, students from the crash site attended Junior and Senior High Schools in nearby Woodstock, I remember them describing the scene the following Monday morning at school. One girl in particular had the horrible experience of discovering the cockpit and flight crew in her own yard. I felt upset about the crash and the victims as well as the local rescue personnel and what they must have had to witness, but I felt worst for my High School classmate who had made the gruesome discovery and would live with that memory forever.

03-20-1982 plane crash

Ms. Badoni I trying to send you a note but seem to be having trouble .this the third atempth.I was with your father on 03-20-82 having breakfast with him and the other team members on that very day.I volunteered for another two weeks of duty in california ,a place called 29 Plams .four of us volunteer but the other three changed their minds and decided that they would go home first to see their family and then join me later in the desert.we finish breakfast and said our goodbyes. I wasn't aware of any crash until two weeks later when I was apporach by two security police who wanted my ID card and my orders. without giving any explanation..Later on they rtn. and took me to a mobile trailer and started asking quesiont about the members of the teem. later they explained to me what happen and of course I did not believe them because I had just saw them a couple of weeks ago it must be a mistake.Apparentley my name had not been removed frod the manifest and they were unsure where I was .It was a very traggic day I rtn. just in time to attend only one funeral and that was my roommate at the time was Menedez, who had only been the military for a couple of months.this story is more than i can put on this screen. Just to let you I am proud to have served with your father.god bless you and your family.

kc135 memorial

The memorial wall that was located at O'Hare ARFF was relocated and dedicated at Ft Sheridan in Illinois. I was there for the ceremony and I was also a member of the 28th Aerial Port Squadron and good friend to 19 of the folks who parished in that crash.

Father died in this crash

Your dad was a member of the 28th Mobile Aerial Port Squadron. I was assigned to that unit. I was also on the original orders sending 19 people from the squadron to McChord AFB WA for their 2 week annual tour. The last minute I had some personal business come up and requested to be resceduled. So the squadron approved my request and had to send someone else in my place. Your dad was part of a great group of people. At O'Hare are main job was to load C-130s for air drop missions. Our squadron packed parachutes and attached to equipment that was being dropped. We also had to man the drop zone at Fort McCoy in Wisc. Once the equpment was dropped we would recover everything and drive it back to O'Hare. On our 2 week annual tours we would work with our active duty counterparts loading and off cargo aircraft.
So sorry about the lose of you dad. I always think about them, especially the person who had to take my place.