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


I Crewed "Balls 3" That Day

I was the navigator aboard that aircraft "0003" earlier that day and met the crew going out to the aircraft as we returned from our sortie. The totalizer gauge, the one that reflected offload and on-board fuel differences was inoperative upon landing and reported to maintenance.

The weather was very bad that day. On approach to O'Hare I had already planned a divert route to Wurtsmith AFB in Michigan, because we were so close, if not below the minimums upon landing.

The Crash Investigation Team's leader was Col. Nemo. I always thought that with a name like Nemo he was commissioned in the wrong branch of service.

A few years later I was assigned to a unit in Alaska that lost a KC-135E due to an explosion on the ground. Because this happened on the ground there was a more thorough investigation of the accident. MSgt's Cheryl Helgerman and William Malico were lost in the resulting fire. They never received the recognition for the heroism they displayed, as they died trying to open the overwing hatches to enable the passengers to escape, per the DASH-ONE.

The cause of the Alaska explosion was insufficient fuel covering the hydraulic pumps to cool them thus causing an explosion. The problem was that the pumps, through various government contracts through the years, were rebuilt out of specification with regard to temperature tolerance and thus were bombs waiting to explode if the aft body tank were drained low enough and the pumps were run long enough. I believe this is what destroyed Balls 3.

The information about the last successful sortie is contained in my log-book. There is nothing special about the mission except that it was the last controlled landing made by Balls 3.


My memory of this tragedy is as follows. At that night I lived in Wonder Lake and was giving a presentation to our local snowmobile club. This meeting was in the second floor of a facility on the east side of the lake and I was facing west looking to the west through floor to ceiling windows. What appeared to be two dozen balls of fire were falling to the ground from north to south about 2 to 3 miles to the west. Shortly after there was a huge fireball from the ground. We all assumed that it was a fuel tank explosion at the gas station in the Village of Wonder Lake or possibly Galt airport. Only later that evening did i find out about the loss of many of your loved ones. I am so sorry for all affected by this tragedy. Our service men will never be given enough praise for their valiant deeds for our freedoms. Rick

I saw the explosion. I was

I saw the explosion. I was 7 years old. We lived in Mc Henry on the west side of Mc Cullom Lake. It's about 10 miles from the crash site. Our kitchen window faced West, and I was supposed to be doing homework, but was just looking out the window. Suddenly, there was a bright white flash like lightening. All the street lights in the neighborhood went out. Then a very loud clap of "thunder". I saw what I would I describe as two white and orange "balls" fall from the sky. We knew something happened, but didn't learn until the next day that it was a plane. I remember the search helicopters flying over for months. They seemed to think parts of the airplane could have been in Mc Cullom Lake, and they were searching it with sonar or something.

My father died in this crash

Thank you so very much for sharing your experiences and thoughts regarding this crash. I was nearly 4 years old when my father, Frank Badoni, Jr was taken from me on this day. Ive always wondered what it was like to have been at the scene, what it looked, smelled and sounded like. Was my father easily found? Where and what number found was he? Although I know it may be hard to recall things from so long ago, if anyone remebers anything from my father specifically, please post, much appreciated.
As for Charles Kellog, I do know the story of one crew member whom was supposed to be on this flight but missed it for some reason. His belongings may have made it on, but he did not. Not sure what his name was, but that may explain the tags.
Thank you to all who has shared!

kc135 memorial

The memorial was re-located to the site of the 126 Air Refueling Wing now located at Scott AFB, Illinois

I was part of 2nd Security Police team sent to secure site

I was one of the first Air Force Security Police teams that was sent to initially secure the scene. I had watched that aircraft taxi and take off that night. I was on guard duty at the mass parking area when we were notified we had lost an aircraft. When midnight shift had shown up they were dispatched to the scene. A recall was initiated and as they came in they were armed and sent to relieve swing shift, me. We got in our trucks and rolled in convoy to the scene. I remember we were stopped by a LEO and they were clueless as to why and where we were going.
My first post was to guard the Cockpit upon our arrival Then to the swamp where the center section had fallen and burned. I found and helped recover #27. Along with other nightmarish memories
This all just 3 days after turning 19 and purchasing my first new vehicle before work that night. The smell of JP4 and burnt flesh will NEVER be able to be forgotten. This incident was an extreme life altering event for me. I wish I had sought counseling for PTSD but regretfully did not I started to drink heavily instead.

The C130 that the load masters were on put down at KI Sawer due to engine problems. The KC 135 refueling was canceled and they detoured to get the load masters. I do not recall seeing or hearing about parachutes. I do not believe the 135 would carry that many for a crew of normally 4-5

Several years latter I ended up working with the Co-pilot's nephew.

I would be happy to discuss any questions regarding my experience.

Memorial Wall

There is a memorial wall to the crew of this aircraft at the Ft. Sheridan military cemetery, although I do not know if it was relocated from O'Hare.

Thank you so much for

Thank you so much for posting this article. My father was the pilot of this plane- William S. Dixon Jr.

my brother

I was getting together pictures to make a scapbook for my Mom and decided to google my brother. My brother is John Lee Woolridge of the 928th tactile group out of O'Hare. I had never read about the accident before. I was 18 when my brother was killed. He was my best friend. I can't express the horor of this accident. The accident was on March 19th but none of us were notified until march 20th in the evening. Then it was 8 more days of waiting until his remains were released and we were able to buirry him. The phone rang off the wall from newspapers wanting information at all hour of the night, for months. Then the familys of the other crew members started calling, they wanted to sue the Air Force. They ended up getting everyone together to sue Bowing Airlines because the plane wasn't hit by lightning, it blew up in the air from a faulty gas line. The crew actually tried to land at KI Sawer Air Base but were refused clearence and told to go on into Chicago. The pictures on the plane that we were shown on one of the trips to O'hare was of the men in the back of the plane all wearing their parashutes and masks. It was decided that they were planning to jump, but the plane blew up first. There was a wall errected a year later with all the peoples names who were in the crash engraved in it at O' hare Military. Medals were given out at the ceremony. I do not know what has become of the wall since the military base has closed. If anyone knows please post it. Thanks for this memorial, 20 some years later it was time to read it. To all those who worked through the storm and swamp to put the pieces of these fallen heros together THANK YOU.

I was only 5 years old when

I was only 5 years old when this happened, but I remember it. My house was about 2 miles west of Greenwood, south of Hebron. We were watching "Dallas". Remember that one? There was a very loud explosion and we never knew what it was until the following day. I remember all of the search and rescue crews combing the fields on our farm. Weeks later, I was playing in the front yard at my Grandparents house (next door) and found a red name tag "Charles Kellog". I always thought it belonged to one of the soldiers on that plane and always wanted to return it to the family. The name tag got put in a box and I never did any research on it until now. I did not see that name as being a passenger listed as being on board the plane in the article posted here, so I am not sure what to think. If anybody has any idea who this might belong to, leave a post here, I'll check back. As Jennifer said, I will never forget this and thank you for documenting it so well.