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

AIR NATIONAL GUARD PLANE CRASH KILLS 24.

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

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PLANE CRASH PROBE BEGINS.

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

Comments

Plane crash

Hi Jennifer
Thank you so very much for taking the time to write to us at GenDisasters . Your letter certainally adds a wonderful highlight to this article.
Your sharing your experience is very much appreciated by myself and all who read the article.

Best wishes
Stu

Greenwood IL Plane Crash March 1982

I saw the plane explode. We had just returned home (we lived on the west side of Wonder Lake at the time) from the science fair at Greenwood Elementary School. It was late at night and it was raining. I just happened to look out the living room window and saw the plane. It looked like there was an explosion between the cockpit and midsection and then another explosion between the midsection and tail section. There was lightning that night. It was difficult to tell if the plane had been hit by lightning or if the explosions were strictly internal. I was a grade-schooler at the time of the incident. Military personnel visited our school and gave us military patches. I remember the military troops, vehicles and helicopters searching the area and removing debris while we attended school. Initially the area had been closed off while they recovered the victims of the crash. I remember a small part of the school parking lot had been damaged by debris. A classmate had told us that the cockpit of the plane had landed in his backyard in Greenwood. I think the midsection of the plane had landed in a field across from the school. I'm not sure about the tail section. Its a miracle that no one was hurt on the ground with all the debris. It had basically exploded over the small town of Greenwood, Illinois. This is a moment in history I will never forget. Thank you for documenting it.