Conway, SC Military Planes In Mid-Air Collision, Dec 1972
THIRTEEN AIRMEN LOST IN HORRY AIR DISASTER.
Conway -- Thirteen airmen are believed to have been killed in a fiery collision of two military planes that lit up a dark December sky over a remote rural area of Horry County Tuesday night.
It is thought to be the worst military air disaster in South Carolina history.
The two planes, a heavy transport four-engine C130 Hercules from Pope Air Force Base, N. C., and an F102 fighter interceptor from McIntyre AFB near Columbia, apparently collided while on a routine training mission. Air Force officials said the F102 was supposed to intercept the transport and try to shoot it down with hits recorded electronically.
But training somehow became reality and the two planes burst into flames, spewing fiery wreckage down on the small Berea Church community near Bayboro, about 15 miles north of Conway off Hwy. 410.
The heavy transport, carrying 12 men, plummeted into the middle of a farm road, digging out a crater 20 by 50 feet and six to eight feet deep.
The impact and resulting explosion was so great that it blew out the doorknobs and locks in a nearby house and sent bits of flaming metal flying hundreds of yards in all directions. The roof of the house was set on fire.
The jet, carrying a lone pilot, crashed in woods about a mile and a half away. It apparently dropped almost straight down, because few of the surrounding trees were damaged. The cockpit and tail section of the plane landed in a cornfield about two hundred yards away.
Thousands of curiosity seekers flooded into the area following the approximately 7:15 p.m. crash, hampering the efforts of searchers who filtered through the thick pine woods with floodlights. People reported seeing the midair crash as far away as Myrtle Beach and Florence County.
Light rains Tuesday night and heavy rains Wednesday also impeded search operations, but the wreckage of both planes continued to smoulder Wednesday afternoon, sending curls of acrid smoke into wet and unseasonably warm air.
Several witnesses reported seeing parachutes following the crash, but a spokesman for the Disaster Response Force out of Myrtle Beach AFB discounted these sightings shortly after the crash on the grounds that no signals had been picked up from the emergency transmitters contained in the chutes.
JOHNNY CREEL, Horry County Civil Defense Director, said one woman told him she had positively seen five parachutes float into the woods. There were no reports, however, of searchers finding and parachutes.
As of late Wednesday, the Air Force had listed only the pilot of the jet as being officially dead. He was Capt. JAMES C. HAGOOD, JR., 28, of Lexington, an Eastern Air Lines pilot on National Guard duty at the time of the crash.
The 12 men in the C130 transport were officially listed as missing, but Air Force spokesmen said there was little hope anyone survived.
The transport personnel included:
Lt. Col. DONALD E. MARTIN, White Oak, Tex.
Maj. KEITH L. VAN NOTE, Mason City, Iowa.
Capt. JOHN R. COLE, Tulsa, Okla.
Capt. LOUIS R. SERT, St. Louis, Mo.
Capt. MARSHALL K. DICKERSON, Chicago.
2nd Lt. DOUGLAS L. THIERER, no home town available.
Tech. Sgt. ROBERT E. DOYLE, South Hill, Va.
Tech. Sgt. CLAUDE ABBOTT, Adel, Ga.
S. Sgt. GILMORE A. MICKLEY, JR., Chambersburg, Pa.
S. Sgt. BILLY M. WARR, SR., Slymar, Calif.
Sgt. GERALD K. FAUST, Oregon, Wis.
The name of the twelfth man was withheld pending notification of next of kin.
It was announced Wednesday afternoon that a special panel of top level military brass would be formed to investigate the cause of the mysterious crash.
Special attention will probably be given to a series of secondary explosions which reportedly took place in the big transport plane after the initial explosion. The plane was supposed to be carrying dummy bombs.
Whatever the cause, the crash will probably go into the books as one of the worst military air disasters in South Carolina.
Capt. BOB GORE, public information officer with Myrtle Beach AFB, said he had "never seen anything this bad." Several other Air Force people also said they couldn't remember a worse air disaster.
Florence Morning News South Carolina 1972-12-07