Manzano Base, NM Tactical Air Command Jet Crashes, Sep 1977

TEAMS PROBE MOUNTAINSIDE PLANE CRASH.

A Tactical Air Command jet crashed and exploded on a mountainside nuclear storage facility at top-secret Manzano Base late Wednesday night killing all 20 men on board.
The plane, which had just taken off after a refueling stop at adjacent Kirtland Air Force Base, blew up about two miles south of the Four Hills housing development, sending a cloud of fire billowing from the wreckage and lighting the horizon with a dull-orange glow.
The EC235 jet, designed for use as an airborne command center in time of war, was part of the 8th Tactical Deployment Control Squadron, based at Seymour Johnson AFB, near Greensboro, N. C. It had flown from Hunter AFB near Salina, Ga., on its way to Nellis AFB, Nev., for a training exercise with the Army. It crashed about six miles from the end of the east-west Kirtland base runway.
None of the victims -- which included nine officers up to the rank of colonel -- was from New Mexico, officials said.
"There was no indication that the pilot was having trouble," Capt. BEN ORRELL, Air Force information officer, said. "It was strange -- there was no radio call at all."
It has been reported that an air traffic controller tried to warn the jet moments before the impact.
"Either the pilot was too busy trying to correct a problem of some sort, or he may have been unaware the mountain was there," ORRELL said.
The pilot has been identified as Capt. D. M. HICKY, 29, of Colorado Springs.
The crash, which scattered wreckage across 10 acres of the rugged mountain terrain, woke residents in Four Hills. As calls began jamming switchboards at every Albuquerque office likely to have information, ambulances, trucks and four-wheel drive vehicles began hauling bodies to a makeshift morgue in a gymnasium at Manzano Base.
Small groups of spectators gathered in the mesa between Four Hills and the base, which is surrounded by a high-voltage electric fence, watching the flares and the two helicopters which spotlighted the area.
A Four Hills woman who lives about two miles from the crash site said when she saw the explosion she thought a hydrogen bomb had blown up.
"I was kind of in shock," ANN LINDSAY, 23, of 641 Stagecoach Road, told the Journal.
"Planes fly in low over our house all the time," she said. "But I'd never heard one like this. I ran to the window and saw the explosion. It billowed out like an orange balloon-type cloud of fire. It looked like pictures I'd seen of a hydrogen bomb."
"I've seen other planes that looked like they were going to hit the mountain -- because of the angle, I guess -- but this one seemed to head straight for it, on a horizontal course."
"I said, 'Why don't you go up!' but it didn't seem to. Then it hit and I thought, oh no, a hydrogen bomb has gone off."
"I've lived here for 12 years and I know they store atomic bombs at Manzano."
It has been reported in the past that Manzano Base is a stockpile for nuclear weapons, but it has never been confirmed nor denied by base officials.
When asked if the plane crashed in an area hear where fissionable material was stored, ORRELL said, "I can't comment on that."
Although no official cause for the crash has been given, it has been speculated that the jet lost power on take off and was laboring to fly over the mountain without all four engines working.
But the reason for the crash won't really be known until an investigation team, due at Manzano this morning, finishes sifting through the debris.
Here is a list of the 20 victims in the crash:
(Fifteen of the victims were with the Air Force and were stationed at Seymour Johnson Air Force Base, N. C., unless otherwise noted in the list. The remaining five were Army personnel. Hometowns are listed.)
Air Force.
Capt. DAN M. HICKY, 29, pilot, Colorado Springs.
Capt. LEE EGGERICKS, 27, co-pilot, Orchard Lake, Mich.
Maj. E. W. HARGERT, 36, navigator, Charlotte, N. C.
Staff Sgt. RANDY C. MADISON, 28, flight engineer, McCroy, Ark.
Master Sgt. DAVID W. LEWIS, 36, radio operator, Goldsboro, N. C.
Staff Sgt. ALFRED A. CRUMP, 30, radio operator, Louisville, Ky.
Staff Sgt. JOSEPH H. BATTON, 29, flight steward, Southport, N. C.
Staff Sgt. THERON D. QUATTLEBAUM, 37, flight mechanic, Murfreesboro, Tenn.
Staff Sgt. JACK A. LESTER, II, 28, flight mechanic, Virginia Beach, Va.
Also Airman 1C CHARLES H. McCORKLE, 19, flight mechanic, Beckley, W. Va.
Staff Sgt. RICHARD K. ARTHUR, 28, flight mechanic, Charleston, W. Va.
Col. HARLAN B. HUME, 45, passenger from Hurlburt Field, Fla., Chico, Calif.
Staff Sgt. DENNIS HILL, 28, radio operator, Miami.
Airman 1C JONATHAN R. McSWAIN, 21, flight mechanic, Charlotte, N. C.
Col. KEITH R. GRIMES, 42, passenger from Scott AFB, Ill., Austin, Tex.
Army:
Staff Sgt. THOMAS B. MERRIWEATHER, JR., 33, Dowdy, Ark.
COW ROBERT A. VOGT, 34, Olivia, Minn.
Maj. JAMES E. BRYAN, 36, Long Island, N. Y.
Maj. PAUL T. MURPHY, 37, Largo, Fla.
Capt. LESLIE C. JUDD, 28, Hamilton, Ohio.

Albuquerque Journal New Mexico 1977-09-16

Comments

MANZANO AIR CRASH 1977

I was pretty surprised to find this page as every now and then I would search the internet looking for any reference to the plane crash that happened that night so many years ago. I only found a few brief details in a couple of sites and stopped looking quite awhile ago. I was looking, I guess, because of the profound impact it had on me back then as an 18 year old USAF Security Policeman. I read the many comments from family of the men lost that night and from the USAF personnel involved. I was there, damn near ground zero, when the plane crashed. Assigned to a four man Security Response Team, I was an Airman 1st Class driving an International Scout patrol vehicle with Team Leader SRA Lucero in the front passenger seat and Airmen Welch and Tapley in the two rear seats.

We had been on duty for several hours and decided to take a break from driving the sector roads. I pulled over in front of one of the weapon structures where I turned off the ignition. It was a pretty clear night and we could see the lights of the city down below in the distance. It was, as always, a beautiful picture from our vantage point that high on the mountain. Another typical warm, dry night for Albuquerque in September. Boredom, serious boredom, was our constant companion on the mountain and I had learned to play the harmonica during the many long shifts worked there. It helped a wee bit to pass the time. Airman Welch had asked me to teach him to play and had his Marine Band harp in hand eager for instruction. I was using "Taps" as my teaching song due to it's simplicity in notes. My body and head were turned toward the rear of our vehicle as I blew out a note and he copied it. It was then that Airman Tapley made the comment; "Wow, that plane is really low coming from the city", and we all paused to glance that way but we had seen low flying aircraft before, so were not alarmed. Albuquerque International Airport and Kirtland Air Force Base's runway were right next to each other and impossible to guess which location a plane was flying from. Only seconds had passed when Tapley interrupted the music lesson again stating, with a higher tone in his voice, "Hey, he's really low and coming straight for the mountain!" We all looked again and it was clear the plane had not gained much altitude from our first look and was, in fact, on a path directly toward us on Manzano Mountain! The forward lights on the plane were bright and the distance was closing quickly. I think we all believed that the plane would certainly correct itself, change direction and gain altitude at any second. That didn't happen! We couldn't have realized how fast that plane was traveling and within a few seconds it was right on us! We all looked at the same time at this massive aircraft as it flew directly toward us seated there in the jeep. The lights blinded us and we ducked simultaneously in the natural reflex action of preparing to be hit! We all yelled profanities as the plane passed directly over us causing the jeep to rock violently, we thought we were goners! I looked up and saw the jet bank sharply, the engines roaring in thrust and the nose lurching upward! I watched as the nose of the plane cleared the rocky peak, followed by the midsection and for one second (really a fraction of a second)I thought it was going to make it! The sound of it's thrusting engines was deafening and then the tail of the jet hit the peak and there was a huge explosion with a fireball shooting straight up in the night sky at least a couple hundred feet high! We were all stunned beyond belief!

All four of us jumped out of the jeep and looked up at the mountain peak just a few hundred feet above us. We could see the bright orange glow of the fire burning just over the peak. Shocked, horrified at what we had just witnessed, we all stood there cursing and ironically at the same time openly praying there were survivors. We tried to contact Central Security Control via our radios, portable and jeep, to report the disaster but to no avail as radio comm had been knocked out. I told Tapley to run down the road about 100 feet to a landline (phone) located there and call it in asking them permission to climb the peak to search for survivors. He did that and returned a minute later saying he spoke to CSC and they instructed us to stay with our vehicle, "No" to rescue attempt. I could not accept that answer! So I confess here now that I constructed a lie, and then with SRA Team Leader's consent as well as my other two team members, Tapley ran back to the phone and told the Sergeant at CSC, "We think we hear voices yelling from up on the peak". It worked! We got the green light to look for survivors! The climb up the peak was extremely difficult, very steep terrain, loose rocks and dirt, dark as hell, nothing but rock and prickly bushes to grab onto! My throat and lungs were burning from the exertion in the dry heat carrying my M-16, ammo and other gear struggling to gain footage as quickly as possible. One Airman was not able to keep up and so to expedite our mission I took his M-16 as well. I can't say with any accuracy how long it took to reach the peak but I would guess about 20 minutes. I arrived first.

I stood there at the peak looking down the slope of the other side and it was a horrific sight! Everything was on fire, wreckage pieces, small trees, bushes, even the rock and dirt were burning covered with jet fuel! Soon my team members joined me there. We then formed a line, spacing out evenly as possible and began slowly walking down the slope. I saw a pair of baby shoes and my heart sank! I guessed then that it had been a civilian commercial aircraft. I noticed a food tray with food still on it and then I started seeing the body parts. Some were on the ground, some were in the scrub pines and there was barely any complete intact bodies there. It may seem odd but I felt good about that. It was because I knew they had all perished instantly, probably with no warning at all, no time to feel any real fear and they did not suffer, most important to me at that moment in my life was that...they did not suffer. Through all of this I did not stop praying for them. I wanted them to know we were there, that we were witnesses to their tragedy, that we cared and were there asking God to take care of them and my team members were praying too, out loud
, as we walked through hoping for a miracle. It was not to be.

Near the bottom of the long slope there was an access road and I saw the red flashing lights of the Air Force Rescue vehicles as they arrived on scene. A senior sergeant from Rescue walked up to us. I reported what we had observed and that we found no survivors. He informed us it was an Air Force Command Post jet, not a civilian plane. He handed us a bunch of flagged wires and instructed us to place them next to the most brightly burning objects as those objects would probably be human remains. We did so. I came across one deceased man dressed in brown trousers and a red checkered shirt. He was the most intact victim that I had observed, I prayed over him. Eventually we were relieved of our duties there and allowed to leave the scene. It was my first experience with death in a personal way, and it left me questioning many things about life.

I could not get the smell out of my uniform, my boots and I threw them away. Over the next few days that followed I showered numerous times putting soap into my nose trying to do away with the smell of all that had burned there that night on the mountain. Maybe it was in my mind more than on my body, I don't know. I had duty in the makeshift morgue they used, a small abandoned bowling alley, just outside the fence line of Manzano. The medical team there sorted out the victims, their belongings for identification. It was quite cramped for space and I had to sit among many bags of human remains in a small metal chair with my M-16 between my knees. I remember looking at one table with two military I.D's next to each other. One name was "Grimes" and I thought the other was "Grubb", (the I.D. card was dirty), and I thought how strange for these two I.D.'s to end up together with such names. I have learned now for the first time reading this page that the second name was actually "Crump". Well I talked to both of them for quite awhile that night as I truly believed their spirits had to still be near. I even played a few tunes for them on my harmonica! I still believe they heard me.

That is my story. That night changed me forever. It made me realize how fragile life is, how quickly it can be over and never to take one single day for granted. I want the families of these 20 men to know we did our very best to reach them hoping to save even one life. And when that was not to be we prayed for them, treated them with dignity and respect, every one of us from my team to the Rescue Crew to the Medical Team that identified them. I will always remember them and keep them and you in my prayers!

My father was called as well

My father Msgt Roy Ostendorf also served that night as a member of the CE team. I recall many nights taking are telescope out behind Perimeter Drive in base housing watching movement (assuming missile movement) going inside a mountain; however after my father went out that night we never took our telescope out to watch the movement at Manzano again, perhaps out of respect for those lost or the respect of our father who was bothered by what he saw or had to do, I will never know as he never talked about it other than to simply say he had to go to a crash site where lives were lost.

9 years later I think I understood why he chose not to share his experience on that horrific night/early morning when I was called to assist in a helicopter crash in South Dakota that took the life of 5 airman from Ellsworth AFB. God bless all that have served, with special prayers to those we lost and to those that were left behind.

1977 KC 135 Crash at Manzano

I remember the crash well. I was an aircraft fuels specialist. Presvictor Sanchez refueled that KC 135 and said the crew chief was in too much of a hurry. They wanted a fast refuel and leave I think they took distilled water also. There was some speculation that because the Manzano Mountain's was a restricted area was not mapped well. The base fuels lab people where there to get a fuel sample right after the crash and gave details of the crash site. I wasn't at the crash site, but at night had to heat the distilled water truck in the hanger 1-2 am in the morning, which the hanger was empty except for the wreckage of the crash debris stack on one of the wall not a lot left. Felt uncomfortable around the crash debris in that dark hanger running the truck. Hope this helps

USAF EC-135 Crash September 14th, 1977

Found this article after talking to my son about flight training and density altitude impacts today. The article is somewhat in error as it was not an EC-235 rather an EC-135 (Boeing 707). I remember this particular crash well as I was stationed at Kirtland AFB in 1977. In fact, I was a young airman assigned to the ground crew that serviced this EC-135 aircraft with fuel that evening. I do remember meeting several members of the aircraft's enlisted flight crew though certainly do not remember any names. That night has been and likely always will be burned into my memory as a result of the tragedy which soon followed after takeoff. I do recall discussions of fuel load and maximum gross weight that evening but don't recall what the final root cause of the mishap was determined to be by the investigation board. My sincere condolences to surviving family members of all the listed crew.

who is glb? If you know me

who is glb? If you know me jim coady, contac me

Thanks

I just found this web site. My dad was the Navigator on this flight. I was 12 when this happened and a only child. He was a great dad who loved his family. Thanks for the opportunity to connect with the others who loset loved ones. Les Hargett

The TWA crash you are

The TWA crash you are referring to, did not happen on Manzano. It crashed into Sandia Peak, a few miles north of Manzano. Also, I am only aware of two plane crashes on Manzano, a B-29 in the early '50s, and this one in 1977.

Manzano air crashes

I didn't work CCC, but I don't believe those X's indicated plane crashes on Manzano, as I'm only aware of two, a B-29 in the early '50s, and this one in 1977. The TWA crash you mention, crashed into Sandia Crest, a few miles north of Manzano.

Thank you

Thank you for your condolences. My father was killed in that crash. I was only 18 months old at the time. I wish I could have known him. He was taken much too soon. My mother, older sister and I think about him and the others out there that were affected by this tragedy. For those who witnessed it I could not imagine having that vision imprinted in my memories. Sorry you had to witness the crash. I hope to visit Manzano Mountain one day and pay my respects to all of the families and see the location of the 20 crew members final departure to heaven. God Bless.

Bowling Alley turned into Morque

I was a Master Sergeant assigned to Kirtland AFB Civil Engineering when the crash happened. I heard and saw the fire ball from my home. I had worked in the power plant inside the mountain so I was familiar with the location and knew the explosion came from the storage area.
I was soon called to report to the engineering command post, a decision was made to protect and contain the victims within the protected area. The commander assigned me the task of converting an abandoned old bowling alley near the site into a morgue, with the help of a team of dedicated people within a few hours we restored electric, plumbing and air conditioning to this old building. the last thing we were asked to do was build plywood tables over the ball return gutters for the pathologist.
Finally a friend and I removed an old "welcome" sign that hung over the alley ( it just didn't seem inappropriate).
I spent 3 days at the crash site and morgue, I'll never forget..
My sympathy goes out to those families.

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