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

SSGT Theron Quattlebaum

Your Uncle was my trainer in Avionics Communication (1976 - 1977). I was assigned to his unit- the 8th Tactical Deployment Control Squadron, Seymor-Johnson AFB- Goldsboro, NC. It was my first USAF assignment. To this day, I miss him. Theron was kind, generous, understanding, and a true professional. You can be very proud of him.

Theron D. Quattlebaum

Hello, I found this article and your comment posting after buying an old Meritorious Service Medal today in a western New Hampshire antique shop. I am retired Air Force myself and received the same medal upon retirement, but this medal is engraved "Theron Quattlebaum," which told me it was from the 1960s--1970s (when the services still engraved service decorations). I surmise that this may have been the medal given to Quattlebaum's next of kin. I gather his next of kin must have passed on and the medal was eventually sold. The story about the crash of the EC-135 proved very interesting and also tragically sad.

I saw the crash, and responded.

It was a hot, September night and a few of us SPs had gone to the Rush concert in town. Arriving back at the base we saw it hit. We donned our uniforms and drove to the ECP to help out. I had patrolled Manzano for a while and knew it like the back of my hand. Thoughts and prayers to all souls lost.

Manzano Tragedy

I was stationed at Kirtland AFB and assigned as an SP at Manzano from 1975 till 1978. My entire four year enlistment was spent on that mountain excluding my basic training and tech school time in Texas. I watched many SP's come and go. When I was first assigned there were just a handful of us assigned per shift maybe 17 if we were lucky. We knew the importance of the mission but we functioned as a close knit family. By the time I finally seperated those numbers had increased greatly. We used to walk areas of the mountain on quiet summer evenings and weekends. As long as we stayed within our sectors and could respond we were given the latitude to be curious of our surroundings. probably a good thing because we learned the geographical make up of the terrain. It was very beautiful there. With our elevation our view of Albuquerque from the front side of the mountain at night was startling. Many of us had walked the old crash sites on the mountain but never dreamed that the worst would happen while we were there. I was an old 21 years of age kid in September of 1977. I was working day shift on the mountain. I was at home asleep when my phone rang and I was advised of the crash. I was told to report early and would be assigned as needed when I arrived. Upon my arrival I was taken to the backside of the mountain. I saw the tail section of the plane on the upper portion of the mountain and debris scattered across a scorched area all the way to the fence on the northeast corner of the site in sector three not far from where it bordered the end of sector two. The jet engines were torn loose and were resting on the backside of the area. One had gone through the security fence. I remember a senior NCO making the comment that he had not witnessed devstation such as what was before us since he left Vietnam. I spent my entire day assisting and escorting personell. I assisted in by helping to carry the bagged remains of the crew to the waiting vehicles on the upper loop of sector three. My day was spent above the upper loop and between it and the second loop taking care of what had to be done. I still rember the sounds, smells and sights of that day. I recall finding pictures and personal belongings of the crew and collecting those things. Even months after it was over we were still finding things. Myn heart goes out to the family nmembers who lost love ones that night. The only comfort I can offer that is given the magnitude of the destruction that no person aboard suffered. It was instant. As for the guys working that night on the mountain. I feel for them. I know it haunts them to this day. It's something you can't forget. As for you Jim Coady I know you guys were shocked with what you witnessed. I never thought I would talk about this again to anyone. Today it's one of the skeletons in my closet that comes dancing out from time to time for me to see and remeber. God Bless you all.

I was stationed at Kirtland

I was stationed at Kirtland AFB and assigned as an SP at Manzano from 1975 till 1978. My entire four year enlistment was spent on that mountain excluding my basic training and tech school time in Texas. I watched many SP's come and go. When I was first assigned there were just a handful of us assigned per shift maybe 17 if we were lucky. We knew the importance of the mission but we functioned as a close knit family. By the time I finally seperated those numbers had increased greatly. We used to walk areas of the mountain on quiet summer evenings and weekends. As long as we stayed within our sectors and could respond we were given the latitude to be curious of our surroundings. probably a good thing because we learned the geographical make up of the terrain. It was very beautiful there. With our elevation our view of Albuquerque from the front side of the mountain at night was startling. Many of us had walked the old crash sites on the mountain but never dreamed that the worst would happen while we were there. I was an old 21 years of age kid in September of 1977. I was working day shift on the mountain. I was at home asleep when my phone rang and I was advised of the crash. I was told to report early and would be assigned as needed when I arrived. Upon my arrival I was taken to the backside of the mountain. I saw the tail section of the plane on the upper portion of the mountain and debris scattered across a scorched area all the way to the fence on the northeast corner of the site in sector three not far from where it bordered the end of sector two. The jet engines were torn loose and were resting on the backside of the area. One had gone through the security fence. I remember a senior NCO making the comment that he had not witnessed devstation such as what was before us since he left Vietnam. I spent my entire day assisting and escorting personell. I assisted in by helping to carry the bagged remains of the crew to the waiting vehicles on the upper loop of sector three. My day was spent above the upper loop and between it and the second loop taking care of what had to be done. I still rember the sounds, smells and sights of that day. I recall finding pictures and personal belongings of the crew and collecting those things. Even months after it was over we were still finding things. Myn heart goes out to the family nmembers who lost love ones that night. The only comfort I can offer that is given the magnitude of the destruction that no person aboard suffered. It was instant. As for the guys working that night on the mountain. I feel for them. I know it haunts them to this day. It's something you can't forget. As for you Jim Coady I know you guys were shocked with what you witnessed. I never thought I would talk about this again to anyone. Today it's one of the skeletons in my closet that comes dancing out from time to time for me to see and remeber. God Bless you all.

I was going through

I was going through Pararescue School at Kirtland AFB at the time. It took us two and a half days to "clean" the crash area up. It was the first "mission" for the members of my class.
Our sympathy went out to the families of the victims. But it was good training. It hardened our hearts and minds right there. We all knew it could be any or all of us being recovered.
As the years passed six of my friends were killed in various accidents performing their Pararescue duties. We all volunteered and we all knew the ultimate risk......these things we do,"That Others May Live".

Robin McSwain went to my

Robin McSwain went to my church - Avondale Presbyterian, Charlotte NC. He came by the beach when our youth were down at the coast that July. He and my dad talked about the Air Force and the planes Robin was working with. I was 11 at the time. I did not know him really as he was 10 years my senior. First young person I knew of that died so young. We had to tell my older sister the news and it crushed her - we'd all just seen him weeks earlier. Very sad. I had no idea we lost another Charlottean in the crash.

air crash

I was returning from chow hall outside the area on our way back to manzano. I was with Sgt joe burries and A1C Rick Loomas, I was SRA Jim Coady all part of a fire team. I can still hear joe tell Me to call it in as a low flyer which was normal practice for the alarm monitor. Before I could finish my transmission, Joe blurted out that it wasnt going to make it. Within the next few seconds the three of us watched in horror as the plane crashed and sent up a huge mushroom cloud. We were in shock I beleive as joe stopped the vehicle to set up road block. We then recovered and proceeded to the are of the crash which I beleive was 41 a at the time. We then climbed up a hill and looking down was like light city at night. AT that point we got seperated and I got assigned to the chaplain. Even the chaplain had to be escorted in this area because of its security level. I continued with him as he blessed arms , legs hands and any other body parts as to bless everyone on the plane. M y boots were melted when I got releived at 1030 and my uniform had to be desroyed because of the smell. I have lived that night over many times and cried thinking of the familys who were not even notified yet.. My prayers and thoughts will always be there for them.
If Rick Loomas or Joe burries ever read this I would love to hear from them. jcoady31@comcast.net or 508258 0332

Memorial Day 2010

In memory of my friend "Jonathan Robin McSwain", who died in our Squadron's (8th TDCS) plane crash in New Mexico on September 14, 1977. Robin, may you rest in peace.

My uncle was the pilot of

My uncle was the pilot of this plane. I was only 1 year old when this happened and sadly I didn't even have a chance to know him. My mom told me he was a great guy. I was curious to find out what happened there as no one really told me and when i went to investigate I found this. Thanks everyone for posting more information about this, I am going to show my mom. For all others who lost friends and family in this horrible tragedy my condolences.