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


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.
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


plane crash

I was stationed at Kirtland from 1975-1979 and we sitting outside the night it crashed.I will never forget the fireball that went up after the crash,the plane sounded like it was struggling to get up over the mountain,I worked in 1505 transportation sq. as mechanic and was always around that area working and its was devastating site and my hearts goes out to the family who lost love ones in that crash

EC-135 Tactical Air Command transport jet crash information

I read the accident report on this crash in 1983 when I was assigned to Kirtland AFB. The problem, and the cause of the crash, was simply that there was much more fuel on board the aircraft than what the crew thought. Their take off and landing data card on which they figured length of take-off roll, etc based on their weight was erroneous and made all their calculations false.
So, the aircraft could not get airborne fast enough and the Four Hills/Manzano Mtns were an obstacle. I understand they almost made it. I am certain the pilot heard the tower's call about the mountains but could do nothing...The runway is long but in Sept the weather can still be hot and that was probably a factor.
There was nothing wrong with the plane, and this accident was due to crew error and should not have happened.

Debris field.

I was an SP stationed at Kirtland from Mar 1993 until Sept 1996. I was always amazed by the fact that after all the years that passed they never fully removed the debris from the mountain. I was there when the new facility opened and Manzano changed from a restricted area to a controlled area. Every so often I would get posted to the mountain and with nothing to really do we would just drive around or hang out in the old CCC. On the wall there was a map of the mountain with X's marking all of the plane crashes. Must have been 11 or 12. There was still debris from a TWA crash that had occurred in 1955. When talking with an old timer that was stationed there during the 1977 crash, he told me how bad it was. He showed us where the plane hit the mountain and where the bodies were placed before they were transported out of the restricted area. I know from his expression that the crash was still emotional for him and I can only imagine what it must have been like for the guys on the mountain that night. A real tragedy.. God Bless the family members of those that died, and the men who were on the mountain that night..

I had an uncle that was

I had an uncle that was involved in this crash. He was J. Henry Batton II. Today would have been his 62nd birthday, and we were thinking about him and research his crash. On numerous occasions we have research this crash and have found very little material on it. If you have any information or memories of this day, and would not mind sharing them with us, we would love to read them. thank you so much for the information that you placed in your comment. It has meant alot to us.

I Too Was There When This Happened

As an Airman First Class (at the time) and with the Munitions Handling Crew, I remember going to work the next day. We were briefed about the accident, it was difficult to hear about and see the devastation that happened over night. I couldn’t believe my eyes and I remember how my heart felt so heavy. It’s a memory that has stayed with me for all these years, I’ll never forget the wreckage site. It’s a memory I’ve shared with others over the years and it’s still as if it happened yesterday.
I too offer my sincere condolences to the surviving family and friends.
John Landin, USAF (Retired)

air crash

Iwas there also working as an sp. I saw the plane crash while on my way back from chow, with 3 other sps. Iwas then assigned to escort the priest while he tried to bless everyone on board. I too will never forget

jim coady

Thank you

I think about this event often. My Uncle was aboard the flight. I took the call from my Aunt the night it happened and I can still hear her words and see the look on my father's face as I told him who was on the phone and why. To this day it breaks my heart to think about it. Tonight I went on line and did a search. I found each of you. I thought I was alone. I now know I am not. My uncle's name was Theron but we called him Uncle Donald. He was a special man. One of the kindest you would ever, ever know. He married late in life to a woman he adored and adopted her daughter. He accepted her as his own and adored her as well. So proud of her.That was the type of man he was.
I miss him. He was more like an older brother than an Uncle.
I wish I knew more about the investigation. Some of you may. If you have any info, please reply. We still have so many questions.
My thoughts are with all of the family members left behind. I find hope in the beleif that each of our loved ones is not so far away, we may not be able to touch them but they are there.
I bid you Peace..

I also appreciate your

I also appreciate your condolences. I lost my brother Lee that night and sometimes it feels like it just happened last week.He was my only sibling and as I get older I miss him more each day. He was tall, goodlooking, fun loving, thoughtful and was euligized buy a close friend as the "work hardest play hardest " person he had ever known. It feels good to put these words in type and I am so thankful for the opportunity.

Thank you for your thoughts

Thank you for your condolences! My father was killed in this crash. It was devastating to all of us.

I was working as an active

I was working as an active duty USAF Security Officer in the area where this plane crashed. I was involved with securing the area and guarding the temporary morgue. I think of this devastating experience almost every day of my life and can't imagine the grief and sadness the families of the victims must have dealt with and may still be dealing with. Now, 32 years later, I came across this article and I would like to offer my sincere condolences to the surviving family and friends.