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.)
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