Miramar Naval Air Station, CA Jet Fighter Crashes Into Hangar, Dec 1969



San Diego, Calif. -- Eleven persons were killed and 14 others injured Monday when a pilotless jet fighter crashed into a hangar at Miramar Naval Air Station.
The Navy said the pilot of the F-8 crusader jet, LT. CYRUS M. RIDDELL, 27, ejected from the plane 1 mile away from the crash site after the jet "flamed-out." (A flame out is a failure of the jet's engine due to an interruption of its fuel supply or faulty combustion.)
The plane smashed through the north doors of the repair hangar and exploded in flames. The Navy said at least $25 million damage was caused to the huge structure and the planes inside.
Sheets of flame shot 150 feet skyward, then the area was engulfed in black smoke as the 45,000 pound jet hit at 250 miles per hour and skidded into two F-4 Phantom jets, sending fuel spewing in all directions.
Men ran yelling as the ejection seats of six other jet planes exploded. One seat tore a hole in the roof. The 3,000-gallon fuel tanks of the other jets, however, did not catch fire.
An eyewitness, John Lee, 23, aviation machinist's mate, said, "I was walking out of the hangar and I saw these two F-8s close together. I thought they were going to buzz the hangar and then I thought there would be a mid-air collision.
"Then one of them sort of floated in the air, nosed off to the right and then I saw one big fireball in the hangar."
"People were running out an instant later, screaming."
An estimated 60 persons were inside the structure.
One of the men inside the acre-size hangar, connected to another by a neck of offices, said that when he heard the roar of the approaching plane, "I thought it was a test ... then it felt like someone had me by the seat of the pants and was lifting me out of the hangar."
Said WAYNE SPENCER, 24, a sailor from Springfield, Mass., "I put my hands over my ears, the noise was so loud. I thought the Phantoms exploded ... it knocked everybody down."
Fire trucks and ambulances arrived almost immediately. Navy helicopters also flew injured and burned men to San Diego, 15 miles to the southeast, after emergency treatment at the base dispensary.
RIDDELL, who escaped without a scratch, said he ejected at 400 feet altitude because the oil pressure "had gone down dangerously low."
Asked if he could have kept the aircraft from crashing in such a populated area, RIDDELL said, "I can't talk about that," and walked away.
An investigation of the crash, described as the worst disaster in San Diego County's history, was ordered.
The hangar, one of three on the base, is headquarters for the Navy's jet VF-121 squadron known as The Pacemakers. It has been shared by several fighter squadrons.

Wisconsin State Journal Madison 1969-12-23

Listing Of Fatalities.
JOHN HUNTER, 23, Vista, Caifornia, Aviation Electrician Mate 3C.
CHRISTOPHER HUNTER, 20, brother of JOHN, Vista, California, Airman Apprentice.
JOE A. HASTINGS, 37, Master Chief Aviation Maintenance Administration Man.
DONALD EDWARD McGEE, San Diego, California, Aviation Structural Mechanic 3C.
JOHN R. CHAMPION, San Diego, California, Chief Warrant Officer Second.
RALPH A. LITTLE, New York City, Aviation Electronics Technician 3C.
THOMAS P. LOUGHRIGE, Escondido, Aviation Electricians Mate 2C.
MICHAEL C. BARRACK, Aviation Metalsmith 3C.
GEORGE C. KOLBY, Senior Chief Aviation Metalsmith.
GERALD D. LEASK, San Diego, California, Aviation Fire Control Technician.
KENNETH A HECHT, 25, San Diego, California, civilian electrician from North Island Naval Air Rework Facility.
Listing of Injuried:
KENNETH D. FUNK, Aviation Machinist's Mate 2C.
Lt. Cmdr. WILLIAM F. EMERY, San Diego.
SANK THOMAS, San Diego, Aviation Structural Mechanic 1C.
RICHARD C. BONILLA, San Diego, Aviation Electronics Technician 1C.
LEROY K. WHITE, Escondido, Aviation Fire Control Technician.
ENRICO BERNABE, San Diego, Aviation Machinist Mate 2C.
TIMOTHY F. WEYER, Albuquerque, N.M., Airman.
FORREST R. ANDERSON, Riverside, Calif., Aviation Structural Mech. 2C.
ROBERT L. MOSLEY, Madisonville, Texas, Aviation Structural Mechanical Hydraulic Mechanic.


Dec22,1969. Miramar plane crash

I was a patient in orthopedic ward at Balboa Naval Hospital, and looking out a window when saw aircraft fly into hangar and explosions and fire were visible. Any ambulatory patients were requested to assist at ground level (our ward was 8th floor). In a wheelchair I reported and held IV bottle for badly burnt victim as he was carried on stretcher. I remember the odor of burnt flesh being overwhelming, and injured sailor appeared to be burned so badly they kept him covered. Nine days later I was discharged under medical conditions, and for years could find no record of this tragedy. Worse than experiences in Vietnam a year before.

Mr. Allen...My father, Ben

Mr. Allen...My father, Ben Hardee, was also in VF-194 at that time...did you know him?

Dec. 22, 1969 F-8 crash into hangar

I was at the time of the accident P. Eric Fuller AQF3. My NAS duty was in the avionics shop located there in what was known to me as K-214. In need of schooling, I was sent to NAMTRADETS, about 1/4 of a mile away and was there at the time of the crash. I knew Timothy F. Weyer. He crawled out of the hangar on fire, 40% of the flesh on his arms burned off. Scuttlebutt at the time was that Cyrus Riddell was a tough customer with plane captains and crew, previously splashing about 1/2 dozen F-8's due to mechanical failure. Later, I was attached to VF-114, but failed to sail on the Kitty Hawk to the Tonkin Gulf due to personal reasons. Recently spoke with another sailor who lucked out and was not there at the time of the crash while on a whale watching tour off of Seaside.

Hello, my father was Raymond

Hello, my father was Raymond E. Altenburger and was a chief petty officer / crew chief in that hanger. And if not for a second thought, he was headed into the hanger from his office, but ran in the opposite direction. Thank God... 5 more seconds in the wrong direction he would have been dead.

Miramar fire

I was with VF194 and it was our plane. I was in an electronics shop on the left side and the plane went to the right. I left a burning building and , yes, the fire fighters drove into a wall of flame. Never forget it!!

Back then during nam the

Back then during nam the aircraft were kept fueled and armed in hangers...I was told someone was in the seat when it went off....I just saw a hole and chaos....The fires were put out so quick. Nice work.


I worked at power plants building in 1969. It was not VF-121 but the hanger right of it. I can't remember the squadron. But I remember the site. So many brave men lost their lives....By the time I arrived. We were pulling the F4's out and I did see the whole in the roof. Everything in the hangar was shoved back. We tested engines near the flight line. If I remember right there where several aircraft lined up. If it hit 100 yards shorter much more carnage. I heard it was an hydraulic failure and he lost control and bailed out. I also heard he lost another aircraft and was grounded....

Miramar F 8 crash 1969

I was temp assigned to. vF 121 and in the AQ shop, But that morning I was about a block away when we heard the loud crash! When we saw the smoke we ran toward the hangar not knowing what to expect,, the fires were very hot and the first ejection seat went thru the roof, There was an officer (a Lt I believe, He yelled at us to stop and not go any further because the fuel tanks and some sidewinder were Hot, The emergency vehicles came in and went right by us into the hanger,,,Then the Lt ordered us to help with the firehouses,, Which we did, We saw the firemen carrying/dragging some badly burnt bodies,,

First of all, It was not the

First of all, It was not the VF 121 Hanger, it was ( I believe ) VF-21 right next to our VF-121 hanger. This episode STILL haunts every year for Christmas. It just brings up many sad memories.

I was there also and fortunate to have been unscathed

Beautiful cool December morning in San Diego. I was in VF-121 which occupied the runway side of the two bay hangar. I was walking from the flight line toward the doors of the VF-92 and VF-96 side of the hangar to meet a buddy for lunch when the rush of wind, and shadow from the silent F-8 passed by followed by the blast.
Fortunately, the casualties were lessened by two factors; it was Christmas leave season and the squadrons were allowed to have 50% of their personnel on leave, and it was lunch time and many sailors were on their way to the galley a good half mile from the hangars.
I remember that an ejection seat from one of the probably 10 F-4J's in the hangar for maintenance went through the roof of the hangar.
The response from the base fire department was amazing as they drove the crash truck right into the burning hangar.
I remember finding myself on the ground, ears ringing and in disbelief of what I had just seen. My father was badly burned in a kamikaze attack in the Pacific in WW-II and I remember thinking it could have been a repeat had it happened one minute later.
These were the same squadrons that were involved in the USS Enterprise flight deck fire as I recall, and Randy Cunningham was the lone Navy 'Ace' having downed five MIGs in VA-96.