Mather Air Force Base, CA B-52G Bomber Crash, Dec 1982
9 CREWMEN ON BOMBER DIE.
United Press International.
Nine crewmen on a B-52G bomber died in a fiery crash in a muddy California pasture near a California airbase.
The pilots of the fuel-laden Stratofortress bomber managed to steer it away from buildings, gasoline pumps and busy roads, witnesses said.
The bomber and another one that had taken off 10 seconds earlier were practicing quick-takeoff maneuvers Thursday when it went down about 1 1/2 miles from Mather Air Force Base, officials say.
The airplane, carrying 290,000 gallons of fuel, blew up "like a napalm bomb" and made a fireball about 250 feet in diameter, witnesses said.
It left a 400-yard-long swath of burning debris, killed at least three horses and four people had to be treated for smoke inhalation.
"They were awful close, about 10 seconds apart," Jim Carver, a contractor whose office is a quarter-mile away, said of the planes. "He might have veered trying to get out of the end of the turbulence" caused by the leading bomber.
"The fireball was 200 or 300 feet in diameter," he said. "It was all fuel. If it had been bombs, we wouldn't be here to tell about it."
Carver and other witnesses said by banking right at the last moment, the pilot appeared to be trying to avoid nearby buildings and gasoline pumps. His huge craft also missed roads busy with morning traffic, coming down about 100 feet from a farm house, barns and sheds.
"I heard the engine roar really loud," said Richard Nide, who was riding a garbage truck about 400 yards away from the crash. "He looked like he was going to go off to the left. Then he banked hard right and the right wing clipped the ground and exploded."
"It looked like he was trying to pull out of it. It was great ball of fire and I could feel the heat all the way to my window. It scared the holy hell out of me."
Both planes had left the runway in a low-level training procedure called "Minimum Interval Take Off."
"MITO takeoffs are used when you want to get airborne in a hurry -- something less than a minute," Lt. Col. Mike Edwards, operations officer for the 441st Bomber Squadron, explained after the crash 10 miles east of the Capitol.
He declined to speculate on the cause of the crash. Air Force investigators convened a board of inquiry within hours of the crash.
No nuclear weapons were aboard the plane, a modified version of a 20-year-old model due for fitting with the air-launched Cruise missile. Sixteen B-52G's each carrying 12 Cruises, became operational Thursday at Griffiss Air Force Base, near Rome, N.Y., the Air Force said.
The victims were identified as:
Maj. JAMES H. YORK, 43, South Bend, Ind., the aircraft commander.
Capt. LYLE A. BRUNNER, 32, Florence, Mont., a bombardier instructor.
Capt. DENNIS E. DAVIS, Hililsboro, Ore., a navigator.
Master Sgt. GERE E. LeFEVER, 42, Conestoga, Pa., an aircraft gunner.
2nd Lt. SCOTT A. SEMMEL, 23, Levittown, Pa., a student co-pilot.
2nd Lt. PETER M. RILEY, Woonsocket, R. I., a sudent co-pilot.
2nd Lt. RICHARD P. ROBESON, JR., 27, Freeport, Ill., a student navigator.
2nd Lt. BENJAMIN C. BERNDT, 24, Norwalk, Conn., a student navigator.
2nd Lt. DANIEL N. BADER, 25, Salt Lake City, Utah, a student navigator.
Intended for replacement by the B-1B bomber, B-52s have been used since the 1950s and often are older than the pilots who fly them.
Altoona Mirror Pennsylvania 1982-12-17