Mather Air Force Base, CA B-52G Bomber Crash, Dec 1982


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


Mather B-52 Crash

I Remember that day fully like it was yesterday. I Was working over at the planetarium giving a christmas light show of what the sky might have looked like on Christ's birthday, when one of the volunteer Firefighter with the group beeper went off. We looked out of the planetarium, and saw the giant Fireball and I knew an aircraft had gone down. I Called the 323rd Security Police Desk Sergeant and I Was told that we had been recalled and to report to the squadron. Later, we were doing crash sight security, and I remember seeing the dead horses and charred ground. Later while performing perimeter security, a woman came up to my side and said one of the crew was her husband, and I had to tell her to go to the Entry Control Point. What a Day

I was AMS (radios, comm), 320

I was AMS (radios, comm), 320 Bomb Wing, Mather AFB when this occurred.

If I remember correctly, we (Mather AFB) had half of Castle's aircraft, I think Fairchild had the other half.

The B52s were at Mather because a B52 landed at Castle with hot brakes that lit the plane on fire on the runway. Burnt such a hole in the runway, took months to fix.

For Castle to continue its training missions, they launched their aircraft out to other bases.

Pam, from the radar shop, came into the shop and told us one of the B52s had fallen out of the sky. I recall standing on the deck outside our building, looking at the smoke coming from the crash site.

A sad period.

B-52 Crash

I was assigned to the 320th Security Police Squadron, working in Operations when word came that a B-52 had crash at the end of the runway. Me and my Operations Superintendent made our way to the accident site to set up security and to assists local law enforcement in securing the crash site. I can recall one of the horse's
that was blinded as well as the crew members that perished that fateful day.

I'll never forget that site as long as I live. The pilot did a masterful job in putting his Aircraft down in the only place where the loss of life was confined to those on board.

People on the Ground Saved

I was working on a ranch at 5280 Bradshaw Road on the morning of the crash. This property where the crash occurred was directly behind the ranch fence to the west of our property. I arrived for work in the late afternoon, after most of the emergency crews had departed the scene. One of the other workers came and told me about the crash. He said several workers were outside and looked up when the first aircraft came out low over their heads. It was in the direct flight path about 1.5 miles south of the Mather runway where the B52's commonly took off, usually just making a lot of noise.

They noticed the second plane descending from a low altitude, and it was coming right at them. He said the plane got so low and so close he could clearly see the people in the plane, and he thought the pilot saw them too and then intentionally veered to the right to avoid them, causing the right wing to hit the ground first in the pasture beyond the barbed wire fence. He said his impression was that the pilot was looking for a place to put the plane down in a belly landing in the agricultural area where there were few buildings, but when he saw the people he intentionally put the right wing down until it hit the ground about 100 yards away and exploded. This action surely saved the lives of those people on the ground. The sacrifice those men made that day has never been forgotten by those who were there that day in a hopeless position. God bless them, they were all heroes to us who knew and appreciated what they did in their last moments.

Pilot Error

Richard- I thought you had an excellent analysis. I was a nav at the time at Castle and had to reposition to Beale after the 1st B-52 accident at Castle. I knew one of the guys from my intramural football team at Mather and one other guy during this Mather/Sacramento disaster. I was a KC-135 guy repositioned to Beale and saw the accident minutes later on the NBC Today Show at Ops.

I later became an ATP and flew for the airlines, and agree with you about the pilot, (York who I met at the 93'd at Castle) that he stalled and basically became a passenger. We were all CFI's and knew what could happen when you get slow. Most of my friends said he should have hit the bell and got at least some of those guys outta there.

I had lived very near where it happened in Rancho Cordova, and I had always wanted to get up there immediately to help if not thank the responders. I was involved in another issue from the 93rd just a month later with a KC-135 number 2 engine on fire in flight over CA. Best regards, Marshall


Well that's funny because we loaded the B-52Gs and B-52Hs a few times to a total fuel load of 302,500LBS, IIRC. After takeoff, another 10,000Lbs of fuel could be added with aerial refueling, IIRC. 270,000Lbs of fuel was the point where you must have water injection in the B-52G, as we called it back then, 'wet'. Below 270,000Lbs it could takeoff 'dry'.

I crewed G models from

I crewed G models from 1979-1984. Our light fuel loads were 260,000 lbs. The heaviest I can recall was a 308,000 wet. It all depended on how far from their training range they were.

I was 12 years old when this

I was 12 years old when this happened. My Dad was a pilot at Castle. I remember that my sister and I were picked up at school by a neighbor because my Dad and Mom had to go notify the families of the fallen heroes. I will never forget how it felt to know that those kids were growing up without a Dad, and how lucky I felt that it wasn't my Dad in the aircraft that day. May God bless these brave men and their families.

Cause of crash-pilot error

I was flying F4-Es out of Spangdahlem AB, Germany at the time. I read the Class A Mishap report. The mishap aircraft was using water injection on take-off in a MITO environment. Water injection creates more thrust (faster climb-out which also increases lift). They realized they were over-taking the aircraft in front so they started to turn left. The departure also included a left turn and the plane in front also started to turn left, one of the pilots in the mishap aircraft pulled the throttles back without turning off the water. The engines flamed out (I can't remember how many engines stayed lit, but it was not enough to stay airborne). They tried to accomplish a restart but they were too low. They maxed out the good engines trying to stay airborne to no avail. The aircraft stalled and the right wing dropped and impacted the ground. The EWO ejected at the last second but came down in the fireball. The story that the pilot avoided homes etc. on the ground are incorrect. He had no control of the aircraft at that point. They were trying to keep the aircraft airborne. The speed was decreasing rapidly as they tried to keep the nose up. Once aircraft stalled, they were passengers. The fate was sealed at the point the pilot pulled the throttles back. Had they been at FL 200, they might have accomplishedan airstart. At their altitude, they were doomed and should have initiated an immediate ejection. Pilot error caused the death of the entire crew. Very sad.

Jere Lefever

Thank you Doug. It is always nice to hear from people my dad knew. Please feel free to contact me via Facebook.