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


Dennis Davis - EWO -- looking for people who flew with him

I knew the EWO in this crash, Dennis Davis, and was would like to be in touch with anyone who flew with him at Castle or earlier at Loring. Thank you.

Gere Lefevre - Gunner

Gere and I were both gunners and stationed together at Loring AFB, Me in the late 70's. We spent many times together and were both from Pa. I was shocked to hear the news and still can't get over it. I didn't find out until several years ago when another gunner told me about the crash. Jereann, I still have some .50 cal empty rounds and links that he gave to me when I went to your house one time to visit. He was a good friend. I'll never forget him.

I was stationed at Castle

I was stationed at Castle AFB in Atwater CA from 79-83 and it was our Aircraft that was lost that day. Our aircraft were at Mather AFB because our runway was damaged when a different B52 exploded on the runway after a hydraulic fire after landing. No one was hurt in that exploded My heart and best wishes go out to the families of the lost crew.

B-52G Crash

I was on the flight line that day..I was the Crew Chief on B-52G 58-0773..Saw the MITO, and the second bomber pull up and go down...It was a sight I will never forget..

Thank you...

Thank you Stu Beitler for posting this, and Bea Bennefield for your recap and wonderful sentiments! It was a sad and difficult Christmas for Ben's parents, his wife of only 3 months, a younger sister, 3 younger brothers, family and friends.

Mather AFB Wife of Aviator in 1982

That day was one of the most terrifying days I have ever lived as an aviator wife. We lived on Semple Drive in Officer Housing at Mather. Most all of our neighbors were either pilots or navigators, and we wives visited on a daily basis with each other. That morning we heard the explosion and wives were running out the front doors trying to find out what happened.

My next door neighbor was a pilot who was getting ready to go in for a flight when he got the call that a B-52 had gone down. The relief I felt was unbelieveable, but knowing it may be one of my friend's husbands left guilt in my heart. Immediately, two of us wives were running down the street to our neighbor whose husband was a B-52 Navigaor in training. He was on the first plane that took off, but we didn't find that out till later in the day. When you are far away from home, with no family, you lean on each other like family.

It was like we were all traumatized, and couldn't believe what was happening. Thru the years I have relived that day over and over wondering how thoses families got thru the horror of seeing their loved one go down in a fiery crash. We take for granted how brave these men and women are who protect our country and sacrifice so much for us. By chance I came across this site today and finally saw the reason for the crash. Thanks for posting.


I was on the flightline an Mather watching the MITO..The bomber was a transient aircraft from Castle AFB I believe, flying sorties out of Mather.....Still don't really know what happened..It was #2 in the 3 plane cell...Will never be able to get that sight out of my mind..

Mather AFB....Crash

I just submitted a comment and neglected to include my name. I would like to give permission to use my name....as I believe it adds credibility to my experience.


I saw it also. Was on my way home heading N on Bradshaw to my place on Kiefer Blvd. Horrific is a good description of the impact and seeing the plane flounder was just sickening. Huge fireball and then the black smoke must have covered a 1/2 mile area at least. I lived 1 mile away from the crash site and when I got home I could only see 2 houses away, the smoke was that thick. It missed my elementry school Sierra Enterprise but was too close for comfort. I believe the only ground injury was a lady that went outside after the impact and she had a heart attack.

As a side note, I went to school with a Jim Bennefield.....

God bless them that perished.

I find it hard to believe

I find it hard to believe that a buff attempted to take off with 290,000 pounds on board. That would be a HUGE fuel load. I used to be a B-52 Crew Chief in the early '80s when this happened and I recall fuel loads of 220,000 being common......240,000. I don't ever recall them leaving the ground with 290,000 pounds on board. If they were going to max out they usually did it in-flight with in-flight refueling.