Orlando, FL Bomber Crashes, Mar 1972


Orlando, Fla. (AP) -- Seven Air Force crewmen died and at least eight civilians were injured Friday when a burning B52 bomber nosedived into a residential neighborhood and sprayed homes with a sheet of blazing jet fuel.
The huge, eight-engined plane, which had reported a fire on board a few minutes before the crash carved a 150-foot crater in the field where it crashed. It slammed into the earth about 50 yards from the nearest house and a quarter mile from the McCoy Air Force Base runway where it was trying to land.
McCoy is just south of Orlando.
The eight civilians injured were identified as:
NANCY ROBERTSON, 36, and three of her children, ROBIN, 15; DANNY, 10, and LAURA, 9, all treated for minor burns at Orange Memorial Hospital.
ANTHONY ELLINGTON, 10, listed in very cricital condition.
BILLY GARLAND, 12; DONALD GARLAND, 7, and CHARLES GARLAND, 5, all listed in satisfactory condition at Florida Hospital.
Orange County sheriff's deputies said two buildings were completely gutted and two others suffered heavy damage as the wreckage continued to burn fiercely more than an hour after the crash.
One Air Force man who helped recover the bodies of the crew from smouldering wreckage that was scattered over a quarter-mile said only three of the bodies were recognizable.
The Air Force said the names of the seven men aboard the eight-engined bomber would be withheld pending notification of next of kin.
Two witnesses said it looked as if the pilot made an effort to guide his crippled plane away from McCoy's civilian terminal and populated areas and crash it in a nearby woods.
"I heard the plane first. I'm just out of the Marine Corps and I know the sound of an engine in trouble," said TOM SMITH, 24, who smashed down a redwood fence to rescue MRS. ROBINSON and her three children who were trapped in their yard near their burning home.

Florence Morning News South Carolina 1972-04-01



Orlando, Fla. (UPI) -- A crippled Air Force B52 jet bomber, trying to make the runway at McCoy Air Force Base, crashed in a sizzling inferno near a row of houses Friday, killing all seven crewmen and injuring eight persons on the ground.
The crash, which occurred a quarter-mile short of the runway, destroyed four houses and heavily damaged two others.
The plane plowed a 150-yard furrow in the ground within 50 to 100 yards of the houses of the Silver Beach residential section and sloshed flaming jet fuel through streets and backyards.
"I was standing in my friend's front yard and I heard the engines -- they sounded weird," said 17-year-old JAMES REEVES. "I live around here and I know what they sound like .. but these were like screaming."
The youth said he saw the plane "coming straight down -- coming down sort of sideways, slipping over" and when it hit, amushroom cloud of flame and black smoke shot into the sky.
The wing of the plane which has a wingspan of 185 feet, appeared to have hit one house, "and you can't even tell the house was there," Reeves said.
Lt. Gen Russell E. Dougherty, commander of the 2nd Air Force, said a fire apparently broke out in the No. 7 engine on the right wing of the eight-engine plane. Dougherty refused to speculate on the cause of the fire, but he said it was improbable that it was caused by lightning.
He said it appeared the crew did not bail out because they thought they could make it to the runway.
"They almost made it," he said.
Dougherty, who flew to Orlando from his headquarters at Barksdale Air Force Base in Shreveport, La., spent most of the first hour he was in town at the hospital bed of 10-year-old ANTHONY ELLINGTON, the most seriously injured civilian in the crash.
He said the Air Force had made arrangements to fly young ELLINGTON to Brooke Army Medical Center in San Antonio, Tex. for treatment of burns.
The other civilians injured were identified as MRS. NANCY ROBERTSON and her three children ROBIN, 5, LAURA, 9, and DANNY, 10; BILLY GARLAND, 9, and his brothers DAN and CHARLES, ages 12 and 7 respectively. CHARLES was treated at a hospital and later released.
The dead crewmen, all members of the 306th Bombardment Wing at McCoy were identified as:
CAPT. WENDELL W. CAMPBELL, 30, the pilot, of Washington, D.C..
CAPT. BARRY E. APPLEBEE, 26, co-pilot, Dormansville, N.Y.
MAJ. JAMES J. HAMMONS, 37, radar-bombadier, Shawnee, Okla.
1st LT. ROBERT HEATHERLY, 26, navigator, Mount Vernon, N.Y.
MAJ. WILLIAM E. KESLER, 41, electronic warfare officer, Kesler's Fuquay-Varina, N.C.
M.SGT. ALLEN H. MURRAY, 53, gunner, Philadelphia, Pa.
LT. COL. GEORGE M. GAMACHE, 42, instructor-navigator, Sumerset, Mass.

Fort Pierce News Tribune Florida 1971-04-02


I was at the Crash Sight. I

I was at the Crash Sight. I was a Medic stationed at McCoy. I'm so sorry for your loss. I have lived with the memories of those 7 airmen's souls and that of the young boy's. After more than 40 years, I am finally beginning to be able to talk out of what happened that day. I visited your Grandfather's grave sight at Arlington last year and left a pin atop his stone. People talk on this site about how the crew should have bailed out. They don't realize the gunner is the only crew member that doesn't have an ejection seat. Not that it helped the others that did. Again I am so sorry for your loss, having lost my Grandfather before my birth I can feel your pain. Sincerely, R Wayne Ramos

B52 Crash

I was on the first ambulance to arrive on the scene. Due to the intense fire we were not able to get close to the crater for well over an hour. It was the worst that one could imagine. We did what we could respectfully, but we knew no one had survived. I remember sitting on the flight line next to the fire trucks thinking this is just another false alarm and was ready to get back to the burgers that TSG Shuck had gotten at the chow hall. I don't think I ate until sometime the next day. Terracino was one of our medics at the clinic. Anything that I may be able to remember and pass on just contact me.

Your sister Janine

I was a friend of your sister, Janine. We went to St John Vianney together. I have been trying to find her for years. If you could have her send me an e-mail, I would appreciate it!
I was at your house when this accident happened and it is something I never have forgotten.

Lori (Wilson) Jennings

My Father was in the Tower

My father, Norman J. Elzey, was a B-52 pilot who retired as a Lt Colonel 6 months after the disaster in Sept 1972. He passed away in 2006. We talked frequently over the years about his flying experiences. He was in the tower that day March 31, 1972. He told me the plane was on a training mission to North Carolina (subsequent news reports stated Georgia) and had an engine fire during take-off in the “outboard engine”. Although, newspaper articles state it was #7 engine, my Dad simply said “The outboard engine caught fire on takeoff”. It helps our understanding to note a B-52 had 8 engines arranged in 4 double-mounts. I would assume that no matter if #7 or #8 engine were on fire, both would be shut down since they are mounted directly beside each other on the same pod mount. In any case, my dad stated the onboard extinguishers quickly put the fire out, and the engine(s) was/were shut down.
With everything under control, the orders from the tower were for the plane to abort the mission and return to base. Everything was normal as the plane circled around to the north then back south over Conway on final approach when a tower operator noticed a vehicle or vehicles on the runway and radioed the plane to abort the landing and fly around for another approach.
It was at this point the pilot committed a 'pilot error'. Since the plane was “heavy” with a maximum load of fuel and 2 engines shutdown on the right wing, great care had to be taken when applying thrust to the engines. In other words, with 4 engines operational on the left wing, but only 2 on the right wing, theoretically twice as much thrust per engine would need to be applied to the right 2 engines to balance the thrust from the left 4 engines.
Unfortunately, when told to pull out and fly around for another approach, the pilot applied equal increased thrust to all engines, resulting in an unbalanced thrust applied to the wings (twice as much thrust to the left wing vs the right wing). This caused the left wing to rise or climb up and over, while the right wing dropped, so the plane became sideways in the air to the point that lift was lost, and the plane stalled and fell out of the air. With this sequence starting at a very low altitude, the pilot did not have time to recover and straighten out the plane before impacting the earth.
I never shared this information with anyone. I was 12 when it happened and was riding my bike on base near the 6th hole on the golf course, about 1 mile SW of the impact point when I noticed thick black smoke billowing north of the base and raced home and told my mother what I'd seen. My mother was already in tears and said a B-52 crashed. I cried out “Is Dad dead?” and mom replied “No, he's in the tower”.
Since the entire sequence was a string of errors, guilt cannot be focused on one individual or entity, and must be assigned to a variety of sources: (1) First, the cause of the engine fire was tracked back to a defective 'bleeder valve'. This brings into question maintenance issues. I categorize the failure of the 'bleeder valve' to just fate or bad luck (ie: a part that wore out sooner than it should have). In any case, the crew responded perfectly to the incident and extinguished the fire promptly. (2) Secondly, its not known to me why or what vehicles were still present on the ruat day, and after communication with him, there's no doubt that no firefighting vehicle(s) was/were on the flight line at the time of the crash. Here is a link to Mr. Craig Smith's article on the crash: http://www.firecareer.tailboard.net/webdoc1.htm
Based on my Dad's statement, I have to conclude that some type of vehicle was on or near the runway and were either (a) removing debris left by the stricken B-52 during its takeoff or (b) cleaning fuel spilled by the B-52 or (c) removing foam or other fire retardants deposited on the runway during takeoff. I cannot think of any other reason why these vehicles were still on the flight-line, and have to describe these vehicle(s) as some sort of security or maintanance vehicle attached to McCoy AFB but not directly attached to the base fire dept & (3) When ordered to abort the landing, the pilot appears to have made a mistake when ordered to abort the landing, pull-out and come around for another approach. There really is no other explanation. Its hard to understand since he was well-trained in “thrust balance” and in fact already handled the original engine casualty with a cool understanding. In other words, he extinguished the fire and vectored the B-52 around on unbalanced thrust, so he knew what he was doing, even if this was only his third training mission.
These comments are all truthful to the best of my ability and I hope this information may bring some comfort to the people affected by this tragedy. Sometimes, when we find out what exactly happened during a tragic event, we become more settled as we understand better.
Best, Mark H. Elzey
Feel free to contact me at: [email protected]
God Bless

My grandfather was Allen

My grandfather was Allen Henry Murray and he was 1 of the 8 people on the B52 that crashed. I never got a chance to meet him as I was born in 1992 but this incident replays in my head. I can't imagine what it's like to witness something like that. Brings chills to my body.

1972 B52 plane crash

I am the daughter of Lt. Col. George Gamache, who was also on the B-52 that crashed. Today I found a link to a 1987 Orlando Sentinel retrospective article, http://articles.orlandosentinel.com/1987-03-30/news/0120090021_1_worst-p..., which states that a bleed valve in the engine that caught on fire was found to be "grossly out of adjustment" on Feb. 18, 1972. It goes on to say, "The records [obtained through the Freedom of Information act] do not say why a repair was not made or whether anyone was disciplined because of the mistake."
I too am happy that the Conway neighborhood sponsored the plaque commemorating the crash, and it has made me aware that the crash affected more than the families of the crew members. I hope I will have the opportunity to visit the plaque when I'm able to go to Orlando (I now live in Minnesota).
Monique Gamache Venne

Accurate Date Of The Crash, March 31st, 1972


My father is Maj. William E.

My father is Maj. William E. Kesler, one of the 7 crewmen that died that day. The lack of information about the crash has caused great confusion and pain to my family for over 40 years now. Anything you can tell me about the details would be helpful for us to get some :closure" on this terrible event that changed our lives and yours forever. Had I known about the dedication of the plaque last year, I would have attended the ceremony in my father's behalf. I am so sad I missed it, but so happy that Conway has honored this way both the crew and the brave community members who helped each other that day and the weeks that followed. Thanks!

Michael Kesler

Medic at McCoy

R. Wayne Ramos. My apologies for not remembering you. My memory is not what it once was. Please remind me of who you are. Please get in touch with me via e-mail. I remember all too well the Black Mushroom cloud when it blew. We were outside the Clinic taking a "Smoke Break". Dr. Kelly and I were the last to care for the boy who died at Brooks Burn Center. We did get the report back from Brooks thanking us for our care and reporting the boys "condition". Please contact me asap. Thank you.

I was 6 years old living off

I was 6 years old living off of Lancaster road. Me and my father and brother saw the large black plume of smoke from our backyard. We drove over and parked near an orange grove and then walked to the neighborhhood near the crash. I can remember seeing plane parts scattered about in people's yards. Here is a video of ABC nightly news from that evening reporting on the crash.