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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


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,, 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.

plane crash 3-31-1972

Hi Charles,
I had almost forgotten I had posted on this site. Ever year or so, usually around this time, thoughts of the crash come floating through my mind...and inevitably I think of my friends and classmates from that time. I was so delighted to someone I knew :-) I would love to talk more with you, please feel free to email me at
The person you may have remembered as my "brother" was probably my cousin who lived just around the corner from me. I look forward to hearing from you!

B-52 crash, Good Friday 1972

Even as a child, I remember hearing my parents talk, with great respect, about how the pilot of that plane had tried to fly it away from as many people as possible and how he stayed with that plane to do so, instead of ejecting. I feel enormous gratitude and compassion for the effort he made to try and fly that plane away from as many people as possible. While he was unable to spare his crew, his own life, and ultimately Anthony, he saved the lives of so many more. Thank you for helping me to see him for the person he obviously was and that most of us never had the chance to know.

I remember this well

I hadn't thought of the accident in a very long time, but for some reason it flooded my thoughts today, and I remembered it was yesterday. Charles and I were classmates through-out school, and I remember him, Donnie & Billy well. The Garland's cousin Tina is my childhood best friend. (I was Debbie George back then) In Jr. High school, I moved with my mother and brother to Merryweather Drive, several houses down from the field where the accident happened, and I remember thinking back then what a hero my classmate & his brothers were for what they endured. I will never forget that incident, or you guys for your courage! ~Debbie

Bomber crash

Wendell Campbell, the pilot of that plane was a very good friend of mine. He had a family, a wife and children as did several other men on the crew. I know that he did the best that he could after the airplane caught on fire to get it back to the air base without damage or loss of life. The B-52 had ejection seats, which if used would have likely catapulted the crew to parachute down far enough from the scene of a crash to be safe. Wendell and the crew apparently chose not to eject, but instead, continue to steer the airplane to avoid as much as possible hitting a concentration of homes. You can be certain that Wendell gave his life to steering that bomber as far as he could from harming anyone on the ground.

Despite his efforts and at the cost of his life and the crew's lives, the disabled airplane crashed and resulted in the tragedy.that you experienced. If he was able to speak to us somehow, I am certain he and the crew would be deeply saddened by the loss of life and injury to people on the ground and Wendell would accept full responsibility for the terrible outcome. I wish that your pain could be so easily removed as by a message, and I hope this helps in some small way to let you know that many people you have never met think about you, your neighbors and the members of that crew every day. We all deeply regret the loss from that awful day and wish every survivor peace and comfort.

article | by Dr. Radut