Walkersville, MD Air Force Jet Explodes And Crashes, May 1981
21 DIE IN CRASH
AIR FORCE JET EXPLODES.
Walkersville, Md. (AP) -- Air Force crews were searching a remote barley field today for the last of 21 people who died when a missile-tracking jet on a training flight blew up and crashed, scattering documents and debris.
The area was cordoned off and state police were scooping up the papers amid conflicting accounts about whether they were classified.
All those aboard the $50 million advanced range instrumentation aircraft were killed in the Wednesday morning crash, which occurred about a mile from this western Maryland community of 8,000, said Air Force Maj. WILLIAM CAMPBELLA.
Twenty bodies, many dismembered, were found before the search was called off for the night, officials said.
The Pentagon said the aircraft was based at Wright-Patterson Air Force Base in Dayton, Ohio, where it was assigned to the 4950 Test Wing. The flight was to have been a "routine training flight" that ended back in Ohio, said Air Force Lt. THOMAS LAROCK.
The EC-135 four-engine jet, the military version of the Boeing 707, is used to track missiles and unmanned satellite flights.
A Pentagon source said the plane was carrying classified documents when it went down, but Wright-Patterson spokesman Maj. EDWARD ROBERTSON denied that report.
Papers from the plane were strewn over the area, and state police worked to retrieve the documents, which were sodden from a light rain which fell throughout the day.
Local radio stations were asked to broadcast state police requests that residents who found documents turn them in, said JANE ENGLISH of WZYQ-FM in Frederick.
Newspaper photographers at the crash site reported having their film confiscated by authorities. But the film later was returned.
The cause of the crash was not determined immediately.
Area residents who saw the accident said the plane was a mass of flame before it struck the ground.
"It looked like a ball of fire," said EDWARD WATSON, vice president of operations for the Maryland Midland Railroad, which halted service on its line adjacent to the crash site because a piece of wreckage fell on the rail.
NANCY McCULLOUGH, a resident of a nearby housing development, said the plane "went over our development and then I heard this explosion that sounded like a long, loud, thunder clap."
"Within minutes, the entire development was covered with a yellow substance that seemed like fiberglass insulation," she said.
"It apparently blew up in the air," said A. E. APPLEBY, police communications officer at the Frederick state police barracks.
A spokesman at Andrews Air Force Base said that all witness reports indicated that the plane was exploding as it came down.
CAMPBELL said an Air Force investigation of the accident could take several months to complete.
The Baltimore Sun reported today that the aircraft was flying at 28,000 feet when it desappeared from radar in the Washington Air Traffic Control Center, where it was being tracked.
The crash area in central Frederick County was sealed off by state police, and military officials from nearby Fort Detrick and Andrews Air Force Base were on the scene.
The site was strewn with sheet-covered bodies, their locations marked by metal stakes.
The Evening Capital Annapolis Maryland 1981-05-07