Nantucket, MA Radar Picket Plane Crashes, Apr 1967



Nantucket, Mass. (AP) -- A flaming radar picket plane with 16 men aboard plunged into the Atlantic Ocean Tuesday night after the pilot apparently tried to avoid hitting homes on Nantucket Island.
"I am convinced that this boy was fighting desperately to get it to the water and avoid this summer colony," said ALBERT L. MANNING, one of three private pilots who agreed that a last-minute maneuver kept the craft from striking the island.
"It skidded along the water for about 4,000 feet and when it hit there was this huge burst of fire and a big red fireball," said RENE A. ORLEANS. "I'd never seen anything like it."
At the controls of the four-engine Superconstellation when it went down about a half-mile off shore was Col. JAMES P. LYLE, 47, commander of the 551st Airborne Early Warning and Control Wing at Otis Air Force Base in Falmouth.
The navigator of the craft, Lt. JOSEPH H. GUENET, 29, was rescued by a search helicopter shortly after the crash.
Two bodies were recovered and a night-long search by Air Force and Coast Guard units was intensified at dawn.
Officials at Otis said they had reports before the crash that crewmen were manning individual life rafts for a ditched landing at sea, but there were doubts that many could have survived the explosion.
If the crewmen were able to don their rubber suits and escape in the life rafts, they could survive at sea for a "considerable period of time," Col. JOHN M. KONOSKY, wing vice commander, told a news conference at Otis.
The crash was the third fatal plunge in less than two years involving Otis radar planes, which fly air defense missions between Newfoundland and Bermuda. The propeller-driven craft cost $2.5 million and carry additional millions worth of radar equipment.
MANNING, chairman of the island's Airport Commission, and two pilots airborne near the island airport -- ORLEANS and MICHAEL LAMB -- said LYLE apparently made a last-minute decision to ditch at sea instead of risking a fiery landing at the airport.
The craft was less than 10 minutes out of Otis and carried about 7,330 gallons of fuel.
Eight minutes after takeoff, LYLE had reported fire in his No. 3 engine -- the one close to the fuselage on the right side -- and said he would try to land at the island airport, Air Force officials said.
"I spotted this fire in the air," ORLEANS said. "There was smoke, a burst of flame and then I saw the plane."
He said the craft was in "steep descent position" toward the airport when it suddenly swung into an almost 180-degree turn and headed south over the island.
LAMB said he followed the plane and saw it "descend rapidly amid a flare of fire in the water."
"There was a ball of flame and fire that spread out for 200 yards," he said. "You could see the flames silhouette the plane on the water. It stayed on top for no more than a minute."

Fitchburg Sentinel Massachusetts 1967-04-26