Tucson, AZ Jet Crashes Into Automobile, Oct 1978



Tucson (AP) -- Students at Mansfield Junior High School heard "a noise like a sonic boom," and then scattered in panic as a pilotless Air Force jet crashed into an adjacent street, resulting in two deaths and injuries to five others.
"It was turmoil, it was turmoil," said Patty Linder, a teacher at the school, which is near the University of Arizona campus in central Tucson.
Brig. Gen. Robert Kelley, commander of Davis-Monthan Air Force Base, said the A7D Corsair jet was about eight miles short of the base Thursday when its engine stalled. The pilot, Capt. FREDERICK ASHLER, 28, attempted some last-minute maneuvers designed to aim the plane toward a vacant practice field and then bailed out at an altitude of 200 feet, Kelley said.
ASHLER was not seriously injured but was badly shaken by the results of the accident, he said.
The Air Force said it did not know what caused the engine to stall. Major Myron Donald said the A7D's at Davis-Monthan will be kept in the air pending a formal investigation and review of their maintenance histories.
The plane, which exploded in a "big ball of flame," according to one witness, struck a car in which two sisters, both from Tucson, were riding. One was dead at the scene and the other, who had burns over 90 percent of her body, died early today.
The victims were identified as LETICIA FELIX-HUMPHREY, 22, and CLARISSA FELIX, 21.
Also hospitalized was RICHARD FLAGG, 56, of Tucson who was listed in guarded condition after being hit by flying debris. The other injured were treated and released.
Dennis Phillips, a seventh grader, was one of the dozens of people at the junior high, the university and nearby residential areas who saw or heard the noon-hour crash.
"First of all there was a noise like a sonic boom," said Phillips. "They just looked up and everyone ran out front. They didn't know what to think."
Gregory DeConcini, 12, also witnessed the crash.
"We got real scared and started running," he said. "I pulled the fire alarm."
Witnesses rushed to the scene to help and police said a crowd of about 3,000 people gathered within 10 minutes. One of the first on the scene was registered nurse Janet Ireland, who said she "looked up and heard an explosion and saw the plane come down and the upper part of it break up and crash in the street. Part of the plane hit the car and pieces flew everywhere."
Students at the junior high were later herded into a cafeteria while school officials set up a communications system to handle calls that poured into the school from anxious parents.
"We need your help," Principal Maynard Farr told the assembled students. "We don't want you running around in the street or near the wreckage between school and home. You are safe here."
Kelley called the probability of such a crash "very, very low" and said the Air Force was offering aid to the victims and their families.
He also said ASHLER, whose flight ordinated at Tinker Air Force Base in Oklahoma, will be recommended for an award because of his efforts to keep the plane from striking nearby homes.
"He did a super job," Kelley said. "Your chances of being alive are slim when bailing out at such a low altitude."

Casa Grande Dispatch Arizona 1978-10-27


mansfeld middle school plane crash

this is crazy ! I knew about the plane crash but I didn't know this much. I am now at mansfeld as an 8th grader and I'm glad nothing has happened like this again

Crash Of Air Force Jet In Tucson

Yes, I remember this also. My wife and I rode our van into the area and you could see the wreckage and so on and it was bad. I don't think I knew of any deaths at that time. It was a real mess on that street, which was Highland Street. Thank you.

A7D crash

I remember when this happened I was stationed at D-M when it happened, I worked on A7's at the time. As I recall the had had some engine problems before it crashed and the pilot did his best to get to the base to land. He did a great job in trying to keep the least amount of injuries he could. As noted he ejected at a low altatude which cut his chances to survive, however he did what any other military pilot would do put the lives of others ahead of his. I thought of him as a hero, for staying with the plane for as long as he did.

A7 Crash

My friend and I heard the pilot's ballistic ejection and then saw the crash down the street - got there before EMS. It was a mess. Article seems right except there were a few hundred people there eventially - nowhere near the 3000 claimed.

A7D crash

I was assigned to the squadron this A7 was in .Iwas at lunch when this happened and saw the smoke.When I returned the female crew chief was crying hysterically She saw it crash . The cause was clogged fuel filter .It was from gass beads from cleaning the fuel cells at depot maintenance.

Plane crash

I was riding a city bus to the federal building to take my military entrance exams. I was watching this very plane. I exclaimed. "That plane just fell!" The other passengers looked at me like I was crazy, or on drugs or something. I told them to keep looking out in the direction I was pointing. Soon enough the nasty, black, mushroom cloud appeared. I said a brief prayer for anyone involved. It was a feat of mastery of flight not more were killed.

1978 plane crash

I remember that day very well. I was a student at Mansfeld Jr. High and was walking from my PE class to the cafeteria. I heard a loud boom and immediately thought it was thunder. I looked east toward the old UA football fields and saw a large orange ball of flames hit the street. I ran into the cafeteria yelling a bomb just went off. I remember running out the doors towards the nearby Circle K store. I looked back and saw big billowing clouds of smoke. I ran back to towards the school and watched the flames and firefighters while standing on the street south of the school.
I later heard my schoolmate Erin Minder and her sister Joan was burned. Joan Minder was good friends with my older brother Frank. I remember my dad showing up at the school to pick me up. We both cried and hugged each other.

To this day, anytime I hear a plane fly by and hear the after burners or any weird noises, I immediately think of the plane crash.

A-7 Crash

I also remember this plane crash. I was the driver (Engineer) of Engine 1 @ Tucson Fire and we were the 2nd engine company to arrive at the scene. I parked my engine and we connected our foam eductor and started spraying foam on pieces of the jet plane. Part of the jet plane wing was very close to our position and we "cooled" that first because we suspected there was some JP-4 fuel in the wing.

1978 plane crash

My sister was at Mansfeld the day of the plane crash. My brother and I were attending classes at the UA. I want to correct an error in this article. (Two errors, actually). The Felix sisters who ere killed were attending UA from Mexico (they may have been Tucson residents at the time, I don't know if they were internationsal students). NOT all the injured were treated and released. Alice minder and her daughter Joan Minder were severely burned when the sheared wing traveled up the street and hit their car. They spent at least several weeks in St. Mary's Hospital Burn Center. The younger Minder daughter, Erin, was going to her family's car for lunch when the crash occurred. She received some minor cuts.
I know this. I lived through it. Erin was a good friend of my sister.