Walkersville, MD Air Force Jet Explodes And Crashes, May 1981



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


ARIA 328

My brother, Lt. Charles Gratch, was on 328. I was almost 13 at the time. It was devastating. I think about my brother every day. It was a horrifying experience.


This was the first Advanced Range Instrumentation Aircraft. A EC-135N was on a Primary Mission Electronic Equipment (PMEE) training mission. The aircraft commander was in the right seat and his wife was in the left seat. It is not known why the pitch trim moved to the full nose down position. This resulted in in an abrupt pitch over caused the generators to trip off line causing the loss of AC electrical power which prevented the pitch trim from being operated. The aircraft went out of control. the aircraft dove to about 1500 feet where an internal explosion occurred and the aircraft disintegrated.

Remember it well

I was a Sgt at Wright Pat when this happened. Not many know , but it was told to us that it was an AF first of a kind , that the Spouses were authorized to fly in the aircraft along with the crew. Very Sad day indeed. I got to jumpseat in a sister Aircraft to Edwards AFB, Ca just a few months later, July 1981.

I was 4 when this happened,

I was 4 when this happened, I don't remember it but do remember my mom telling me about it. We where at my great grandparents house , clifford and mildred shelton, that day which was located directly across from the file where it crashed. My mom has told me that they found papers and brief cases in the yard that day and it was a terrible site and feeling. She remember hearing a loud rumbling sound and the house shacking then they ran out side to see the plane coming over and barely missing the house. We had articles from the paper about it but I can't find them anywhere now.

May 6th 1981 Plane Crash Walkersville, Md

I was 12 when this aircraft went down over Walkersville. what I saw the day has been with me since that day. I am working with the Families and Friends. of the crew to build a memorial in Walkersville. The Aircraft tail # was 10328 it was one of only 8 aircraft used during the Apollo Missons, later it flew support for the Shuttle, and missle telemetry gathering. There was nothing secret about this aircraft as reported back in 1981. The scene was a very sad one as with any crash scene when people die, like I said I never forgot it.

The last Aircraft of this kind sits at Wright Patterson AFB museum, all the rest have been dismantled and sold as scrap.

To learn more on this Aircraft and the memorial please go to .ariamemorial. and also look at .flyaria. both of those are www and . com I had to post it odd to prove I wasn't a spammer........ for history and info and even video's of these aircraft in action. It's history that shouldnt be lost to time.

Thank you.
Dave Denn


Wow, I was eight years old and living in Walkersville when this happened and I remember it well.