Imlay City, MI Air Force Cargo Plane Crashes, July 1975


Lapeer, Mich. (AP) -- A four-engine Air Force cargo plane with six reservists aboard crashed on a training mission in Michigan's Thumb Saturday, killing five and leaving the sixth man critically injured.
The five victims were charred beyond recognition, said a spokesman at Selfridge Air National Guard base near Mount Clemens, where the flight began. The dead were identified through flight records.
Air Force officials said that just before the C130 plane crashed it was flying purposely low as part of a training exercise designed to prepare the crew to avoid radar detection or enemy fire.
The lone survivor, Staff Sgt. CHRISTOPHER J. BELANGER, 24, of Pontiac, was taken to University Hospital in Ann Arbor where he was listed in critical condition with burns over 90 per cent of his body. He is an auto mechanic at the GM Technical Center in Warren.
Air Force officials said the victims were: Lt. Col. HUGH GRAHAM, 44, of Rochester, Mich., a Birmingham school teacher; pilot Capt. LAIRD E. SIMPSON, 35, of Minneapolis, Minn., a Federal Aviation Administration flight examiner; Lt. PHILLIP C. MOLINA, 26, of Midland, Mich., a Dow Chemical Co., chemical engineer; EDWARD E. McNEIL, JR., 31, of Mount Clemens, a full-time flight engineer for the Air Force Reserve; and Sgt. WILLIAM F. LANG, 25, of Erie, Mich., who was an insurance representative.
Gen. ROY M. MARSHALL, commander of the 403rd Tactical Airlift Wing at Selfridge, said all crewmen in the 403rd are former Air Force members who continue to train as reservists to keep their flying skills sharp.
Selfridge authorities said a board of officers was dispatched to the scene Sunday to determine the exact cause of the crash, believed to be the result of an engine failure on the C130.
Officials said the 61,000-pound, four-engine prop craft was flying at 500 feet in formation with other planes when it crashed at about 6:30 p.m. Saturday in an empty field about three miles east of Imlay City.
Witnesses said the plane was flying over tree tops when one of its wings appeared to hit a tree. The craft then hit the ground, burst into flames and skidded about an eighth of a mile.
The plane burned out of control for more than 90 minutes.
There were scattered reports that parts of one of the engines dropped off the craft before it crashed.
Gen. MARSHALL said the C130 is nicknamed "the workhorse of the Air Force," and is used in combat zone transport.
"It is very necessary for us to go in a levels low enough to avoid missile sites, enemy radar, ground fire and so on," MARSHALL said.
"Therefore it's necessary for our crews to maintain a high level of efficency at very low-level navigation," he added.

The Herald-Palladium Benton Harbor Michigan 1975-07-28