Manzano Base, NM Tactical Air Command Jet Crashes, Sep 1977


A Tactical Air Command jet crashed and exploded on a mountainside nuclear storage facility at top-secret Manzano Base late Wednesday night killing all 20 men on board.
The plane, which had just taken off after a refueling stop at adjacent Kirtland Air Force Base, blew up about two miles south of the Four Hills housing development, sending a cloud of fire billowing from the wreckage and lighting the horizon with a dull-orange glow.
The EC235 jet, designed for use as an airborne command center in time of war, was part of the 8th Tactical Deployment Control Squadron, based at Seymour Johnson AFB, near Greensboro, N. C. It had flown from Hunter AFB near Salina, Ga., on its way to Nellis AFB, Nev., for a training exercise with the Army. It crashed about six miles from the end of the east-west Kirtland base runway.
None of the victims -- which included nine officers up to the rank of colonel -- was from New Mexico, officials said.
"There was no indication that the pilot was having trouble," Capt. BEN ORRELL, Air Force information officer, said. "It was strange -- there was no radio call at all."
It has been reported that an air traffic controller tried to warn the jet moments before the impact.
"Either the pilot was too busy trying to correct a problem of some sort, or he may have been unaware the mountain was there," ORRELL said.
The pilot has been identified as Capt. D. M. HICKY, 29, of Colorado Springs.
The crash, which scattered wreckage across 10 acres of the rugged mountain terrain, woke residents in Four Hills. As calls began jamming switchboards at every Albuquerque office likely to have information, ambulances, trucks and four-wheel drive vehicles began hauling bodies to a makeshift morgue in a gymnasium at Manzano Base.
Small groups of spectators gathered in the mesa between Four Hills and the base, which is surrounded by a high-voltage electric fence, watching the flares and the two helicopters which spotlighted the area.
A Four Hills woman who lives about two miles from the crash site said when she saw the explosion she thought a hydrogen bomb had blown up.
"I was kind of in shock," ANN LINDSAY, 23, of 641 Stagecoach Road, told the Journal.
"Planes fly in low over our house all the time," she said. "But I'd never heard one like this. I ran to the window and saw the explosion. It billowed out like an orange balloon-type cloud of fire. It looked like pictures I'd seen of a hydrogen bomb."
"I've seen other planes that looked like they were going to hit the mountain -- because of the angle, I guess -- but this one seemed to head straight for it, on a horizontal course."
"I said, 'Why don't you go up!' but it didn't seem to. Then it hit and I thought, oh no, a hydrogen bomb has gone off."
"I've lived here for 12 years and I know they store atomic bombs at Manzano."
It has been reported in the past that Manzano Base is a stockpile for nuclear weapons, but it has never been confirmed nor denied by base officials.
When asked if the plane crashed in an area hear where fissionable material was stored, ORRELL said, "I can't comment on that."
Although no official cause for the crash has been given, it has been speculated that the jet lost power on take off and was laboring to fly over the mountain without all four engines working.
But the reason for the crash won't really be known until an investigation team, due at Manzano this morning, finishes sifting through the debris.
Here is a list of the 20 victims in the crash:
(Fifteen of the victims were with the Air Force and were stationed at Seymour Johnson Air Force Base, N. C., unless otherwise noted in the list. The remaining five were Army personnel. Hometowns are listed.)
Air Force.
Capt. DAN M. HICKY, 29, pilot, Colorado Springs.
Capt. LEE EGGERICKS, 27, co-pilot, Orchard Lake, Mich.
Maj. E. W. HARGERT, 36, navigator, Charlotte, N. C.
Staff Sgt. RANDY C. MADISON, 28, flight engineer, McCroy, Ark.
Master Sgt. DAVID W. LEWIS, 36, radio operator, Goldsboro, N. C.
Staff Sgt. ALFRED A. CRUMP, 30, radio operator, Louisville, Ky.
Staff Sgt. JOSEPH H. BATTON, 29, flight steward, Southport, N. C.
Staff Sgt. THERON D. QUATTLEBAUM, 37, flight mechanic, Murfreesboro, Tenn.
Staff Sgt. JACK A. LESTER, II, 28, flight mechanic, Virginia Beach, Va.
Also Airman 1C CHARLES H. McCORKLE, 19, flight mechanic, Beckley, W. Va.
Staff Sgt. RICHARD K. ARTHUR, 28, flight mechanic, Charleston, W. Va.
Col. HARLAN B. HUME, 45, passenger from Hurlburt Field, Fla., Chico, Calif.
Staff Sgt. DENNIS HILL, 28, radio operator, Miami.
Airman 1C JONATHAN R. McSWAIN, 21, flight mechanic, Charlotte, N. C.
Col. KEITH R. GRIMES, 42, passenger from Scott AFB, Ill., Austin, Tex.
Staff Sgt. THOMAS B. MERRIWEATHER, JR., 33, Dowdy, Ark.
COW ROBERT A. VOGT, 34, Olivia, Minn.
Maj. JAMES E. BRYAN, 36, Long Island, N. Y.
Maj. PAUL T. MURPHY, 37, Largo, Fla.
Capt. LESLIE C. JUDD, 28, Hamilton, Ohio.

Albuquerque Journal New Mexico 1977-09-16


Theron's careerfield

Your uncle was in a specialized career field in the Air Force. It was know as Airborne Command Post Equipment Repair. But it was more commonly referred to as Post Attack Command And Control Systems (PACCS). The reason PACCS is better know is that is what it was know as in SAC. Our equipment was what made the SAC Looking Glass Mission what it was. It gave the military a platform to retaliate if anyone tried to destroy us with a first strike nuclear attack. After the Cold War ended most of the career field ended. But a small part still survives on the E-4B National Emergency Airborne Operation Center Aircraft (NEAOC). I had just started my cross training into this career field a when this accident happened and I can remember that this hit many of my instructors hard as they knew of your uncle or had worked with him. Prior to his being assigned to this mission he had served in Southeast Asia supporting a mission called Combat Lighting on a version of the aircraft that he died on. I later went on to work with and fly with several men that worked with him during his time with Combat Lighting. I thought some of this background information might be of interest to you. If you have more questions please contact me.

I keep coming back to that night!

I was almost 17 years old and was walking to my ride after having been to a rock concert, I cannot remember who was performing, but I saw a big flash of light on the mountain and had no idea what in the world had happened. The next day I learned of the horrible crash. Fast forward 40 years. I was working and come in contact regularly with a Quatelbaum family here in Oklahoma and I mentioned that night and that one of the victims last name was the same as theirs and do you happen to know of it? I mean, that's not such a common name. Yes, turns out that was a great uncle of his. Small world. What a horrible tragedy.

Who is this?

Wondering if you know me?? At kafb 1976 to 1980

EC 135 accident

So comforting to see remembernces and shared thoughts 40 years later. Lost my only sibling Lee Eggericks that night. Still miss him so much.

Sept 14, 1977 Air Force Plane Crash

Thank you for your information regarding the plane crash.

KAFB EC135 crash 1977

I was stationed at Kirtland 75-79 as a LE specialist and witnessed this crash. I was touched by the posts as it has crossed my mind too many times over the years and I was very surprised at the feelings we all shared.
I love planes and got a private license at Coronado that June. Unfamiliar flight line sounds always caught my attention to check out new aircraft not from the base.
It was late evening but well moonlit as I recall. I heard a big jet winding up for takeoff. One could tell it wasn't one of the civilian 727s so I was paying attention to see what it was. I was about 100 yards north of the Navy hanger near the departure end of R8 so I didn't have the full view of the takeoff run. I felt something wasn't right in the engine noise. Then I noticed the 135 tail visible over the top of the hanger. He hadn't even rotated yet but should have been off with enough altitude to be fully visible above the hanger way before then. The plane lifted off but I could tell it was on the back side of the curve. The engines were screaming and it was in a climb attitude but just not making good altitude or picking up speed. As it closed on Manzano, it looked like it might clear but you could tell it was going to be close. I really wasn't thinking like that then. I just had an omenous feeling, knew there was trouble and was already staring in disbelief. I swear if he was just a yard higher, they would have made it. The plane didn't smash into the mountain, it seemed like the aft belly scraped the very tip then the whole thing erupted in flames.
I could tell the bulk of the explosion came up from the east side of the mountain.
The departure from R8 has ascending terrain. I don't remember but it is maybe 5 miles to the Manzano range. I know the security guys often radioed "low flyer(s)" that triggered alarms but jets had no trouble clearing it.
A half L turn heads you out over the 4 Hills residential area. Another few miles northeast of that and you are facing Sandia Crest, alt 10,680. If airline size guys went that way they usually continued L turning and departed due north or west. A right turn south lead out over plenty of flat and uninhabited terrain parallel to the mountain range.
The house lights were on in 4 hills. I've always wondered if the pilot knew not to go down there and I thought-you did good buddy. A lot more people would have died had he done so. Add to that the plane seemed to be just barely hanging in the air and maybe to bank would have stalled it.
I felt so terrible and so sorry. I prayed for those fellows on the spot and I have many times over the years. There is never news of a crash or the sight of a big plane low and sometimes the smell of JP4 that I don't go back. New Mexico is WIDE open space but a very strong smell of JP4 covered miles.
The SP squadron wasn't the same for weeks, especially the security guys who were up there. It shook them to the core. There was a small area outside the restricted fence where a morgue and some trailer labs were set up. Everything just seemed quieter in that remote spot even though it always was. Just the sound of the desert bugs that you could always hear but never saw. I kind of thought it was the crew's spirits rousing and like another post said, I talked to them.
One of the security guys told me they were patrolling on the east side of the mountain when the plane hit. In an instant there was explosive fire and debris avalanching down the hillside all around them. Those poor guys ordinarily struggled with boredom to the point where some lost their wits and then that. Given what was there and possibilities of what went wrong it was no doubt terrifying for them.
Some anecdotes: The Gibson Gate sentry told me an Albuquerque Police car was eastbound approaching Louisiana when the fireball went up. He made a U turn, turned on his lights and siren and headed west. Allegedly, he came back later having heard the cause and said he had done time on the mountain and thought a nuke went off. He said his first reaction had been to get out of 'Dodge'.
I heard rumors later that the plane had a known but minor engine problem, that it was fuel heavy and the crew was at the mandatory rest limit but wanted to press on for home after a long time away at an exercise.
Sadly, they never got home and a part of them still rests on that mountain. It's been 40 years and I never knew their names until now. I always wondered and I made sure to read each one carefully. If family/friends read this please accept my condolences. Know we were with your loved ones and remember them. They did not die alone and they could not have suffered. I believe their souls are with the Lord. There was an outpouring of grief and you were thought of by a lot of people I knew. Two of them are with your loved ones now. To those airmen who's posts I read here, and a couple of names I recognize, my thoughts and prayers to you as well. I never realized the others so touched by this event or remember it like I have and knowing you experience the things you expressed is very meaningful to me.

KAFB EC135 crash 1977

After reading all the comments I had to make another general post to offer prayers and condolences for the families, my fellow airmen and others who posted about how this impacted them. I recognize some of your names. I thought I was alone with my feelings and memories. Families, I hope it comforts knowing we shared your loss. Your loved ones were not alone on that painful evening.

KAFB EC-135 crash

Thank you for providing your memories of the accident. I've been looking for information on it, and only found news articles. I'm doing research on a book of crashes that includes this one - would you be interested in chatting a bit more about it? J Page email: kirtland dot history dot book (at)

I remember this plane and some of the crew

I was deployed from Seymour Johnson AFB to Nellis AFB at the same exact time this plane was going to Nellis for a new Red Flag training exercise.

I refueled the planes at Seymour Johnson and remember refueling this plane as we had two of them.

I knew some of the crew members simply from the fact that they were present when I refueled their plane.

This is the first time I have seen the list of names, after all these years.

My heart goes out to the families of the lost.

EC-135K crash

I was an Airman 1C on SJAFB,NC in '77. It was a TAC/SAC base,I was in OMS on B-52s. I knew friends of the widow of an AF Sgt. that died in that crash. but I can't remember his name, but he was about in his 30's. My friends knew him, and showed me his house on base housing. They told me his wife said she was awakened by "something scratching" at her window, at about 0148 hrs. (EST) It was 2348 hrs. (MST) when the EC135 crashed. God be with those killed, and their families and friends.