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16 MAY 1979 –I was on Baker row in red section (563rd TFS) helping Ssgt Smith. I was running the power unit, with my back to the runway. All of a sudden he’s jumping up and down on the intake, pointing and yelling like a chimp “OO,OO,OO!”. I thought, “What the hell?”. As I turned to the runway, an F-4E ( 69-7269) was just lifting off and “flop” the left wing folds up. I was thinking, “Where’s this thing going to crash?”

So it climbs to near vertical and the afterburners cycle to max AB, Boom,Boom. It stops climbing at about 500 ft and just hangs there on the shear power of the engines. Then it starts slipping sideways like a spaceship.

Back then George was set up in two rows. Able and Baker. About sixty jets per row. Slipping sideways like a spaceship, the jet passes over Able row and everybody on Able runs to Baker. There was a defuel going down on Able row and the guy on top of the fuel truck swore the jet wake blew him off. Bullshit, he looked up at the jet and stepped off the top of the R-9 and ran like the rest of them.

About midway between the rows 269 starts a slow roll to the left and starts to climb. It’s on its back at about 750 ft when the tail of my jet obscured the view. I ran around to the back to see better thinking, “This crew’s dead, no one ejects from the F-4 this low AND inverted. “Meet your Maker in a a Martin Baker”. Watch “Ejection Vectors”. The movie has an F-4 crash very similar to this one.

Meet your Maker in a Martin-Baker.

Apparently the Lieutenant in the front had everything but his foot on the dash screaming “ROLL BITCH!!!!”. The wing fell down and produced enough lift to start a roll to the right. When the Captain in the back seat saw blue on top and brown below he said “Fuck This” and punched them out. It went quick. Canopy, canopy. Seat, Seat. Boom,boom,boom,boom. 269 then rolled back to the left and disappeared behind the hanger. A fireball rose up and I thought, “Hmmm, wonder if it hit my dorm?”

Looking up I saw the crew coming down quick. The Captain hit first and was being dragged across the tarmac by the afternoon winds. Guys started chasing him and so did I. I was about 100 yards from him when I heard. “LOOK THE FUCK OUT!!!” I froze and a pair of flying boots whizzed past my face. “Hey, it’s the pilot.”, I thought. Sure enough, he plunks down hard right in the front of me and starts to get dragged. Now three or four of us are chasing him. He’s struggling to release the chute, but can’t do it. Two guys grab for the risers and get cut hands for it. I thought, “The dash one says he’s supposed to jump up and run into the chute.” But he’s forgetting to do that so I do it for him. The chute collapses and he skids to a stop, jumps up and yells “GOD BLESS MARTIN BAKER!!”

Everyone is then asking him how it feels to eject and he’s buying beer for everyone. I tell him to lie down thinking he might be injured. “I’m okay chief, what beer do you drink?” he says. “Lie down, sir”, I say. “No, I’m ok”. “No, put your ass on the ground.” He lays down and I get the life raft to give him a pillow. At this time, his squadron Commander shows up and tells him that his GIB is okay, just scrapped his ass. He tells him to shut up and pretend that everyone is out to get his ass. So the three of us just sat there staring.

While all this was happening, 269 sailed over the back gate at shift change. Three or four cars getting banged up trying to back out of its way. One of the seats hit and crushed a parked van.  269  hits the munitions access road right between the LOX storage plant and the POL dump. Jesus if it had it hit either one!

The first “rescue” vehicle to show up was a van marked “Disco Boogie”. The official crash truck went to 269 apparently not paying attention to where the crew went. Two medics pile out of the van and behold they have all this medic shit in their van. They had been in line at the gate and followed the chutes. They came right onto the restricted area with Security Police cars chasing them. Lights and sirens blaring. Instant heroes.

There were three injuries involved with the crash:

1. An airman was on the softball field looking for the watch he’d lost. Saw the jet pass over at about 50 feet and laid down to die. The fireball washed over him and burned his back (second degree).

2. Three guys were in the POL yard refueling a fuel truck and ran for the fence. Two hurtled a ten foot chain link fence and the third didn’t make it falling and breaking his shoulder.

3. In the POL office, they heard the explosion and opened the door to see the fireball washing through the yard. They calmly closed the door and waited to die. One guy panicked and jumped through a pane glass window cutting himself pretty bad in the process.

How did it happen? The wing wasn’t locked after a 14 Day inspection of the wing fold. A large pin sticks up when it’s unlocked. The crew chief forgot to lock it. The guy who preflighted the jet missed it. The guy who launched it missed it. The crew doing their walk around missed it. The End of Runway crew missed it. What a fuck up! Within the hour all the pins on all the jets were painted fluorescent orange.

Someone put me in for an Airman’s Medal for the little bit I did. But I didn’t get it. They made me Wing Crew Chief of the month and Airman of the month for the squadron. That’s cool.

Nice shot showing the wreckage, softball field, dorms and POL yard. Thanks Mike.

Nice shot showing the wreckage, softball field, dorms and POL yard. Thanks Mike.

Months later it was still fun to go down to blue section and ask them if the parts for 269 were in. “Ha, Ha. Very Funny.”

Read story of this one in the comments.

It may be noted that the F-4 has been successfully flown with BOTH wings folded.  One story told to me when I was a wide-eyed airman was of a “Marine Provisional Sortie”. These are flights made by those wacky Marines when they really should have thought it over.

MAS Yuma, Arizona- On take off roll the tower called a Marine F-4.

Tower- “F-4 on take off, you’re wings are folded!”

USMC F-4- “Roger that.”

…and the aircraft took off.   Whereupon they took a lap around the flag pole and landed. Stopped. Unfolded the wings and took off again.


 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

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{ 31 comments… add one }
  • Joy February 15, 2013, 06:25

    Shared online
    ( http://www.patriotfiles.com/forum/showthread.php?t=1326342 )

    and offline.

    If I get comments back, I’ll post them here.

  • Walt February 16, 2013, 05:35

    Wow! Thanks. That’s a great site.

  • Kurt Atchison October 1, 2013, 09:49

    I was told that the wing lock mechanism was not even installed in that wing. The Plane was a “Hangar Queen”, the wing lock Mech was removed for NDI, the fact somehow got removed from the Aircraft forms. It was on the flying schedule as a back-up. The original plane ground-aborted, 269 was given a very cursory inspection by the flight crew, as they wanted to catch up with their flight. The crew chiefs responsible for the pre-flight screwed up. They spent some time working in the tool room after this.
    There was a TCTO to paint the indicators fluorescent orange, but it would NOT have prevented the crash, since the wing lock mechanism contained the “unlocked” pin.
    I’d worked “D” models at Kadena before PCS’ing to George. There was a warning light on the “blown wing” D, and raising/lowering the wing was done by flipping a switch in the wheel well. The “Slatted E” lacked the warning light and folding the wings was done by human muscle, not hydraulic power.. As I remember (and it’s been a long time) the warning light was on something called the “telelight panel.

  • walt313 October 2, 2013, 02:02

    Thanks for the comment Kurt. Yes it was the telelite panel. The C had hydraulics that folded the wings. There was a switch in the cockpit and one in the main wheel well. Lots of fun folding the wings on rookie engine run guys. “Hey? Why did you fold the wings? Unfold them will ya?.” FNG frantically looks for switch he didn’t throw. After a couple of seconds…unfold them and say something like “Thanks Buddy”.

  • Eldorado Canyon October 2, 2013, 06:07

    One of the very best mishap accounts I’ve heard/read. An unfortunate and preventable event. The chain of human errors driven by a common a cause can consistently be identified as primary or secondary factors that lead to or contribute to a mishap. As a Jet Mech / Maintainer I was also a Certified Mishap investigator at Holloman 1999-2011 on the F117, F22 and the 2 Drone bugs we had. Years earlier I’d been at Ramstein 84-86 F4G and George 87-92 and subsequently working for DynCorp and Lockheed as a Jet Mech /Crew Chief. By this time, the wing fold unlocked indicator was painted a bright red for improved visibility. The Phantoms I worked during my brief service break with those contractors were all manual fold wings…I remember this being a particularly stressed point for visual inspection regardless whether or not it had recently undergone sched insp…it was something we regularly glanced at anytime we were on the line on all the jets.

    Great story, thanks for posting this!

  • Mark October 18, 2013, 16:15

    i was walking to my barracks after getting off the flightline sweeper for a bit, lucky it wasnt worse.

  • Rich D November 21, 2013, 12:06

    Great story! I’d heard accounts of this same thing happening in Southeast Asia, but I never knew it happened at George. I worked in the 35th FMS Aero Repair Shop from ’73 to ’75 . . . and I had totally forgotten about the C model wingfolds being hydraulic and the E models being manual. Talk about a “blast from the past”!

  • bill steele August 24, 2014, 11:20

    A new crew chief, Marie Walters launched it.

  • Walt August 25, 2014, 13:27

    If you know where Marie is now, send her this link.

  • Walt October 29, 2014, 19:51

    Aircrew was : Pilot: 1.Lt. H.S.Ruth
    GIB : Capt. G. McConneII

    I think, but would like that confirmed. I got these names of the draft on http://www.ejection-history.org.uk/.

  • Walt February 22, 2015, 17:49

    It would be great to get them on here to comment.

  • Walt April 9, 2015, 17:19

    I just dawned on me. That F-117 at Holloman was mine in “Fight Club”. Collapsed NLG and slid UNDER the barrier cable.

  • Thomas Gust Cappos Sr. May 18, 2015, 21:17

    FROM FACEBOOK- I was the the airman who was looking for his watch on the softball field. I had played softball the day before and lost it but came back the next day to look for it and looked up to see the pilots eject I also could see the wing was folded up. I then saw the plane veer off and head toward the base fuel tanks…

  • walt313 October 11, 2015, 13:16

    null
    NAS Keflavik- 01August 1978 F-4E 66-0304. 57 Fighter Interceptor Squadron (FIS). The crew were Capt. Gregory Harrison, pilot, and Capt. Dennis, WSO. The wings folded up smoothly and symmetrically just as they broke ground at approximately 170 knots. The wing fold locks were not in place. The jet had just come out of the paint barn, and they had painted over the locking pins. Aircraft was recovered safely after circling the field to reduce landing weight. A really FAST final at 230 knots plus!

    ALL THE PICTURES HERE.

  • Terry J Sapp October 21, 2015, 13:39

    I was a Crew Chief on F4G Phantom Advanced Wild Weasel at the time. I was one of maybe 9 women out of hundreds men in 35th Tactical Squadron. My room was on the top floor of the women’s dorm facing the area with enormous jet fuel storage tanks and just past that, the highway. I was going to be leaving George AFB soon & we were planning a party. A friend & I happen to be carrying in a case of beer each when we heard a familiar sound coming in loud & low. We threw the beer to the floor & raced to the window just in time to see it crash. The F4 was crashed nose down and flaming on. It was absolutely surreal. The thoughts went rapid fire through my mind…OMG, the pilots! I just knew they were dead. Crap! It could have hit the tanks, can you imagine? A little further & it would have crashed on the highway. Holy Crap, just a little closer & I would be dead! Then finally… holy shit, was that my plane? We ran outside a there was a full size van in a parking lot nearby with a back corner compressed a fraction of it’s size from an ejection seat hitting it. Word spread quickly that the pilots were okay. Amazingly, they had ejected sideways and survived. If the plane had rotated a little more, they would have ejected towards the ground. We had been taught that it’s very dangerous for pilots to eject under the best of conditions. The accident had been caused by negligence & poor design. The wings of the F4 were designed to fold up for maintenance and storage. When the wings were folded down, no one double checked to make sure the were locked. There was a pre-flight inspection by the crew chief. He (or she) missed it. The flight crew missed it. The indicator is just a small post sticking up and the color was worn on a lot of them. It was completely inadequate. Of course, when one wing wasn’t locked down, at take off, it folded. All of the lift was on the locked down wing, causing the roll. I can still picture that multi-million aircraft broken and burning and remember that if it hadn’t by chance crashed in that open area, things could have been much, much worse. I was wondering, if that jet had crashed into my dorm, would the AF tell my family my death was caused by “friendly fire”?

  • Walt October 22, 2015, 06:01

    Awesome comment. Thanks for sharing. Too bad no one got pictures.

  • Mike Wedderburn December 3, 2015, 21:51

    I was in my room in the transportation squadron’s barracks. (North side of the building.) I heard a “THUD” like I had never heard before. It shook the windows and door. All Hell broke loose seconds latter. Ran around to the South-West and saw the black, billowing smoke from the fuel tank area just East of the back gate.My first thought was that one of the fuel tanks had blown up. (A little further and they sure would have!) The van hit by the ejection seat was parked in the lot just North of our maintenance shop.

    Does anyone remember when the guy snapped (They said he had an unknown brain tumor.) and drove the fuel truck all over the base? He tore up all kinds of parked cars and stuff. They stopped him when he tried to get to the flight line. Crazy GAFB Times!

  • Walt December 3, 2015, 21:56

    Mike,
    I remember the fuel truck driver.

  • Mark Travis February 29, 2016, 18:40

    Eldorado Canyon: Looks like you got to Holloman shortly after I left. Not sure if you were there when we lost 0793 at that Maryland airshow. I’d been on the wing a couple times when the S/M troop was putting the taper locks back in…..he’d finished the mishap side when I climbed up there. I was an MXS Pro Super. I’d PCS’ed to Mountain Home, but the SIB spoke with me by phone. Always hate to lose a jet, but was glad the ACES did its job in that one. I also sweated all night over a right MLG strut on 0806 prior to its deployment…..then it gets shot down…..Golden BB. I recall seeing video of the Serbs standing on the burning wreckage and I thought, “It’s the gift that keeps on giving.” I was thinking of the carbon fibers they were inhaling. I was also at Holloman for 801’s runway “incident.” And, sadly, there for 822 as well.

  • Mark Travis February 29, 2016, 18:42

    At Walt: I was the on duty MXS Pro Super when that happened. My AR guys rolled on it…..then, I hear over the radio one of their MSgt’s say, “She’s on her belly.”

  • Bass, David M. March 2, 2016, 22:19

    Hey are you the Cappos I knew back then.. I knew Eugene Riddell, Mullins and the gang.. The Cappos I knew had a snake!

  • Walt March 5, 2016, 15:29

    Yeah, that’s him. When almost everyone had a snake in the dorm.

  • Walt March 5, 2016, 15:43

    I thought the same thing when I first watched them dancing.

  • Scott gamble March 31, 2016, 02:10

    I armed that very bird just before the disaster, I was on launch detail that day….

  • Scott gamble March 31, 2016, 02:54

    BTW Walt, as an Armament Systems Specialist who armed the very Bird you’re talking about, “EOR” refers to recovery and de-arming of an aircraft after mission complete. Either working “Take-off” or “Launch” is where the mistake happened. I was working “Take-off” on the very aircraft in question, it’s a matter of terminology…

  • walt313 April 2, 2016, 01:02

    Thanks Scott. EOR stands for “End of Runway” and there’s a crew at both ends. I remember trying to find four drag chutes at the EOR at Nellis during Red Flag. There were dozens in the pile. I told my crew to pick four new ones and we repainted them on the way to the chute shop. But that’s another story.

    At EOR you probably had a front row seat. What do you remember about the crash?

  • Walt August 29, 2016, 13:37

    He was celebrating his Last Day with lines of Coke. Heard he lost his military driving license.

  • Jeff Hess September 16, 2016, 11:30

    Great story Walt, I was stationed at GAFB 11/76 thru 7/80. I worked F-105G phase inspection in the largest hanger on the base. I remember hearing the roar of the jet going over as I had just started my second shift duty. I walked outside and saw 1 of the seats with its smoldering jet pack in an empty parking lot (secure area) between 2 hangers. I walked to check on my car and saw the caved in back of a conversion van next to the other seat. Lots of lucky airmen on the ground that day, wow! I also remember the fuel truck fiasco, saw that nut driving around near the post office with Jp4 spewing from the side of the truck, obviously clipped something, several SP’s in hot pursuit, I heard the driver got the butt of an m-16 to the chops once they got him stopped. “Ouch”. Do you remember the f-105g that skated thru the desert on an aborted take-off on the short runway? The jet slid on the belly when landing gear sheared off and the crew jumped out. I was told the nose gear rotated but they aborted anyway, sounded like another mistake to me.

  • Walt September 18, 2016, 03:28

    Jeff,
    Great comment.
    I remember seeing that F-105G. Yes the nose was rotated when the ass end aught on fire. Different trucks,different connections and someone put JP-4 in the water tank. When the pilot kicked the water in, the whole tail caught fire.

    Years later, I was married and looking at renting an apartment in Adelanto. Furnished with utilities paid for $100 a month. We were looking at it when four Phantoms roared over the house. We were right under the departure end of the runway. A couple of months later my Bride asked, “Do they always take off”. “Yes Honey”. but please ignore the 60 foot trench in our backyard.

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