I Watched as the Phantom Crashed

 2 JUL, 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.

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.