21 March 1987

Captain Dean Paul Martin, United States Air Force. “Just look up in the sky and I will be there protecting you.” (Deana Martin Collection)

The men and women who volunteer to protect our country put their lives at risk every day—even during peacetime and when close to home.

On 21 March 1987, Captain Dean Paul Martin, Jr., United States Air Force, a fighter pilot assigned to the 196th Tactical Fighter Squadron, 163rd Tactical Fighter Group, California Air National Guard, paid the ultimate price when his McDonnell F-4C-25-MC Phantom II, serial number 64-0923, slammed into 11,501.6-foot (3,505.7 meter) San Gorgonio Mountain. The airplane hit at the 5,500-foot level (1,676 meters), inverted, at 560 miles per hour (901 kilometers per hour). Also killed was Captain Ramon Ortiz, U.S.Air Force, the Weapons System Officer.

McDonnell F-4C-25-MC Phantom II, 64-0923, 196th Tactical Fighter Squadron, 163d Tactical Fighter Group, California Air National Guard. (Photograph courtesy of Ernest Pellen via Phantom Phanatics)

Captain Martin was piloting the #2 aircraft, Grizzly 72, in a flight of three. They took off from March Air Force Base in Riverside County, California, in trail, and made a maximum performance climb through multiple layers of cloud and falling snow. Much of the time it was not possible to maintain visual contact, and formation was maintained with radar.

The flight leader, Grizzly 71, requested to climb to a higher altitude to get clear of the clouds but Air Traffic Control was not able to authorize that because of a large volume of civilian traffic above them. Martin was unable to maintain formation, and knowing that mountains were near, requested a left turn. The controller authorized the turn, but had to repeat himself several times due to frequency congestion.

The pilot of the #3 aircraft, Grizzly 73, briefly caught sight of Martin’s Phantom through a break in the clouds. He saw Grizzly 72 begin a sharp left roll and its afterburners ignite before it disappeared into the clouds again.

It is probable that Captain Martin lost spatial orientation because of the steep climb under acceleration while passing in and out of cloud layers.

McDonnell F-4C-25-MC Phantom II 64-0923, 196th Tactical Fighter Squadron, 163rd Tactical Fighter Group, California Air National Guard, in an earlier “wrap around” camouflage pattern. (Photograph courtesy of Ernest Pellen via Phantom Phanatics)

There may have been another factor, though: Martin was divorced from his second wife, Olympic Gold Medalist Dorothy Hamill, but had hopes of a reconciliation. While obtaining a briefing in the weather office just prior to this flight, a worker there asked Martin what he thought about Hamill’s re-marriage two weeks earlier. Martin had been unaware of this and was visibly shaken by the news. This may have been an additional distraction at just the wrong time.

At any rate, Dean Paul Martin joined the Air Force to make something of himself and to make a meaningful contribution. He wanted to be more than “Dean Martin’s son” or an entertainer. The crash on San Gorgonio Mountain is a sad end to a noble venture.

Martin had told his sister, Deana,

“I will always be with you. Just look up in the sky and I will be there protecting you.”

Peace is Our Profession. But it is always a perilous occupation. Rest in Peace, Gentlemen.

San Gorgonio Mountain in the San Bernardino Mountains, at 11,501.6 feet (3,505.7 meters), is the highest peak in Southern California. (skmnational.org)

Dean Paul Martin, Jr., was born 17 November 1951 in Santa Monica, California. He was the first of three children of entertainer Dean Martin and Dorothy Jean Biegger Martin. He was educated at the Urban Military Academy in Brentwood, California, and was a pre-med student at the University of California, Los Angeles (UCLA). While there, he played football and tennis. Martin later completed his degree at the University of Southern California (USC).

“Dino, Desi and Billy,” circa 1965. Left to right: Dean Paul Martin, Jr.; Desiderio Alberto Arnaz IV; and William Hinsche. (Reprise Records)

During the mid-1960s, Martin, then known as “Dino,” was a member of the singing group, “Dino, Desi and Billy,” with Desi Arnaz, Jr., and William Hinsche. Their most successful songs were “I’m a Fool” and “Not the Lovin’ Kind.”

“Dino” Martin earned a private pilot license at the age of 16 years.

He was a professional tennis player, and, later, was a wide receiver for the World Football League Las Vegas Casinos, in Las Vegas, Nevada.

Mr. and Mrs. Dean Paul Martin, Jr., (née Olivia Osuna Hussey), 17 April 1971.

On 17 April 1971, Martin married Miss Olivia Hussey in Las Vegas, Nevada. (Miss Hussey is best known for her portrayal of Juliet Capulet in Franco Zeffirelli’s “Romeo and Juliet,” 1968). They had a son, Alexander. The couple were divorced 24 January 1979 in Los Angeles, California.

Also in 1979, Martin starred with actress Ali McGraw in Paramount Pictures’ “The Players.” Martin’s character was a professional tennis player.

Ali McGraw and Dean Paul Martin on the set of “The Players, “1979. (Paramount Pictures)

Dean Paul Martin, Jr., joined the United States Air Force 5 November 1980, and underwent pilot training in the Cessna T-37 Tweet and Northrop T-38A Talon at Columbus Air Force Base, near Columbus, Mississippi. He trained as fighter pilot in the McDonnell F-4 Phantom II at Luke Air Force Base, west of Phoenix, Arizona, completing the course in November 1981. He was assigned to the 193d Tactical Fighter Wing, California Air National Guard, based at March Air Force Base, Riverside County, California. He initially served as a Weapons System Officer in the McDonnell F-4C Phantom II, before upgrading to aircraft commander.

A spokesman for the California Air National Guard, Major Steve Mensik, said, “Captain Martin was one of the better pilots, an exceptional athlete who handled himself well in the cockpit.”

Lieutenant and Mrs. Dean Paul Martin, Jr., (née Dorothy Stuart Hamill), 8 January 1982.

Martin married Olympic Gold Medalist Miss Dorothy Stuart Hamill, 8 January 1982, in Beverly Hills, California. They divorced in 1984.

Captain Ramon Ortiz, U.S.A.F.

Captain Martin’s remains were buried at the Los Angeles National Cemetery.

Ramon Ortiz was born 31 August 1947, in Ponce, Puerto Rico, an island in the Caribbean Sea and an unincorporated territory of the United States.

Ortiz joined the United States Air Force 22 December 1973 and served on active duty until 13 November 1980.

Captain Ortiz’ remains were buried at Palm Memorial Park, Las Vegas, Nevada.

© 2018, Bryan R. Swopes

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13 thoughts on “21 March 1987

  1. The Rescue Detachment at Edwards (Det 5, 40th ARRS) was scrambled to search for this aircraft. We spent most of three days looking for the crash site, first two in pretty marginal weather. Also had helicopters from the ANG Rescue unit at Moffat involved, along with Army NG birds and law enforcement aircraft from S. California. Several ground-search teams were activated as well.

    The squadron Command Post was getting frequent phone calls from the White House for updates (Dean Paul’s dad was a friend of President Reagan). Some interesting things came of those phone calls, which I’d prefer not to go into in public.

    I believe it was on the second full search day that the weather cleared and a possible crash site was spotted by a UH-1N from Edwards. Two PJ’s and a flight surgeon (me) were inserted into the site to confirm: We were able to confirm it was a fresh crash site, and that it was an F-4.

    We spent several hours after that trying to keep the news helicopters from flying too low and interfering with the rescue birds bringing in people/gear. The news birds were trying to get more & more pictures of the site, probably wanting to get pictures of bodies. The aircraft impacted at over 550 kts, wasn’t much of anything to see. We spent a lot of time making rude gestures at the news helicopters…

    1. I appreciate your comments today, Colonel Allen. It is always welcome to hear from readers who have a personal involvement with one of my blog posts, especially those related to Edwards AFB, which has always held a special interest for me. . . I think that is says something positive about us, as a people, that we expend so much effort trying to rescue those who are missing, even in situations like this when a positive outcome was pretty unlikely. . . . I recently read a pretty thorough analysis of this accident. Captain Martin was piloting the #2 aircraft, Grizzly 72, in a flight of three. They took off in trail and made a maximum performance climb through multiple layers of cloud and falling snow. Much of the time it was not possible to maintain visual contact, and formation was maintained with radar. The flight leader, Grizzly 71, requested to climb to a higher altitude to get clear of the clouds but Air Traffic Control was not able to authorize that because of a large volume of civilian traffic above them. Martin was unable to maintain formation, and knowing that mountains were near, requested a left turn. The controller authorized the turn, but had to repeat himself several times due to frequency congestion. The pilot of the #3 aircraft, Grizzly 73, briefly caught sight of Martin’s Phantom through a break in the clouds. He saw Grizzly 72 begin a sharp left roll and its afterburners ignite before it disappeared into the clouds again. It is probable that Captain Martin lost spatial orientation because of the steep climb under acceleration while passing in and out of cloud layers. . . . There may have been another factor, though: Martin was divorced from his second wife, Olympic gold medalist Dorothy Hamill, but had hopes of a reconciliation. While obtaining a briefing in the weather office just prior to this flight, a worker there asked Martin what he thought about Hamill’s re-marriage two weeks earlier. Martin had been unaware of this and was visibly shaken by the news. This may have been an additional distraction at just the wrong time. . . . At any rate, Dean Paul Martin joined the Air Force to make something of himself and to make a meaningful contribution. He wanted to be more than “Dean Martin’s son” or an entertainer. The crash on Mt. San Gorgonio is a sad end to a noble venture.

  2. The other thought was that they experienced a high-speed departure, induced by the sharp left turn, didn’t have sufficient altitude to recover. SD or high-speed departure, it was a nasty business, no matter which way you look at it.

    Det 5 and I were also the first folks on-scene when the F-117 went down outside Bakersfield. Some interesting stories about that day too… The Eddy Flight Surgeon’s office ended up working three separate mishaps that day, the F-117 crash, an Army helicopter crash, and an O-2 with nose-gear failure landing on the lakebed. All the flight docs were supposed to be at my house that evening for a BBQ and our monthly flight medicine journal club: Amazingly enough, we all made it.

  3. I just recently saw another article where someone hiked to the crash site. Seems this is their hobby. Can’t remember the name. I have been on a few sites myself as part of the investigation team. You are correct Col. Allen that at those speeds and impact forces, there isn’t much to see. And it always bothered me when the media would hound us for info, names, causes etc. before the fire was out. I still see those remains in my sleep.

    Msgt. USAF Ret.

  4. I was on active duty at that time flying the F-4E and F-4G with the 23 TFS at Spangdahlem AB, West Germany. We were naturally very interested in finding out the cause of this crash. We were told that Capt. Martin’s plane failed to follow established (and, presumably, briefed) lost contact procedure for a radar trail departure. Every radar trail departure I ever flew included a pre-flight brief specifying what each aircraft in the flight would do if they lost radar contact. For this flight, it would have meant climbing to a pre-briefed altitude that would be clear of the mountains. That did not happen.

  5. Kind of off the subject, About 10 or 12 year before the mishap Deno had a bright yellow Ferrari model P3-4 (we later found out it was a 412) that he had sold to the father of my best friend at the time. I was lucky enough to get a ride in this car at around 200mph. the fastest i’ve ever gone on land.

  6. Bryan, Dean Paul Martin’s birth date should be 1951, not 1971 in the post. This crash has interesting cultural overtones regarding the place of the USAF and Hollywood at that time. Thanks for your usual great job on this site! John

    1. Thank you, John. I knew that, so I’m gonna blame it on a typo.

      I regret that I was unable to find any more information about Captain Ortiz.

      Thanks for always reading so carefully, John.

  7. Bryan, Just to be accurate, Columbus AFB is near Columbus, Mississippi, not Missouri. Thanks for the great work you do with this site!

    John

  8. Bryan, Great article on Deano and Ray! I knew Ray from Nellis F4D days ’77-79. I was in 428TFS and he was an instructor WSO in the 429th at the time. Also friends with Dean Paul as his “class leader”, SRO (Senior Ranking Officer) as a Capt, at Columbus AFB during our pilot training stint together. He was a “good stick” all through pilot training. His previous flight experience helped him excel during most flight training gaining his fighter qualification at graduation. BTW he was present throughout his entire T37 and advanced T38 flight training classes with our class and earned his USAF wings together with our class at Columbus AFB, MS (he did not go to Laughlin for training!) His formation flying in the T38 was excellent! Got to meet Dorothy Hamil several times while at Columbus as they were dating at the time. Nice couple. Deano did take good advice when offered, as when I suggested that beautiful yellow ferrari just would not fit well on Columbus AFB in a very “rural” Columbus Mississippi! He listened, drove it back home and picked up a beater chevy! A good friend. Sad ending. Nickel on the grass for Deano and Ray. Salute!

    1. Thank you, Steve. I corrected the point about Laughlin. I appreciate your comments about his piloting skills. I regret that I was able to find so little information about Captain Ortiz.

  9. I am a former Air Force pilot (UPT class 69-05 Moody AFB, GA), so I was interested in this article about Dean Martin and his fateful crash. It so happens that I am from Tupelo, MS, 60 miles from Columbus, MS. I graduated from Mississippi State University in Starkville, which is around 20 miles from Columbus. Please don’t describe Columbus as “very rural”. In the 1960’s it was the home of Mississippi State College for Women, and as such, to 2,000 very beautiful southern women.

    I had the great pleasure of visiting the “W” quite often, as we called it in those days (they are admitting men now, stupidly ruining tradition). I am sure Deano would have had no problem fitting in very well with the local culture, if you know what I mean.

    When I was in pilot training in Valdosta, GA, there was an all-girls college there also. The USAF really did go out of their way to make sure their student pilots had ample opportunities for recreation.

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