Tag Archives: Aircraft Accident

8 April 1968

Miss Barbara Jane Harrison, British Overseas Airways Corporation

8 April 1968: British Overseas Airways Corporation Flight 712, call sign Speedbird 712, a Boeing 707-465 Intercontinental registered G-ARWE, departed London Heathrow for Sydney, Australia, with 116 passengers and 11 crew. Approximately 20 seconds after takeoff, there was a loud bang and severe shudder as the Number Two jet engine failed catastrophically. The flight crew started through emergency procedures while calling MAYDAY and turning back toward the airport. The failed engine fell off the left wing which then caught fire as fuel continued to flow. Three minutes, thirty-two seconds after takeoff, Speedbird 712 touched down on Runway 05 and rapidly came to a stop. Fuel continued to burn, and the airliner’s cabin crew began evacuating passengers.

This photograph shows Speedbird 712 over Thorpe, Surrey. The Number Two Engine is circled at the lower right..

Stewardess Barbara Jane Harrison was among the crew members who helped passengers escape from the burning Boeing 707. The exit slide had not deployed correctly and Miss Harrison was encouraging passengers to jump to the runway surface, and in some cases, even pushed them out. She was seen standing in a doorway as the flames and smoke spread, and people below, including the airplane’s captain, Cliff Taylor, shouted at her to jump. Instead, she turned away and went back inside, presumably to help a disabled passenger in a wheelchair. She gave her life to help others. Later, the bodies of Miss Harrison and the disabled passenger were found together in the burned out wreck. Four other passengers also died.

For her gallantry in saving the lives of others at the cost of her own, Queen Elizabeth II awarded the George Cross, for “acts of the greatest heroism or of the most conspicuous courage in circumstances of extreme danger.”

Barbara Jane Harrison was 22 years old.

CENTRAL CHANCERY OF THE ORDERS OF KNIGHTHOOD

ST. JAMES’S PALACE, LONDON S.W.1

8th August 1969.

The QUEEN has been graciously pleased to make the undermentioned award.

GEORGE CROSS

Miss Barbara Jane HARRISON (deceased), Stewardess, British Overseas Airways Corporation.

     On April 8th 1968, soon after take-off from Heathrow Airport, No. 2 engine of B.O.A.C. Boeing 707 G-ARWE caught fire and subsequently fell from the aircraft, leaving a fierce fire burning at No. 2 engine position. About two and a half minutes later the aircraft made an emergency landing at the airport and the fire on the port wing intensified. Miss Harrison was one of the stewardesses in this aircraft and the duties assigned to her in an emergency were to help the steward at the aft station to open the appropriate rear door and inflate the escape chute and then to assist the passengers at the rear of the aircraft to leave in an orderly manner. When the aircraft landed Miss Harrison and the steward concerned opened the rear galley door and inflated the chute, which unfortunately became twisted on the way down so that the steward had to climb down it to straighten it before it could be used. Once out of the aircraft he was unable to return; hence Miss Harrison was left alone to the task of shepherding passengers to the rear door and helping them out of the aircraft. She encouraged some passengers to jump from the machine and pushed out others. With flames and explosions all around her and escape from the tail of the machine impossible she directed her passengers to another exit while she remained at her post. She was finally overcome while trying to save an elderly cripple who was seated in one of the last rows and whose body was found close to that of the stewardess. Miss Harrison was a very brave young lady who gave her life in her utter devotion to duty.

—Supplement to The London Gazette of Thursday, 7th August 1969, Friday, 8th August 1969, No. 44913, at Page 8211, Column 1.

BOAC Flight 712, a Boeing 707-465, G-ARWE, burning on the runway at Heathrow, 8 April 1968.
BOAC Flight 712, a Boeing 707-465, G-ARWE, burning on the runway at Heathrow, 8 April 1968.

Only four women have been awarded the George Cross: Violet Szabó, Odette Sansom, Noor Inayat Khahn, all three secret intelligence agents for England’s Special Operations Executive (S.O.E.) during World War II, and Barbara Jane Harrison.

Barbara Jane Harrison was born at Kingsdale Crescent, Bradford, Yorkshire, England, 14 May 1945. She was the second of two daughters of Alan Frederic Harrison, a police officer, and Lena Veronica Adlard Harrison. Her mother died when she was ten years old. Jane was educated at the Newby County Primary School, Scarborough High School for Girls and Doncaster High School for Girls.

Miss Harrison left the Doncaster School in May 1962 to accept employment with the Martins Bank Limited branch office at Baxter Gate, Doncaster. Later she was employed as a nanny in the United States and in Switzerland. She joined the British Overseas Airways Corporation in June 1966.

Miss Harrison’s remains were interred at Fulford Cemetery, Fulford, North Yorkshire, England. Her George Cross is on display at British Airways’ Speedbird Centre, Harmondsworth, Middlesex, England.

Marker at Fulford Cemetery.
Captain C. W. R. Taylor

Speedbird 712 was under the command of Captain Charles Wilson Ratcliffe Taylor, with Senior First Officer Francis Brendan Kirkland as copilot, and Acting First Officer John Chester Hutchinson as the third, relief, pilot. The flight engineer was Engineer Officer Thomas Charles Hicks. Also in the cockpit was Supervisory Captain Geoffrey Sidney Moss, who was conducting a periodic flight check of the crew.

Speedbird 712’s Chief Steward, Neville Cearl Davis-Gordon, was awarded the British Empire Medal for Gallantry (Civil Division) for his role in evacuating the passengers from the burning airliner.¹

Air Traffic Control Officer III John Michael Davis, who handled Speedbird 712’s emergency, was appointed an Ordinary Member of the Most Excellent Order of the British Empire (M.B.E.) in the Queen’s Birthday Honours for 1969.²

“Whiskey Echo” (G-ARWE) was a Boeing Model 707-465 Intercontinental airliner, serial number 18373, Boeing line number 302. The 707-465 was a variant of the 707-420 series, which was itself a version of the 707-320, with the primary change being the substitution of Rolls-Royce Conway Mk.508 turbofan engines in place of the standard Pratt & Whitney JT3C-6 turbojet engines. The airliner was operated by a minimum flight crew of three, and could carry 141 passengers with mixed-class seating, or a maximum of 189 passengers.

Boeing 707-465 G-ARWE in Cunard Eagle Airways livery, circa 1962. (www.britisheagle.net)

Whiskey Echo had originally been ordered by Cunard Eagle Airways and registered VR-BBZ (Bermuda). It made its first flight 27 June 1962. Cunard Eagle was taken over by BOAC as BOAC-Cunard in June 1962. Sisterships VR-BBW and VR-BBZ were reregistered in the United Kingdom as G-ARWD and G-ARWE.

A Boeing 707 Intercontinental (-420 series) airliner in BOAC-Cunard livery. (jjPostcards)

At the time of the accident, Whiskey Echo had flown 20,870 hours (TTAF).

Whiskey Echo’s  Number 2 engine was built in 1961 and had 14,917 hours total time since new (TTSN). It was last overhauled in March 1965 and had been flown 4,346 hours (TSIO) at the time of the accident. The engine had a normal time between overhauls (TBO) of 5,500 hours. The engine was removed from service due to excessive vibration in May 1965. Inspection revealed a fatigue failure of the Stage 8 high-pressure compressor stage. The engine was repaired, but during test runs, was still producing vibrations and was rejected based on BOAC standards. The vibrations did not exceed Rolls-Royce limits, though, and the engine was accepted for service. It was installed on another Boeing 707 and run for 1,415 hours, when it was removed for modification of turbine seals. The engine was installed at the Number 2 position on G-ARWE on 5 April 1968, three days before the accident.

The accident investigation found that the engine had suffered a fatigue failure of the Stage 5 low-pressure compressor wheel. Fragments of the wheel rim and blades were found inside the airport perimeter at the departure end of Runway 28 Left.

The engine’s 1¾-inch-diameter (44.45 millimeters) fuel supply line was severed by flying fragments. Jet fuel was pumped out of the open line at a rate of about 50 gallons (189 liters) per minute.

About 90 seconds after the fire started, Whiskey Echo’s Number 2 engine and part of its pylon fell away from the left wing.

According to the accident investigation report,

“Having initially started an Engine Failure Drill, the Flight Engineer changed directly to the Engine Fire Drill. According to his evidence, having completed Phase 1 of the Engine Fire Drill, which is required to be done from memory, he subsequently used his own copy of the check list to complete Phase II of the drill, including operation of the fire extinguisher transfer switch and pushing the discharge button for the second shot thirty seconds after the first. When the First Officer started to read the check list the Flight Engineer told him the check was already completed. . . .”

CIVIL AIRCRAFT ACCIDENT, Report on the Accident to Boeing 707-465 G-ARWE at Heathrow Airport, London, on 8th April 1968. ACCIDENTS INVESTIGATION BRANCH, Civil Accident Report No. EW/C/0203, Section 1.1 at Page 3

The engineer officer had failed to pull the fire fuel shut-off valve while following the emergency procedures check list. With the valve closed, the fuel in the supply line beyond the valve would have sustained the fire for only a few seconds. The airliner’s fire extinguisher bottles can only be discharged after the fire shut-off handle has been pulled.

Whiskey Echo had previously sustained an uncontained turbine blade failure. While taking off from Honolulu International Airport, Oahu, Hawaii, 21 November 1967, fragments of the turbine blades punctured a fuel tank, resulting in a fire. The takeoff was aborted, and emergency personnel at the airport put out the fire. The airplane was repaired, all four engines changed, and G-ARWE was returned to service.

A BOAC Boeing 707-436 Intercontinental, G-APFD, similar in appearance to 707-465 G-ARWE. (Pinterest)

The Boeing 707-420 series airliners were 152 feet, 11 inches (46.609 meters) long, with a wingspan of 142 feet, 5 inches (43.409 meters) and overall height 42 feet, 2 inches (12.852 meters) at its operating empty weight. The leading edges of the wings and tail surfaces are swept 35°. The fuselage has a maximum diameter of 12 feet, 8.0 inches (3.759 meters). The 707 International has a typical empty weight of 142,600 pounds (64,682 kilograms), and a maximum takeoff weight (MTOW) of  312,000 pounds (141,700 kilograms). The usable fuel capacity is 23,820 gallons (90,169 liters).

All 707-series aircraft are powered by four jet engines installed in nacelles below and forward of the wings on pylons. The -420 Internationals were powered by Rolls-Royce Conway Mk. 508 engines. The Rolls-Royce Conway (R.Co.12) is a two-spool, axial-flow, low-bypass turbofan engine. The engine has a 7-stage low- and 9-stage high-pressure compressor section, 12 interconnected combustion liners, with a single-stage high- and 2-stage low-pressure turbine. The Mk. 508 has a Maximum Continuous Power rating of 14,625 pounds of thrust (65.055 Kilonewtons), and 17,500 pounds of thrust (77.844 Kilonewtons) at 9,990 r.p.m., for Takeoff. The engine is 3 feet, 6.0 inches (1.067 meters) in diameter, 11 feet, 4.0 inches (3.454 meters) long, and weighs 4,542 pounds (2,060 kilograms).

The -420 series had a maximum cruise speed of 593 miles per hour 954 kilometers per hour) at 30,000 feet (9,144 meters)—0.87 Mach; and economical cruise speed of 550 miles per hour (885 kilometers per hour) at 35,000 feet (10668 meters).

Boeing built 1,010 Model 707 airplanes between 1957 and 1979. Of these, 37 were the 707-420 International variant.

A British Overseas Airways Corporation Boeing 707 International (-420 series) airliner, similar in appearance to G-ARWE. (Travel Update)

¹ Supplement to The London Gazette of Thursday, 7th August 1969. Friday, 8th August 1969, No. 44913, at Page 8212, Column 1.

² Supplement to The London Gazette of Friday, 6th June 1969. Saturday, 14th June 1969, No. 44863, at Page 5975, Column 1

© 2018, Bryan R. Swopes

8 April 1954

De Havilland DH.106 Comet 1 G-ALYY, 1953. (Zoggavia)
De Havilland DH.106 Comet 1 G-ALYY, 1953. (Zoggavia)

8 April 1954: Suid-Afrikaanse Lugdiens (South African Airways) Flight 201, a chartered British Overseas Airways Corporation de Havilland DH.106 Comet 1, departed Rome at 1832 UTC, bound for Cairo.

The Comet, registered G-ALYY, was under the command of Captain Wilhelm Karel Mostert, with First Officer Barent Jacobus Grove, Navigator Albert Escourt Sissing, Radio Officer Bertram Ernest Webstock, and Flight Engineer August Ranwald Lagesen. Air Hostess Pamela Lucia Reitz and Flight Steward Jacobus Bruwer Kok were in the passenger compartment with the 14 passengers.

As the airliner climbed toward 35,000 feet (10,668 meters), they made several position reports. Last heard from at 1907 UTC, radioing an expected arrival time at Cairo, the Comet disintegrated in flight and fell into the Tyrrhenian Sea. Searchers found a debris field and floating bodies the next day near the volcanic island of Stromboli. All 21 persons aboard were killed.

This was the second catastrophic failure of a DH.106 in just three months. BOAC immediately grounded its entire Comet fleet, and the British Air Ministry revoked the airliner’s certificate of airworthiness. Production of the airliner at de Havilland was halted.

The first crash had been presumed to be a result of an in-flight fire, and the second, an uncontained turbine engine failure. But an extensive investigation eventually determined that the cause of both crashes was the in-flight break up of the fuselage pressure hull. “Owing to the absence of wreckage, we are unable to form a definite opinion on the cause of the accident near Naples, but we draw attention to the fact that the explanation offered for the accident at Elba [Comet G–ALYP, 10 January 1954] appears to be applicable to that at Naples.” ¹ Metal fatigue of the fuselage was caused by the repeated expansion and contraction of pressurization cycles. Cracks in the aluminum skin formed at stress points at the corners of the passenger compartment windows and then spread outward. This resulted in catastrophic explosive decompression.

Cut-away illustration of de Havilland Comet I G-ALYP by artist Laurence Dunn.

The DH.106 Comet 1 was the first production version and was very similar to the two prototypes. It can be visually identified by its square passenger windows. It was flown by a pilot, co-pilot, flight engineer and navigator. The airliner could carry up to 44 passengers.

The airplane was 93 feet (28.346 meters) long with a wingspan of 115 feet (35.052 meters) and overall height of 27 feet, 10 inches (8.484 meters). The wings were swept 20°, as measured at ¼ chord. The fuselage had a maximum outside diameter of 10 feet, 3 inches (3.124 meters), and 9 feet, 9 inches (2.972 meters) inside. The Comet 1 had an authorised maximum all-up weight of 107,000 pounds (48,534 kilograms).

The Comet I was powered by four de Havilland Engine Co., Ltd., Ghost 50 Mk.I turbojet engines. The Ghost was a single-shaft centrifugal-flow turbojet with a single-stage compressor, 10 combustion chambers and a single-stage turbine. It was rated at 5,000 pounds of thrust (22.24 kilonewtons) at 10,250 r.p.m. The Ghost 50 had a maximum diameter of 4 feet, 5 inches (1.346 meters), length of 10 feet, 1 inch (3.073 meters) and dry weight of 2,218 pounds (1,006 kilograms). When first placed in service, the engines required a combustion chamber inspection at 125 hour intervals. A complete overhaul was required every 375 hours. The Ghost was the first turbojet certified for civil airliner operations.

A de Havilland Engine Company advertisement in the Illustrated London News, circa 1950.

The Comet I had a maximum cruising speed of 490 miles per hour (789 kilometers per hour), True Air Speed, and operating altitude of 35,000 to 40,000 feet (10,668–12,192 meters). The airliner’s fuel capacity was 6,050 Imperial gallons (27,504 liters, or 7,266 U.S. gallons) giving a practical stage length of 2,140 miles (3,444 kilometers). The maximum range was 3,860 miles (6,212 kilometers).

Twelve DH.106 Comet 1 airliners were built.

The de Havilland Comet was the first commercial jet airliner and its introduction had revolutionized the industry. The two disasters were a blow from which the company never really recovered.

The first production de Havilland DH.106 Comet 1, G-ALYP, in formation with the two prototypes, G-ALVG and G-ALZK. G-ALYP also broke up in flight, 10 January 1954. (Ed Coates Collection)
The first production de Havilland DH.106 Comet 1, G-ALYP, in formation with the two prototypes, G-ALVG and G-ALZK. G-ALYP also broke up in flight, 10 January 1954. (Ed Coates Collection)

¹ MINISTRY OF TRANSPORT AND CIVIL AVIATION, CIVIL AIRCRAFT ACCIDENT. Report of the Court of Inquiry into the Accidents to Comet G–ALYP on 10th January, 1954 and Comet G–ALYY on 8th April, 1954, Part IX: THE COURT’S CONCLUSION AS TO CAUSE OF ACCIDENT, at Pages 46–47

© 2024, Bryan R. Swopes

7 April 1961

Boeing B-52B-30-BO Stratofortress 53-380. (U.S. Air Force)
Boeing B-52B-30-BO Stratofortress 53-380. (U.S. Air Force)

7 April 1961: Boeing B-52B-30-BO Stratofortress 53-380, assigned to the 95th Bombardment Wing and named Ciudad Juarez, departed Biggs Air Force Base, El Paso, Texas on a training mission. The aircraft commander was Captain Donald C. Blodgett.

The flight took Ciudad Juarez over New Mexico where they were intercepted by a flight of two North American F-100A Super Sabres of the New Mexico Air National Guard, also on a training flight.

A North American Aviation F-100A-1-NA Super Sabre, 52-5756, assigned to the New Mexico Air National Guard. (U.S. Air Force)

Captain Dale Dodd and 1st Lieutenant James W. van Scyoc had departed Kirtland Air Force Base, Albuquerque, New Mexico. Each of their Super Sabres were armed with two GAR-8 Sidewinder air-to-air missiles (later redesignated AIM-9B Sidewinder). Their assignment was to practice ground-controlled intercepts of the B-52.

Each F-100 made five passes at the B-52, flying at 34,000 feet (10,363 meters) over central New Mexico. Their Sidewinder infrared-seeking sensors would lock on to the heat of the B-52’s engines and give an audible signal to the fighter pilot that the target had been acquired. Safety precautions required that a circuit breaker be pulled and a firing switch be left in the off position. Before each pass, ground controllers had the pilots verify that the missiles were safed.

Flight of four North American F-100A Super Sabres of the 188th FIS, NMANG. (New Mexico Air National Guard)
Flight of four North American F-100A Super Sabres of the 188th FIS, NMANG. (New Mexico Air National Guard)

As the training session came to an end, Lieutenant van Scyoc, flying F-100A-20-NA Super Sabre 53-1662, announced, “OK, Wing, one more run then we’ll go home.” The seeker heads of his Sidewinders locked on to the B-52, but then one of the missiles fired.

Van Scyoc radioed, “Look out! One of my missiles is loose!” Captain Blodgett heard the warning, but before he could begin evasive maneuvering, the Sidewinder impacted the inboard engine nacelle under the bomber’s left wing, blowing the wing completely off. The B-52 immediately rolled over and went into a spin. 52-380 disappeared into the clouds 10,000 feet (3,048 meters) below.

The co-pilot of Ciudad Juarez, Captain Ray C. Obel, immediately ejected. His ejection seat was thrown through a hatch opening in the cockpit ceiling. Because of the high altitude, this sudden opening in the fuselage resulted in explosive decompression. The crew chief, Staff Sergeant Manuel A. Mieras, had been standing on a crew ladder behind the pilots which led to the lower deck where the navigator and bombardier were located. Sergeant Mieras was sucked up through the hatch. His left leg was so badly injured that it later had to amputated.

When 53-380 was assigned to the 95th Bombardment Wing, it was named Ciudad Juarez. (Unattributed)
When 53-380 was assigned to the 95th Bombardment Wing, it was named Ciudad Juarez. (Unattributed)

Captain Blodgett was pinned against the cockpit side by the g forces of the rapidly spinning bomber. He later reported:

I heard van Scyoc call “Look out! My missile’s fired.” We were on autopilot and I grabbed the controls just as the missile hit. There was a tremendous shudder and the aircraft banked left steeply. Electrical equipment in the right side of the cockpit caught fire. My copilot ejected with the aircraft in a 90° bank and in all the confusion I didn’t realize he had gone. I tried to reach the alarm bell control between the two seats to order the crew to bail out, while holding the controls with my left hand to maintain full right aileron and rudder. I didn’t realize the wing had gone and the aircraft wasn’t responding at all; it began to spin down into the clouds and I still wasn’t sure that I had hit the alarm. Later, my crew chief said he had seen the red light flashing as he sat on the steps to the lower cabin. With g-forces building up tremendously, pinning me to my seat I could not raise my right hand from its position near the bail-out alarm but could move it sideways to the ejection handle. The hatch fired and the seat threw me up fifty feet with the B-52 at 600 knots. The slipstream tore off my helmet as I left the aircraft. There was another explosion and I went through a ball of fire — it felt like being in an oven. Immediately after that I went through a “bath” of JP-4 fuel as the fuel tanks had broken up in this second explosion. At least this put out the fire but now I was soaking wet with fuel and still on the ejection seat. Assuming a seat malfunction (they told me afterwards I was holding on to it) I reached out to unfasten the lap belt when suddenly I flew out of the seat. However, the inter-phone cord wrapped around my leg so now I was going down through the clouds with a 650 pound seat hooked to my leg. I thought it would rip my leg off and I managed to claw the cord free. By now I was falling in a cloud of debris — and a blizzard. I released my survival gear pack, which also automatically released the survival raft. This was suspended about 40 feet below me and, with all the updrafts in the clouds due to the bad weather it acted like a sail, pulling me round in a 180° arc. I thought, ‘If I hit the ground sideways, this is it!’ I couldn’t get to my knife to cut it free but I soon got out of the turbulence and began to fall straight. 

When I ejected, my left arm hit the hatch putting a big gash in it. The blood was pouring out of this and I was holding this with my right hand, trying to stop the bleeding. Suddenly I saw something white and I hit the ground in a downswing of the parachute and a 30 knot wind. It felt like jumping off a two-story building. I hit so hard that everything in my survival kit: the radio, mirrors, etc., was broken apart from the survival rifle. My original intentions were to get the radio going and tell that fighter pilot what I thought of him. . . .

Aviation Safety Network, https://aviation-safety.net/wikibase/wiki.php?id=48341

Ciudad Juarez impacted on Mount Taylor, an 11,305 foot (3,446 meter) stratovolcano northeast of Grants, New Mexico, and left a crater 75 feet (23 meters) deep. Captain Peter J. Gineris, navigator, Captain Stephen C. Carter, bombardier, and 1st Lieutenant Glenn V. Blair, electronic countermeasures, did not escape.

Captain Blodgett suffered a fractured pelvis, Captain Obel, a broken back. The tail gunner, Staff Sergeant Ray A. Singleton, was badly burned.

Sergeant Singleton located Captain Blodgett and they were both rescued by helicopter later that day. It would be two days before Captain Obel and Sergeant Mieras were located.

An investigation determined that moisture condensation inside a worn electrical plug had caused a short circuit which fired the Sidewinder. Lieutenant van Scyoc was completely exonerated of any blame for the accident.

AIM-9B Sidewinder infrared-seeking air-to-air missile. (Petey21)
AIM-9B Sidewinder infrared-seeking air-to-air missile. (Petey21)

The AIM-9B Sidewinder was the first production version of the Raytheon Sidewinder 1A. It was 9 feet, 3.5 inches (2.832 meters) long with a diameter of 5 inches (12.7 centimeters). The span of the fins was 1 foot, 10 inches (55.9 centimeters). The AIM-9B weighed 155 pounds (70.3 kilograms). The missile was powered by a Thiokol Mk. 17 rocket engine which produced 4,000 pounds of thrust for 2.2 seconds. It could achieve a speed of Mach 1.7 over its launch speed, or about Mach 2.5. The maximum range was 2.9 miles (4.82 kilometers). It carried a 10 pound (4.54 kilogram) blast fragmentation warhead with an infrared detonator. The lethal range was approximately 30 feet (9.1 meters).

The Sidewinder is named after a species of rattlesnake, Crotalus cerastes, a pit viper common in the southwest United States and northern Mexico. The snake uses a heat-sensing organ on top of its head to hunt.

Mount Taylor, near Grants, New Mexico. 11,305 feet (3,664 meters).
Mount Taylor, near Grants, New Mexico. 11,305 feet (3,664 meters).

© 2016, Bryan R. Swopes

5 April 1950

Martin JRM-3 Mars Bu. No. 76822, Marshall Mars, burning off Diamond Head, Oahu, Hawaiian Islands, 5 April 1950. (U.S. Navy)
Martin JRM-3 Mars Bu. No. 76822, Marshall Mars, burning off Diamond Head, Oahu, Hawaiian Islands, 5 April 1950. (U.S. Navy)

While on a test flight following an engine change, a United States Navy Martin JRM-3 Mars seaplane, Marshall Mars, Bu. No. 76822, suffered an engine fire (inboard, left wing) and made an emergency landing at Ke’ehi Lagoon, off Diamond Head, Hawaii, 5 April 1950. The airplane’s crew was rescued but the airplane exploded and sank.

The wreck was discovered on the sea floor in August 2004 at a depth of approximately 1,400 feet (427 meters).

The Martin JRM Mars was a large four-engine flying boat transport built by the Glenn L. Martin Company for the U. S. Navy. originally designed as a patrol bomber, the prototype XPB2M-1 Mars made its first flight on 3 July 1942, Only five transport variants were built, four designated JRM-1, with the last one being a JRM-2. Each airplane was given an individual name derived from the names of island chains in the Pacific Ocean: Marianas MarsHawaii MarsPhilippine MarsMarshall Mars and Caroline Mars. These airplanes were used to transport personnel and cargo between the West Coast of the United States and the Hawaiian Islands. All were upgraded to JRM-3.

Four Martin JRM-3 Mars flying boats in formation. (U.S. Navy)
Four Martin JRM-3 Mars flying boats in formation. (U.S. Navy)

The Martin JRM-2 Mars had a normal crew of 4, with accommodations for a relief crew. It was designed to carry 138 combat troops or 34,000 pounds (15,422 kilograms) of cargo. It was 120 feet, 3 inches (36.652 meters) long with a wingspan of 200 feet, 0 inches (60.960 meters) and height of 43 feet, 8 inches (13.310 meters), with beaching gear. The wing area was 3,686 square feet (342.4 square meters). The flying boat had an empty weight of 80,701 pounds (36,605 kilograms) and a maximum takeoff weight (MTOW) 0f 165,000 pounds (74,843 kilograms).

Martin JRM-2 Mars three-view illustration with dimensions. (U.S. Navy)

A NASA publication states, “A zero-lift drag coefficient of 0.0233 and a maximum lift-drag ratio of 16.4 made the JRM the most aerodynamically efficient of any of the flying boats. . . .”

Martin JRM-3 Mars, Bu.No. 76822, Marshall Mars. (U.S. Navy)
Martin JRM-3 Mars, Bu.No. 76822, Marshall Mars. (U.S. Navy)

The Martin Mars was powered by four air-cooled, supercharged, direct-fuel-injected, 3,347.662-cubic-inch-displacement (54.858 liter) Wright Aeronautical Division R-3350-24WA (Cyclone 18 825C18BD1) (also known as the Duplex-Cyclone), a two-row 18-cylinder radial engines with a compression ratio of 6.70:1 and water/alcohol injection. This engine has a normal power rating of 2,000 horsepower at 2,400 r.p.m at 5,500 feet (1,676 meters) and 1,800 horsepower at 2,400 r.p.m. at 15,000 feet (4,572 meters). The engine’s takeoff power rating is 2,500 horsepower at 2,900 r.p.m. 100/130 octane aviation gasoline was required. The engines drove four-bladed 16 foot, 8 inch (5.080 meter) Curtiss Electric variable-pitch propellers through a 0.4375:1 gear reduction. (After modification to the JRM-3, the propellers on the inboard engines were reversible.) The R-3350-24WA is 6 feet, 8.58 inches (2.047 meters) long, and 4 feet, 6.13 inches (1.375 meters) in diameter. Its dry weight is 2,822 pounds (1,280 kilograms).

The JRM-3 had a cruise speed of 165 knots (190 miles per hour/306 kilometers per hour) and a maximum speed of 211 knots (243 miles per hour/391 kilometers per hour) at 15,600 feet (4,755 meters). The service ceiling was 19,700 feet (6,005 meters) and its range was 3,790 nautical miles (4,361 statute miles/7,019 kilometers).

A U.S. Navy Martin JRM Mars. (Glenn L. Martin Co.)
A U.S. Navy Martin JRM Mars. (Glenn L. Martin Co.)

© 2019, Bryan R. Swopes

4 April 1975

Lockheed C-5A Galaxy 68-0218 lifts off from Tan Son Nhut Air Base, South Vietnam, 4 April 1975. (CORBIS)
Lockheed C-5A Galaxy 68-0218 lifts off from Tan Son Nhut Air Base, South Vietnam, 4:00 p.m., Friday, 4 April 1975. (CORBIS)

4 April 1975: Operation Babylift. As the end of the Vietnam War approached, it was decided to evacuate 2,000 orphans, most in the care of an American hospital in Saigon, Republic of South Vietnam, and to take them to safety within the United States. The first flight was aboard a U.S. Air Force Lockheed C-5A Galaxy heavy lift transport, serial number 68-0218, piloted by Captains Dennis W. Traynor III and Tilford Harp.

A medical team from Clark Air Base, The Philippines, commanded by First Lieutenant Regina Claire Aune, Nurse Corps, United States Air Force, was aboard when the huge transport plane landed at Tan Son Nhut Air Base in Saigon. When it was discovered that there would be about 250 orphans aboard, many of them sick or injured, another medical team from a C-141 Starlifter volunteered to accompany Lieutenant Aune’s team for the outbound flight.

When the Galaxy took off from Saigon at 4:00 p.m., there were 328 people aboard, including flight crew, medical teams, orphans and their escorts, as well as other U.S. personnel.

The C-5A quickly climbed to 23,000 feet (7,010 meters). Just a few minutes after takeoff, the locks of the rear loading ramp failed. Explosive decompression hurled people and equipment throughout the airplane which instantly filled with fog. Lieutenant Aune was thrown the entire length of the upper deck. The airplane was severely damaged with two hydraulic systems inoperative and many flight control cables severed.

The pilots could only control the airplane with engine thrust. They began an emergency descent and turned back to Tan Son Nhut.

Helicopters standing by near the wreck of the Lockheed C-5A Galaxy. (NPR)

Unable to maintain flight, at about 4:45 p.m., the Galaxy touched down in a rice paddy two miles short of the runway at 270 knots (500 kilometers per hour). It slid for a quarter mile, became airborne for another half mile, then touched down and slid until it hit a raised dike and broke into four sections. 138 people were killed in the crash.

Wreckage of the Lockheed C-5A Galaxy transport. (NPR)
Colonel Regina C. Aune, USAF NC (U.S. Air Force)
Colonel Regina Claire Aune, NC USAF (U.S. Air Force)

Although herself seriously injured, Lieutenant Aune began evacuating the children. When rescue helicopters arrived, they were unable to land close to the wrecked transport, so the children had to be carried.

After she had helped to carry about eighty babies, Regina Aune was unable to continue. She asked the first officer she saw to be relieved of her duties and then passed out. At a hospital it was found that she had a broken foot, broken leg and broken vertebra in her back, as well as numerous other injuries.

Cheney Award (U.S. Air Force)

Regina Aune became the first woman to be awarded the Cheney Award by the Air Force, which was established in 1927 and is awarded “to an airman for an act of valor, extreme fortitude or self-sacrifice in a humanitarian interest, performed in connection with aircraft, but not necessarily of a military nature.

11 members of the crew of the Galaxy were among the dead, including Captain Mary Therese Klinker, Nurse Corps, United States Air Force.

Captain Mary T. Klinker, NC USAF. (St. Elizabeth’s School of Nursing)

Mary Therese Klinker was born at Lafayette, Indiana, 3 October 1947. She was the daughter of Paul Edward Klinker and Thelma Mary Deane Klinker. She attended Central Catholic High School in Lafayette, graduating in 1965. She then enrolled at St. Elizabeth’s School of Nursing, also in Lafayette. She graduated as a Registered Nurse, May 1968. On graduation, Miss Klinker worked for St. Elizabeth’s.

Miss Klinker joined the United States Air Force, 9 January 1970, and was commissioned as a lieutenant in the Nurse Corps. She qualified as a flight nurse and was promoted to the rank of captain. In 1974, Captain Klinker was assigned to the 10th Aeromedical Evacuation Squadron, Travis Air Force Base, Fairfield, California.

Airman’s Medal

Captain Mary Therese Klinker, Nurse Corps, United States Air Force, 10th Aeromedical Evacuation Squadron, was the last United States service woman to die in the Vietnam War. Captain Klinker was posthumously awarded the Airman’s Medal and the Meritorious Service Medal. She is buried at St. Boniface Cemetery in her home town of Lafayette, Indiana.

Colonel Regina C. Aune had a very impressive career in the Air Force. She earned a master of Science in Nursing degree, and a Ph.D. She served as Chair of the Department of Nursing Research, Commandant of the Graduate School of Nursing and Deputy Brigade Commander at the Uniformed Services University of the Health Sciences. Aune commanded the 437th Medical Operations Squadron and the 437th Medical Group, Charleston AFB, the 377th Medical Group, Kirtland AFB, the 59th Medical Group, Lackland AFB, and the 386th Expeditionary Medical Group, Kuwait in support of Operation IRAQI FREEDOM. She retired in 2007, and passed away, 27 March 2024.

The pilots, Captain Dennis W. Traynor III and Captain Tilford W. Harp, were both awarded the Air Force Cross for what General Paul Carlton, Commander, Military Airlift Command, called “one of the greatest displays of airmanship I have ever heard related.”

Capt. Bud Traynor was piloting the C-5A Galaxy that crashed in 1975 in Saigon as part of Operation Babylif
Captain Dennis W. Traynor III, United States Air Force

AIR FORCE CROSS

CAPTAIN DENNIS W. TRAYNOR III

Action Date: 3-Apr-75

Service: Air Force

Rank: Captain

Company: 22d Airlift Squadron

Division: Clark Air Base, Philippine Islands

Air Force Cross
Air Force Cross

The President of the United States of America, authorized by Title 10, Section 8742, United States Code, takes pleasure in presenting the Air Force Cross to Captain Dennis W. Traynor, III, United States Air Force, for extraordinary heroism and airmanship while engaged in a humanitarian mission as Aircraft Commander of an Air Force C-5A aircraft of the 22d Airlift Squadron, Clark Air Base, Philippine Islands, in action at Saigon, Vietnam on 3 April 1975. On that date, the aircraft, carrying 330 passengers and crew, experienced a serious in-flight emergency which could have resulted in the loss of life for all aboard. With no aircraft controls except one aileron and the engines, Captain Traynor guided the crippled aircraft to a crash landing in a rice paddy, thereby saving the lives of 176 of the people on board. Through his extraordinary heroism, superb airmanship, and aggressiveness, Captain Traynor reflected the highest credit upon himself and the United States Air Force.

AIR FORCE CROSS

CAPTAIN TILFORD W. HARP

Action Date: 3-Apr-75

Service: Air Force

Rank: Captain

Company: 22d Airlift Squadron

Division: Clark Air Base, Philippine Islands

Air Force Cross
Air Force Cross

The President of the United States of America, authorized by Title 10, Section 8742, United States Code, takes pleasure in presenting the Air Force Cross to Captain Tilford W. Harp, United States Air Force, for extraordinary heroism and airmanship while engaged in a humanitarian mission as Co-Pilot of an Air Force C-5A aircraft of the 22d Airlift Squadron, Clark Air Base, Philippine Islands, in action at Saigon, Vietnam, on 3 April 1975. On that date, his aircraft, carrying 330 passengers and crew, experienced a serious in-flight emergency which could have resulted in the loss of life for all aboard. With no aircraft controls except one aileron and the engines, Captain Harp provided exceptionally vital assistance to the Aircraft Commander in guiding the crippled aircraft to a crash landing in a rice paddy, thereby saving the lives of 176 of the people on board. Through his extraordinary heroism, superb airmanship, and aggressiveness, Captain Harp reflected the highest credit upon himself and the United States Air Force.

Crash site of Operation Babylift's Lockheed C-5A Galaxy, 68-0218, near Tan Son Nhut Air Base, South Vietnam, 4 April 1975. (U.S. Air Force)
Crash site of Operation Babylift’s Lockheed C-5A Galaxy, 68-0218, near Tan Son Nhut Air Base, South Vietnam, 4 April 1975. (U.S. Air Force)

© 2019, Bryan R. Swopes