B-52 CRASH McCoy AFB, Olando Florida 1972
McCoy AFB SAC 306 BOMB WING FIRE DEPT.
B-52 CRASH McCoy AFB 1972
Tail #0625 crashed short of runway at McCoy AFB after multiple engine failure, 3/31/72
306th Bombardment Wing (Heavy), McCoy AFB, Florida
From 1971 - 72 I was assigned to McCoy AFB located in the beautiful city of Orlando, Florida. McCoy was a SAC base with B-52 Bombers and KC-135 Tankers. At the time of my stay most of the 52s and personnel were T.D.Y. to Guam for bombing missions over North Vietnam. McCoy was a great duty assignment. I have plenty of memories of my time at McCoy including a couple of airliner highjackings: One hijacking involved a copilot getting shot by his captors and dumped out the window, while the FBI was shooting the tires off during takeoff.
Of all the Incidents the fire department was involved with, there is one I can still close my eyes and picture perfectly in my mind. It was getting close to lunch time and everybody started milling around the fire station chow hall. I had KP that meal and was setting the tables for the cook. The klaxon horn went off indicating there was an in flight emergency. A regular bell was used when it was a structural emergency. The dispatcher's voice came over the speaker informing us that we had a B-52 Heavy with an indicator light showing fire in one engine and that there were seven souls on board. The dispatcher went on to say that it had just taken off minutes before fully fueled with 44,000 gallons of JP-4. I was fairly new to being a fireman and not that long out of fire fighting tech school, but had been around long enough to know those indicator lights, whether for locked landing gear or engine fires were quite common and seldom meant there was an actual problem, other than the indicator light. The routine was we go to our assigned rigs, everybody jumps into their bunker pants and puts on their silver turnout jackets. The hand linemen finish up with Scott air packs, hoods, and gloves. All rigs respond out to their preassigned spots on the taxi ways along the full length of the runway, wait for the Aircraft to land, and when it passes your location you pull in behind and follow it down the runway. The pilot would give a thumbs up, the dispatcher would clear us, we go back to finishing our meal, polishing brass, or hiding away from the station captain's eyes. Day after day as easy as that, but not today!
The McCoy Air Force Base fire dept. consisted of five first line manned crash rigs an O11A, O11B, two comparatively newer P2s, an O6 which was basically a huge carbon dioxide extinguisher with a long boom applicator, and a tractor trailer runway foamer. The cross maned structural equipment was a new P-8 and an older 750 G.P.M. pumper. Today I drew the short straw, and my assignment was driver of the 011A crash rig. The O11A was the oldest crash rig we had and was actually a reserve unit being used while a newer O11B was receiving maintenance. This crash rig had two roof mounted foam turrets that were controlled from the driver or crew chief position with two side by side pistol grips inside the cab. The pump was driven by a separately mounted aircraft engine which allowed us to use the main motor to maneuver with while pumping to the turrets. The rig was originally designed to carry protein foam, but we had just weeks earlier converted over to the new Light Water AFFF foam, and had been training with both types. The O11A had a 1000 gallon water tank and a 200-gallon foam bag inside the tank. You had to fill the tank halfway with water so the bag would float, then fill the foam bag with Light Water, then top off with the second 500 gallons of water. If the foam was filled first, the bag would rip from the weight. I know this fact from personal experience. The worst part for me originally with this rig was driving. Going back and forth on a flight line was OK but driving through city streets rounding off gears, double and triple clutching was a real pain but eventually I could drive it as good as most.
We took up our position mid-runway, I can remember arriving and starting up the pump engine to make sure it was warm and ready. I took a look up and down the runways noting that most everybody was in position. We could see it now, it was just short of the runway on approach, and our crew chief commented that it didn't look lined up right. It was close now right over a housing area across a road next to the end of the runway. It was close up it seemed close enough to touch. It just hovered there for a second, then it rolled pointing one of its enormous wings directly to the ground. Then went in, right into the housing area. I heard later one of the crewmen used his ejection seat but punched straight into the ground. I have trained for a number of years now with practice pit fires that can be fairly impressive especially at night. In these pit fires we used any where from 100 to maybe the most 500 gallons of contaminated JP-4. This B52 had taken off minutes before with a full fuel load of about 40,000 gallons. Shit! I think we all said it at the same time, probably was repeated in all the rigs lined up that day. I think every ounce of fuel went up that second, covering a two-block housing area. The first thing I thought was nukes or at least high explosives but it was just fuel. Next thing I know crew chief was yelling, "GO!" So I went.
The normal way of the base was out the main gate. I don't think any of the crash rigs had ever been any where but the flight line. Today we were going straight down the runway to the perimeter fence. I don't know who was first, but there was a hole cut in the fence when we arrived. This rig was by no means the perfect off road vehicle and I wasn't sure it would get over the bump between the fence and the off base road, but it did. I don't remember names of streets anymore and wasn't worried about it then. We knew where we were going, the problem was as we got close it looked like a war zone, debris everywhere. There was no real aircraft left to set up on, like we trained to do. Just pieces of all sizes and fire everywhere, car fires, several house fires, tree fires, fence fires, and fuel fires. We weren't sure where to start so we just worked ourselves to the main fire we could see. I can remember having to drive down the sidewalks taking out several mailboxes with the front bumper. Got to the main part of the fire and let loose with the turrets. The plane went down in the only vacant lot in the whole housing area, I've wondered if the pilot managed to do that or if it just happened. The only recognizable part of the aircraft other than landing gear in the middle of a living room, was the tail section. We removed the tail gunner, he was the only crewman I saw that was still in one piece. He was burnt crisp I remember his sun glasses were still on his head. The big flames seemed to go out pretty quickly there were a couple of other crash rigs that made it up close enough to apply foam to the fire. The Orlando City Firefighters were also there and the focus had turned to the structure fires and victims. I just then noticed all the radio traffic. I don't remember a word being said since our initial dispatch, I'm sure my crew chief had been listening.
We then focused our attention to extinguishing spot fires, and assisting the Orlando crews mop up the house fires. The rest of the day was spent placing our rigs back in service so the military flights could resume at McCoy. Seven B-52 crew members died instantly that day, and one 10 year old boy died three days later from burns he had received . It was a very somber time at McCoy Air Force Base after the crash, and it was still fresh on everyone's mind when I left for Ubon Thailand a month later. As tragic as it was it has always amazed me more people weren't hurt or killed that day.
IN MEMORY OF
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Last Updated May 30, 2002 by Craig Smith