When: Dec 9, 1960
What: On a training mission over the United States, the entire crew bailed out of a perfectly good B-52 bomber.
Where: Plainfield / Barre, Vermont
- First, the navigator ejected, believing that there was something wrong with the aircraft.
- Then the pilot concluded there must be something wrong since the navigator had ejected.
- The pilot order the crew to eject and then ejected himself.
- Seven of the 8 crew members ejected.
- However, the instructor pilot (Major Henry Luscomb) was the only person left aboard the B-52 because he was not in a seat that would eject him. He thought the airplane was flying just fine and contacted air command.
- Since there was no seat for him to operate the craft’s controls (the seat went with the crew members, he was told to set the plane on autopilot, destined for a rural area of the country, and then bailout. Fortunately, he was equipped with a parachute. He finally bailed out through the bomb bay doors.
- The residents around the site ran to the crash site, only to find no bodies or crew members.
- The crew members landed in the Schroon Lake area of upper New York state.
- One crew member (tail gunner) ended up dying. (“An airman was still missing and presumed dead. That assumption was proved tragically correct in July 1961, when a teenage fisherman stumbled upon Maheux’s remains in North Hudson, New York. His parachute was found next to him, unopened. A coroner determined that he had died of a skull fracture.”
— “Staff Sergeant Maheux. His remains were found by a fisherman several months later, on July 4, 1961. He’s buried in St. Peters Cemetery, in Lewiston, Maine.”)
- “The plane’s massive tires and sections of metal sheared off branches and treetops. . . . The plane created a 30-foot-deep crater and a 200-yard-long furrow as hit ground.”
- No one on the ground was injured or killed.
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Other Details (see link):
“The errors started at about 10:30 p.m. on Dec. 9, the Air Force reported. The B-52 was practicing a nuclear bombing run, flying at about 300 miles per hour and descending rapidly from 29,000 feet to 8,000 feet while banking steeply. The wings went past vertical.
Capt. Ronald Little, the navigator, feeling the strong acceleration forces, believed the plane was out of control. Without orders, he pushed the button of his ejector seat, which launched him out of the bottom of the plane.”
- “The resulting noise and decompression made the pilot, Capt. William Combs, think the plane was breaking up. He flipped a pair of switches that flashed red at each crew member’s station, ordering them to eject. “
- As the men ejected, Combs fought to regain control of the plane. Believing the bomber could not be saved, he ejected. (Combs was able to put the plane into level flight before ejecting.)
The bomber, which was on autopilot continued to fly and finally crashed in a rural area. “For about 20 minutes before the explosion, people . . . had been hearing the ominous drone of a low-flying aircraft circling.”
- “But after the Air Force investigated, it attributed the crash to a series of human errors. Nothing had been wrong with the plane.”
The Radar Operator — Major Karl Keyes:
“During his parachute jump, he had become snagged high in a tree in the wilderness near Mount Marcy. He had climbed down and hiked several hours out of the woods. . . . . A hundred miles to the west, at about 4 a.m., several hours after the crash, a bedraggled man in an Air Force uniform walked up to the Kenneth Benson Motel in North Hudson, New York. The man was perhaps holding his ribs, three of which were broken, and favoring one shoulder — he had broken his collarbone. He asked to use the phone to call his wife.
“Hello, dear, I’m back on the ground,” he told her.
Only after she asked when he would be home for breakfast did he mention that he had parachuted out of his bomber.”
Barre, Vermont Mayor: “Barre Mayor George Estivill understood how close a call it had been. From evidence at the crash site, it was clear that the gigantic B-52 – 153 feet long, with a 185-foot wingspan — had been spiraling down toward Barre and only seconds away, when it went down. He had his own theory about the cause of the near-miss. “(I)f there was no one aboard the plane, there was some greater being guiding it,” he said.
Key Biblical Concepts:
- mistakes / mistaken
- life & death decisions
- impacting others around
- human error
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Sermonic Example: There are at least four different ways  illustrations can be used.
In 1960, just over 60 years ago, an 8 man crew bailed out of a B-52 Stratofortress military aircraft. You have probably seen one of those airplanes with the wings drooping, slowly flying, looking like it was lumbering under the load. They are massive — with a 185 foot wingspan and over 150 feet long — a massive military bomber.
Now, there was no reason for the crew to bail out. The plane was on a training mission over Vermont and one member of the crew concluded that the aircraft was in serious trouble. He was the navigator aboard the airplane. Because the plane made a severe turn, a maneuver which created a long of G forces on the body, he thought that what he was feeling was the aircraft about to break up mid-air.
The navigator pushed his ejection button! Without any command or orders, he thought that his feelings were reason to eject!
That decision led to other actions. You see, his action of ejecting created a response by the captain and pilot of B-52 bomber. Now Captain William T. Combs, the pilot, thought that something was seriously wrong!
The navigator’s ejection, along with noise and decompression of the aircraft caused the Captain Combs to believe something serious was happening — which was actually not happening!
Captain Combs then orders all the crew members to eject! He levels out the aircraft as best he can, and then ejects himself.
All except one member of the crew followed those orders, the instructor pilot did not eject because he has no ejection seat equipped with a parachute. He only has a parachute.
But he is also confused as to why the captain and crew members have ejected from the airplane. Everything seems fine with the aircraft, and indeed it is. He is not able to control the aircraft from the cockpit because there are no seats — the seats went with the crew members.
After contacting command and informing them as to what has happened, he is told to set the autopilot for a rural area in the countryside and exit the aircraft — a perfectly good aircraft. He does that and parachutes out of the bomb bay doors — another whole story in itself!
You see, there was nothing wrong with the aircraft — someone believed there was something wrong — someone felt like there was something wrong. Someone did not wait for orders, was not commanded to eject, but ejected without orders. The person who was there to navigate — who was on board to keep the flight on course during this exercise — hit the eject button.
His actions lead to the pilot — who was managing the aircraft — who was in charge of those 8 crew members – to conclude that indeed something was wrong — but there was nothing wrong. A decision had been made on “feelings” and not facts and that decision lead to more mistakes. Nothing was wrong but someone thought there was
There is a crew member who realizes that there is nothing wrong with the aircraft, but even he has to bail out now because of a series of events that leave him helpless in landing the B-52 Stratofortress back at home base.
Today, your feelings can mislead you to think that there is something wrong with the plane that the Lord has you flying on — the is nothing wrong with the plane — but sometimes others on the flight traveling with you panic — even eject — and you are now unsure if you should also eject — and your decision as commander can and will impact others aboard. Even those who don’t think there is anything to be concerned about may have to ultimately jump — because everyone who is needed to land safely have ejected!
And it all started because of “feelings” — nothing wrong — but the feeling that something was wrong — but it wasn’t! Nothing was wrong, but someone thought there was and it started a series of events that caused others to question and jump. . . . . .
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Ohter Information & Links:
1. The fourth way is illustrated in this post link.
“I heard this firsthand from my uncle, Henry ‘Hank’ Luscomb. He was the instructor for the flight and was sitting in the jump seat behind the two pilots.
The reason the aircraft rolled over was the pilot blacked out, and without positive control input the aircraft entered a gentle slow roll. This initially went undetected by the rest of the crew, who were each performing their own chores. As the aircraft achieved a high angle of bank the rate of descent went over 2,000 feet per minute. The navigator has a duplicate set of flight instruments, but he is not in the cockpit. The Navigator suddenly noticed the high rate of descent on the VSI and misread his altimeter as 9,000 feet instead of 19,000 feet, and coupled with the descent rate thought impact was imminent. He ejected without discussion. The aircraft explosively decompressed, which brought the pilot to consciousness. The pilot, not realizing he had lost consciousness, thought the aircraft had suffered severe damage and ordered an all out evacuation. Major Luscomb tried to counter the ejection order, but was unsuccessful. The entire crew departed the aircraft, except Luscomb.
After discussion with Otis AFB Major Luscomb was instructed to bail out the bomb bay doors as all the ejection seats were gone. The aircraft was deemed unflyable with no seats in the cockpit. Luscomb trimmed the aircraft for a gentle descent, and bailed out the belly bomb bay, blacking out as soon as he hit the violent slipstream. He came to with his canopy deployed, descending at night over woods, and suffered minor injuries landing in the trees. As daylight broke, most of the crew walked out of the woods and made phone calls from the first house they came across.
Jeff Miller, nephew, ATP.”