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C-141 Tail Number:64-0641

While 66-0177 gets most of the glory (because it was the first C-141 into Hanoi), 64-0641, along with numerous others, participated in the return of American POWS from Hanoi. It made its trip to Hanoi on February 18th, 1973, bringing 20 POW's back to Clark. On February 23rd, 1973, it flew one POW from CLARK to the US. On March 14th, it flew another 40 POWS from Hanoi to Clark and on the 17th ifo:\141\dotcom\64\pic_64_0641.php flewo:\141\dotcom\64\pic_64_0641.php 20 POWS from Clark back to the US.

On 20 March, 1975, this aircraft crashed into a mountain range in northwest Washington after being mistakenly cleared to an unsafe altitude. The crew did not notice the air traffic controller's mistake, and 10 crew and 6 passengers were killed.

Newspaper Articles
  1. News Article-March 21st, 1975
  2. News Article-March 21st, 1975
  3. News Article-March 22nd, 1975

Returning to home station after a long overseas mission, 64-0641 was cleared for an enroute descent. During the descent, the air traffic controller confused call signs with another aircraft and cleared the StarLifter for a descent below minimum vectoring altitude. The aircraft crashed into Mt. Constance, with the loss of 10 crew members and 6 passengers.

At 2300 local time on 20 March, 1975, 40641 approached the stormy coast of Washington at FL370. The crew had already had a long duty day, having flown from Clark to Kadena, then Yokota, and finally home towards McChord. They had been up for more than 28 hours. The crew was tired and ready to be home. Ninety miles from McChord they were given a descent clearance to 15,000 feet, and given a frequency change. On the new frequency, they were given a clearance to 10,000 feet.

The Seattle Center controller was also controlling a Navy A-6 (Call sign "Navy V 28323") that was returning to NAS Whidbey, about 60 miles north of McChord. Still 60 miles from McChord, the C-141 reported level at 10,000. The controller directed "maintain five thousand". The C-141 responded "five thousand. MAC 40641 is out of ten".

A couple of minutes later, the A-6 pilot requested further descent. The controller, confused why the Navy jet hadn't yet descended, re-cleared him to 5000 feet.

About that time, the controller at Seattle Approach noticed that he could not find the C-141 on his radar scope, and contacted the original controller at Seattle Center. Repeated radio calls failed to raise 40641.

No one on the crew of three pilots and three navigators, including an examiner navigator had noticed the erroneous descent clearance below the minimum sector altitude or the unusually early descent. The C-141 had impacted the near vertical northwest face of Mt. Constance, on the east slope of the Olympic Mountains, 150 feet from the top of the 7743 feet peak.

There were no survivors.

This information was provided by Paul Hansen

I have a little bit more to add about this story...
Mike Novack

This is my perspective on this accident and 'flying tired' in general. If anyone else has a different view I'd love to post it here.

At the time of the KTCM accident in the Olympics I was assigned to McChord in the 8th MAS, the squadron to which these crew members were assigned. CINCMAC then had a decidedly SAC view of the world and decided that we should be operating in a hard-crew mode -- that is, a crew would be comprised of a pilot, co-pilot, nav, engineer[s] and loadmaster who flew together as a crew whenever possible. I think this was in response to the string of earlier accidents involving controlled flight into terrain. He evidently had the idea that if people knew each other better they'd be less likely to crash an airplane. (As a side note, there were lots of off-color jokes about hard-crews floating around; idle minds are fertile ground for this sort of thing.)

Prior to the hard-crew concept being implemented, crew scheduling was basically this: look on the list of crew-members and assemble one .. based on who was around at the time. It was a mix-and-match" approach made of interchangeable parts like a model A Ford was made when mass production really took off. This had worked for years, and I always viewed it as a testament to "standardization", consistent training practices, and checklists that it worked as well as it did.

However, as crew members we didn't know what to think about the new concept as most of us had never experienced anything like it. It was not a desparation move, but probably a rational attempt to address a problem that seemed to have no other immediate solution (other than TCAS, which was years away). Many hours of discussion about it ensued. My personal feeling, and those of many others, was that it could lead to dangerous shortcuts and expectations about what someone you knew well would do, as opposed to doing it per the book, the same way every time.

The crew that crashed in the Olympics was my assigned hard-crew. I had flown with them a few times as a crew in the months prior to this accident. As anyone whoever worked as a flight crew scheduler knew would be the case, vacations, medical care, training, personal emergencies, etc., meant that no hard-crew would actually ever fly as a complete unit very often in the real world. In this case, fortunately for me, I was unable to make the trip due to some dental work and was DNIF when my crew left McChord about 10 days earlier on this ill-fated trip.

You may not have heard about the big incident that happened after the crash but those of us who were there will never forget it (or at least a version of it). This is mine:

The day after the accident the commander of the 22nd AF from Travis was at McChord. All all the crew members who were not away from the base on a trip or leave were ordered to show up at the base theater. He briefly stated what was known about the accident. He read us the riot act about what crappy pilots and navigators we must be. When he asked if there were any questions someone stood up in the audience and asked him if he was aware of the duty day the crew had just experienced, which as noted in the accident summary above, was about 28 hours. From his initial recounting of the story it did not appear that he was at all aware of this aspect of the crash. The general exploded into a fit of rage, saying "You can't tell me we can't fly at night without running into terrain!" He was getting pretty hot. The deputy wing commander, who was on stage with the general and the wing commander, tried to calm everyone down by saying, quite respectfully, words to the effect of "General, I think you may have misunderstood the question". He proceeded to recount what they new about the crew's duty day at that point, finishing with "they must have been very tired".

Then a very bad thing happened: Just about everybody in the audience exploded into applause and even some cheering.

From there, it went down hill ... fast. The general glared at the wing commander and the deputy wing commander, and anyone else on stage, said the "briefing" was over, and stomped out.

The Wing Commander, who was left in the general's wake turbulence standing on the stage, took over. He told us all "That was the most disgusting display of professional ethics I have ever seen." Then he stomped out, the deputy wing commander tight on his heels.

For all of us peons it was quite a sight to see generals and colonels behaving so badly...we thought this only happened in the movies.

The meeting in the theather happened on a Friday, the day after the crash. I'm sure there was a lot that transpired in the Wing Commander's office in the hour after that assembly at the theater, but of course none of us knew about any of that. All we knew was that by Monday, the deputy wing commander was gone. He was banished to Minot ... and a couple of years later was assigned to the embassy in Tehran, where he was taken hostage (1979) and eventually came back a hero.

About 3 or 4 days after the crash I was off DNIF status and flying again. As we flew out on a trip to Elmendorf, heading over the Olympic Mountains from McChord towards Neah Bay, more or less the exact reverse of the route of the plane that crashed, we could still hear the ELT beacon from that aircraft on guard channel (we had to turn it off until we were out of range). These were our friends. It was not a good way to start our trip.

A year or so later I upgraded to A/C, and year or so after that was scheduled to participate in one of the big exercises in Europe. I had been working a straight 8-5 shift in the office all week. As usual, our departure time was 0300 or some equally ridiculous hour and I had great difficulty getting any decent sleep during the day before the trip, and was alerted and reported for duty at about 1 am. I already felt like crap at that point. We were supposed to fly to Goose Bay or somewhere up there, wait on the ground for a couple of hours and then proceed on to Europe. I looked at the flight plan.

I don't recall my flight training ever including a section on philosophy, but I had developed one of my own. Of course, you always looked at fuel, weather, alternates, NOTAMS, etc. But my "flight planning philosophy" also included trying to determine what condition I expected myself and the crew, (and especially the pilots), to be in at the final destination, in this case about 16 hours from our initial departure. I did some quick math .. by the time we were scheduled to be in Europe I would have been up, as would most of the rest of the crew, except maybe the loadmaster, for about 24-30 hours without any decent sleep. We were not an augmented crew.

I talked to the nav and co-pilot and asked them what they thought. I made a decision and when I checked in at the command post at McChord before heading out to the plane I told the duty controller, "I'm going to take the flight to our intermediate stop, but when we get there, we will be too tired to proceed safely on the final leg of this trip, so I'm going to declare crew rest in the interest of flying safety when we get to our first stop." Not being a big-picture sort of guy (or maybe just stupid), I thought I was doing them a favor. They would have about 6 hours to plan for it.

He went nuts and called my squadron commander at 2 am and handed me the phone. He, in turn, asked me "What the hell are you thinking? You can't possibly know how you'll feel 7 hours from now." "Yes I can", I responded. "I've only been doing this for 5 years but I know EXCATLY how I'll feel! Seven hours more tired than I do now. With the prospect of another 7 hour flight across the NAT tracks into the sunrise, and into European airspace." He told me to keep my mouth shut until we got there, THEN declare crew rest. He'd save his real chewing out for later.

So, as directed, about 1 hour out, having already been up about 16 hours, even though our official duty time was then only about 6 or 7 hours, I called the command post and told them of my decision. I don't know if they have been given a heads up or not, but they said OK, a fresh crew was staged and would pick up the plane. We went into crew rest.

Shortly after I arrived at the BOQ, I got a call from some colonel at 21st AF HQ who said I had pissed him off, and "if you don't want to fly in 21st airspace, that's just fine. You won't!". I was a Captain .. he was a full bird .. so I didn't argue.

We were effectively grounded, though they would not actually say that. They punished us by putting us on a continuous alert for about 2 days, and finally had a west-bound crew pick us up and deadhead us home. The crew that picked us up was a McChord reserve crew..they seemed to know all about this whole thing and said it was "the talk of the system". We stopped at Scott to drop somebody off and were then to proceed home to McChord.

A MAC HQ Flight Examiner jumped on, and told me to get in the pilot's seat. I was about to get a "no-notice" flight evaluation. I passed. After the flight evaluation debriefing was completed back at McChord, he asked me about what happened. I told him. He said that I had done the right thing.

So what exactly was the message to a young A/C here? I never could figure it out then, and to this day, about 30 years later, still don't know. Over the brief six years I flew C-141's, I flew too tired too many times to remember. Once, flying between Clark and Guam I woke up in the pilot's seat and looked around the cockpit. EVERYONE else was snoozing. We were not at war with anybody then. To me, it seemed like a very stupid thing to risk lives of crew and passengers needlessly when the solution was simple: get some decent crew rest if you can figure out how. If that meant having to declare crew rest in the interest of flying safety, so be it. I only did it once (and the consequences are detailed above), but I don't think it happened often enough.

With the modifications to the C-141 that came in later years, (in-flight refueling) and the pressures of several wars, I am quite sure that this problem only became worse. Perhaps the adrenalin (or maybe 'go-pills') that comes with a "cause" (like a war, or med-evac flight, or humanitarian relief) compensates in some small way. Flying a load of empty pallets back stateside did not seem like a worthy enough cause to take the risk.

Mike Novack

Saturday, November 27 2004 (07:19 AM): I received this additional information from Les Crosby:

I was in the Air Force from 1968 to 1976 stationed at McChord AFB, Washington. 64-0641 had been there two years prior to my arrival. I worked on the flightline my entire time and worked on almost every C-141 assigned to the base and quite a few transiting through going overseas, either going to Viet Nam, Japan or Germany. I enjoyed working on the C-141's (even the hangar queens).

Here are some pictures of the recovered wreckage of 64-0641. Ironically, I and a group of other mechanics took off all the leading edge panels on the left wing so the wiring for the crash position indicator could be replaced just prior to its last flight. The crash wreckage was taken to the Coast Guard station at Port Angeles, Washington. One of my friends was part of the recovery team and I went up there and took the pictures in May 1975. You have my permission to use the pictures on your website. I know it's sad to see 40641 this way and the loss of the 13 people on board but it's part of the history of the C-141.

As a side note 64-0641 participated return of our prisoners from Hanoi. At the time I took the pictures you could still see remnants of the Red Cross on the tail.

Saturday, December 31, 2005 04:00 pm: I received these comments from Al Hurst, a former simulator instructor at KTCM:

I really appreciate the effort you have gone to in memorializing a great airplane. Thank you a lot.

I read Mike Novack's account of 40641 and would like to add a few comments of my own.

I had intended to ride home on 641 that night. I was close to retirement (an euphemism for getting rid of the Christmas help), and thus was grounded in January of 1975. As a simulator instructor pilot, I still had "jump" orders so I took one last sort of nostalgic trip to the Pacific.

Our crew and that of 641 had identical frags: KTCM to KHIK, crew rest, then to RPMK for a 24 hour crew rest, then to RJTY and home. I planned to jump ship in Yokota and talked with the A/C of 641 shortly after they blocked in at Clark. No problem, they said, so that was the plan.

Our crew rest at Clark was terrible. We arrived about 1800 hours local and tried to manage our sleep schedule. We talked it over and decided to stay up as late as possible so as to extend out sleeping into the daytime. Didn't work. By 2200 the last guy had faded and was fast asleep. We awoke about 0700, had breakfast at the club (me with the examiner navigator who died in 641 - good friend of mine), then hit the BX. The usual stuff.

Early in the afternoon we all tried to sleep, but with the heat and noise it was impossible. Finally we were alerted and set sail for Yokota. Nearing Yokota, the A/C said how tired he was already and what it would be like 11 or so hours later. Everyone agreed that crew rest in the interest of flying safety was the best option.

The duty officer was not amused. After some discussion during which our A/C remained steadfast with the decision, the duty officer leaned forward and said something to the effect of: "Captain, you are making a big mistake!"

The A/C said: "Sir, if I make a mistake it is because my judgment is impaired by fatigue."

So, we took 15, I got my shopping done (which was the real reason for the trip, truth to tell), and decided not to wait for 641. Our trip home was uneventful.

Approaching McChord, I was in the jump seat when we were cleared from 14,000 to 10,000. We discussed it and agreed that 10 was safe since the highest peak was Mount Olympus at a shade under 8,000. Although I don't remember any of the rest of the flight, for some reason, that passage stuck with me with great clarity, probably because of what happened to 641. What great events or non-events hang by such slender threads.

Al Hurst

Bryan McPhee, a former C-141 navigator, submitted a copy of an MAC Flyer magazine article from October of 1977. The topic was a fatigue study being performed (this one using C-5 crews) and it promised that the results would be published when they were available. As of 1/24/2006, all we have is the initial article.

If anyone has a copy of the results of the study, that would be a great addition to this 'teaser' article. They suggested it might be published in the January or Feburary 1978 issue.

This note was sent in by Ray Romero in September 2006.

To this day I still believe that I was in some way remotely involved with the events that happened that fateful day.

I was onboard Navy C-1A BuNo. 146041 preparing to land at King County Airport in Seattle.
For us Non-Navy Types:Here's what a C-1A looks like

Our pilot kept asking control if that call was for him, as you will notice the similarities in call numbers. To this day I am certain that not only we were confused by that similarity but the crew of 0641 as well.

I remember later on in the evening at home listening to the news about the crash of the Starlifter in the Olympics. Further reports at the Air Station in Whidbey Island confirmed my nagging suspicions that it was the aircraft that was airborne at the same time we were in that vicinity.

Warm regards,

Ray Romero
Mangaf, Kuwait

This note was sent in by Al Brewer on March 1, 2007:

Reflections on the Crew Duty Day

The MATS system in the piston engine and turbo prop days is different from the MAC system transited with turbine power. There are far fewer legs that demand the extended crew duty day. But to provide the flexibility to be able to operate throughout the world with political constraints, weather, or other factors requiring extended duty days, the entire system must be trained to accommodate such methodology. This would require routine extended duty day missions. The crew managers must design crews with the proper experience. The crews must be prepared to cope. The aircraft commanders must not be chastised when calling a halt whenever the crew's capability is exceeded. The intense "on time departure" pressure prevalent within the command can compromise this responsibility.

Operating extended duty days just to be operating extended duty days is ill advised. For the purpose of training the system to be able to do so is logical; for the purpose of extending airframe utilization rates when faced with airframe shortages in a contingency is a HQ AMC decision with which the system should be able to cope.

MATS had accidents. Aircraft ditched, aircraft were flown into the terrain, aircraft stalled, spun, and crashed. Most of these were the result of the equipment involved which was far less capable than the interim modernization aircraft (C-130 and C-135) or the modern turbine aircraft. The usual crew duty day for the crews operating these earlier aircraft was the extended crew duty day. I do not recall the crew duty day as being listed as a causatory factor in these accidents. The longer crew duty day, twenty-seven hours from the time the crew reported for duty, was routine and accepted.

The airlift system can be managed to conserve the number of crews utilized, to conserve the number of airframes utilized, to expedite the crew cycle through the system, even to reduce cargo hold time in the aerial ports. In the time frame of the McChord accident, the driving factor was a lack of airframes to meet requirements. Relatively, there were plenty of aircrews. With airframes as the driving factor, the airlift system was managed to cycle airframes through the system as quickly as possible. The tools to do this are staging the crews to keep the aircraft moving and to utilize extended crew duty days to eliminate enroute stops.

These parameters shift from time to time. In 1977 the driving factor had become the crew. The C-141 system shifted to more crews keeping their airplanes as they transited the system. On occasion an airframe type would be managed differently within the system. The C-133 from about 1966 on was managed with the crews keeping their airplanes to increase mission reliability. The C-5 was so managed at times.

I believe there are sound reasons to operate some extended duty day missions in a peacetime environment. Add to that the requirement to practice the contingency mission somewhere in the system and even areas normally operating only "peacetime missions" may have to stretch. In view of the historical ability to operate extended crew duty days and thus increase utilization and deliver greater capability, the senior leadership of the command would be in an untenable position if the airlift capability that could have been delivered were not.

The crew force, their managers, the support system, all must be capable of operating using an extended crew duty day. The brunt of the load as usual is on the crew.

Al Brewer

I never thought of the long days as a "training experience" but I suppose Al makes a good point ... you have to flex the whole system to see where it breaks. It was never explained to me (or any other crew member that I knew) that way when I was flying the line back in the mid-70's.

However, it seems like you could "practice" staying awake while sitting on a bar stool. They could have given "check rides" and if you fell off (I have many times) you'd only fall a few feet instead of crashing into a mountain! Of course, then you'd get busted and have to "practice" some more.

Mike Novack

This article made possible by: The State of Washington Washington State Department of Archeology and Historic Preservation You can see the original page at this link

HistoryLink File #8562

U.S. Air Force C-141A Starlifter crashes into Mount Constance, on the Olympic Peninsula, killing 16 servicemen, on March 20, 1975.

On the night of March 20, 1975, a U.S. Air Force C-141A Starlifter, returning to McChord Air Force Base from the Philippines via Japan with 16 servicemen aboard, is flying southbound over the Olympic Mountains. A Federal Aviation Administration air traffic controller, nearing the end of his shift, mistakes the Starlifter for a northbound Navy A-6 Intruder, on approach to Whidby Island Naval Air Station, and directs the pilot to drop altitude to 5,000 feet. Complying with the incorrect order, the C-141A crashes into Warrior Peak on the northwest face of Inner Mount Constance in the Olympic National Park, killing all onboard. Attempts are made to recover victims, but due to inclement weather and dangerous snow conditions, 15 of them will not be recovered until springtime. In terms of loss of life, it is the biggest tragedy ever to occur in the Olympic Mountains.

The Aircraft

The Lockheed C-141A Starlifter was introduced in 1963 to replace slower propeller-driven cargo planes such as the Douglas-C-124A Globemaster II. It was the first jet specifically designed for the military as a strategic, all-purpose transport aircraft. The Starlifter, a large aircraft, 145 feet long with a 160-foot wingspan, was powered by four Pratt & Whitney jet engines. Its shoulder-mounted wings and rear clamshell-type loading doors gave easy access to an unobstructed cargo hold, measuring nine feet high, 10 feet wide and 70 feet long.

At a cruising speed of 566 m.p.h., the plane was capable of carrying more than 30 tons of cargo approximately 2,170 miles without refueling. When configured for passengers, the C-141A could accommodate 138 passengers.

On Thursday, March 20, 1975, U. S. Air Force C-141A, No. 64-0641, under the command of First Lieutenant Earl R. Evans, 62nd Airlift Wing, was returning to McChord Air Force Base (AFB) from Clark AFB, Philippines, with en route stops at Kadena Air Base, Okinawa, and Yokota Air Base, Japan. The plane was due to arrive at McChord at 11:15 p.m. Flown by the Air Force Military Airlift Command (MAC), Starlifters normally carried a six-man crew consisting of two pilots, two flight engineers, one navigator, and one loadmaster. But on March 20, because of a grueling, 20-hour flight from the Philippine Islands, the C-141A was carrying four extra relief crew members. In addition, the plane was transporting six U.S. Navy sailors as passengers, heading to new ship assignments.

The Mishap

At 10:45 p.m., while over the Olympic Peninsula, approximately 90 miles from McChord AFB, the Federal Aviation Administration's (FAA) Seattle Air Traffic Control (ATC) Center gave the pilot clearance to descend from Flight Level 370 to 15,000 feet. Several minutes later, approach control at Seattle Center cleared the plane to descend to 10,000 feet.

The last radio message was received at approximately 11:00 p.m. when the pilot acknowledged authorization from approach control to descend to 5,000 feet. Five minutes later, the C-141A disappeared from the radar screen.

Attempts to Search and Rescue

Besides being nighttime, weather conditions in the Puget Sound area were extreme, with high winds, snow, freezing rain, a low cloud cover, and a only a quarter-mile visibility. McChord immediately put rescue helicopters and an Air Force Disaster Preparedness Team on alert, awaiting break in the weather. Coast Guard Air Station, Port Angeles, became base-of-operations for the impending search-and-rescue effort. Shortly after the plane's disappearance, some 120 mountaineers from the Seattle, Everett, Tacoma, and Olympic Mountain Rescue Units and several military helicopters assembled there, awaiting orders.

At 2:45 a.m. on Friday, an Air Force Lockheed C-130 Hercules from McClellan AFB, California, flying at 30,000 feet, reported a rough "fix" on the Starlifter's crash-locator beacon, in the mountains approximately 12 miles southwest of Quilcene in Jefferson County. Ground parties were flown by helicopter to Quilcene, prepared to hike to the crash site, but they needed the location pinpointed because of the rugged terrain and winter weather. Lieutenant Robert Herold, a helicopter pilot from Coast Guard Air Station, Port Angeles, established the exact location of the signal by triangulation several hours before weather allowed the wreckage to be spotted from the air. It had crashed into the northwest face of Mount Constance (7,756 feet), just inside the eastern border of Olympic National Park.

Bad weather continued to plague aerial search operations throughout Friday. Finally, at about 4:20 p.m., after searching sporadically for eight hours, an Army Bell UH-1 Iroquois helicopter from Fort Lewis spotted the wreckage. The pilot, Warrant Officer Edward G. Cleves, and his observer, U.S. Forest Service Ranger Kenneth White, reported the plane appeared to have impacted at about the 6,000-foot level of jagged Warrior Peak (7,310 feet), then slid down the mountainside. They reported seeing the tail section, a large piece of the fuselage and part of a wing at the 5,000-foot level in a canyon above Home Lake, the headwaters of the Dungeness River, and debris scattered over a wide area on the steep slope. The helicopter made three passes over the area, but neither Cleves nor White spotted any bodies or signs of life. Because there were deep fractures in the snow above the wreckage, White reckoned an avalanche would soon bury the crash site until spring.

On Saturday morning there was a break in the weather. Army helicopters dropped explosive charges at various locations on the steep slopes surrounding the wreckage to diminish the avalanche hazard. Then, two Army Boeing-Vertol CH-47 Chinook helicopters ferried several rescue teams onto the mountain to search the ridges and ravines for possible survivors. They were also hoping to find the aircraft's flight data recorder, which might provide clues to the cause of the crash, but much of the wreckage and debris had already been covered by snowfall. Forced out by a new storm, the searchers left the site that afternoon without finding any bodies on the mountainside.

On Sunday and Monday, poor flying conditions in the Olympics hampered efforts to search the Mount Constance crash site for survivors and the flight data recorder. Mountain-rescue experts conceded, however, there was no doubt all 16 persons aboard the Starlifter were dead.

A Regrettable Human Error

Meanwhile, at McChord AFB, an investigations board, consisting of eight Air Force officers and four National Transportation Safety Board (NTSB) officials, headed by Major General Ralph Saunders, was convened to determine the official cause of the tragedy. Of particular interest were radio communications between the C-141A and Seattle Center, minutes before the crash.

On Monday morning, March 24, the FAA announced that a "regrettable human error" by a Seattle Center air traffic controller was believed responsible for the loss of the Starlifter. Tape recordings of the radio transmissions revealed that the controller had confused the southbound Air Force C-141A with a northbound Navy A-6 Intruder that had been flying at the same altitude, en route from Pendleton, Oregon, to Whidby Island Naval Air Station. The controller intended to instruct "Navy 28323" to descend from 10,000 feet to 5,000 feet, but inadvertently gave the order to "MAC 40641," flying over the Olympic Mountains. The Starlifter's pilot responded: "Five thousand -- four zero six four one is out of 10." Still approximately 60 miles northwest of McChord AFB, the pilot started to descend and struck a ridge near the top of Mount Constance. The error was discovered when the tapes were played, an hour after Starlifter had gone missing. The controller, in a state-of-shock, was relieved of his duties and placed under a doctor's care.

Finding the First Body

Meanwhile, a 10-man search team from Olympic Mountain Rescue (OMR) and the National Park Service, airlifted to the crash site, discovered the forward fuselage section and the remains of Lieutenant Colonel Richard B. Thornton, the aircraft's navigator, while searching at about 7,000 feet, well above the suspected impact level. Late in the afternoon, David W. Sicks, team leader and OMR's chairman, decided to abandon a further search of the area as deteriorating weather threatened their air support. The searchers spent the night at a base camp they had established earlier at the 5,000-foot level.

On Tuesday, March 25, the morning was clear but the temperature was 10 degrees Fahrenheit and there was a strong 20-knot wind blowing. Snow conditions were becoming unstable, cornices were building, and there was an avalanche nearby. Rescuers recovered the body from a stash site and then were flown from the mountain by helicopter just as visibility began to drop. Although the team was prepared to stay for two days, Sicks estimated it would have taken that long to make the 10-mile trek on winter trails under impossible weather conditions to reach the Dungeness River Road, the only safe exit route.

On Tuesday afternoon, over 800 persons gathered at the McChord base theater for two separate memorial services held to honor the 10 airmen and six sailors who perished in the Starlifter accident.

Difficult Conditions

In addition to the volatile spring weather, there had been two minor avalanches at the crash site while the Olympic Mountain Rescue team was there. Olympic National Park's Chief Ranger, Gordon Boyd, said: "It is extremely steep, hazardous terrain, not only because of avalanche dangers, but because of ice and rotten rock" (Seattle Post-Intelligencer). Due to the risk involved, the Air Force postponed further efforts at recovery until after the spring thaw. Boyd said park rangers would monitor conditions around Mount Constance and advise the Air Force when it was safe to allow search parties back into the area. Snow on the mountain was reported to be over 15 feet deep and unstable.

On Friday, May 16, 1975, Captain Douglas McLarty, McChord AFB Public Information Officer, announced that, due to above-average spring temperatures, the wreckage of the Starlifter was beginning to emerge from the snow. A team of two Air Force pararescue specialists and two Olympic National Park Service rangers had been camping on Mount Constance, at the 5,000-foot level, monitoring snow conditions and protecting the integrity of the crash site from interlopers. While there, the men found the body of Airman First Class Robert D. Gaskin, the first since March 24. And on May 29, the team discovered the remains to two more victims, whose bodies were airlifted to McChord AFB for identification.

Finding More Bodies

On Monday, June 2, the official probe into the Starlifter crash was finally officially reopened. Teams of Air Force crash investigators and pararescue climbers were airlifted into the area and set up a base camp at the 5,500-foot level of Mount Constance. The following day, search teams, probing the snow with 10-foot rods, found five more bodies before high winds and a snow storm forced the temporary shutdown of recovery operations.

Although unpredictable spring weather and occasional avalanches continued to hamper recovery efforts, the investigators and search teams made steady progress. The Starlifter's cockpit and a section of the fuselage, containing several bodies, had been sighted in a snow-filled crevasse approximately 400 feet below the crest of Warrior Peak. The elusive flight data recorder was recovered late Thursday, June 12, and sent to the NTSB in Washington D.C. for evaluation.

On Monday, June 16, Major General Ralph Saunders, commander of the Aerospace Rescue and Recovery Service and president of the investigations board, announced the Air Force had concluded its investigation into the crash of the Starlifter. The last two bodies had been found and removed from the crash site over the weekend and all the victims were accounted for.

Over the next several days, Air Force personnel, Olympic Mountain Rescue members and Forest Service and National Park Service rangers set about the daunting task of cleaning up the crash site. Army CH-47 Chinook helicopters lifted the large pieces of the aircraft from mountainside, while smaller pieces of debris were collected in cargo nets and flown out. The wreckage was airlifted to the Coast Guard Air Station in Port Angeles and then trucked to McChord AFB for further study and disposal.

Bad Luck, Fatigue, and Inexperience

Although it was clear that the Starlifter's collision with Mount Constance was the direct result of an incorrect order from the FAA air traffic controller, critics believed other factors could have contributed to the tragedy, including bad luck. Had the aircraft been on a slightly different course or 500 feet higher, it would have missed Mount Constance, the third highest peak in the Olympic Mountain Range. Air Force C-141As were equipped with radar altimeters that should alert the crew when the aircraft falls below a "minimum descent altitude." However, bad weather, particularly snow, could have rendered the equipment useless.

Crew fatigue was also believed to be a factor contributing to the accident. Although augmented with an extra pilot and navigator, the crew was at the end of a grueling 20-hour day and became complacent, choosing not to challenge the air traffic controller's direction to descend to 5,000 feet while flying over a range of mountains. En route Low-Altitude Flight Charts, which the pilot uses while flying IFR (instrument flight rules) don't show terrain heights, but the navigator has access to Tactical Pilotage Charts that do. The pilot should have followed MAC procedures and checked the terrain before accepting the instruction.

The Starlifter's flight crew, although qualified, was supposedly inexperienced, having fewer than the 1,500 hours of flight time the Air Force considered to be a desirable minimum. As part of Defense Department budget cuts, the Air Force Military Airlift Command had furloughed 25 percent of its most experienced C-141 pilots since January 1975. Forty-four experienced C-141 pilots (18 per cent), assigned to McChord's 62nd Airlift Wing, had been removed from flight status. As a result, the younger and less-experienced pilots and crew were overworked and under-trained.

In terms of loss of life, the crash of the Air Force C-141A Starlifter remains the biggest tragedy ever to occur in the Olympic Mountains.

U. S. Air Force Casualties:

Arensman, Harold D., 25, Second Lieutenant, Irving Texas (copilot)
Arnold, Peter J., 25, Staff Sergeant, Rochester, New York (loadmaster)
Burns, Ralph W., Jr., 42, Lieutenant Colonel, Aiken, South Carolina (navigator)
Campton, James R., 45, Technical Sergeant, Aberdeen, South Dakota (flight engineer)
Evans, Earl R., 28, First Lieutenant, Houston, Texas (commander/pilot)
Eve, Frank A.,, 27, Captain, Dallas, Texas (copilot)
Gaskin, Robert D., 21, Airman First Class, Fremont, Nebraska (loadmaster)
Thornton, Richard B., 40, Lieutenant Colonel, Sherman, Texas (navigator)
McGarry, Robert G., 37, Master Sergeant, Shrewsbury, Missouri (flight engineer)
Lee, Stanley Y., 25, First Lieutenant, Oakland, California (navigator)

U. S. Navy Casualties:

Dickson, Donald R., Seaman, Tempe, Arizona (USS Dubuque)
Eves, John, Third Class Petty Officer, Ridgewood, New Jersey (USS Dubuque)
Fleming, Samuel E., Chief Warrant Officer, Alameda, California (USS Coral Sea)
Howard, Terry Wayne, Third Class Petty Officer, Sylmar, California (USS Dubuque)
Raymond, William M., First Class Petty Officer, Seattle, Washington (USS Coral Sea)
Uptegrove, Edwin Wayne, 35, Lieutenant, Coupeville, Washington (USS Coral Sea)


David Gero Military Aviation Disasters: Significant Loses Since 1908 (Sparkford, England: Patrick Stephens, Ltd., 1999), 116;
Al Watts
Wayne Jacobi
S. L. Sanger
No Sign of Life at Scene Seattle Post-Intelligencer, March 22, 1975, p. A-1;
Jack Wilkins
Wayne Jacobi
Storm Halts Search at AF Plane Crash Site Seattle Post-Intelligencer March 23, 1975, p. A-3;
Martin Works Weather Slows Crash Search Seattle Post-Intelligencer March 24, 1975, p. A-3;
Al Watts Death of a Jet Seattle Post-Intelligencer March 25, 1975, p. A-1;
Al Watts C141 Flight Crew's Actions Probed Seattle Post-Intelligencer March 26, 1975, p. A-3;
Wayne Jacobi Body of Crash Victim Found Seattle Post-Intelligencer March 26, 1975, p. A-3;
Al Watts Jet Missed Clearing Peak by Less Than 500 Feet Seattle Post-Intelligencer March 27, 1975, p. A-8;
Weary Crew May Have Partly Caused Fatal AF Jet Crash Seattle Post-Intelligencer March 28, 1975, p. A-3;
Al Watts Crew of Crashed Plane 'Weary, Inexperienced' Seattle Post-Intelligencer March 29, 1975, p. A-3;
Dick Clever Did Air-Pressure Rule Affect Doomed Crew? Seattle Post-Intelligencer March 30, 1975, p. A-1;
C-141 Wreckage Beginning to Emerge Seattle Post-Intelligencer May 17, 1975, p. A-3;
Two More Air Crash Bodies Recovered Seattle Post-Intelligencer May 30, 1975, p. A-3;
Crash Investigators Set Up Base Camp Seattle Post-Intelligencer June 3, 1975, p. A-3;
Weather Shuts Down Crash Investigation Seattle Post-Intelligencer June 4, 1975, p. A-3;
C-141 Crash Victim Identified Seattle Post-Intelligencer June 5, 1975, p. A-3;
Wayne Jacobi Hazards Plague Body Removal Seattle Post-Intelligencer June 11, 1975, p. A-3;
Flight recorder Recovered from Fatal Crash Site Seattle Post-Intelligencer June 13, 1975, p. A-3;
Air Force Concludes Probe of C-141 Crash Seattle Post-Intelligencer June 17, 1975, p. A-3;
Svein Gilje McChord Plane, 16 Aboard, Crashes The Seattle Times Tuesday, March 21, 1975, p. A-1;
Svein Gilje No Survivors in C-141 Plane Crash The Seattle Times March 22, 1975, p. A-1;
Plane Occupants Identified The Seattle Times March 22, 1975, p. A-3;
Weather Halts Recovery of Plane Victims The Seattle Times March 23, 1975, p. A-7;
Wrong Orders May Have Doomed Jet The Seattle Times March 24, 1975, p. A-1;
John Wilson Fatal Message: Maintain 5,000 The Seattle Times March 25, 1975, p. A-7;
Body found at Site of Air Crash The Seattle Times March 26, 1975, p. A-4;
Svein Gilje General's Remarks on Jet Crash Stir Furor at McChord The Seattle Times March 28, 1975, p. A-1;
Colonel Rumored 'Fired' in Clash Over Jet Crew's Rest The Seattle Times March 28, 1975, p. A-3;
Flight Recorder Found At Last The Seattle Times June 13, 1975, p. A-3;
Probe of Air Crash Finished The Seattle Times June 17, 1975, p. A-3;
ASN Aircraft Accident Description Lockheed C-141A-20-LM Starlifter 64-0641 Seattle, WA Aviation Safety Network website accessed December 2007 (http://aviation-safety.net/database);
Accident Details: March 20, 1975 Planecrashinfo.com website accessed December 2007

This image (by "Animal" [ Kevin Koski ] ) was found on a web site devoted to mountain climbing in the great Pacific Northwest ( Cascade Climbers ).
The folks lurking around that site know some of the Olympic Mtn Rescue folks who were involved in the recovery operations. The tall peak on the far right (Warrior Peak) was been renamed C-141 Peak in honor of the crew. According to some comments left on the site, ."The plane however went into the side of Pyramid peak, which is at the upper left of the big headwall with the snowfinger going to its middle base. The recovery team went to the base of Pyramid by going up the long snowfinger and then up the finger to the left."