Sunday, August 18, 1996
Dyess C-130 crashes; no survivors By
ROY A. JONES II
A Dyess Air Force Base C-130 cargo plane carrying gear for President
Clinton crashed into a Wyoming mountain peak late Saturday, killing
all aboard - eight Dyess crewman and a Secret Service passenger.
Late Sunday afternoon somber Dyess officials completed the task
of notifying next-of-kin, then released the names of the Dyess
victims. They were:
- Capt. Kevin N. Earnest
- Capt. Kimberly Jo Wielhouwer
- 2nd Lt. Benjamin T. Hall
- Staff Sgt. Michael J. Smith Jr.
- Staff Sgt. Michael R. York
- Senior Airman Ricky L. Merritt
- Senior Airman Billy R. Ogston
- Airman Thomas A. Stevens
Six of the eight victims have families in the Abilene area, and
two are single, one source close to Dyess said.
Other information - such as ages, hometowns, family, and crew
positions - was not available Sunday.
The Secret Service later identified the ninth victim as Agent
Aldo E. Frascoia, 57, of Washington, D.C.
The agent was accompanying the equipment the Dyess plane was ferrying
from Jackson, Wyo., where the first family had been vacationing,
to New York City for the president's 50th birthday celebration.
There was no immediate description of the plane's cargo, except
that at least one motor vehicle was aboard, said Capt. Nomi Russi,
chief of public affairs at Dyess. An initial report that the vehicle
was the presidential limousine was incorrect, officials said.
The four-engine, turbo-prop plane crashed in the Gros Ventre Wilderness
about 15 miles southeast of the Jackson Hole Airport, along the
northwestern edge of Wyoming and about 30 miles south of Yellowstone
The small public airport has no control tower and no radio contact
with airplanes coming in and out.
It took recovery teams three to four hours on horseback and foot
to reach the site of the crash - in mountainous terrain so rugged
that a civilian plane that crashed near the same location in 1991
wasn't found until last summer - and where a military plane crash
from World War II was not located for decades.
"At this point, within a few hours to a couple of days, you're
just not going to know right away what actually happened,"
Russi said. "A board of officers is en route and will investigate
it - a very, very thorough investigation. Hopefully the answer
will come to fruition that way."
The plane was equipped with voice and cockpit data recorders.
There was no word initially if the so called "black boxes"
have been recovered.
Dyess officials do know that the crew answered the call for presidential
support - a routine assignment - and left Dyess at 6:40 p.m. CDT
Saturday. The plane belonged to the 40th Airlift Squadron, but
the crew was a mix of 40th and 39th Airlift Squadron personnel,
The plane arrived at the small Jackson Hole Airport at 10:05 p.m.
CDT and was on the ground for about an hour and 40 minutes, refueling
and loading the presidential gear, Brig. Gen. Larry Northington,
7th Wing commander said.
He said he was told the aircraft took off at 11:45 p.m. CDT and
crashed three minutes later.
The operations manager of Jackson Hole Aviation said the plane
was loaded with about 35,000 pounds of fuel. Witnesses said the
explosion when the plane hit produced a giant fireball and a mushroom-shaped
cloud. The wreckage was still smoldering when would-be rescuers
reached the scene three to four hours later, and they could locate
no survivors, officials said.
Clinton, who had been vacationing in the Jackson Hole area, had
left before the crash and returned to Washington early Sunday.
Northington said the president telephoned him Sunday to express
his condolences to the family and friends of the Dyess victims.
He said the president said he and the First Lady were "very
saddened and shocked" by the crash and that it was "especially
painful to him because they worked for me and did an invaluable
"He was very cordial and compassionate, very concerned,"
A Clinton administration official said the pilot reported mechanical
trouble and had started to return to the airport. But Northington
and others cautioned against speculating on why the plane went
In fact, Air Force officials questioned the source of the mechanical
trouble call since there was no radio operator at the Jackson
Hole Airport to report to.
"Whether they flew into the mountain or lost control for
some aircraft reason, we don't know," said Jeff Brown, president
of Jackson Hole Aviation, the airport's fixed base operator. "It
could have been an in-flight shift of cargo or who knows, engine
failure, the whole gambit."
Brown also said officials did not know whether the plane was off
course. He said nobody had the plane on radar, but that they don't
usually pick up planes on radar below 13,000 feet. The plane apparently
crashed before reaching that altitude, probably at closer to 10,000
"No one I know of received any distress calls," Brown
said. He added, "This territory around here is treacherous.
You've got to follow the instrument procedures by the letter or
you'll get in trouble."
Keith Benefiel of the Teton County Search and Rescue Team said
the only pieces of the plane left intact were a piece of the tail
section and several wheels.
The plane slammed into Sheep Mountain, known locally as Sleeping
Indian Mountain, in the Gros Ventre Wilderness of the Bridger-Teton
National Forest. The crash site was less than 1,000 feet below
the mountain's 11,300-foot peak.
Although the plane exploded in a massive fireball that was visible
for at least 20 miles, there was no forest fire because the crash
site was in rocks above the timberline, officials said. Still,
the area was too rugged for helicopters to land nearby.
In an initial report on CNN, a reporter carefully explained the
quote he attributed to a Japanese tourist who witnessed the crash.
In an unfortunate choice of words the visitor described the fireball
Anne Skov, who lives near the crash scene, said she watched the
plane from her front window.
"It was way too low," she said. "After I saw it,
someone called and asked if we were all right and that there was
a plane crash. I said, 'Oh, my God - I saw the plane.' "
Some witnesses reported lightning strikes around the time of the
plane crash. Lightning raced across the sky some five hours earlier,
when the president left Jackson by helicopter.
It is unknown if weather played a role in the crash, Northington
said. Lightning was involved in the only Dyess C-130 crash which
took more Dyess crew lives than Saturday's crash - the 1982 crash
of a Dyess plane in Turkey. Nine crewmen perished in that crash,
along with 18 passengers.
The Jackson Hole Airport is located within the Grand Teton National
Park, the nation's only airport inside a national park. Dr. Jesse
Fletcher, vice president of the Abilene Chamber of Commerce's
Military Affairs Committee and chancellor of Hardin-Simmons University,
said he flew a private plane in and out of the airport several
times when he was with the Southern Baptist Foreign Mission Board,
and that it was "challenging" because of the surrounding,
mountainous terrain, small runways, and lack of radio control.
A spokesman for the Secret Service said the agent killed was a
"physical securities technician" who was part of the
broad presidential protective team.
The Secret Service refers to the C-130 as the "car plane"
since it is frequently used to shuttle presidential vehicles.
It is usually accompanied by one or two agents. Northington said
Dyess crews have routinely carried out such missions without incident
If all had gone according to plan they would have delivered the
equipment to JFK Airport in New York, then awaited orders on whether
to haul it elsewhere or return to Dyess, he said.
The normal crew for a C-130 is five, however, additional crewmen
are added depending on the particular mission. The importance
of the presidential cargo probably dictated the larger crew, an
The last crash at the Jackson Hole Airport was in January 1995
when three people died in the crash of a single-engine airplane
on approach to the airport.
The terrain of northwestern Wyoming makes it difficult to find
the wreckage of some plane crashes.
A plane that crashed east of the Jackson Hole Airport in 1991,
killing three people, was not found until September 1995. And
the wreckage of a bomber that crashed in Yellowstone during World
War II was forgotten until a 1988 forest fire cleared away dense
The Associated Press contributed to this report.
All content copyright 1996, Roy Jones,
The Abilene Reporter-News and Reporter OnLine
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