I have had a number of remarkable circumstances in my life. I consider myself fortunate to be an aging citizen of the US, who has seen a few notable
I was a witness to the Kecksburg "Bolide", when working at a gas station as a kid outside of Cleveland , Ohio. in December of of 1965
I saw the Peekskill fireball, as it passed overhead while in New York , working as a computer consultant in October of 1992
I have brought these incidents up on ATS in past threads, but have never talked about this one...
In 1976, I was a part of another , probably less important event, but none the less it makes a great story. And I did not know It was that important,
until years later......
Its October of 1976.
I am in the US Navy, and stationed as Willow Grove Naval Air Station, PA.
I was an AW1, SS1 postion on a Lockheed P3B Anti-Submarine Warfare aircraft. We were
on our way on a cross-country flight to Moffet Field, CA. for a training exercise.
Our first stop was NAS New Orleans, a reserve base, where we picked up some frozen
shrimp and tucked them away in coolers. After a quick fuel stop, we continued on to
Moffet, which would be the next stop.
As soon as we entered Nevada, the #4 engine (a turbo-prop) started to go haywire, it
started making a vibrating noise, spun down and the pilot got it re-started, and
then it caught on fire. Bright flames out of the exhaust and then flames from the
cowling area in the front part of the engine nacelle. The pilot directed the fire
extinguishing plumbing to that engine, all of them, but it just got worse. He
feathered the prop, but the engine remained burning, which seemed a possible fuel
leak. He shut off all the fuel to that engine but it just remained on fire. We were
These engines use synthetic oil, which is non-flammable. We had an out
of control fire, possibly caused by a fuel breach, and could do nothing about it. An
engine in an uncontrolled fire, on a wing filled with 1000lbs of fuel is a bomb in
about 5 minutes. The pilot started a fuel transfer to the other tanks, but then had
to jetisson fuel out of the plane. What a fireball that turned out to be, but not as
dangerous as the engine itself on fire.
The pilot radioed an emergency to the controller in charge, which turned out to be
in Las Vegas. The Las Vegas controller did not think the plane could make it that
far (nor did our pilot) so they pulled the air emergency, all areas alert, which brought up an air force
controller who directed the plane to a place in the desert where there was no
navigation on the maps. He took control and vectored the plane in to a place
between mountains. We were desperate. Upon touch down, there were vehicles spraying
foam on the runway as we hit the runway way above normal speed.
Fortunately, the pilot locked up the landing gear and we skidded off the runway to a stop. The
emergency vehicles quickly had the engine fire out and they sent a bus out to pick
us all up.
When getting on the bus, there where armed marines on board, and they told us that
we were in a place called "Little Rock", and they were going to take us to an air
force barracks on the base and put us up. We were told that we were not allowed to
leave that area until our plane was repaired, and to just make the best of it until
we would be escorted back to the airfield. We were really all tired, and just did
what they said.
The baracks were nothing like I had ever seen. It was plush, with
individual rooms for everyone, a recreation area and private bar, which we got very
That night, a few air force enlisted came by and talked to us. They
told us that this base was a strategic outpost and we could not go anywhere unless
they came with us. A few of us needed some supplies, so they took us in a jeep and
we went to a small commissary. They would not let us pay for anything, just gave us
what we wanted.
Upon talking with some of the enlisted air force guys, they said the place was at
least 50 miles from the nearest town, and they had to have musicians and girls
bused in there, as they were not allowed to leave by car, which he said none of
them had anyway. The only way they could leave that base was by aircraft. He said
the civilians that worked there came in on a daily basis from Las Vegas.
We had dinner in a fantastic dining facility and then drinks all night at the bar.
It was unbelievable actually, but we soon found out we could not call anyone and the
'military' would take care of notifying all of our people back home that everything
was alright, and we would be on our way out of there as soon as our aircraft was
Now, the P3B had serious problems, not only was the engine toasted, but we had done
damage to the landing gear and tires when the pilots locked her up, as well as other
We got a great night's sleep, and in the morning were rousted out for a great
breakfast, and told the aircraft was again repaired and air-worthy. The plane
captain could not believe it, since this was the fastest turn around he had ever
seen. Normally, the plane captain would be part of the repair crew, but they would
never let him near the bird all night, and he had to stay with the rest of us.
A lockheed P3B was an aging species, and parts would have taken days to get there
normally. We were amazed.
They bussed us out to the the tarmac , and now that it was daylight, we could see
all of these hangars in rows. Each had a marine in front of the door with rifle in
hand. This was definitively not your normal air force base.
They took us to the plane, all gassed up and ready to go. We took off and made it to
Moffet before nightfall and our shrimp were still cold!
As it turns out, we were at Area 51, but in 1976, it was not called that then, as
the first person had told us, they called it "Little Rock"., but we were not in
Arkansas... I had met up with our navigator years later, and we went through the
ground plot of the flight. What a revelation, and What a story , eh?
I thought some of you might enjoy this, and welcome to comments of experiences like this, where you just did not know how much value an event had,
until years later.
edit on 13-1-2012 by charlyv because: spelling , where caught
edit on 13-1-2012 by charlyv because: (no reason given)