55-0123 Burning at Otis AFB May 26, 1958
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15 Escape Exploding Plane

Aircraft Burns On Ground At Otis Base


An Air Force Super Constellation radar picket plane exploded and burned at 4:33 Sunday afternoon as its crew was checking it out for takeoff. Fifteen airmen inside escaped.

As repeated explosions belched flame through the huge aircraft, the pilot, co-pilot and crew of 13 slid down ropes to safety from fore and aft escape hatches.

 Five Minutes

The Air Force said the plane, officially designated an RC-l21, and was destroyed in five minutes. Its value, exclusive of hundreds of thousands of dollars' worth of electronic equipment, was set at $2,225,000.

Three firemen, one a civilian, and the others airmen assigned to the big Falmouth base, were injured slightly and were treated at the base hosp1tal. Some of the plane crew suffered rope burns of the hands while fleeing the burning aircraft.

 Fast Action

Plane and ground crews were checking out instruments and equipment when the first explosion tore the four-engine plane amidships, near the "radome," the spherical turret that houses radar equipment.

More explosions and fire followed as the men inside slid to safety.

An Air Force spokesman credited fast action by ground crew and crash crew for preventing the spread of the fire to other aircraft and installations nearby on the take-off ramp.

The Air Force said the plane, assigned to the 551st Air Early Warning and Control Wing, had been scheduled to take off on an "active air defense mission" at 6 o'clock.

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15 Airmen Flee
Burning Plane

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There was no official comment on the possibility of sabotage. The Air Force spokesman would not speculate on what might have been the cause of the explosions.

Col. D.W. DaVania, commander of the 551st and the base will appoint a board of officers to investigate.

The Air Force identified the pilot as Capt. Emil V. Busch of Mt. Vernon, N. Y., and the co-pilot as First Lt. Joseph M. Haber of Newburgh, N. Y.

Injured fighting the fire were Civilian Firefighter Alverino Miranda of New Bedford, who suffered a wrenched shoulder; A/1C Edwin Phelps, minor leg burns, and A/2C William Crue who, was treated for exhaustion.

It was the first major accident of its kind at Otis, according to the Air Force, and it occurred to an aircraft that has flown 100,000 hours of missions without mishap, the spokesman said.

The RC-121 's are on constant patrol over the east coast of the North American continent, supplementing the ocean towers in the radar early warning defenses of the country.

Other crewmen who escaped were First Lt. Gerald A. Gay, Jr., Falmouth; First Lt. Edward D. Maher, Falmouth; T/Sgt. Sinclair T. Reed, Alexandria, La.; T/Sgt. Nathaniel B. Hallmus, Pittsburgh, Pa.; S/Sgt. John W. Oliver, Oceanside, Calif.; S/Sgt. Joseph R. Gomes, 117 Cedar St., New Bedford; T/Sgt. Harry R. Hart, Buzzards Bay; T/Sgt. Eldean L. Hodges, Green River, Wyo.; A/1C Donald W Baum, Lebanon, N. Y.; A/1C William F. Snipes, Oceanway, Fla.; A/2C Elmer T. Reaves, Floyd, Iowa; A/1C Alfred Weidner, Jr., Norristown, Pa; and S/Sgt. Joseph H. Williams, Savannah, Ga. All were assigned to the 961st AEW&C Sq. Otis AFB, MA.




May 26 - -(UPI) - -Investigators Sought today, to find out why a $2,225,000 radar reconnaissance airplane exploded without warning after 1,000,000 of safe flight. Sabotage was considered a possibility.

Twelve airmen inside the RC121 Super Constellation escaped from the plane though it nearly was demolished in five minutes of explosions and fire late Sunday.


Mystery Blasts

Hit Radar Plane

OTIS AIR FORCE BASE, Mass. (UPI). –An f our- engine RC 121 Super Constellation mysteriously blew up yesterday on a landing strip here. Air Force officials said none of the 12-crew members was seriously hurt.

Three firemen, however, suffered minor injuries while battling the flames spurting from the radar-warning plane.

CAUSE of the explosions was listed as 'undetermined.' The Air Force said sabotage would be considered as a possible cause of the $2.2 million plane's destruction. The doomed plane had been scheduled to take to the air about 90 minutes after the explosion.

IT IS one of a group of Air Force radar ships, which fan out over the New England coastline, spreading their electronic fingers more than 500 miles out across the Atlantic. Among the crewmen was Airman 1/C 'Alfred Weidner, Jr. Of Norristown, Pa.


 Note: One of the large pictures of the burning Connie that is among the enclosed pictures appeared on the front page of the Philadelphia Daily News with the large headline, "SABOTAGE?"

Alfred "AL" Weidner Jr., of 1033 S. Chuckwagon Drive, Mustang, OK 73064, provided this news article which appeared in the New Bedford Standard Times on May 26, 1958. Airman First Weidner was a radar operator assigned as a member of the 961st AEW&C Squadron of the 551st AEW&C Wing at Otis AFB, MA. He was one of the crew who had to evacuate the aircraft after it exploded, caught fire, and was destroyed on May 25, 1958. The aircraft was an RC-121D Super Constellation number 55-0123.

I, A.J Northrup, was assigned as a radio operator in the 961st from August 1955 - November 1959. I knew Weidner and several of the men mentioned in the following article and had flown with them several times.

Note: Robert A. Bostick, Lt. Colonel USAF retired (served in the 961st from 1955 to 1961 in various capacities as Aircraft Commander, Flight Commander, Squadron Operations Officer and Squadron Commander) told the author that it was determined that the center fuel tank in the belly of the aircraft, was not to be filled with fuel, but had been filled and through seepage or overflow from that tank the fuel vapors were ignited by electronic equipment being tested during the pre flight procedure.

A.J. Northrup