The following was contributed by Roy L. Cooke, Chief Master Sergeant - USAF -Retired - 484 Hatchville Road, East Falmouth, MA 02536.



I was assigned to the Airborne Early Warning and Control (AEW&C) program when returning from a tour of duty (C-124 Squadron) in Japan and I stopped in Sacramento just long enough to "‘sign in’ at a temporary orderly room; then went directly to C-121 school at Lockheed. The scene in the following photographs was the end of my first training flight after returning to Sacramento from Lockheed. I wasn’t familiar with locations of other airfields and their proximity to large bodies of water - so - when we were diverted to Hamilton for Ground Approach Control (GCA), I didn’t realize the approach would be over San Pablo Bay. I had completed my training time at the flight engineer’s station and was sitting on a bunk next to the cockpit, leaning over and looking in, eagerly soaking up everything that was going on - and I was growing increasingly tense as the GCA proceeded. Suddenly, GCA told the aircraft commander (in a raised excited voice) - pull up, pull up, you are off our scope; and just as he pulled back on the yoke and (thankfully) lifted the nose up, we hit hard and bounced high. The airplane totally blacked out and all four props surged to full increase rpm. I thought we had hit the runway and certainly no way to recover from the circumstances; and when we hit again the noise of the plane breaking up sounded like scooting down the runway, and I had ended up against the pilot’s console. A gush of water (smelled like pure gasoline) soaked me and, in those few seconds, I jut knew we would be a bonfire on the runway any second. The plane stopped, the front entrance hatch wouldn’t open, people were beginning to yell, someone yelled,’here’s a hole, here’s a hole,’ and the voice was from behind the bunk curtains - and I groped through those curtains in a hurry, felt the big hole in the side, and simply dived through it. Imagine my utter shock when, instead of feeling the pain of hitting the concrete as I expected, I splashed into water over knee deep. The next concern was realizing that after I stood up I began to rapidly sink in ‘grasping’ muck There was only one thing to do and we all realized it at the same time as we counted heads and began to position ourselves on the wing - still hoping the darn thing wouldn’t catch fire. When the army mud scow finally got to us, the tide was rising over the wing and we were preparing a rope ladder (as such) to climb on top the fuselage. We were getting pretty chilly and very happy to see the boat maneuvering close by. There was no doubt in my mind s to why the accident happened, but my ‘opinion’ under the circumstances would have been to no avail; so when I appeared before the investigating board I let the story rest as it was. I remember the aircraft number as 13836, but I have no record of that and could be wrong. I have often regretted that I didn’t keep a diary, write notes, or anything to help recall interesting facts and figures later on - but I didn’t and now my memory won’t perform like I wish. Believe me, there has been an interesting variety of experiences in over 10,000 hours of flight engineer work - including B-29s, C-97s, C-124s, and C-121s. While in AEW&C I compiled and edited a training manual for pilots and flight engineers, helped organize and supervise training programs at Otis Air Force Base, served over a year as temporary first sergeant, worked for a couple of years for the Inspector General’s office at Otis, and finally served on the Standardization and Evaluation Board of the 551st Wing at Otis. I was assigned to Otis AFB from 1958 until my retirement in 1969.




SAN FRANCISCO (AP) - A big Air Force C121 "Flying Radar Station" crashed in fogbound San Francisco Bay last night and a radar-guided crash boat rescued all 13 crewmen.

Two of the men were reported injured, one seriously. The rescue board, unable to return to Hamilton Air Force Base because of heavy fog, landed at Ft. Baker near the northern end of the Golden Gate Bridge.

The four-engine Super Constellation, flying out of McClellan Field near Sacramento, plunged into the bay about two miles from the end of the Hamilton runway as it attempted a ground control approach (radar) landing.

The plane had been on a training mission off the Pacific Coast and dense fog prevented its return to McClellan Field. It was diverted to Hamilton - about 30 miles north of San Francisco - because of better blind landing facilities.

The crash boat, groping in the bay for survivors, was led to the plane wreckage by ground radar facilities from Hamilton.

The rescue operation was completed about one and one-half hours after the plane went down.

The modified Constellation - known as an RC-121C - was commanded by Lt. Col. Russell E. Cheever of San Antonio, Tex, who served as instructor pilot. The entire crew was learning how to operate the radar-loaded plane.

The big aircraft had been modified and equipped for use as a long-range reconnaissance plane.

The first time I knew we were in trouble was when we hit,’ said Cheever. ‘It sure was a surprise to me.’ He said the plane crashed and broke up in two feet of water in the mud flats at the end of the Hamilton runway.

The mud prevented the crew from wading to shore, he said. Four of the crew were litter cases, but doctors said most of the men were suffering from shock and exposure in the icy cold water.


552nd AEW&C