Wednesday, July 28, 2010

C-17 Globemaster III Transport Aircraft Crashes At Elmendorf AFB, Alaska Just Three Days Before Arctic Thunder Air Show

Update December 10th: The U.S. Air Force announced their investigation shows this crash was cause by pilot error; see updated post HERE.

A C-17 Globemaster III transport aircraft assigned to the 3rd Wing at Joint Base Elmendorf-Richardson (its official name) in Alaska crashed just to the northeast of runway 06 at 6:14 P.M. on Wednesday July 28th, 2010. The crew were practicing maneuvers for the upcoming Arctic Thunder air show (which will still go on as scheduled); one crewmember was active Air Force, while the other three were Air National Guard. All four are now confirmed dead; the Air Force has now released their names. Bios and photos separately available HERE.

-- Maj. Michael Freyholz, a pilot assigned to the Alaska Air National Guard's 249th Airlift Squadron. 12 years military experience, 3500 flying hours.

-- Maj. Aaron Malone, a pilot assigned to the 249th AANG Airlift Squadron. 12 years military experience, 2100 flying hours.

-- Capt. Jeffrey Hill, an active-duty pilot assigned to Elmendorf's 517th Airlift Squadron. Eight years military experience.

-- SMSgt. Thomas Cicardo, a loadmaster assigned to the 249th AANG Airlift Squadron. 28 years military experience, 5400 flying hours.

Alaska's three-person Congressional delegation, the governor, and lieutenant governor all issued statements of condolences, published HERE.

Other local media sources:

-- Anchorage Daily News
-- Anchorage Daily News photo gallery
-- Anchorage Daily News story on collateral damage to Alaska Railroad tracks
-- KTVA Channel 11
-- KTUU Channel 2
-- Latest official USAF statement dated July 29th
-- Anchorage Daily News story about Arctic Thunder, which will continue as scheduled
-- Anchorage Daily News bios and photos of crew

Roger Herrera saw the plane coming down as he was returning from fishing while driving in front of his wife on Turpin Street northbound towards the base. "We saw straight in front of us – my wife actually honked at me and she was pointing up in the air – and we saw a big ball of fire. By the time I reached for my camera to take photos of it, it had turned into a big black plume of smoke, and it was rising," he said. "Once I got to the end of Turpin… I saw that it was on the other side of the highway so I knew that it must be on base." KTUU news video embedded below:

Another witness statement posted to this KTUU Channel 2 story may reveal why the Air Force has enough confidence in the basic integrity of the C-17 not to temporarily ground the fleet and exclude it from the air show. A C-17 demo is included in the Arctic Thunder schedule:

Joseph Busby saw the plane crash. He said it was "truthfully terrifying" and that it was performing very similar maneuvers to those shown in the YouTube clip [of a similar demo]. "When it banks to the right like that, what we saw was an over compensation, for the turn, like I said... The wings were up and down, 90 degrees with the earth there, and rather than correcting back this way, it continued to roll over and pitch down," he said.

It also appears that the aircraft may have been flying maneuvers around the Anchorage Bowl. Two people who live in the Hillside area about 10 miles south of Elmendorf reported a large military transport aircraft flying lower than usual over their homes; one reported a hatch open in the bottom of the aircraft. Both these individuals posted comments to the ADN story; the comments are cross-posted below:

suddenwitness wrote on 07/28/2010 07:48:28 PM:
I was driving down Clarks Road and the plane came over our car just close enough to clear the ridge in front of Flattop. I stopped the car because the plane was so low and remember wondering how a plane that size would clear the mountains and make it to the base to land safely. I pray for all on board and any involved on the ground.

Because the plane was directly above our car, I could see the bottom hatch was open, but couldn't make out that the landing gear had been deployed...

funhog2 wrote on 07/28/2010 08:45:51 PM:
that's interesting suddenwitness. We live near Flattop, and I saw a military plane flying really low, I am guessing it was a C-17 from the pictures I see on the web. The reason I looked because the house was shaking mainly the wood stove pipe so I went out to look. I didn't see an open door but that doesn't mean their wasn't one. I wondered what was happening because I've only seen something that low and close only once and I've been living here 10 years

Here's a comment posted on the KTVA site:

someperspective · 1 hour ago (approx. 9:40 P.M.)
out here in the [Mat-Su] valley some spotted a Very low flying plane that shook the houses...may be they were in trouble and were trying to make it back to the base to fix the malfunction...

The individuals posting these comments did not report the time of occurrence. Thus it is not confirmed that this was actually the same aircraft. I would like to keep the speculation to a minimum in this post, if possible.

Air Force officials have now confirmed that the Arctic Thunder air show scheduled for this upcoming weekend will proceed. The U.S. Navy's Blue Angels and the Canadian Forces' Snowbirds headline the event. Military flight demonstrations will include the AV-8B Harrier, F-22 Raptor, C-17 Globemaster III aircraft and the popular Alaskan Joint Forces Demo which will be supported by the pyrotechnic talents of the Tora, Tora, Tora bomb squad. In addition to these demonstrations, the 101st Airborne Screamin' Eagles and the U.S. Air Force Academy's Wings of Blue parachute teams will perform. Arctic Thunder is free and open to the public. The gates open at 9 a.m. and entertainment continues until 5 p.m.

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