HE KNEW HE PROBABLY WOULDN=T SURVIVE BUT HE DID HIS JOB UNTIL THE VERY END.
As you know, Commanders are not scheduled to fly as they are busy. They choose when to fly in order to fulfill the hours they must put in to remain on flying status.
On April 25, 1967, about noontime, Colonel Lyle asked me if he had any appointments in the afternoon. I replied that he had a clean slate and so he asked me to call the 962nd [Airborne Early Warning and Control Squadron] and tell them that he would take the afternoon flight. I don=t know who the lucky pilot was who was bumped that fateful day. Regardless of who was the pilot, that aircraft was destined to crash.
About 10:00 that evening, a friend called to tell me to turn on the radio, that a C-121 had gone down. Of course, I knew it was Colonel Lyle. I kept the radio on all night and didn=t sleep. The next morning I went into work knowing that I would never see Colonel Lyle again. A WAF [female member of the Air Force] I worked with, was sitting at my desk for the phones were ringing off the hook. We both looked at each other and broke down. Needless to say, Colonel Lyle was a nice man to work for and we were fond of him.
The hardest thing I had to do that day was to transcribe Colonel Lyle=s conversation with the Otis control tower. No black boxes in those days, just radio recordings. I was struck with the calmness in his voice as he struggled to keep the aircraft from crashing into land and heading for the ocean. He knew he probably wouldn=t survive but he did his job until the very end. I repeat, very calm.
Along with 4 court reporters, I was recruited to help record the proceedings of the aircraft investigation board. We would sit on the board for one hour, then proceed to transcribe our shorthand. So I was not there all the time. We worked for about a month until 9:00 in the evening, plus weekends. The board had a deadline to get their report in at noon on a Saturday - to the Air Defense Command (ADC) in Colorado.
I was not very impressed with the proceedings. The board wasn=t focused and often argued amongst themselves. Occasionally, someone would bring up >pilot error= and that made me very angry.
One day, the day before the deadline (a Friday) I worked until 2:00 am on Saturday winding down the report. At that time I was informed that they wanted me to go with them to ADC in case they wished to revise their conclusions while airborne. As I said before, they weren=t very positive about their investigation.
So without any sleep, I did. And as expected, while airborne I revised their conclusions. They did not, however, change their conclusions, just the wording. When we got to ADC, they dropped me off at a hotel and said they would pick me up again in one hour to do some more work. Needless to say, I refused as I was too tired. I had been informed that when we landed at ADC my workday was over. I suggested they call one of the many secretaries at ADC to work and they replied that the secretaries did not like to work on Saturday. But I held my ground and was finished.
So about the conclusions. As well as I can remember, I will comment. The one survivor of the crash stated that fuel was on fire and spilling down the aisle. People were trying to get their gas masks on but some were overcome by the fumes before they succeeded and were probably unconscious when they crashed into the sea. The most obvious conclusion, it seems, was a ruptured fuel tank. A few weeks after the investigative report, the entire C-121 fleet was grounded while they replaced the fuel lines and electrical wiring. After that was done, no more crashes. I think the aircraft were old and not being maintained well. Our most experienced maintenance men were being sent to Vietnam.
Colonel Lyle said that his hydraulic system was out and he was using brute force to stay airborne as long as he could to get to the ocean. He saw the lights of Nantucket below.
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Your letter arrived the same day that JFK, JR=s plane crashed off Martha=s vineyard. I couldn=t help but wonder why they didn=t search for the Connie like they did for John= John=s plane.
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As for me, I joined the Air Force at age 21 during the Korean War and served at the School of Aviation Medicine at Randolph Field, Texas and at Headquarters 3rd Air Force in Ruislip, England. I got out after 4 years and started working at Otis Air Force Base in Personnel and Administration. I got promoted and worked for the Wing Commanders until the base closed in 1973, then went with the 102nd Fighter Wing, National Guard. I spent a couple of years at Pave Paws and 6 years at the National Marine Fisheries Center in Woods Hole, then retired from the federal government. I worked part time for 3 lawyers for about 10 years and now I am completely retired.
I was an Army brat. My father joined the Army at age 17 and was in Texas chasing Pancho Villa across the Mexican Border on his horse, >Moonshine=. He also was in World War I and II. He is buried at the National Cemetery at Otis where I will go also.
Ms. Jean Klubertanz
177 Nursery Road
Falmouth, MA 02540-2851