April 27, 1967

Bates, Philbin Seen On Committee


A special Congressional subcommittee will be named today to investigate Tuesday’s crash of an Air Force radar picket plane in which 16 men were killed.

Rep. L. Mendel Rivers (D-SC), chairman of the House Armed Services Committee, is expected to name Reps. William H. Bates of Salem and Philip J. Philbin of Clinton to handle the probe.

The subcommittee, at the request of the Massachusetts Congressional delegation, will seek to determine whether there were any similarities between Tuesday’s crash and two earlier picket plane tragedies which claimed 30 lives.

One of those demanding the investigation was Rep. Hastings Keith of West Bridgewater, who wants the subcommittee to settle the question whether the Constellation-121s used as radar planes are obsolete.

>As this probe shaped up, a special Air Force board of inquiry was visiting Nantucket to interview about 15 residents who witnessed the fiery crash.

The search for the bodies of 13 men missing since the plane plunged into the Atlantic was called off at dusk last night.

Officials at Otis Air Force Base officially declared the men dead after a Cost Guard plane made a final pass over the crash scene in the faint hope of spotting a flare from possible survivors. Nothing was seen.

The two bodies that were recovered were identified as those of M/Sgt Frank W. Garner Jr., 38, a flight engineer, of Springfield, and Airman 1/C Theodore E. LaPointe Jr., 25, a radio operator, of Pittsfield.

The lone survivor, First Lt. Joseph L.H. Guenet, 29, a navigator, of Island Pond., Vt., who was blown from the plane by the explosion, is in good condition at the base hospital at Otis.

Guenet was interviewed last night by Col. Albert Evans, who is heading up the board of inquiry.

Earlier, Guenet had said his only recollection of the tragedy was that he was hurled into the water, and found himself beneath burning fuel. He was pulled from the water by a helicopter crew.





APRIL 26, 1967


By Paul Sawin

OTIS AFB--At five minutes after seven last night, most of the Air Force wives who live here or nearby were washing the supper dishes. Their children were doing homework or watching TV. It was a typical Tuesday night.

Somewhere over the Atlantic, approximately 64 Air Force men were flying missions in radar picket planes. Most of them had wives and children at home.

It is possible that many more men from Otis were flying at five minutes after seven. On each mission, four planes are always in the air. Four planes could be starting missions as four others are finishing up. Each plane on an average carries 16 men.

And wives always know in advance when their husbands are on missions.

But at 7:05 p.m., the wives and children here knew nothing of the disaster off Nantucket.

It was almost 8:15 p.m. when the bulletins started coming over TV and radio.

Then the wait began. Every wife who knew her husband was flying had to wait. They had to pray and hope that the phone would not ring, that a chaplain or a friend would not come to the door.

In the base headquarters, about the same time, two squadron commanders, Lt. Col. Earl E. Putnam and Maj. Butler Reed Jr., six chaplains and a number of other officers were meeting.

They were deciding how to tell 15 families about sudden death. Twelve of the crewmen were married. One survived and 11 died. The four single men aboard were dead, too.

At least three officers were assigned to notify in person each family. It took some time to do this. The last personal notification could not be made until 2:30 this morning. That was because the family lived some distance from the base.

This is the way, most of the time, that wives and parents of Air Force men are told about death.

Last Nov. 10, however, one man, took it upon himself to notify all the families of the 19 men who died when another radar picket plane crashed off Nantucket.

That man was Col. James P. Lyle, the 47-year-old commander of the 551st Early Warning and Control Squadron [Wing].

Last night, some other officers had to go to the colonel’s house and tell his wife, Juanita, that her husband, the father of her children, James 21, and Jan, 14, was dead.






April 26, 1967



Members of the crew, listed as missing, are:

Col. James P. Lyle, 47, aircraft commander, 5377 Lindbergh Ave., Otis AFB; wife, Juanita, and children, James l., 21, and Jana, 14. Hometown, Springtown, Tex.

Maj. Howard N. Franklyn, 44, first pilot, 21 Maple St., Buzzards Bay; wife Marjorie, daughter, Sandra, 20. Hometown, Medford.

Capt. Frank R. Ferguson II, 27, navigator, 5317D Arnold Ave., Otis AFB; wife, Diane, children, Daryn, 3, and Todd, three months. Hometown, Newport News, VA.

Senior M/Sgt Robert E. Mulhern, 42, flight engineer, Briarwood Ave., Hyannis; wife, Margaret. Hometown, Ft. Walton Beach, Fla.

M/Sgt Frank W. Garner Jr., 38, flight engineer, 5610A Patrick Rd., Otis AFB; wife, Shirley, daughters, Betsy, 12, and Jean 10. Hometown, Springfield.

T/Sgt Gordon O. Hamman, 36, radar technician, 457 Main St., West Yarmouth; wife, Anita; children, Tina, 11; Michell, 7; and Bennie, no age. Hometown, Altoona, Pa.

S/Sgt Richard D. Bearden, 34, radar crew chief, 5547B Gibson St., Otis AFB; wife, Pauline; children, Randall, 10, and Thelma, 9. Hometown, Douglasville, Ga.

Airman 1/C Robert J. Clapper, 25, airborne data process technician, 5615D Randolph St., Otis AFB; wife, Janice; children, Kevin, 3; Deborah, 2. Hometown, Glen Aubrey, N.Y.

Airman 1/C Theodore E. LaPointe Jr., _5, radio operator, 163 Clifford St., New Bedford; wife, Marie; children, Theodore, 4; and Michael, 2. Hometown, Pittsfield.

Airman 1/c William M. Walsh, 34, radar operator, 53 Carte Real Ave., Falmouth; wife, Joan; children, James 8; Denis, 7; Ruth Ann, 5, and Kevin, 3. Hometown, Providence.

Airman 1/C Richard D. Gravely, 26, radar operator, 108 Lock Wood Ave., Onset; wife, Louelle, son David 1. Hometown, Mabscott, W.Va.

Airman 2d/C Dennis e. Boyle, 20, navigator and technician, stationed at Otis AFB, single, from Brooklyn.

Airman 2d/C Danny R. Burden, 22, radar technician, stationed at Otis AFB, single, from Lexington, Ky.

Airman 1d/C William M. Cook, 20, radar operator; stationed at Otis AFB, single, from Amherst.

Airman 3d/C Dennis R. Cole, 19, student radar operator, stationed at Otis AFB, single, from Westboro.

Rescued a short time after the crash was 1st Lt. Joseph L.H. Guenet, 29, navigator, 5421C Tinker St., Otis AFB, wife, Anna Jane. Hometown, Montreal.






April 26, 1967




The youngest crewman aboard the ill-fated radar plane that crashed off Nantucket last night was Airman 3rd Class Dennis R. Cole, 19, of Westboro.

Cole graduated from Westboro High School last June. He had been a member of the football team and was described as popular with this fellow students.

A talented musician he had led his own combo.

Cole was a student radar operator. He was single and had been stationed at Otis Air Force Base.






April 26, 1967



[Michael Lamb, 35, of Hummock Pond Rd., Nantucket, a carpenter -a contractor, was returning home from Westchester County, N.Y., in his Mooney single engine plane about 7 last night. He told this story to Traveler Reporter Dick Lamere.]


I saw something that looked like a bright light bout 2,000 feet in the air. It seemed peculiar but I didn’t realize it was a plane in distress.

I called the tower at Nantucket Airport and they advised me of an emergency. They advised me to keep the plane in sight and I followed it.

It made one turn about five miles from Nantucket and then proceeded northerly. Then it made a 180 degree turn and proceeded southerly to the west end of Nantucket.

Just before hitting the water off long Pond, there was an explosion in the plane and it plunged into the water and sank. I couldn’t see any signs of survivors.

All I can remember is that big ball of flame and seeing it sink.






April 26, 1967



[Traveler Reporter Dick Lamere flew over the spot where a small ask force of ships, helicopters and other aircraft are searching for the bodies of 13 Air Force men still missing in the radar picket plane crash. He was a passenger in a plane operated by Ronald Beaulieu of Mass. Air Industries]




NANTUCKET--Hundreds of feet below our single-engine plane bright yellow markers billowing grey smoke showed the approximate position where the radar picket plane from Otis Air Force exploded in a deadly nightmare that took 15 lives last night.

As we passed over the scene of the disaster, I had hopes that the stricken giant Constellation might be seen in 50 feet of water--an estimated quarter of a mile off the westerly tip of the famed summer regret. No such luck.

Instead, the green colored choppy waters completely hid the exact location of the ill-fated plane.

In the air with us were several Air Force, Navy and Cost Guard helicopters and patrol planes, cris- crossing a 10-mile stretch along the coast s they searched for the bodies of the 13 victims still missing.

Our plane was at least 800 feet in the air above the search scene at all times, leaving the lower altitudes to the helicopter crews to skim the surface in their attempts to pinpoint the disaster.

As the hours passed, it was apparent that the majority of the crew members in the downed plane were still trapped inside the wreckage lying on the ocean’s floor.

The only survivor, the plane’s navigator, apparently was catapulted out of the plane as it burst open during an explosion as it hit the water. The bodies of two of the victims were found floating in the icy cold water.

"The explosion sounded like a plane breaking the sound barrier with tremendous force," noted a companion, Capt. Parker Gray, USNR (Ret.) An old-timer who flew some 26,000 hours with the Navy and now resides on Nantucket.

>A Coast Guard buoy tender directly below our plane apparently was directing the search mission which was pressed to the hilt as the weatherman reported rain and possible snow as a forecast for tomorrow.

Foggy, overcast conditions tomorrow, it was feared, might hamper the search. From our vantage point, it was evident that the search teams wished to bring their grim mission to a speedy conclusion.

Our plane joined the search while in the disaster area--all hands straining their eyes as they






APRIL 26, 1967








NANTUCKET-- "All I can remember is being thrown out of the plane, getting under the flames on top of the water, and then coming up, kicking like hell and shouting to the helicopter overhead."

Those were the words of Lt. Joseph L. H. Guenet, only survivor of the fiery crash of an Air Force radar picket plane off the coast here last night.

Fifteen of Guenet’s fellow crew members apparently were trapped in the wreckage in 50 feet of water a quarter of a mile from land. Guenet told two Air Force officers he recalled "clutching a piece of wreckage right in the middle of the flames and kicking like hell."

He said he could remember nothing else about the crash.

Only two bodies have been recovered from the frigid waters, and a pending storm may seal the fate of the others forever.

Search vessels pushed their efforts to the limit today in an effort to locate the wreckage before the storm strikes tonight.

The giant plane plunged into the ocean in a ball of fire shortly after 7 last night.

Residents and eyewitnesses credited the pilot with ditching the plane in an heroic effort to avoid slamming into homes on the summer colony.

The wreckage of the $7 million craft was believed to be about a quarter-mile off Maddaket Beach in approximately 50 feet of water.

An oil slick spotted at dawn today was ringed with flares. Officials reported that several pieces of debris believed to be from the plane had washed up on the beach.

By mid-morning, only two bodies had been recovered.

As the search continued, a special investigation board was meeting at Otis to probe the third crash of a picket plane from Otis in less than two years. The two previous crashes, in waters on the other side of Nantucket, claimed 35 lives.

The investigative team is being headed up by Col. Albert Evans of the 21st Air Division, McGuire Air Force Base, N.J.

Last night’s crash occurred at 7:05, less than 10 minutes after the huge, expensively-equipped plane had taken off from Otis.

Two minutes before the crash, the pilot, Wing Commander col. James P. Lyle reported fire in his number three engine, and radioed the base he would attempt a landing at Nantucket airport.

Eyewitnesses said the plane belching flames, was in "steep descent position", heading for runway six at that airport, when it suddenly veered 180 degrees and headed for open water.

Air Force officials speculated Col. Lyle realized than any attempt to land at the airport could endanger scores of homes in the area, and that he decided to ditch the plane at sea.

One eyewitness, Rene A. Orleans, said the plane "skidded along the water for about 4,000 feet and when it hit there was this huge burst of fire and a big red fire-ball".

Both Orleans and another pilot, Michael Lamb, were airborne at the time of the crash.

Lamb said he followed the plane and saw it "descend rapidly amid a glare of fire in the water".

"There was a ball of flame and fire that spread out for 200 yards", Lamb said. "You could see the flames silhouette the plane on the water. It stayed on top for no more than a minute."

Albert L. Manning, another pilot, witnessed the crash from the kitchen of his home.

"I am convinced that this boy fought desperately to get the plane into the water to avoid this summer colony," Manning said.

He said he heard a roar over his home about 7 p.m. and when he looked out, he saw the plane was on fire and the engines were revved up to full speed.

"I followed it and watched it drop in the water. It exploded about a quarter of a mile off shore. The roar of the engines shook my entire house. Plates rattled."

Guenet was pulled from the frigid waters by a helicopter about 20 minutes after the crash. He was clinging to debris.

He was treated at the Nantucket Hospital for burns on the right side of his face, cuts, bruises and shock.

Survivor Guenet was wearing a rubber emersion suit when he was picked from the water. Air Force officials said crew members don the suits only in time of emergency.

There had been some reports of some crew members manning individual life rafts for the ditched landing, but Air Force officials doubted anyone could have survived the flames. Had anyone escaped, he could have survived only 45 minutes in the chill, 41-degree water without an emersion suit, or several hours with the suit.

One of the bodies was pulled from the water by fishermen aboard the trawler Stephen R. out of New Bedford, and transferred to the cutter Cape George, which earlier had picked up the other body.

The two previous picket plane crashes occurred Last November when 19 men were lost, and in July 1965, when 16 men died.

Only recently, plans were announced for a memorial park for those victims at the air base.

Col. Lyle, 47, had assumed command of the 551st Early Waning and Control Wing at Otis last July.

He was a veteran of World War II and the Korean War, and was reported to be "one of the best-liked men on the base."