CAPE COD STANDARD-TIMES
November 12, 1966
OTIS BASE RADAR PICKET PLANE CRASHES, EXPLODES; 19 CREWMEN
By PAUL N. ANDERSON
Cape Cod Standard-Times Staff Writer
OTIS AIR FORCE BASE. Nov. 12 - The entire crew of an Otis Base EC-121H radar
Constellation was feared killed early Friday when a huge aircraft believed to be the missing
Connie was seen plunging and exploding into the Atlantic Ocean some 125 miles east of
The crew of the Lockheed Warning Star included a full complement of 19 officers
Names and addresses of all were released shortly afternoon yesterday by colonel
James P. Lyle, Commander of the 551st Airborne Early Warning and Control Wing at
NOTIFY KIN - Colonel Lyle had withheld the names pending notification of next of
Shortly before 5:30 p.m., Colonel Lyle announced the flight plan of Aircraft 262,
identified as the missing Constellation, had expired and the aircraft was presumed to have
ditched in the ocean.
He said the aircraft had been enroute to Station 2 some 125 miles off Nantucket.
There were no reports of survivors, he added, and cause of the crash continues
The crew of 19 included 18 married men with 40 children. Three wives are
Board of inquiry appointed from the 1st Air Force of ADC includes Colonel John H.
Pease, chairman; Lieutenant-Colonel Emil V. Busch, maintenance officer; Major Robert A.
White, investigating officer; Major William R. Willner, Pilot-member; Major Morgan G.
Childs, Jr., Otis safety officer; Captain Norman J. Harris, flight surgeon and Chief
Warrant Officer Eulalio B. Labato of Otis, board recorder.
The EC-121H was powered by four 18-cylinder turbo-compound engines. Its fuel
capacity was 40,000 pounds of high-test fuel.
The mammoth radar plane was crammed with $5,000,000 worth of supersensitive
equipment for its role in the nations air defense network.
It may have used 5,000 gallons in attaining 15,000 feet altitude for its patrol,
Colonel Lyle said.
An explosion with that much fuel remaining--about 35,000 gallons--wouldn't leave
much more than bits and pieces.
3D TRAGEDY - This was the third Otis-connected tragedy with heavy loss of life in
On January 15, 1961, the ill-fated Texas Tower 4 collapsed 80 miles off the New
Jersey coastline during a fierce storm with the loss of 28 lives.
Just 16 months ago to the day 16 crew members of another Otis Constellation crew
lost their lives when their EC-121 was lost at sea off Nantucket on July 11, 1965.
Ironically, the crew of the Veterans Day tragedy was stationed in Lieutenant
Colonel Jack January Jr.s 961st AEW and C Squadron as was the crew of the 1965 crash.
Yesterdays tragedy also took place in nearly the same location. Three survived last
First bulletins of the crash were released by Otis information officials shortly before
HAD DITCHED - They said it was suspected an E.C.-121 radar Constellation of the
551st AEW and C Wing had ditched into the sea approximately 125 miles east of
The aircraft departed Otis at 12:35 a.m. on a routine air defense mission with 19
crew members aboard.
Radio contact was last made with the $7,225,000 plane at 1:22 a.m. with the weather
reported fairly clear and visibility at 10 miles.
The aircraft at that point was flying at an altitude of 15,000 feet. The quoted radio
message from the ill-fated craft was All Normal . . . No Problems.
At the same time, the aircraft was reported in on its tracking station through radar
with ground sites.
After that, Otis officials continued, radio and radar contact was lost and no further
word was hard.
At 1:30 a.m., the 70-foot New Bedford fishing dragger Steven R. reported seeing an
aircraft ditch into the ocean and added that it exploded as it entered the water.
]The Steven R. and several other fishing vessels in the area were said to have picked
Gene R. Connors, skipper of the Stephen R. reported watching the plane soar over
the vessel with a stream trailing it. He could not tell if it were a fire or jet trail.
The plane rolled over about two miles past the vessel, nosed into the water and
burst into flames on impact, he reported. The weather was good and seas were fairly
Debris located during the day long raking of the area included a plane seat and
cushion, three life jackets and parts of the plane.
Although Otis officials could not positively identify the fragments as parts of the
missing plane, they said information at their disposal would appear to be sufficient to
indicate the ditched plane was from Otis.
A large-scale search of the area near Georges Banks, continued throughout Veterans
Day with ships and planes of the Coast Guard and Air Force participating as well as
Included in the massive search were the Coast Guard cutter Acushnet out of
Portland, Me., a Coast Guard Grumnan U-16 aircraft from Quonset Cost Guard Air
Detachment, another Otis Base EC-121H, C-130 transport planes with paramedics from
Goose Bay Air Force Base, Labrador and Kindley Air Force Base, Bermuda, the cutter
Yakutat out of New Bedford and the Navy rescue vessel, the U.S.S. Sunbird
FREIGHTERS AIDED - Also, taking part were two freighters, the S.S. Atlantic
(American), and the British motor vessel, Phyllis Bowater, two other fishing vessels, the
Terra Nova and the Fern and Isabel and another British ship, the Alaunia.
The Otis Information Office was flooded with telephone calls throughout the early
morning after the crash from anxious families of airmen stationed at Otis.
The office also served as headquarters for at least 23 members of the press, radio
and television covering the disaster.
First of several press conferences throughout the day was conducted by colonel Lyle
at the wing command post at 7:50 a.m.
He confirmed the message received in the last radio contact and that several items of
debris had been found but these could not be confirmed as part of the missing aircraft. He
said the debris would be brought to Otis.
Colonel Lyle said the Air Force had used the E.C. 121th since 1954 and had
experienced just two crashes during missions - Fridays and one exactly 16 months earlier
in almost the same spot which killed 18 crewmen.
There also was a crash within two weeks after the planes went into service but that
was strictly pilot error, he added.
There was nothing wrong with the plane.
The big unanswered question here is why there was no radio contact between 1:22
a.m. and when the fishing vessel reported seeing a plane go down.
Its ridiculous to think they had no communications because the plane is loaded
with back up radios for just such an emergency.
Colonel Pease said the investigation may not turn up anything more than what we
have now - an unidentified plane crashed in the Atlantic for an unidentified reason.
NOT TO CONTACT - Families of the crew members had been told a plane was
down but its Otis identification couldn't be confirmed, Colonel Lyle said.
He urged members of the news media not to contact families once the names of the
crew were released.
Also cause for temporary concern was an Otis-based RC-121 aircraft, an earlier
model of the missing plane, which departed Otis for the Azores at midnight, a half hour
before the ill-fated Constellation took off. It is due back on Sunday.
At 10:50 a.m., Lieutenant Commander Albert Tingley of the Quonset Coast Guard
Air Detachment, pilot of the Grumman U-16, held a press conference to announce he had
been in contact with the Steven R.
He said the detachment received word of the mishap at 1:45 a.m. and arrived at the
scene of the ditching at 315 a.m.
The Coast Guard officer said crewmen of the fishing vessel reported sighting a low-
flying aircraft about two miles away . . . rolling to its right, overturning and then diving
into the ocean and exploding.
SIGHTED DEBRIS - Commander Tingley said he too sighted debris but could not
The batter of press and radio television newsmen discussed the tragedy in hushed
undertones as they awaited further word.
Another press conference was called by colonel Lyle at 1:05 p.m. to release the
names of 18 of the 19 crewmen and to announce a board of inquiry will conduct an
He said items found at the scene included a seat with a cushion, three life preservers
and sundry small fragmentary pieces of debris.
It is pure speculation as to what happened, Colonel Lyle told the gathering. He
mentioned the aircraft's fuel consumption and certain items of debris as giving rise to the
probability the aircraft was from Otis.
Bulletins were released intermittently as developments occurred throughout the day
and into the late hours Friday.
When last radio contact was made with the ill-fated aircraft, the destination was
North. This was at 1:22 a.m.
Further contact was not to be made.
Otis radar tracked the plane then proceeding South. An attempt for contact proved
It was speculated a power failure may have developed in the aircraft and the crew
may have attempted to head back for Otis.
There was an eight minute differential between the last voice contact with the plane
and the time it crashed.
Search by air and sea continued Saturday for any sign of survivors or additional
Captain Paul Downey, a 551st AEW and C maintenance officer aboard the Coast
Guard cutter Yakutat identified the fragments of debris found Friday as belonging to an
EC-121 aircraft although he could not pinpoint this debris as part of Aircraft 262.
Otis officials said none of the debris will be brought back to Otis until the search is
Meanwhile, non-Otis members of the board of inquiry are expected at Otis later
today and their intensive investigation will begin.
CAPE COD STANDARD-TIMES
November 12, 1996
BRIEFING BEFORE FATAL FLIGHT CALLED ROUTINE
OTIS AIR FORCE BASE. Nov 12 - Major Robert A. Baird commander of ill-fated aircraft
262, conducted what was to be his final briefing in the 961st Airborne Early Warning and
Control Squadron operations center shortly before midnight.
The crewmen appeared to be in good spirits as Major Baird outlined the weather
forecast for the flight and pertinent aspects of what seemingly would be a routine
surveillance mission over the Atlantic.
There was the usual chit-chat and a few jokes. Then the crew equipped with flight
gear went out onto the runway to their bird for a last-minute check of the Warning Stars
There was a brisk breeze blowing and an occasional drop of rain foretold showers
which were to follow.
The routine checks the flight and radar crew had made time and time again prior to
many other such missions were carried out on radio sets, radar sets, oil pressure and other
mechanical phases of the planes operation.
The Four engines were warmed up and Major Baird taxied 262 down the runway.
Take-off was on schedule at 12:30 a.m..
Airman 1st Class Richard Lussier, the proud crew chief of 262 had done his work
and his aircraft was on her way. Only last month Laussier had received the Crew chief of
the Month award in the 551st Wing for the second consecutive time.
Less than an hour later, the clear voice of Major Baird came through the radio . . .
All normal . . . no problems.
It was the last word received from the huge plane. Moments later, aircraft 262
plunged into the Atlantic and exploded.
CAPE COD STANDARD-TIMES
NOVEMBER 13, 1966
OTIS SURE DEBRIS FROM LOST PLANE
OTIS AIR FORCE BASE. Nov 12 - Additional equipment picked up today at the scene of
the Veterans Day Otis Radar Constellation disaster has been positively identified as
having come from the missing 551st Airborne Early Warning and Control wing aircraft.
Air-sea search and rescue operations for the downed plane, called off at dusk Friday
night, resumed at daybreak today.
Two Cost Guard cutters, the Achushnet out of Portland, Me. And the Yakutat out of
New Bedford, remained at the scene during the day along with an HU-16 coast Guard
aircraft from Salem Air Station.
Both the Yakutat and Acushnet crewmen have debris aboard.
Captain Paul Downey, an Otis-based maintenance officer aboard the Yakutat, has
identified debris found Friday and early Saturday as EC-121H Warning Star
Later on Saturday, other equipment had been picked up and positively identified as
having come from the missing aircraft which apparently exploded at sea, 125 miles from
There were still no reports of sightings of survivors or bodies. There were 19
crewmen aboard the ill-fated plane.
All members of the board of inquiry appointed by First Air Force in the Air Defense
Command have arrived at Otis and an intense investigation into the cause of the disaster is
The board is headed by colonel John H. Pease, chairman. Recorder is Chief
Warrant Officer Eulalio Bl Labato of Otis.
Colonel Pease, vice commander of the 37th Air Division at Goose Bay, Labrador,
flew to Otis to head the official investigation.
The New Bedford fishing vessel Stephen R. reported the crash. It said the EC-121H
banked steeply to the right and plunged into the water.
The modified Lockheed four-engine Constellation was on patrol over over the Atlantic as
part of the nations radar defense network.
On July 11, 1965, another picket Constellation went down in thick fog in the same
general area with 19 men aboard. Three survived.
CAPE COD STANDARD TIMES
November 12, 1966
By TILSON S. DENAHM
Cape Cod Standard-Times Staff Writer
BUZZARDS BAY. Nov 12 - There will be a vacant chair when officers of Major-General
Leonard Wood American Legion Post take their places at their next meeting.
That chair belonged to Major Robert A. Baird, commander of the aircraft which
went down in the Atlantic yesterday while on a routine patrol from Otis Air Force Base.
Major Baird was chaplain of the American Legion Post and was scheduled to have
been installed for a second term in a ceremony at the NCO Club at Otis Air Force Base last
night. That ceremony was postponed when news of the disaster became known.
The major was known and loved by all members of the post. John Holland, post
commander, said. We are all heartbroken.
Major Baird was rated as an excellent pilot by members of his squadron. He was
described as a serious man and a fine fellow when you got to know him. He was active in
the Mormon church and was president of the group, which is building a church in
Commander Holland said, We will have a quiet installation later with no fanfare.
No other chaplain will be chosen. His chair will remain vacant for a year with only his
Legion hat on it. At the end of the year, when a new chaplain is installed, the hat will be
presented to his widow.
The Legion commander said he had called Major Baird Thursday night to invite
him and Mrs. Baird to a dinner. He said Major Baird told him, John, I am sorry my wife
and I cant be there because IM leaving for a briefing right now.
Commander Holland said, I wished him Gods speed and those were the last words
I spoke to him.
He continued, Speaking for all members of our post, I must say all of us are better
men for having known him.
By Dean Boys and A.J Northrup