WHAT HAPPENED TO 55-5262?
BY A. J. NORTHRUP
On August 16, 1995, after completing the Airborne Radio Operators Course, I was assigned
to the 551st AEW&C Wing, 961st AEW&C Squadron, Otis AFB, Mass. I made my first flight
on the RC-121 on October 9, 1955 and during the next four years accumulated more than 2000
hours in the various model Super Constellations on active ADC radar surveillance missions.
I retired from the Air Force in August 1975. During my career I never forgot having been a
crew member on those aircraft and of the really wonderful people with whom I had been
fortunate enough to have flown with, both officers and airmen. It is an experience for which
I am thankful and which I always will remember with kind thoughts - although I am aware
that some 50 officers and airmen lost their lives in the loss of three of the aircraft stationed at
Otis AFB when they crashed in the North Atlantic. I also am very thankful that four crew
members did survive the ordeal.
The aircraft from Otis which were lost at sea are:
Aircraft Nr. 55-5262 - lost November 11, 1966 - with the loss of 19 officers and
airmen (the entire crew)
Aircraft Nr. 53-0549 - lost April 27, 1967 - with the loss of 15 officers and
airmen - with one survivor
Aircraft Nr. 55-0136 - lost July 11, 1965 - with the loss of 16 officers and airmen
- with three survivors
Although thirty years had passed since the last mishap noted above had occurred - I never
forgot the incidents and in 1997 I began doing some research regarding their loss.
I began by writing to then Chief of Staff of the Air Force, General Ronald R. Fogleman,
making a request under the Freedom of Information Act for all EC-121 mishaps of aircraft
assigned to Otis AFB.
I subsequently received a letter dated 24 March 1997 from the Deputy Director, Headquarters
Air Force Safety Center, Kirtland AFB, NM, transmitting the releasable portions of the
mishap report of an EC-121H aircraft [55-5262] which was lost at sea on 11 November 1966.
The Air Force stated that this is the only incident of this type aircraft from Otis AFB that
could be found.
I subsequently identified another loss that of aircraft 53-0549 and made the same request and
received the releasable portions of that mishap report.
I subsequently identified another loss that of aircraft 55-0136 but did not make a request for
documents regarding that aircraft loss as by then I knew what the Air Force would release.
By that time I also had found information on the internet relating to the three accidents and
was able to understand the basic cause of two of the three aircraft ditching at sea due to fires.
Particularly since there had been three survivors from one and one survivor from another and
some eye witnesses to one whose first hand sightings had been reported by the press. However
there was not any information available on the internet or in that furnished by the Air Force
to reflect what caused 55-05262 to be lost at sea.
In both instances when I did receive information from the Air Force regarding 55-5262 and
53-0549 I did not receive a copy of the investigating boards analysis, findings, and
recommendations regarding the mishaps. The Deputy Director, Headquarters Air Force
Safety Center, wrote that they are exempt from disclosure under the United States Code,
Title 5, Section 552(b)(5), and Air Force Instructions (AFI) 37-131, paragraph 10.5. The
Deputy Director wrote in part, that:
Release of this information would have a stifling effect on the free and frank
expression of ideas and opinions of Air Force officials...and Release of these
portions of the safety report, even though the report is old, would jeopardize a
significant government interest by inhibiting its ability to conduct future safety
investigations of Air Force aircraft mishaps. Disclosure of this information
would be contrary to the promises of confidentiality extended to witnesses and
investigators. There was not a time limit placed on this promise, and such a
disclosure could set a precedent that would result in a weakening of the process
whereby the Air Force gathers and evaluates safety information in future
aircraft mishaps. The decreased ability of the Air Force to gather and evaluate
safety information would result in the increased loss of aircraft and crew
members and ultimately have a detrimental effect on national security.
In April 1997 I submitted an appeal to the Secretary of The Air Force and respectfully
requested that the decision not to release the safety investigating boards analysis, findings,
and recommendations regarding the loss of 55-5262 be reconsidered based on the following:
The length of time since the incident (thirty years).
The type aircraft involved in the mishaps have long since been withdrawn from
The early warning radar missions previously flown by that type aircraft were
not covert in nature.
The cold war has subsided and our former foes not longer are the focus of the
threat we guarded so diligently against by flying the early warning radar
A good percentage of the individuals from whom the investigating board may
have taken testimony and a good percentage of the investigating board probably
are now deceased.
All the officers and airmen aboard aircraft 55-5262 lost their lives and a mystery
remains how the loss could have happened.
The families and descendants of the men who lost their lives need to know what
caused the loss and who, if anyone, is responsible.
Communications indicating that the aircraft was in trouble ever never were
As a former crew member on those type aircraft I am aware that the radio
operator had the responsibility for setting the Selective Identification
Equipment (SIF) for radar identification of the aircraft to ground radar stations
tracking it. This setting also could readily and immediately be changed to
reflect emergency conditions existed, yet this did not occur.
The radio operator had access to several Ultra High Frequency (UHF), Very
High Frequency (VHF), Single Side-Band (SSB), and High Frequency (HF)
radios as well as an automatic keying toggle switch which was within reach
which when thrown would automatically transmit an emergency message.
The radio operator was required to maintain constant communications with the
radio ground stations by HF radio.
The radar crew maintained constant communications with radar ground
stations by UHF radios.
The Pilot and Co-Pilot had access to several radios.
The aircraft was constantly under radar surveillance by the 35th Air Divisions
The crew positions named above were located in different sections throughout
the aircraft and radios worked on different aircraft electrical systems.
Altimeters were located at different crew positions throughout the aircraft and
individual crew members could have detected unannounced changes in altitude
had a pilot fell asleep at the controls and the aircraft descended into the ocean.
This obviously did not occur as the aircraft had just reached its assigned
altitude on station when it was lost from radar.
The aircraft typically were flown by auto pilot once at their assigned altitude
and on station.
All crews flying those type aircraft were well and regularly trained in emergency
radio transmission procedures pertaining to in-flight emergencies and ditching
Emergency communications would have been expected and would have
occurred had there been trouble of any kind and this would have happened had
there not been something happen so quickly and violently from an internal or
external source which immediately incapacitated all of the nineteen crew
The following chronology of time on 11 November 1966 which was extracted from the History
of Flight to (furnished by the Air Force under the Freedom of Information Act). Eastern
Standard Time (EST) is shown when radar and/or radio communications were made with or
by aircraft 55-5262, as well as when visual sightings were made immediately prior to the
aircraft impacting into the ocean.
0037The aircraft takes off from Otis AFB enroute to Station #2.
0040The aircraft establishes UHF radio contact with the 35th Air Division and radar
tracking of the aircraft commences. Radio checks with the Air Division were
conducted on three UHF radios.
0114The aircraft makes a radio report by UHF radio to Boston Center reporting it
is passing through 13,400 feet climbing to 15,000 the flight level it was cleared
to fly and maintain.
0117The radio operator aboard the aircraft reports to Andrews Airways Military
Relay Facility by High Frequency radio the same information.
0122The 35th Air Division radar tracked the aircraft and showed it had reached
Station #2 at that time. Operations aboard the aircraft were determined to have
been normal as the radar showed that the Radio Operator had positioned his
Selective Identification Equipment (SIF) switch from Mode 3, code 1100 to
Mode 3, Code 0000, the normal code for Station operation.
0124The 35th Air Division Radar showed the aircraft to be on track center-line of
Station #2 still transmitting Mode 3, Code 0000.
0125The 35th Air Division Radar Input Countermeasures Officer lost all radar
contact with the aircraft. Attempt to make radar and radio contacts with the
aircraft was unsuccessful.
0126A crew member from a fishing vessel Stephen R reported an aircraft passed
overhead at approximately 200 feet going in a northeast by due north direction.
The aircraft appeared to be in level flight, navigation lights on, and emitting a
smoke or vapor trail.
Two miles beyond the Stephen R the aircraft passed directly over the fishing
vessel Terra Nova at an estimated altitude of 150 feet, wings level, red and green
navigation lights on, and an engine or engines back-firing.
0127The aircraft struck the water approximately 3/4 to 1 mile past the Terra Nova
and an explosion and fire resulted.
I wrote in the appeal that if, for example, the aircraft in question was targeted and fired upon
by a hostile force from surface ships or submarines I hoped that the Air Force now would be
permitted to admit this occurred.
I also wrote that today the United States Government is releasing information concerning
certain incidents (radiation and drug experiments on unsuspecting citizens, the withholding
of medical treatment from diseased patients, aircraft mishaps and incidents along borders of
former enemies during the cold war) all of which until recently have been covered up and/or
denied by the responsible branches of our government.
I further wrote to the Secretary that I had trouble understanding and accepting the
explanations given by Headquarters Air Safety Center as to why certain information is being
withheld and why certain items had been redacted from the History Of Flight.
I appealed to the Secretary that the release of the information would not in any way decrease
the ability of the Air Force to gather and evaluate safety information, as alleged - The release
of the information would not in anyway result in the increased loss of aircraft and crew
members, as alleged - and that the release of the information would not have a detrimental
effect on national security, as alleged.
Although I later wrote General Michael Ryan, Air Force Chief of Staff, and the Honorable
William Cohen, Secretary of Defense, a final decision subsequently was made by the Air Force
regarding my appeal and I did not receive the information I sought.
In making my request for information regarding the loss of 55-5262 and its crew it was not as
I wished to harm our Country, cause damage harm to the Air Force, request something to which I
knew I was not entitled, use the information requested for some sinister motive or for profit.
I just wanted to know what the conclusion of the investigative board was as to what happened
and by what means it happened in regard to the sudden and apparent violent loss of 55-5262
when it crashed at sea on November 11, 1966 with the loss of the entire crew of 19 officers and
In March 1998 I made a request to the Central Intelligence Agency (CIA) under the Freedom
of Information ACT (FOIA) for information that Agency may have pertaining to the loss of a
United States Air Force aircraft, Lockheed Super constellation, Radar Patrol plane EC-121H,
Number 55-5262, on November 11, 1966.
I was informed in April 1998 that the CIA had accepted my request and assigned it
On September 19, 1998, I received notice from the CIA that "No records
responsive to your
request were located".
A. J. NORTHRUP
SMsgt - USAF Retired
IF YOU HAVE INFORMATION PLEASE CONTACT ME AT: