Blue on blue

   The accidental shoot down of B-52B 53-0380

B-52B Ciudad Juarez

    It is an unfortunate fact of military life that training can often be as deadly as combat.  That is made more tragic when an accident can be prevented from the outset.  Such is the case with the accidental shoot down of a B-52 Stratofortress by the New Mexico Air National Guard during 1961.

   On April 7 a B-52B took off from Biggs Air Force Base, at El Paso, Texas on a practice mission.  The "BUFF" was given the serial number 53-0380 when she was built and was christened the "Ciudad Juarez" when she was assigned to the 95th Bomb Wing at Biggs.  That name was in honor of El Paso's sister city across the Rio Grande.  Part of the mission for the day was to provide a "target" for two F-100As piloted by 1st Lt. James W. van Scyoc and Capt. Dale Dodd of the 188th Fighter Interceptor Squadron (NMANG) to practice intercepts on.  Little did anyone know how realistic that was to become.

   The two Huns that were to make passes on the bomber started their runs at 34,000 feet.  As was the common practice in those days, they each carried GAR-8 Sidewinder missiles.  The Sidewinder has a "heat seeking" guidance system where the seeker head in the front of the missile will pick up the infra red signature of another aircraft and guide the missile to that heat source.  The GAR designation was later changed to AIM-9B.   The AIM-9Bs in use that day were live missiles, but had been wired in such a way that only the seeker head was supposed to be active.  The two F-100s had made five successful passes (or intercepts).  On the sixth pass the B-52 crew heard the gut wrenching words of Lt. van Scyoc:  "Look out!  One of my missiles is loose!"  The Sidewinder flew straight and true and impacted one of the engine pods on the left wing taking the wing off in the explosion.  Even with the small charge carried by the missile the bomber was fatally wounded.  Capt Donald D. Blodgett described in the February, 1962 issue of Interceptor what happened next:  "As the B-52 veered sharply to the left, I applied full right aileron but the aircraft remained in a left bank.  The controls were shaking so hard I was unable to get my hand on the inter-phone button to tell the crew to bail out.  I let go with my right hand and hit the alarm bell."  He then continues to describe his ejection and the breakup of the airplane.  Some time after he landed, his tail gunner found him.  Later that day a helicopter rescued them, but it was two days later before the copilot and crew chief were located and rescued.  Three other crew members perished in the crash, their bodies still inside the wreckage.

  Over the years, I have heard two plausible explanations:  1.  Moisture in the cannon plug attaching the Sidewinder to the aircraft pylon had completed a circuit causing the missile to launch.   and 2:  That during construction of the F-100 a wire bundle in the fuselage had been crimped causing a short that completed the firing circuit. (In fact, the F-100A was built without Sidewinder capability.  That was only added when the A models went into ANG service, so the wire bundle explanation is weak.)  In either case live missiles became less common over the years, though at least as recently as the mid 1980s a U.S. Navy F-14 shot down a German based USAFE RF-4C in a similar incident.  Most practice missions are now flown with a training round that contains an active seeker head, but an inert body.    The accident board found that moisture was the cause and most importantly that  Lt. van Scyoc was not at fault.

  I have often wondered if James van Scyoc suffered from the stress that is often related to an accident beyond one's control.  I hope that he is living a happy successful life and that this accident has not haunted him.

  A photo of Ciudad Juarez is posted on the B-52 page.  Below is a shot of four New Mexico ANG F-100As in flight.  In 1964 the 188th FIS would replace the A models with C models and change designations to the 188th TFS.  The aircraft in this picture are in natural metal finishes with black and yellow "flashes".  


AIM-9B Sidewinder


The crew of the ill fated B-52 were:

Capt. Donald C. Blodgett (Aircraft Commander)
Capt. Ray C. Obel (Co-pilot)
Capt. Peter J. Gineris (Navigator)
Capt. Stephen Carter (Bombardier)
Capt. George D. Jackson (ECM)
2nd Lt. Glenn Bair (ECM Student)
S/Sgt. Ray A. Singleton (Gunner)
S/Sgt. Manuel L. Mieras (Maintenance Controller)

Captains Gineris and Carter and Lt. Bair lost their lives in the accident.  The survivors all suffered injuries with Sergeant Mierea losing his legs.

Since writing the above account in 2002, I have learned that the F-100A (53-1662*) that launched the missile was flown by 1st Lt. James W. van Scyoc.  The second Hun was piloted by Capt. Dale Dodd.

Here is a link that adds some details to the accident: Casualties of the Cold War



Wreckage of the Ciudad Juarez atop Mt. Taylor.  (RAF Flying Review)

 
  This personal perspective should help to provide a human element to two of the tragedies that occurred during the B-52 years:

"My name is Phil Adimari. I was fascinated to read your accounts regarding the 95th Bomb Wing; you really did your research. Since I served with the 95th A&E Maintenance Squadron from February, 1959 to June, 1962, I have some first-hand knowledge regarding the two tragic incidents where we lost B-52s 0380 & 0390 that I thought you might find of interest.
 
At the time of the accident, we were told that 0390's entire tail section had sheared off, cutting the tail gunner in half and turning the aircraft into a missile, headed straight down. The Aircraft Commander's skill saved the rest of the crew. He managed to get the aircraft stabilized enough to order a controlled bailout. Once that was accomplished, he actually attempted to fly 0390 back to base. The controls went haywire, so he aimed the bird towards the ocean and bailed out.
 
You mentioned that Manny Mieras, the Crew Chief of 0380, lost both his legs. As I remember it, he lost one leg, just below the knee. After he left the hospital pending discharge, Manny himself told his best friend, Billy Porras (my buddy in A&E), that the co-pilot ejected before the bailout order was given by Capt. Blodgett. Manny was standing on the ladder that connects the cockpit level of the aircraft to the Navigator/Bombardier level at that moment. As soon as Capt. Obel ejected, it caused a rapid decompression, which literally sucked Manny off the ladder and out the co-pilot's ejection hatch. Fortunately, he was wearing his parachute; even though regulations required all personnel to wear their 'chute at all times, they were so uncomfortable that we often would take them off to give our shoulders and backs a break. Unfortunately, on his way through the open hatch his leg (I think the right, but I don't remember) caught one edge of the hatch and was badly damaged , necessitating the amputation. Ironically, the rapid decompression probably saved Manny's life. In a controlled bailout, his egress would have been by dropping through the hatch openings created be the downward ejection of the Navigator and Bombardier. The fact that they were killed where they sat and never ejected might have left Manny with no way out.
 
A couple of anecdotes regarding Manny's sense of humor you might find interesting: when they found him in the shed on the mountain, he was sitting at a table playing Solitaire with a Pinochle deck -- so when his rescuers arrived, he turned to them and said, "I hope there's three of you, so we can play a decent game of Pinochle!" When he was released from the hospital, pending a medical discharge from the Air Force, there was a big farewell party for him at the NCO Club. When he saw how everyone seemed to pity him his artificial limb, he went out on the floor and danced, just to show everyone that a little thing like a prosthesis wasn't going to slow him down. If they'd let him, he would have stayed in the service."

  *F-100A 53-1662 was later converted to an F-100A-rehab for Taiwan.  They conversion included an F-100D tail and inflight refueling capability.
 

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Clifford Bossie
Updated 02-24-11