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C-133 Losses and Major Accidents


        Andrew Fleming contributed the photo above. He obtained it from an unknown Air Rescue helicopter crewmember he met in the barracks at Clark AB. This is the only crash in the water from which wreckage remained and the crew survived. The wreckage floated for several days and I have been told that local fishermen salvaged items from the hulk before it sank. The second picture was provided by Waldo Fuller, showing the remains shortly before it went on its last six-mile final. Also, Herb Nakagawa, one of the navs, has sent several USAF photos.

Between 28 Aug 57 and 15 Aug 71, ten C-133 aircraft were lost in accidents. Six were A-models and four were Bs. Crew losses were 55 personnel. Causes of seven of the accidents remained undetermined, especially because four disappeared at sea and little or no recovery was possible of wreckage or crewmembers. These losses were twenty percent of the fleet, giving rise to some sardonic humor among crewmembers that continued to fly. The fleet was grounded more than once, and the level of concern reached from the squadrons to every level of the Air Force and to congress.
        The summaries that follow come from the Warner Robbins Air Material Area (WRAMA) Historical Study No. 26, C-133 Cargomaster, 1953-1973 , written by Richard E. Maltais, Office of History, Robins AFB, GA. Accident report findings remain privileged information and can not currently (Aug 2000) be obtained from the Air Force Office of Safety.
        There are many conjectures about the reasons for the various crashes. These include stall characteristics of the C-133, possible electrical arcing in radios installed in the wing "saddle back" area, and icing. Especially for the airplanes that disappeared overwater, the mysteries will never be definitively solved. Those that disappeared shortly after departing Dover AFB, DE, have even been linked, however indirectly and absurdly, to the Bermuda Triangle. Given that any wreckage is likely to have fallen into the Gulf Stream and moved miles downstream, the simple lack of finding wreckage has a much simpler explanation than some mysterious outside forces.
        Although a loss of 20% of the fleet over its lifetime is perhaps uniquely high for a single aircraft type, the lifetime accident rate (accidents per 100,000 flying hours) for the C-133 was lower than that for the AF as a whole. The statistics that follow show the comparative rates. For the C-133, the 1958 rate was so high because the fleet was still very small. In 1965, the rate showed another spike because the fleet was grounded for a length period. The USAF rates for 1965-1970 were not included in the table.  (Source: Maltais, Appendix I, p. 270)

C-133 Major Accident Rate
                                                                           (per 100,000 hours)

                                                            Year        C-133 Rate USAF Rate
                                                             1957           0                 13.6
                                                             1958         27.6               10.4
                                                             1959           0                   8.2
                                                             1960           0                   5.8
                                                             1961           3.4                6.3
                                                             1962           2.4                5.7
                                                             1963           3.1                4.4
                                                             1964           1.6                4.4
                                                             1965           2.68
                                                             1966           1.37
                                                             1967           1.5
                                                             1968           1.6
                                                             1969           1.6
                                                             1970           3.8
                                                          Ave.              3.61


1. 13 Apr 58. Dover AFB, DE.  C-133A 54146 crashed and burned 26 miles south of Dover during a local flight test, 17 minutes after takeoff. Four crewmembers perished. No cause was determined. In e-mail to the author, one person who went to the site after the crash said the airplane impacted inverted. Crew included: CPT Raymond R. Bern (AC), 1LT Herbert T. Palisch (CP), TSG Marvin A. Aust and TSG Edward L. McKinley (FET).

2. 10 Jun 61.  C-133B 571614. Overwater, 33 minutes after takeoff from Tachikawa AB, Japan. Eight crew killed. Only limited floating debris recovered. The cause was determined to be structural damage resulting from a number three engine nose case failure with aircraft components striking number four engine and causing it to separate from the aircraft. Subsequent severe structural damage to wing and fuselage probably caused loss of aircraft control and electrical power. Crew included:  MAJ Lawrence J. Ceretti, HQ 1501st ATW (FEAC), CPT Ray L. Willman (AC), CPT Donald E. Holmes (P), CPT Leon M. Miller, 2223rd Instructor Sq (N), 1LT Nathan L. Patterson (IN), TSG Oral G. Converse and TSG Howard J. Otero (FET), and SSG Billy R. Edwards (LM).

3. 27 May 62. C-133A 571611. Overwater, 32 minutes after takeoff from Dover AFB, DE, near SHAD intersection (37 43’ N 73 W). Six crewmembers lost. A life raft and nose gear assembly recovered 28 May, 53 miles east of Ocean City, MD. Crew may have had a loss of flight control and crashed. Crew included: 1LT James A. Higgins (AC), 1LT Robert J. Faller (CP), 1LT Danny D. Hawkins (N), MSG William F. Wert and TSG Fred Parsons (FET), SSG Clifford E. Parker (LM).

4. 10 Apr 63. C-133B 590523.  Travis AFB, CA. Aircraft crashed 3/4 mile from Travis while making practice instrument approach during local training. It was initiating a low visibility circling approach when it went into a steep turn and crashed. Nine personnel aboard were killed. No cause was ever determined. For more info, go to Crew included: MAJ Roy M. Johnston (FEAC), 1LT William H. Grey (CP), 1LT Leonard R. Dorman (CP), 2LT Edward Melda (N), 2LT Russell R. Zablan, Jr. (N), TSG Donald D. Cox (FET), TSG Joel H. Nipper (FET), TSG Lloyd J. Richard (FET), and A3C Charles W. Wittle (Maintenance).

5. 31 Jul 63. C-133A 562005. Dover AFB, DE.  Aircraft destroyed in fire when ground crew allowed fuel to overflow and spill to the ground. Fuel ignited by spark from GTU. Left wing and part of fuselage damaged so severely in nine-minute fire that repair was considered uneconomical. Airplane later torn down by Douglas for structural studies. No fatalities, minor injuries to one ground crew.

6.  22 Sep 63. C-133A 562002. Overwater, 28 minutes after takeoff from Dover AFB, DE. Disappeared from radar near SHAD intersection (37 43’ N 73 W). Ten crew lost. No floating wreckage or location of sunken wreckage. No cause determined. Crew included: CPT Dudley J. Connolly, Jr. (AC), MAJ George V. Stricklin (CP), 1LT Walter J. Stewart III (2nd P), 1LT Jerold D. Kopp,  1LT Robert J. Wibbels and 1LT Theodore R. McDaniels, Jr. (N), MSG Raymond P. Knott and TSG Elwood M. Griffith (FET), SSG Carl McClung (LM) and AIC Paul R. Ruehl (Asst Crew Chief).

6.  1964. A maintenance man was killed at Travis AFB when a C-133 slipped off the jack. He was Ernest J. Luongo, Jr., from Massachusetts.This is the only such incident I know of where someone among maintenance or other ground personnel was seriously injured or killed when directly involved in C-133 operations. If there are others, please contact me.

7. 7 Nov 64. C-133A 562014. Goose Bay, Labrador. Aircraft appeared to stall at full power after takeoff. Right wing, then left wing dropped, aircraft impacted 3,300' from end of runway in nose high, left wing down and tail low attitude. Seven killed. Most probable cause a departure stall due to icing or "possibly the aerodynamic instability of the aircraft." The author has had e-mail correspondence with a Canadian who witnessed the crash. He was twelve at the time, on a Boy Scout hike in the area just north of the runway. He stopped to watch the takeoff before getting into the vehicle, and said the airplane lights went up into the sky, then stopped and went straight down. There was no an explosion, just a huge fireball that erupted and he could feel the shock wave from the combustion. He said he heard that the airplane was deiced twice before takeoff. Crew included: 1LT Guy L. Vassalotti (AC), MAJ Frank X. Hearty (FEAC/CP), CPT Charles L. Jenkins (CP), 1LT Douglas H. Brookfield (N), TSG John A. Kitchens and TSG Norman A. Baron (FET), A1C Shelton Toler (LM). NOTE: Bob Hunter,who was in MX at Dover, has contacted me to state very firmly that Sgt Kitchens was killed in the Sep 63 crash, not in this one. Hunter was out of the service in Feb 64, long before the Nov crash. My source is Part A of the USAF accident investigation board report. If anyone has a primary source reference to contradict that report, I would be interested in seeing that material.

8. 11 Jan 65. C-133A 540140. Overwater just after a night departure from Wake Island. Plane crashed from about 500' altitude, going into the sea about three miles from the end of the runway. Wreckage was in 1,200-1,800' of water, and salvage and examination was impossible. Some limited debris was recovered and taken to Wright Patterson AFB for examination in late Feb 65. No official determination of the cause was established. An 8,000-hour C-133 instructor and examiner pilot has expressed the opinion to the author that the crew probably experienced a fast-developing departure stall that led to the crash. Crewmembers were: CPT Arthur F. Wiegand (AC), MAJ Herman D. Stephan (CP), 1LT Jon B. Parker (N), TSG James O. Smith and SSG Anthony Panzarella (FET), and SSG James Gold (LM).

9. 30 Apr 67. C-133B 59534.  Lost after takeoff from Kadena AB, Okinawa, Japan. All crew survived. Just after takeoff, power was lost and airplane was ditched 35 nm NE of Kadena and approximately 2 to 3 miles off the east coast of Okinawa. The aircraft sank in 900' of water about one mile from Okinawa. Primary cause was material failure in propeller electrical system. Either/both the propeller control circuit and the propeller power circuit failed, causing a fixed pitch condition leading to engine flameout. Crew members were: CPT James Regan (AC), lLT Lawrence Garret and CPT Richard Zabel (CP), CPT Regis White and 1LT Herb Nakagawa (Nav), MSG Ray Wetsel and MSG William Patrick (FE), A1C Benton Seeley (LM) and A1C Darrell G. McIntyre, crew chief. MSG Wetsel suffered serious injuries during the ditching.

27 Sep 67. Another Dover C-133 crew was lost in the crash of a civilian aircraft belonging to TEMCO. The crew had delivered a C-133 to TEMCO, at Greenville, TX, where the airplane would undergo IRAN. They were going to Dallas Love Field aboard a TEMCO Aero Commander, which crashed enroute, killing all aboard. Casualties included: Vernon L. Denman (TEMCO pilot), N. E. Chappell (TEMCO employee), MAJ Jack H. Culp, Sr. (AC), CPT Donald A. Cook (CP), CPT Anthony G. Lucci (N), MSG Julius V. Lee and MSG Kenneth P. Kennedy (FET).

10. 6 Feb 70. C-133B 59530. Location was 5 nm NNE of Palisade, NE.  Five crew killed. An existing 11" crack above the left side door propagated catastrophically, resulting in tearing of the upper forward fuselage skin for about 17'. An explosive decompression caused large skin sections from the top and right side of the fuselage to be torn away. Cargo included Lycoming T53 and T55 engines in sealed shipping containers and CH-47B Chinook (possibly 67-8487), all enroute to US Army Depot New Cumberland, PA. Crew members were: MAJ Harold Tabor (AC), 1LT Duane Burdette (CP), TSG James Clouse and MSG Joe Tierney (FETs), and SSG Ira Bowers (LM).

Accident and Major Incidents

1. 16 Jun 58. Dover AFB, DE.  C-133A 561999 caught fire during takeoff. No injuries or loss of life. Takeoff aborted and aircraft recovered to ramp. Cause was buckled tail pipe due to broken clamp. Fleet was grounded and emergency tech order action issued requiring removal of engines to check exhaust nozzle and repair as necessary before releasing for flight.

2. 24 Apr 61. Cape Canaveral, FL. C-133 (tail number unknown) blew one right rear tire on takeoff roll. No injuries or loss of life. Right wheel struck protruding bracket of a deactivated Snark arresting barrier. During deceleration, the other right rear tire exploded, causing additional damage to hydraulic and electric lines. Damage in gear pod was extensive enough to classify the event as a major accident.

3. 31 Dec 62. Dover AFB, DE. C-133A (probably 71612) severely damaged by fire. Airplane was being towed for maintenance and at least on GTU was running. Fuel poured out of the top of the wing and onto the GTU exhaust. According to Ron Vautard, a crew chief who saw the damage, the pods were removed and the airplane was flown out to depot with the gear locked down. Dave Wilton researched records showing that 71612 was damaged on this date, then repaired by an AFLC maintenance team before being flown to TEMCO, Greenville, TX, where it was under repair from Oct 62 to Apr 63. This was one of three major C-133 fires at Dover, the other two being 62005 and 61999. Anyone with more information please contact Cal Taylor at

4. Jan 1965. Tail number U/K. One accident. Numerous other incidents (total of 72) during 1965 predominantly involved airspeed indicating system, fire warning system and propellers.

5. 1966. Forty-three incidents involving same systems as in 1965 as well as numerous inadvertent ejections of crash position indicators. One taxi accident at Tinker AFB, OK, due to nose landing gear failure.

6. 1967. Forty-one incident reports. Most involved fire detection system, main and nose landing gear, engine nose cases and the electrical system. Dover had another C-133 fire on 18 Jan 67. 61999 was damaged during fuel transfer. The left wing, flaps, nearby fuselage and wheel pod all were burned. The airplane was repaired in the "Black Hangar, " Bldg 714. Repairs required 8,517.3 manhours.

7. 1968. Twenty-seven incidents reported.  20 Apr 68. C-133A 571615. Travis AFB, CA. During engine runup, the aircraft jumped the chocks due to improperly bled brakes and ran into a metal Butler building on the flight line. There was extensive damage to the top of the fuselage, both landing gear pods and the two inboard engines. Photos show both bent downwards dramatically. One outboard engine and the wing leading edge sustained minor damage. The airplane was repaired and returned to flying status.

8. 1969. One accident, when a C-133 belly-landed at Travis AFB during a scheduled training mission. Cause was pilot failure to extend the landing gear. The aircraft was repaired and returned to flying status. There were also 33 incidents, with the propellers and landing gear most frequent problem areas. On 21 Jan 69, C-133A 54139 suffered wing tip damage at Qui Nhon AB, Vietnam, when the wing impacted slightly a parked CH-54 during landing.  Cause was attributed to failure of tower personnel to have the runway adequately cleared.

    There were probably other incidents not reported in the Maltais study, but the author has no further information.




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