Air Force Research Plane Vanishes in 1971

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Air Force Research Plane Vanishes in 1971


In June of 1971, on a return flight from observing French atomic tests in the Pacific, an Air Force C135 and her crew of 24 men (12 military, 12 civilian) were lost at sea. The only discovered debris was found floating in the ocean, 200 miles north of Palmyra. An extensive search and rescue operation, lasting 5 days, was undertaken by both US and French personnel, but all they found was more debris.

The incident received notable coverage in several newspapers, including the articles in this collection, but no evidence of the crew or the specific reason for the crash was ever found. The official military explanation was given as follows, in the letters sent to members of the lost soldiers' families:

"About two hours out of Hickam Air Force Base, radio contact with the aircraft was lost. An air rescue aircraft was immediately dispatched along the C-135B's route of flight. Approximately seven hundred miles South West of of Hawaii the search aircraft observed a crash position indicator and debris floating on the water. United States Navy destroyer USS Edwards and a British merchant vessel, the Amalric, proceeded to the crash location along with six rescue aircraft and established a search pattern which was carried out for five days. The search revealed numerous amounts of debris which have been identified as that of a C-135B aircraft. Positive identification of the debris from the C-135B Aircraft Vick (Lt Col Victor J Reinhart) was aboard has been made. All circumstances and factors involved have been analyzed and evaluated by the on-sight commander at Hickam Air Force Base and conclusive evidence of death is considered to exist."

Those lost were listed as:

Colonel Billy L. Skipworth - Pilot and commander of the 2nd Airborne Command and Control Squadron 
Lieutenant Colonel Victor J. Reinhart , navigator 
Major William H. Unsderfer,  aircraft commander 
Major William E. Page,Jr. -pilot 
Major John R. McGinn, navigator
Major Joseph B. William 
Captain Byron C. Burnett , Copilot 
1st Lt. James M. Gilbert, III
TSgt. Hubert Miles, Jr., boom operator
Staff Sergeant Kenneth S. Kowal, crew chief 
Staff Sergeant Elno R. Reimer - flight engineer
Major Joseph B. WIlliam
Captain Perry T. Rose, pilot

Anthony J. Theriault, an employee of the Air Force Cambridge Research Laboratory  
John P. Cahill, an employee of the Air Force Cambridge 
David Penney, an employee of the Air Force Cambridge Research Laboratory 
Dean L. Hoar, an employee of Ling-Temco-Vought Aerospace 
Rolla F. Blanchard, an employee of Ling-Temco-Vought Aerospace 
Charles V. Ditto, an employee of Ling-Temco-Vought Aerospace 
Thomas R. Connor 
Donald E. Ashland
John B. Tumas, an employee of LTV Electro Systems 
Edward M. Slagel, an employee of Westinghouse Corp. 
Dr. Thomas J. Walter, an employee of the Air Force Cambridge Research Laboratory 
Allen Morissette, an employee of Avco Corp.

(Source of quoted text)


June, 1971

Collection Items

Missing Plane Hunt Continues
Brief description of the search for the lost Air Force C135, the only debris of which was found 200 miles north of Palmyra.
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