United States Army

B-52 Crash at Kadena AFB, November 19, 1968

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Editor's Comments:  This B-52 crash is not really related to Hawk Missiles, but none the less, having a B-52 blow up down the road from the Site 10 barracks did have an impact on me.

The B-52 crash on Okinawa never really made the news then and even today, it's loss was never really made public, nor documented in the US media.   Air Force tail number 55-0103 is listed as "Aborting it's takeoff and being destroyed by fire" and that's about it.   Numerous people have contacted me over the years with their accounts and/or wanting to know more about the crash.   I was contacted by Captain Gary Sible, the navigator of 55-0103, who wanted to finally tell everyone what had really happened before, during and after the crash.   I've also included the official, declassfied USAF crash report files for the crash:

  • UTUBE VIDEO INSIDE & OUT OF A B52 (sorry about the comercial)

    The following Crash Description is from Captain Gary Sible
    Navigator of 55-0103, USAF 346 Bomb Squadron, 99 Bomb Wing.

    Posted September 18, 2006

    The events surrounding the crash of 55-0103 on 19 Nov 1968 at Kadena Air Base, Okinawa that are related in this brief story are strictly the recollection of one person who was on board.   There are no statements or opinions of a political nature contained herein.

    1.   The Crew:
    The crew was rated "select" (the highest normal crew rating).   They were in their second tour of duty in South East Asia.   This was to be their 103rd mission.   That morning the crew consisted of 2 pilots, 2 bomb navigation specialists, an electronic warfare officer, a tail gunner, and a crew chief mechanic, who was not normally part of a B-52 crew.   Nearly all the crew members were instructors in their positions, were highly qualified in conventional bombing, and had been flying together nearly 2 years, except for the crew chief.

    2.   Briefing and Preflight, Aircraft Condition and Bomb Loading:
    The briefings were all normal with no abnormalities on lighting, taxi-ways, or runways.   The take-off was scheduled for 04:06 that morning. The fuel and bomb loads were both standard, generating a normal take-off weight.

    3.   Aircraft Position:
    55-0103 (code named Cream 2) was the second aircraft of the second cell, and the fifth aircraft in a six-plane total formation.   The planes took off at 60 second intervals in each cell.   

    4.   Cockpit Checklist Deviation:
    The critical acceleration timing check was normal and the aircraft was committed to proceed with take-off.   However, the aircraft speed did not continue to rise normally.   About 12-15 seconds after being committed to the take-off, the plane speed was ascertained to not be high enough to sustain the aircraft in the air for long.   The aircraft would fall into a town off the end of the runway, and thus the take-off was aborted to try and keep it on the ground at all cost.

    5.   Actual Impact:
    The B-52 left the end of the runway and traveled down a sodded embankment, hit a large ditch, and came to rest on Kadena’s inner perimeter road, sitting on top of an air police pick-up truck.   Its driver escaped by running down the road.   The wings were torn loose releasing fuel from the wing tanks.   Fires started from ruptured hydraulic lines, fuel flowing over hot brakes, and from electrical malfunctions.

    6.   Cockpit Conditions:
    There was an immediate loss of electrical power and lighting.   Behind the crew compartment fire could be seen through the cabin bulkhead door on the lower level.   Acrid smoke started to fill the crew compartment.

    7.   Crew Egress:
    The co-pilot’s escape hatch was opened and the co-pilot, crew chief, and aircraft commander climbed out and jumped 10 feet to the ground.   The electronic warfare officer opened his hatch and climbed out on top of the plane.   The radar navigator and navigator climbed to the upper deck and escaped through the co-pilot’s open hatch.   The tail gunner jettisoned the entire turret (guns and all) on the ground and climbed down his escape rope, then ran back to the runway and the waiting emergency vehicles.

    8.   Rescue Crew Reaction:
    All rescue personnel and equipment had been moved back for their own safety.   The bombs would blow up soon and they assumed the rest of the crew was lost since everything was on fire.

    9.   What Saved the Crew from the Bomb Explosion:
    Five of the front crewmen found refuge in a 10-12 foot drainage ditch off the nose of the plane.   The other crewman found his way to a small block building built into the perimeter fence.   When the bombs blew up a very short time later the crew was protected by the ditch walls, as everything went right over the top of them.   The huge explosion ripped all the fuel tanks to pieces, causing burning fuel to flow into the ditch, forcing the crew to come up into the intensive heat.   Three crewmen ran along the inside of the fence and came upon the crewman who was sitting in the block building.   The four of them escaped through the fence.   The other 2 crew members climbed over the 3-strand barbed wire perimeter fence, even though they both had broken ankles.

    10.   The Miracle That got the Crew Away From the Heat:
    Two airmen in a pick-up truck saw something moving in the inferno and with no protection drove through the ground fires to the men.   They got all 6 crewmen into their truck and to the infirmary.   The tail gunner was brought there also as soon as it was known that there were other survivors.   For a short time, all 7 were back together.

    11.   Last Minutes as a Crew:
    From the medical facility, two crewmen were quickly airlifted to the burn center in Japan.   One was sent to an army hospital on Okinawa for ankle surgery, and the rest were held in protective custody from outraged local people while being treated for their injuries.

    12.   Accident and Flying Evaluation Boards and Crew Status:
    All of the crew members were tested for substances and questioned in detail.   Only a few small pieces of 0103 remained in the deep, smoking hole the size of a football field, and those pieces were sent to Wichita for analysis.

    The concluding report found no mechanical problems with the engines or braking system.   The crew was returned to flight status except for the 2 crewmen that died in the burn center.

    Note: The aircraft commander kept total control at all times by making rapid and accurate decisions during this ordeal.   Under a weaker pilot the entire crew and possibly hundreds of civilians would have perished!

    Here's a followup Gary sent later:

    The following is from Captain Gary Sible, Navigator of 55-0103,
    USAF 346 Bomb Squadron, 99 Bomb Wing

    We started a big ruckus all right.   Sorry about that.    Everything had gone fine with the takeoff until 15 seconds after the S-1 acceleration check.   We were committed to a takeoff.   This check determines whether we would have enough speed by the end of the runway to make a normal takeoff with the given load under the flight conditions of that morning.    Once you are "committed", you must try to get the beast off the ground at all cost.   The pilot called for an airspeed check from the co-pilot in that 15 seconds after "committal".   I knew we were in trouble because no one ever says one word that is not in the call response checklist during a normal takeoff.   The aircraft commander broke all the rules and aborted very late.    He felt there was not enough acceleration to complete the takeoff and the plane would fall after about 1/2 mile of flight.   You know about where that would have put us.   How many might have died?   Did he make an error in judgment?   No one can say for sure.

    We ended up inside the perimeter fence with a fully loaded aircraft that was on fire, ruptured hydraulic lines and leaking fuel tanks torn loose by the impact of hitting a ditch.   The cockpit was filling with acrid smoke that hurt your nose and lungs to breathe it.   We knew it would blow up when those bombs got hot enough and already some of the tanks were starting to go.

    The crew escaped out the co-pilot's hatch above his ejection seat which had to be opened manually.   Two crew members were badly burned on egress.   One lived for 4 days and the other for 6 in the burn center in Japan.   No one was left behind.   The crew was saved by a deep drainage ditch off the nose of the aircraft just inside the perimeter fence where there was a large culvert that ran from the open drainage ditch under the fence and under the road outside the fence.

    We could not get into the culvert because there was a welded grid to keep trash and illegals from entering the base through it.   We were in the ditch just by the grid when the big explosion went off.   It blew everything over our heads but the wall of the ditch protected us.   This explosion tore the fuel tanks to pieces and immediately the drainage ditch began to fill up with burning JP-4.

    We had to get out and get out now.   We climbed up the grid just inside the fence.   It was so hot I was sure my flight suit was on fire, even through the light flight jacket I had on was giving me some protection.   The choices were simple, climb that chain link fence with barbed wire on top, try to run along the inside of the fence not knowing whether it would lead us away for the inferno, or stand there and perish.

    My radar navigator and I both had broken legs from the initial impact but it had not really been noticeable up to this point.   Standing there for a split second in the heat with my head toward the fence because it was too hot to turn my head the other way I could see everything clearly outlined on the other side of the fence from the light of the intense fire.   My radar man said, "were going to climb this, nav".   His leg was worse than mine so I helped him by making a stirrup with my hands and then heaving him as hard as I could.   He clawed his way over the barbed wire and fell over the top to the other side.   I'm light and fairly agile and was able to climb on my own up and over.   I remember thinking as I went over the wire, "I don't care if it cuts me to pieces,   I'm too tired to fight anymore".

    The rest of the crew, not having broken legs ran along the inside of the fence and found a way to get through at a little abandoned guard shack that had been partially blown down from the explosion.   The entire crew was together with the exception of the tail gunner who had ran back the other direction from the plane and was rescued by the fire crews who had been tactically pulled back for their own protection.

    We were trying to stay out of the heat by crawling on our hands and knees behind a steel guard rail on the opposite side of the road.   Two airmen in a pick-up truck thought they saw something moving down in all the fire and drove in there with no protection and found us.   We all got into the truck except the gunner and we tore around off the roads because there were fires in the roadways until we got a good distance away and then on to the infirmary.

    There are many more details which I will not bore you with for now but it is interesting to see and hear all the people who were touched by the incident.    Thank you for relating your story.

    Capt. Gary Sible Navigator, 346 Bomb Squadron, 99 Bomb Wing

    The following is from Doug Ford (TUGGERIES@aol.com)

    I was a Sgt (E-4) at the time and was living in the H Style Medic's barracks on top of the hill, probably 1/2 a mile from the crash site.    At the time I was sleeping and I thought I heard thunder and rain (Shrapnel) hitting the concrete barracks.   I went outside and I Could see huge explosions on the flight line!   I ran back into the Medic barracks and pushed the red button that would awaken all the Medical personnel there!   I quickly got dressed in my whites and ran to the Dispensary. I was assigned a MD and an Dodge ambulance to respond to the crash site. Problem was,we could not get close and were ordered to withdrew due to the bomb explosions.    Returned back to the dispensary to provide any care we and the Medical personnel do could for the crew.

    I have the Kadena News Paper that writes about the crash but no reason why.   Also, I have a color picture of the crash site taken from a Pedro Rescue Helicopter.   I found your site by looking up my 824th Combat Support Group patch.

    After all these years, it is nice to know what happened!

    Crash Site

    Crash Site

    Crash Site

    Doug Ford
    USAF Medic/Air Sea Rescue. 1966-1970

    The following is from Jim Farmer (jfarmer331@msn.com)

    I would like to add to the very good accounting that Pat Kaye has already written in this section. His experiences were a lot like mine. I was a Munitions Specialist stationed at Kadena AFB from March 1968 to September 1969 in the 418 MMS. I was an E-3 at the time. The primary job of the 418 MMS was to supply bombs and other munitions to the F-105 fighters that were based at Kadena. We normally worked in a small bomb dump east of the base, a short distance from the east end of the runway where the B-52 blew up. When the ships that delivered bombs to Okinawa for the B-52s would come into port we would help the 400 MMS unload the convoys of bomb laden trucks into storage revetments in the really big bomb dump that the 400 MMS worked in. The 418 MMS barracks were slightly down the hill and to the east of the 400 MMS barracks, across the street from the chow hall.

    I was asleep when the B-52 blew up. My room was on the far side of the barracks that did not face the direct blast. The explosion that woke me up almost threw me out of my bunk. When I opened my eyes the red glow of the fire or an explosion was lighting up the room. I didn't have any idea what was happening at that exact moment but it was extremely violent and surreal. We all went outside to watch the fire from the ground. The inferno and explosions were something to never be forgotten.

    The explosions buckled thick iron doors and broke windows at the bomb dump that I worked in. Later in the day we were given large cloth sacks and we picked up pieces of Tritonal that had been ejected from the bombs that had split open from low order detonations. The group that I was in combed the main base for the explosives. The pieces that we picked up generally ranged in size from a small piece of gravel to a rock about 6 inches across. In addition to the green concrete look that Tritonal has, the top surface of the pieces turns a light red when the sun hits them and heats them up. They also leave a small grease spot on the surface that they are resting on. It was pretty easy to find the pieces and very easy to identify them. I was told that small airplane pieces and chunks of explosives were found pretty much all over the base.

    I still have a flat, jagged piece of the plane about an inch in diameter that I found while picking up Tritonal. It is flat black on one side and green zinc chromate on the other side, probably a piece of the skin.

    Jim Farmer
    Camarillo, CA
    USAF Veteran
    1967 - 1972:
       3 years Munitions Specialist
       2 years Loadmaster on C-141


    The following is from John J.(JJ) Marcy (johnmarcy20001@yahoo.com)

    I as stationed at kadrna as an A1C Security Police Officer.in the 824th Securityy Police Squadron . I had the mobil patrol for the arrea in which the crash occured on the swing shift ( 1600 hrs to oooo hrs). I remember receving that security police pickup that day it was brand new and I had it for its first tour of duty. I also re.ember telling my reliref "be careful no scratches , no dents , no coffee stains ". Well the only thing left of that truck was the security police rack on the truvks roof and the red emergecy light which somehow survived intact...

    Sgt. John J. (JJ) Marcy

    The following is from Donald Ray (dray8122@yahoo.com)

    I was a crew chief on one of the planes in the flight that night.   We had launch our aircraft in the group (directed our B-52 out of the parking spot) we were walking in the dark up the hill toward our shop.   We were accustomed to hearing the B-52's speeding down the run ways to take off.. All sounded normal as the planes were taking off.   When the plane that crash was taking off the sound was as normal as any. All of the sudden we heard the engines abruptly shut down. then saw the plane run off the end of the runway..and begin to exploded.   We were probably 3/4 to a mile from the end of the runway.   The percussion from the blast hit us minutes later and almost knocked us off our feet.   It was a very sad time to lose a plane and one of my very first supervisors and trainer Sgt. Jerry Scott.    Sgt. Donald G. Ray, served 3 months in Guam and 6 months at Kadena ...


    Donald Ray

    The following is from Joseph Lindsay (jlindsay_2@centurylink.netm)

    I was a Crew Chief on a missile launch crew in the 498th TMG at the time of the crash. This was my second tour in the 498th TMG. I was an unaccompanied NCO and therefore was in the barracks asleep at 0400 hours. The crash woke me up. The ensuing explosions made me think that either a B-52 crashed or we were under attack. My training kicked in and I assumed it was the latter scenario. I broke into the gun locker near our barracks day room and started issuing weapons (M-2 Carbines) and ammunition clips. I stationed some of the Airmen at the entrances to the barracks as a precaution.

    Sometime later our CO showed up at the barracks. When he assessed what was going on, he asked who was responsible for the gun locker door being in pieces. Another NCO pointed at me and I just looked at the Colonel and said, "I did not have a key so I had to break the door down". When the Colonel praised my quick action and decisive thinking, the other NCO tried to take some of the credit. The Colonel practically ignored him but assigned him the job of getting the door fixed.

    At the time, I had been in the Air Force for ten years. I did not know the two men who lost their lives but felt a kinship with B-52 crews because, in between assignments to the 498th, I was trained as a NavAids (now referred to as Avionics) Technician and was assigned to work on B-52s and KC-135s at Altus AFB in Oklahoma.

    I hope others will find this an interesting anecdote.

    Joseph F Lindsay
    Formerly a SSGT in the USAF
    Served from 1958-1970

    The following is from Jody Davis (joadavis2@gmail.com)


    Was reading your webpage about the 1968 crash of the B-52 in Okinawa. Thanks for posting all that information. Here are my memories of that event:

    I was a young Air Force wife living in Morgan Manor.   How well I remember being awakened in the wee hours by what turned out to be the B52 crash.   I grabbed my sleepy almost 3-year old son from his bed and ran out into the yard.   Several neighbors gathered in my yard, hearing the bombs going off and watching the glow in the night sky.   We thought we were under attack or that a plane had crashed into the ammo dump near the end of the runway.   I was pretty concerned because my husband, an aircraft maintenance officer, was TDY to Korea (due to the fall-out from the capture of the USS Pueblo by the North Koreans).   Although I was concerned, I had wonderful support from my Air Force neighbors. At the time, I was a civilian employee at Camp Kawasaki, part of the Camp Butler Marine Corps complex.   I had to pass the crash site every day as I drove to and from work.   An awful sight.

    Jody Davis, widow of Capt. Ellis B. Davis, Jr.

    Jody Davis

    The following is from Pat Kaye (oddenkaye@icloud.com)


    I came across your article about the fateful B-52 crash in Okinawa.   I have been amazed that no one ever knew about this.   I was stationed at Kadena from May 1968 to November 1969 in the 400 MMS(T) and we built all the bombs for the 4252nd SAC B52s.   I was a Munitions Specialist working in the 750 BABS unit   (bomb assembly and build station) and an E-3 at the time.

    I have read some of the other submissions and no one has given you correct details on the Vietnam-bound payload. Our birds were an older version that carried 42 each 750 lb bombs in the bellies and 24 each 500 lb bombs on the wings.   The gentleman who said he was a KC-135 crew member mentioned the "CBUs exploding on impact".   B-52s never carried CBUs because they were dropping their loads from so high up... CBUs were a fighter aircraft weapon because they require more accurate placement to be effective.   B-52s are carpet bombers

    When the plane went down, we were blown out of our beds by the initial explosions.   I immediately looked at the clock and saw it was a bit after 4:00am, meaning it was either a KC-135 or a B-52 because they flew sorties at that time.   Then we heard a second blast and realized it was one of the bombers.

    Our barracks was at the top of the hill near the radar tower, quite a ways from the crash site.   We all ran up to the roof and could see the inferno at the end of the runway. One by one the bombs were popping off.   The fire and explosions went on for quite a while. When dawn arrived, we all got ready to go to work in the bomb dump.

    Another letter writer said all the bombs blew up.   He was wrong as the carcasses of bombs that went off "low order" littered the crash site.   What that means is that the entire charge inside the bomb load didn't explode and merely 'popped' open from the extreme heat of the burning fuel.   Tritonal looks like green concrete when it is not exploded and it was strewn all over the place, even though it was charred from the fire.

    When we arrived at the bomb dump we were met by some superior officers who told us the situation of the crash and that there was unexploded ordnance all over the area, which we had seen as we drove past the area on our way out to the bomb dump, including out into the jungle areas.   Another thing I found out was that our night shift vehicle mechanics heard the noise from the crash over the hill, hopped in a pick up truck and drove to the site to help rescue the flight crew.   These are the guys that are mentioned in the flight crew officer's report I'm sure.   These brave guys were never recognized for their heroism, which has always bothered me all these years!   (I couldn't tell you their names but someone may know).

    We were told that since we were all bomb builders, we were going to be tasked with combing the jungle looking for these unexplored remnants of the Tritonal.   I personally combed a section of jungle over a quarter mile away from the crash site and was picking up not only unexploded ordnance pieces but also charred pieces of the fuselage.   I still have a totally burnt rivet from the crash I found in the jungle that day.

    Ironically, at a Veterans Day celebration a couple years ago at the former Army post, The Presidio of San Francisco,   I met a retired USAF Lt. Col. pilot who flew B-52s out of Okinawa.   I asked him if he remembered the crash in 1968 and much to my surprise he said yes and that he was the next plane in line after the one which crashed! His name is Lt. Col. Farrell and his son is a SF City Supervisor named Mark Farrell.

    Hope this helps put the story together for you. As for the comments about the protestors, well, many of these people were from mainland Japan.   These were organized protestors who scheduled their protests, so we knew when they would be arriving, rallying then staging the demonstrations so we kicked butt for days before the protests were scheduled and stockpiled built bombs on the flight line so that during the protests we wouldn't be restricted from crossing the road from the bomb dump to the main base.

    Then when the protests started, we all moved into some buildings in the bomb dump for about 3 days and kept building ordnance and stockpiling it.   The planes kept flying sorties and when the protests were over, we had payloads ready to continue the missions..

    Pat Kaye
    Novato, CA
    USAF veteran
    1967 - 1971

    The following is from SSGT George Reynolds (wvagator@gmail.com)

    I remember that night well. I was on the overnight shift at the missile maintenance compound for the 498th TMG

    I was in an office inside a hanger when I saw people running to the outside. Of course I followed to see what was going on and saw the aircraft on fire. The blaze wasn't that high at that time, but when the bombs blew the flames went way up.

    Since we anticipated a blast we tried to get into the building, but the force got us while still outside. There was an electric clock on the wall on that side of the hanger that was launched to the end of the cord before crashing to the floor. My wife was asleep at our home in Morgan Manor near Kadena Circle. She said the shock knocked her out bed.

    At 7 AM on the way home I drove by the site. The deep hole had the engines around the edges, but not much else.

    Because of the demonstrations at Kadena Circle, I was told not go to work for a few days.

    Thank you for your site and the info.

    Former SSGT George Reynolds

    The following is from Sgt. Melvin Watson (mw8mmk@ yahoo.com)

    I was stationed at Kadina from 2/68 to 6/69, an AF Sgt. I was on duty in a warehouse on the flightline when this unfortunate accident occurred at 4am. I thank God I was awake when this happened because I can only imagine being woke up with this explosion.

    A delivery driver delivering aircraft parts called me on his radio telling me that a B52 just slid off the runway and was on fire. I ran out on the delivery dock and at the end of the runway I saw high billows of red fire and smoke.

    Just then our duty phone rang and my NCOIC called asking what was going on. When I explained to him what was happening he told me to take cover because the B52 was loaded with bombs.

    Dummy me, I didn't want to miss this! I ran back out to the dock and just then it exploded. It was like a big flashbulb going off, the whole island shook and I almost passed out from the feeling of needles going through my head.

    The damage included blowing up both the fighter and bomber runways and holes in the roofs of people living off base including native Okinawans.

    This spurred protests from the natives. They displayed signs " BAN B52" outside the entrance of Kadina. The civil service civilians were told if they left and didn't show up for work the next day, they would be fired. Almost all of them stayed on base where cots were set up in a hanger. Eating in the chow hall serving American cuisine wasn't a good experience for the Okinawas especially when they had to use forks instead of chop sticks.

    It will be 45 years in November and I can still remember it like it was yesterday.

    Melvin Watson

    The following is from SP5 Tom Madracki (tom@madracki.com) At the time of the crash I was sleeping in the barracks at the U.S.Army Hawk Site 10 admin area, which was about 1/4 mile east of the end of runway, so this, to the best of my memory, is actually what I saw and heard:

    We were on a little paved road across from a sugar cane field and just south east of the Chibana ammunition depot, the plane exploded about 1/4 mile west of us.    Very early every morning the KC-135 and B-52's would take off.   I was told that the B-52's had to take off without full fuel loads because with the bomb load the B-52's were too heavy to get off the ground.   Early on the morning of November 19, 1968 one of the B-52's taking off couldn't get up enough speed to get airborn and ended up crashing at the end of the runway.   The crew all got out, but some were injured, I heard later that 2 had died.   Years later I had the opportunity to tour the cockpit of a B-52 and saw that the flight crew sat on two decks in the front of the plane, the pilot and co-pilot on the top deck with the front window view and the navigator and bombardier directly below them with only a view into radar screens.   I don't know how the two crewmen in the lower cockpit could have gotten out - their seats ejected out the bottom of the plane.   On these older model B52's there was a rear gunner in the tail of the plane - and the rest of the crew was in the front of the plane.   The plane sat and burned near the lights and fence right by the airport's eastern perimeter road, until the bomb load finially exploded.   The plane was loaded with 30,000 lbs. of bombs: 24, MK-82 500-pound general purpose bombs, 12 under each wing and 24, M117 750-pound general purpose bombs in the belly bomb bay (plus the 50cal ammo for the tail gunner).   There was another road just outside the fence that was used by all the local farmers to get around the base.   It was a Tuesday and I was still asleep in the barracks, so time wise, it was very early morning.     The sound of the crash woke us up, but the bomb blast that came later blew out the windows and knocked us to the floor.   I don't remember much detail about the explosions,  I do remember there was more than one, but the blast part is very fuzzy in my mind; we were less than 2000 feet from the blast and my head was ringing.   By the time I got to the hole, the Kadena MP's were all over the place, trying to keep everyone away, but since it was near the public road, there were a lot of Okinawans there, plus you had to have heard this all over the base, so everyone from Kadena showed up.   A lot of the local houses were damaged, but I don't think any locals were injured.

    From our barracks to the crash site the ground was covered with little pieces of metal, probably the plane's outer skin, very thin and painted a light green on one side.   It looked like it had just rained metal.   The site itself was just a giant hole.   There was no plane anymore; the only recognizable pieces I remember seeing were the wheel clusters, the engines and a few unexploded bombs.   The hole looked like a football stadium, it was burned and filled with twisted metal pieces.   Most of the bomb load must have exploded in the fire following the crash, I didn't see any bombs in the hole.   I've been to plane crash sites before and this was not a typical one.   Usually the debris is stretched along the path the plane was traveling when it hit the ground.   Since this plane had already stopped and was burning, the explosion had forming a circular crater with debris all around.   My guess was that the burning load of jet fuel had caused the bomb load to heat up and explode.   Eventually all the parts were picked up and trucked to a remote area of the air base and put in a huge pile.   The locals held protests outside the main gates with mock-ups of black B-52's on sticks.   The locals were upset about the presence of the B-52's before the crash and now that one had crashed so close to an ammo dump and had damaged local Okinawan homes, they were very upset.   The locals were convinced that there were nuclear weapons on Kadena AFB, but the U.S.   always denied it.   I do recall that before I was assigned to my missile battery, I got stuck pulling guard duty outside a weapons storage facility by Kadena.   I always thought it was strange to have to wear a RAD Badge when pulling guard duty there.   

    (Editor's Note: It has now been confirmed that the Air Force's 498th TMG did have missiles with small nuclear warheads (W-28 fusion, 2 MT yield) at the MACE Missile Sites around Kadena.   These were Ground to Ground Missiles that targeted Vietnam and/or China, but were never used.   CLICK HERE FOR MORE INFO: MACE Missile Sites around Kadena

    Crash Site at East end of runway 05L, looking West.   Photo is from USAF Accident Report

    To give you an incite into what a B-52 crash fireball would look like, here's a video of a B-52 crash at Fairchild AFB in Spokane Washington.    Also keep in mind that after the Kadena AFB crash and fireball, the bomb load then detonated and blew the entire wreckage and burning fuel all over the place... B52 Crash at Fairchild AFB Documentary
    Tom Madracki
    Battery C, 8th.   Missile Battalion, 1st.   Artillery, 30th Artillery Brigade> tom@madracki.com

    The following is from Sgt. Don M. Rhoney, 824th combat support group, Kadena (swooney007@gmail.com)
    I was a security police officer, 824th combat support group, Kadena AFB, a 2 striper at time of crash, posted on the south taxiway by the KC135 tankers.   I was at rear of parking ramp between the last two tankers, closest to the east end of the runway and was watching that bomber start its take off.   Halfway down the runway it did not look as it was up to speed, it continued at a steady speed, no increase of its jets sound.   I felt sure they had the fuel levers full forward, thought that baby isn't getting its full share of fuel, no lift, like blocked line or fuel filters, its going to be an abort, seemed to slow down near the runway's end somewhat.   It eased down over the pavement edge onto a grassy hill slope, crossed the east perimeter road and stopped instantly in a crash ditch, only feet from perimeter fence with the public road just the other side

    I kept my eye on it to see if I could spot any people.   It was a dark, clear night.   I strained to see along the top of fuselage.   I had once been taken by a crew chief to see the cockpit area of the B52.   Wow, it was small and cramped and there was a big hump behind the front seats to squeeze around to get into the seats.   I had looked around from behind the hump and remembered seeing the hatches above.

    Thought I saw something moving atop fuselage, not positive too dark.   The tall tail was very visible in the night, seemed only some very few moments later when a thin blow of pure white light shot up what seemed like a mile or two.   It lit up the south end of the entire airfield and both north and south taxiways.   Then a horrendous blast!   I thought to myself, I'm by fuel tankers, if a hot chunk hits one of them and then it's dominoes to all the tankers!   I made a quick turn to get out from between them knowing a big blast means big a wind blow.   Just after I turned and started to run, I was thrust forward and something struck my back. There was no pain, but it pushed me straight forward to the pavement.   I stopping just prior to my nose hitting the cement.   I thought if there was hot penetration to one of these tankers, they'd find me as a crispy critter.   As the blast wind passed I felt very fine, like sand paper particles rubbing violently on the sides of my face.   I had rain poncho on and it kept me a bit warmer, it was a chilly night.   I felt the back of the poncho, nothing there, looked around and nothing visible on ground

    I looked back at crash site, just flames, no outline of plane or tail.   Nothing on the radio.   There is a guard posted at wooden guard shack on the north taxiway across from my position.   The shack has no door which faces the crash site and thought perhaps he was struggling to get out of his possibly blown over shelter and get on his radio.   I got on my radio and notified our police center of the crash which I'm sure they heard, to give them information about where it had happened.

    After I was relieved, I learned that we had a police pickup truck parked on the perimeter road and the two officers had gone up to the runway edge to watch the take off.   They had dropped their M16s and ran around the hillside and were all right.   I asked about the crew, (feared the total worst) and was informed some were injured and some were all right, but not sure in any detail

    Later in the day went down to the crash site.   There were hunks of engines near the burn area.   The middle of burn area was the twisted (like a dead snake that was in a crawl) steel beam.   Not one bit of planes skin (all blown away or melted).   On perimeter road was the upside down charred and twisted frame of our police pickup.   I looked down and saw its former ash tray on the grass and picked it up.   It was fully intact and the blue paint was in perfect condition.   I tough of keeping it as a memento, but dropped it back on grass.   Then I spotted something unusual, like a 4" chunk of coral on ground, picked it up, it struck me as like having so little weight for it's size, very light tan with a bit of yellowish tint, lots of holes like a sponge around it.   I asked a munitions guy that was on the other side of the blackened area and he said I found a chunk of unexploded HE ( Now I learned what HE looked like) some of it had easily crumbled in my hand.   He said that was what he had been sent to check for and he would take it and turn it in.   It was like the color of concrete and I thought that was what must have struck my back in the wind blast.   I could not find it on the parking pad as it probably disintegrated to sand paper like particles and just blended into the concrete color of the parking pad.   Better that, than a 4" chunk of hot steel.   Later I was told that two did not survive, that two too many

    Later the locals come out, jumping up and down with finger painted signs.   I was with a local cop and we spotted one of the jolting banners that had what looked like a stick figure hand with a stick finger pointing up and the letters USA below it.   I looked him in the eye and said "Hi to you to" (maybe you know Hi in their words means 'Yes')

    I left the service a few months early to use up my last vacation time and to return home to be the groom in our wedding.   I went on to be a Cook County Sheriff's police officer, retired at 55, I'm now 65.   I have been denied a hearing loss claim by the VA, because the crash was not a listed event.   I could appeal possibly, but I was surely alone that night the B-52 blew and there's no way to establish my presence there, or even the location of the tanker.   

    I think I got this to long, old age does things.

    Sgt. Don M. Rhoney, 824th combat support group, Kadena Lake-In-The-Hills, Illinois swooney007@gmail.com

    The following is from Earl Palmer, MD - Capt. USAF (grzzlywoof@aol.com) I just read the first-hand account of the B-52 crash of November, 1968, by Capt. Sible, who I gather was the navigator on that ill-fated aircraft.

    I was a USAF pediatrician at Kadena then, living off base at the time, a few miles East from the flight line.   When the explosions awoke me at home, I looked out the window over the headboard of my bed and could see flashes in the sky associated with the explosions.   My first reaction was that we were under attack... but from whom?   China?   Confused and baffled, I could see that the explosions were in a small area, so I reckoned it was either a crash or a localized attack.   As a pediatrician I was not on first call for aircraft accidents.   Briefly I lay awake, waiting for the phone to ring, and indeed there was a "general recall" of dispensary staff.   So in I went, but by the time I got there the burn victims had been transferred to Camp Kue.

    Earl Palmer, MD
    (Then:) Capt. USAF MC
    824 USAF Dispensary, Kadena AB, Okinawa

    The following is from Robert A Derks - Sgt USAF (cord456@comcast.net) I was at Kadena when this unfortunate crash occurred, I was assigned to the 4252nd Maintenance Squadron and our maintenance shop was next to the fuel shop and next to that was the SR71 squadron. My specialty was Inflight Refueling with the USAF and I worked on the B-52 and the KC-135A. I remember the crash as this.

    I was off duty and in bed (upper bunk) and woke up on the floor at some time in the wee hours of the mourning and did not realize what had happened until I heard subsequent explosions and ran outside the see what the hell was going on, I mean I never heard and explosion like that ever before. I could not see much so I ran up to the third floor of the barrack to get a better view – wow what a sight. I never knew what had happened (I heard rumors that the B-52’s engines had a flame out situation). I also heard that only the tail gunner escaped by jetting the gunnery pod and lowered himself via a rope and was the only crewman to survive. Any more than that was hush-hush. As I read the facts from prior email post on this website it was unfortunate that 2 crewmen died but was glad to hear that the rest survive. Also, I heard that the airman in the truck lost his life also – one of the many miracles that he survived. Kadena was a really cooking with all the sorties flying out constantly and we were on permanent 12 hours on and 12 hours off for 6 days then 1 day off and then do it again – we did have a rotation and 2 maintenance guys would get two days and so on and so on. Those planes took a real beating. I was a Kadena for 18 months before I was reassigned back to the States – I was at Kadena from May 1968 – Nov 1969.

    The time I was at Kadena was the most inspiring time of my life and going back to civilian life has mostly felt pretty empty, but it was a great honor to serve and will always be the high point in my life.

    Thanks for bringing this to light and now I know what happened to the crewmen!!!

    I witnessed another crash of a fighter that was coming in for a landing and when they were about 50’ above the runway the afterburner kicked and because they had their flaps up for landing the fighter immediately turned upward and took about a 500 foot vertical circle and came back down – the copilot ejected immediately and although he was seriously injured he survive but unfortunately the pilot did not make as he fault for control and when he ejected the fighter was upside down.

    God bless all the crewmen and military personnel that gave their life for others.

    Robert A Derks - Sgt
    May 1968 - Nov. 1969

    The following is from Ed Cook SSgt. USAF (edcook108@sbcglobal.net) From mid-June ’68 through early December ’68, I was at Kadena, TDY from the 454th Bomb Wing at Columbus AFB, MS. The night of the crash, I was working in the parachute shop (which as I recall was on a hill above the flight line, but outside the “gates” near the flight line chow hall.) The shop had tables to pack the over 100 ft. long B-52 drag chutes aligned parallel to the windows that faced the flight line. The windows were about 3 ft. off the ground and were close to 5 or 6 ft. tall. There were three of us in the shop that night; our shop chief, SSgt. House, an Airman 1st Class, whose name I can’t remember, and myself a 3 stripe Sgt.

    Things were quiet on the 11:00 p.m. to 7:00 a.m. shift and we were standing around shooting the breeze when SSgt. House told us to get to work on some personnel chutes that needed repacking. (My partner and I wanted to sleep, or go down to the flight line chow hall for some good food.) I don’t recall the exact time, but we started hearing a series of small booming sounds and debated whether we were hearing sonic booms as there were fighters and the SR-71 on base. We quickly dismissed this idea as we were near the end of our tour and had never heard a sonic boom the entire time we were there. SSgt. House said he would check outside and told us to get back to work. Why couldn’t he go to the chow hall and leave us alone? He was outside for just a few minutes when all hell broke loose. The explosion was deafening and the windows that stretched almost the entire front of the parachute shop bowed in about 8 to 12 inches and the pillars that supported the center of the building seemed to move from side to side. We thought the building was coming down on us.

    My buddy and I decided almost instantly to head for the door, which burst open just as we reached it. SSgt. House hit the deck and told us to keep down as well. Things got kind of quiet within what seemed like seconds and we peeked out to see this huge ball of flame, magnesium sparks, and bomber parts light up the sky like daylight. From out vantage point (I don’t remember how close we were to the end of the runway) we could see only the tail fin of this giant plane in the glow. There were a few smaller explosions and then it got dark.

    I remember seeing fire equipment, lights, and personnel roaring down the runway toward the wreckage. Sarge told us to sit down and relax. We made another pot of coffee and sat quietly. We didn’t know what to say or do. There wasn’t much we could have done and we were all visibly shaken. Not much was said about what happened and I don’t think the Armed Forces Radio and Television Service even mentioned the incident. Our tour was over about 2 or 3 weeks later and nothing more was ever said about this. I was talking to someone else who was in the Air Force and it got me thinking about the accident. I Googled B-52 crash, Okinawa 1968 and came upon your site. Wow! What a memory. Not a particularly good one, but something I will NEVER forget. I didn’t know anyone died and I am truly sorry to hear this even after this long time.

    Ed Cook SSgt. USAF, Honorably discharged
    454th Field Maintenance Squadron
    Columbus AFB, MS
    1966 -1970

    The following is from Janis Fehr (Jastram), Clinton, Utah (MICENSTUFF@aol.com) My name is Janis Fehr and my family and I were on Okinawa when the B-52 crashed.   My dad was stationed at Kadena and we were living on base, not to far from the flight line.   In fact, reading about the accounts of that night, my dad is probably the First Sergeant that the someone referred to as being attached to the Base Dispensary.   I remember that night sometimes like it was yesterday, even though it was 42 years ago..   All of us were literally thrown out of our beds and we believed that we were being attacked!   After a few minutes, we ran to the windows and could see the glow off in the near distance and then when we went outside in the back, facing the flight line, we could see the flames.   I was 11 at the time and hearing the explosions, I remember crying and my dad saying to get back into the house, as he needed to see what was going on.   Then he just ran out the door, got in the car and took off to the Dispensary.

    Reading all the accounts of that night brought back such memories, HORRIFFIC yes, but they are a part of my life.   I had called my mom who is 80 years old to ask her about that night and she told me what she remembered.   It was pretty much what I remembered and she said she tried not to get too upset then, so I wouldn't be.   My brother was 15 at the time, but while I was reading the accounts, she started to tell me about the one crew member who they found wandering around the next day and that was the exact account I was reading - that just kinda brought chills to me and her   We wished that my dad was still alive to share in the memories of that night - he had passed away in 2001.   I am pretty sure he is the ONE that was mentioned (not by name but by position).

    Janis Fehr (Jastram) Okinawa 1967-1970

    The following is from SP5 Bob Hylander (rgnylander@comcast.net) I was a SP5 just up the road at Torii Station.   We weren't quite as close as you, but close enough.   I saw the hole in the ground as soon as the road was reopened.   The local Stars and Stripes report said no one was killed.   Rumor had it on the base that a couple of guys were badly burned.   Then my family mailed me a clipping from the home town paper, saying that Captain Charles Miller had been killed.   I was a friend of Charlie's younger brother back home and knew Charlie as well.   Before that, I had no idea he was even on the rock.

    Following up on your page, I just found this obituary for Moses Willoughby, one of the rescuers:


    SP5 Bob Hylander

    The following is from Gunnery Sergeant Jose Rodriguez (jose4627@bellsouth.net) I was a US Marine Corps Lance Corporal assigned to (AFRTS) American Forces Radio and Television - Okinawa. It was a unit made up of all branches of the US Military, civilians, and local national Okinawans. The single enlisted were billeted on the second floor of the barracks across the street from the Rocker Club, and across the lawn from the Air Force Family Services Center at Kadena Air Base, Okinawa.

    We had a few small earthquakes in preceding weeks so when I was shaken from sleep the night of the B-52 crash of 55-0103 on 19 November 1968 I thought it was more of the same. I was immediately brought to full awareness of something else happening by the bright flashes in the window followed by the delayed sound of explosions.

    We ran out to see what was happening. We thought we were witnessing the Chibana Ammo Dump or the Naval Magazine over the mountains exploding. A few of us dressed and sped off in the Air Force assigned pickup used to commute to the station located at the US Army officer housing area, Rycom Plaza. When we arrived at the Radio / TV station we grabbed several rolls of 16 mm movie film and our newsreel cameras. We sped back to Kadena, about 10 miles away, watching the glow and explosions all the way even though we were separated by hills and the City of Koza (now called Okinawa City).

    Once we were back on Kadena we got as close as possible, finding a small hill overlooking the crash scene, We found out what had happened from a military police unit that stopped to see who we were and what we were doing. It must have looked a little strange, two Marines and an Army Spc-4 riding in an Air Force vehicle and shooting movie film in the dark. They warned us not to get closed and left us alone once they checked us out by having their dispatcher confirm with the overnight crew at the AFRTS Radio / TV station that we were on assignment.

    After sunrise we got closer and were surprised to see that the only thing we could recognize was a few of the engines, everything else was confetti or just gone. The main crater was massive with smaller ones all around it from the bombs that had been throw clear of the wreck only to cook off from the radiant heat of the fire.

    The crash site was just inside the fence and within a few yards of a major Okinawa highway. Across the highway was a densely populated area. If they had by some miracle cleared the town and then the hills they would have crashed into the Naval Magazine. Other times of the year they would take off in the opposite direction with a shopping center and a small village between the end of the runways and the East China Sea.

    The story was suppressed, with a minimum of coverage, and the film we processed was not aired. This event was the big kick off for the massive demonstrations and strikes that would eventually lead to the return of Okinawa to Japan in the early 70s.

    Gunnery Sergeant J.M. Rodriguez
    USMC 1967-1980

    The following is from DANA C. MOREL, Col, USAF A4/7Z (Dana.Morel@pentagon.af.mil)      As I read the stories about the B-52 crash at Kadena in 1968, I could feel it all over again.   I was a dependent brat, 8 yrs old, living off base in government housing with my family.   That morning was probably the scariest day of my life.   I remember the explosions shaking the house and waking everyone.   Dad was running through while trying to get his uniform on.   The loud speakers were telling everyone to stay inside but Dad was determined to get to the base.   But he instructed us to close the shutters and get under our beds until we heard an all clear.   Then he was gone.  We were sure the island was under attack.   After several hours, we got the all clear and got out from under the beds but stayed home that day afraid of the next bomb attack.   Dad finally came home that night and told us of the crash.

         The next several days and pretty much the rest of our tour there were strained.   What had been a happy go lucky relationship with the Ryukans, became a very tense situation.   Riots began in the streets of Naha and threats were made to all Yankees.   Threats were made to the school children.   I could no longer wander down the dirt road to the village to play with my native friends.   No more clandestine trips to the city to spend my allowance on cherry bombs and candy.   And every day an armed guard would arrive at my door to escort me to the bus stop.   Two of them would go to each house and collect us kids, march us along and stay with us until we were in our classrooms.   At the end of the day, they would escort us to each house and drop us off telling us to stay inside.   In time, kids being kids, we'd go inside, then right back out and off into the cane fields to play.

         Several things about that experience:   I loved Okinawa, I loved the B-52, I loved the Air Force (oh, and men in uniform).   And when I grew up, I joined and requested to be assigned to SAC.   Never flew, but am still loving the ride!

    DANA C. MOREL, Col, USAF Deputy Director, Global Combat Support HAF A4/7Z

    The following a translated article from
    HIDANKYO (a Japanese anti-nuclear group) I found later "The B52 that crashed and exploded was carrying napalm and ball bombs.   Suppose it was a B52 on patrol carrying hydrogen bombs....   The site of the crash was only 250 meters away from the Chibana ammunition depot, where nuclear weapons are said to be stored. What if the crash of the B52 occurred several seconds later....?  Maybe the threat of nuclear weapons can be felt only by us Okinawans and the Hibakusha.   (Editor's Note: Hibakusha is the term widely used in Japan referring to victims of the atomic bombings of Hiroshima and Nagasaki.)

    Early in the morning of November 19, 1968, a B52 bomber crashed and created a huge explosion in Kadena US Base in Okinawa.   Great damage was inflicted to the surrounding houses."

    Removing one of the B-52's engine from the Nov 19, 1968 crash site East of Kadena AFB

    Photo: Rengo Tsushin

    The following description is from Michael G.   Cobb, 6990th Scty Sqdrn

    We’d just landed at Kadena about 2230 hrs after a 19 hour mission in our 82nd SRS driven RC-135M to the Gulf and had pulled onto the parallel taxiway off 05 right.   I’d deplaned and found myself with other back enders waiting for our bus to drive back to 6990th Ops for debriefing.    Looking left I saw a long darker than-night-shape roll past and begin wheels up when a parachute suddenly blossomed out the rear.   At first, I thought this may have been a fighter doing night ops, but immediately realized it was a fully loaded B52 aborting.   My heart began to race as imagination gave way to realization.   As it hit the runway, some of the under wing CBUs began exploding and shooting into the sky while raging yellow & red fire began to engulf the wings and fuselage.   The staring faces of my crew mates were lit up as we stood transfixed in this flaming vision of hell.   I couldn't move.   It totally filled this scene like a cinema scope picture, end to end.   Then I saw tiny, silhouetted men running back and forth back lit by the continuous explosions and flames everywhere.     BOOM!  BOOM!  BOOM!  Is there still a guy trapped in the tail gunner’s position??  BOOM  Why are they heading that way instead of away from the bomber?  BOOM  Can they save him?  BOOM!  BOOM!  Too, too late.   Horror.   Watching Death happening..........

    Somebody’s tugging my sleeve.   A lifer sergeant shouts, "We’d better get outa here"  Hurry, get on the bus   Can’t take my eyes off it.      Got on the bus and moved to the rear, all the time staring.   The bus is moving.   The vision gets smaller, framed by the windows.   I’m still turned around.   About 300 yards or so down the taxiway, a monstrous pure white, blinding flash fills the sky.   Pow  I get socked in the gut and stagger into the aisle-the Concussion   The bomb-bay has just gone up.    Don't remember hearing the explosion.   The white’s gone, but flames are roaring higher and higher and reflecting off the sky.   I thought they'd live, but almost all did not.

    I remember, once, waiting for our bird to takeoff out in the middle of the base and watching the loading of an old wrinkled B52.    Winding, snaking, motorized palettes of bombs all going to one bird.   How many?  How big?  How long did it take-bombs green and long with stripes around the nose.

    The bus cruised slowly up the taxiway towards the Gate One side of the base.   All silent.   As we made the turn around and behind the beginning of the runway, I saw the other B52s in that cell waiting to go.    No, they weren't waiting.   They were slowly rotating on their many wheeled bogeyed landing gear over to the other, clear runway that their RamRod tankers were using.   They couldn't see their buddies down there because about halfway the runway goes down-hill, but I'm sure they saw the night-sky all aglow and all the rest, but still they were going.   They were still going to drop all that death on the jungles and peoples and targets below.   Their friends had just died, flaming and screaming and they just moved over as casually as oops, wrong runway.    I mumbled this out loud.   Doug Bluhm, my #2, said, "That’s gross." I looked at him, motioned out the window to that sight and replied, "No.    THAT’s gross."  He changed his look and maybe thought I wasn't such an ass hole after all.   Things were different for me after that.    I never talked on the bus again.   Ever.

    Michael G.   Cobb
    6990th Scty Sqdrn

    The following description is from Sue L. Breach

    My family was stationed at Kadena when that B-52 had its unfortunate abort.    I was only 12 at the time and was awakened (like most everybody else on the island) by all the commotion.

    About the only thing I can remember about the whole thing was that my imagination ran wild.   The first explosion woke me up (no idea what time; all was dark outside).   All I could think of as I heard additional explosions was that a giant was walking across the island.   Each explosion became a footfall.   I don't remember how many of those smaller explosions I heard before that last giant one.   That one shot me bolt upright, running to my parents' room.

    The next day lots of people drove by the site to see the crater left behind and to pay respects.   I remember the hole being very large and that it was oh so close to the village.   Things could have been so much worse.

    I seem to remember that several crewmembers died.   I can't remember how many or exactly how.

    And it did not wake up my little brother.   It terrified me.

    The following description is from Sam McCown

    I was with the 498th group and asleep on the third bed of a three level bunk and the first thing I knew was the blast. It essentially knocked me out of the bed and I don't remember landing on my feet but there I was. I can't recall noise, so it must have come and gone by the time I was conscious, yet the whole barracks shook like earthquakes I've been in.

    I assumed that either something big had crashed not too far away, or maybe a fighter had crashed right next door. There was no sense of fear, since we'd survived the initial blast, so my next move was to just find out what had happened, for the interest of it. I ran for the upstairs exit, feeling there was a better view to be had there, and when I got there, I could see the fire and feel and hear the bombs detonating. From the amount of fire, the extent of the burning area, and the bombs going off, there was no doubt it had been a B-52 and he had to have aborted takeoff to have crashed on the runway. My next thought wasn't a good one. I couldn't imagine anybody had survived and was relieved to later hear that only two had not.

    I estimate my position was about a mile or less from the crash site but never actually investigated the actual distance.

    Later, I heard substantially the general story as it was reported here, although with variations. I heard from AP's about the ditch and the blast going over everybody in it, but the version of the fatalities that reached me was that the tail gunner had so far to jump that he broke his leg and one of the other crewmembers went back to get him and they both got burned so severely as to ultimately be fatal.

    A few days later, (I think it was only days,) I was off duty from my Mace crew on normal rotation and so I was sent along with a group of airman to serve on a formation honoring the incoming governor general. We were transported by bus farther down the island toward Naha where the ceremony was held; on the way over, I heard somebody from the outfit the B-52 was part of commenting when somebody asked what he'd been doing lately, "Oh, I was playing 52 pickup."

    If you have any thoughts about this crash, or related pictures, please eMail them to me and I'll include them here.

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