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The Day the FB111A Crashed

 

Ejected and dejected

It was not the first or last mishap for the FB-111A. Of the 76 planes produced by General Dynamics, 12 eventually crashed, most disappearing deep in the woods of Maine and Vermont. Aircraft # 68-0263, however, was like no other. It crashed like a meteor in the heart of a city, hitting just 200 yards from a row of wooden houses, spewing over 2,000 gallons of flaming jet fuel and debris. But miraculously, with the exception of Officer Pace’s shattered eardrum, no one was seriously injured and no one was killed – not even the two crewmen.

fba02.jpg

Gary Berg, a police officer from nearby Eliot, Maine was driving in traffic near the malls of Newington when he heard a tremendous explosion and saw a plume of smoke to his right. Berg then spotted a large orange parachute supporting what looked like a space capsule floating to earth.

While Officer Pace was clearing tenants from their apartments in Mariner’s Village, Berg followed the escape capsule that rocketed from the jet just 10 seconds before the crash. It looked, at first, like it might land across the Piscataqua River in Eliot, so Berg sped toward the I-95 Bridge. Halfway up the on-ramp, Berg saw the parachute hung up in a small wooded section called Freeman’s Point. He backed cautiously down the ramp, then headed east on Market Street, quickly negotiating a series of turns.

Berg was the first official on the scene. The 3,200 pound capsule had not landed level and its cables were still snagged in a tree behind 398 Cutts Avenue. The flotation bags, designed to deploy in case of a water landing, were damaged and never fully inflated.

Captain Peter Carellas, 33, and Major Ronald Reppe, 39, were already standing outside their escape capsule when Officer Berg arrived. Both were veterans from the 509th Bombardment Wing at Pease, having logged over 2,500 flying hours each. Pilot Carellas would bear the blame for the accident, but it was Reppe, the navigator and Weapons System Operator, who pulled the ejection initiator handle in the nick of time. Both men continued to fly after the accident. Neither consented to an interview for this article.

"Where are we?" one of the crewman asked Berg, who explained their situation. They had landed, reports later showed, 1,750 feet from the crash site. When a crewman asked if the plane had landed in the city, Berg said simply, "Yes." The two men looked despondent, he remembers. They cheered up slightly when Berg added that, so far, there was no report of fatalities. As police, emergency and Air Force Security personnel arrived, Berg got a call from his dispatcher. There were reports of burning airplane debris falling in Eliot.

CONTINUE

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Wednesday, December 13, 2017 
 
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