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The Day the FB111A Crashed

 

Damage report

Chunks of flaming airplane wreckage were hurled into Portsmouth apartments when the FB-111A exploded. Children playing on one porch were saved from shattering glass because the blinds were drawn. One building was gutted and two others were damaged – a total of $385,000 in property loss.. But in an era when locals were accustomed to the sounds and sights of an active military air base, reaction was more thankful, than angry. Pease AFB quickly doused the rumor that the plane was carrying "nukes". Although the FB-111A was capable of carrying 37,500 pounds of missiles or bombs, officials said: "We don’t fly sorties around here with nuclear weapons on board for obvious reasons."

fba03.jpgMost residents in "the village" were allowed back in their homes by 7pm that same evening. The 13 families left homeless by the crash were quickly given shelter in motels or moved to another apartment, and compensated by Pease AFB for any damages, according to press reports. The crash site was cordoned off by armed security guards, although locals were able to view the site by trekking through the woods. Within days the wreckage was removed to a hangar at the base. An investigative team blamed the incident on "pilot error" and exonerated the plane manufacturer.

There was a flicker of national attention, focused mostly on the "miraculous" absence of human injury and the "efficiency" of the FB-111A escape module. One Maine congressman suggested that, perhaps, due to its very high crash record, the FB-111A should be grounded, but nothing came of it.

Ultimately, the crash left no visible scars. Pease AFB closed in 1990 and is now an industrial and office park, although the Pease Air National Guard, home of the 157th Air Refueling Wing, is still active there.

Newer Portsmouth residents scratch their heads when asked about the incident today. Even long-time locals are often short on details. Some recall inaccurate accounts, myths or rumors. Officer Albert Pace’s patrol car was not, for example, blown 25 feet by the explosion as the Union Leader reported. Pace today says he simply swerved off the road during the blinding explosion. The Portsmouth Herald originally reported that the crew escape pod landed in Eliot, but later corrected the error.

Yet questions linger. Why did the pilot approach Pease over a populated area instead of following the usual flight path for training missions? Why was there so little mention of the fact that two new engines had been installed the day before the crash? If the new engines were perfect, as the Air Force claimed, then why did witnesses see flames coming from the bomber before the crash? Why did some observers say the plane circled around at the last moment, and why did the pilot report his plane made an "unscheduled roll" just 90 seconds before the crew bailed out and sent their bomber hurtling into the city?

TO BE CONTINUED
PART TWO:
What Caused the 1981 Crash?

Copyright © 2008 by J. Dennis Robinson. All rights reserved This article may not be reprocied in whole or in part without written persmission of the author.

 

 

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