Tuesday, June 18, 2013

The Fear Of Flying

An F-101 Voodoo Interceptor at Kingsley Field Oregon

  One phobia I have, besides the fear of snakes, is the thought of falling from a high place, like a cliff, a building, a tower, and especially out of the sky in an airplane. I can't imagine the terror that those people experienced on September 11th, 2001. The ones who had to make the choice between jumping from the World Trade Center or being burned alive. People have asked me why I joined the Air Force if I am so scared of heights. I answer that there was a war going on and the government wasn't trying to win it. Being a patriot I wanted to serve my country in some way however. Plus the recruiter lied. He told me I wouldn't fly that much. In the twenty years that I served in the Air Force and Air Guard I made five overseas flights. Four of them on C-130's. I have flown all over Turkey, Greece, and Europe in various types of military aircraft. This is not counting the United States which I have crisscrossed many times. I have been on, or stationed at, more Air Force Bases than I can count and have witnessed thousands of aircraft of all types, civilian and military, take off and land safely. On a rational level I know that flying is the safest way to travel. On an emotional level I am a white knuckle flyer. Whenever I knew that I was going to fly somewhere that was all I could think about for days. When I retired from the Air Force I made a vow that the only way I would get on a plane was for an emergency. 

  Even with the overall safety record of air travel over a career of twenty years it is pretty likely that you will have some experience with air crashes. The first occurred in November 1968 when an F-101 Voodoo crashed on take-off at Kingsley Field Oregon. I had been at Kingsley for about a month and I was straight out of basic training. My security Flight was on a 24 hour break coming off of swing shifts. We were scheduled to go on midnight shifts at 2300 hours. Two Airmen were killed in the crash. The pilot, Captain Morgan, and the radar officer (RO), Major Tolsma. The plane was about seventy-five feet off the ground when there was a  flame out. The jet nosed up and the men ejected, crashing through the canopy. A friend told me that their bodies looked like basketball's bouncing off the runway. The fuselage continued another thousand feet before coming to rest. I heard about the crash on the news. Debbie and I drove to a road near the base where we could see the smoke of the crash off in the distance. 

  As the lowest ranking Airman I was assigned to guard the wreckage that night. It was in an isolated area near the end of runway. The weather was freezing cold. I was wearing a heavy fur lined parka and was carrying an M-2 carbine along with a radio. Looking out over the crash site as my eyes adjusted to the pitch black darkness I could see nothing but wreckage. A white helmet, the ejection seats, and the smell of JP-4 jet fuel was overwhelming. It was a grisly scene but after a while all I could think about was the cold and how to stay warm. There was the sound of a lighting unit but the lights were off. I walked over and felt the exhaust blowing through a vent. Leaning against it I became warm as toast. Eventually I set my carbine down beside me and got a little too comfortable. Shortly I nodded off to sleep leaning there against the lighting unit. Suddenly there was a blinding light shining in my eyes. It was shining through the small opening in the hood of my parka. Thoroughly rattled I stumbled around trying to find out where the light was coming from. I suddenly realized that it was the headlights of my Flight Chief, TSgt Bilbrey's staff car, He was making a post check. I gathered my wits and snapping to attention reported my post. "Sir, Airman Segroves reports special post # 1 all secure". He asked me questions about my post and eventually we got around to small talk. Bilbrey was there about ten or fifteen minutes when he finally turned to leave. He stopped suddenly,and turning to face me he asked, "oh, by the way, do you always walk your post without your weapon? Cringing I looked over and spotted my carbine still propped against the lighting unit where I had left it. 

F-101 crash site

   In the spring of 1970 I received orders for Turkey and was scheduled to leave on May 31st. Debbie drove me to the airport in Nashville along with my year old son Robbie to see me off. As my plane taxied away from the terminal, through my tears I could see Debbie waving goodbye while Robbie played at her side on the observation deck oblivious to the situation. After a flight from Nashville to New York's LaGuardia airport I caught a bus over to JFK International. My orders had me flying Pan American to Heathrow airport in London. There I would change planes and would fly Pan Am to Frankfort Germany and on to Istanbul Turkey. At Istanbul I would fly Turkish Airways the rest of the way,changing planes in Ankara and then on to Incirlik A.F.B. in Adana. After getting the call to board my plane at JFK I was shocked when I saw a 747 jumbo jet sitting on the ramp. The 747 had just come on line earlier that month. On our honeymoon in July 1968 I saw the first C-5 A military transport being rolled out of the hangar in Atlanta.That plane was a few feet longer than the 747 and until that time the largest airplane that I had ever seen.. However the 747 was the largest plane I had ever been on before or since. I couldn't imagine how anything that large could even take off, which added to my nervousness. My seat was in the middle so I couldn't see out of the windows. There was a young woman and a small child in the seats to my right. She was on her way to meet her husband who was stationed at Incirlik. I was assigned to a remote detachment in the mountains of eastern Turkey for a year and families were not allowed to go along. Incirlik was a large base and families were allowed to go there. If you were deployed without your family Incirlik was an 18 month assignment. With your family it was 2 years. 

  The big plane had a normal take-off and about an hour out over the Atlantic I somehow managed to fall asleep. This was unusual because I am usually too nervous to sleep. Something jarred me awake. At first I noticed everyone looking anxiously toward the left side of the aircraft. Then the pilot began to talk on the intercom. " Ladies and gentlemen we have just had an explosion in the number four engine. We will be dumping fuel and returning to JFK for an emergency landing.. We should be landing in about one hour and fifteen minutes". Dumping fuel was a safety measure in the event of a crash it would lesson the likelihood of a fire. My heart was beating so hard I thought it was going to jump out of my chest. I was trying to be brave in front of the lady sitting next to me. The tail section began dropping so low that it reminded me of what it must be like to look up the deck of the Titanic. The voice of the pilot came over the intercom again saying that he was turning off all cabin lights, except for the floor lights to conserve power. It was at night so the cabin got very dark. Rumors were flying among the passengers. Someone said that a woman had passed out in the rear of the plane. I have read where 747's can carry from 250 to 650 people depending on the seating configuration. I am going to guess that there were over 400 passengers and crew on that plane. It was nerve wracking waiting for the hour and fifteen minutes to pass. When it did New York was still not in sight. The pilot apologized and announced that it would be another fifteen minutes or so. He made this announcement at least three times. After what seemed to be an eternity passengers near the windows were saying that they could see the lights of New York City. 

  The pilot announced that we had priority to land and were in approach. I was getting nervous because the tail of the plane was still too low. Just before touching down the pilot leveled the aircraft and a cheer went up among the passengers. As we were taxiing you could see the red and blue lights of the fire engines, police cars, and ambulances following the plane. As we were exiting the plane a group of stewardesses were assisting passengers. I looked over and one was sobbing. Since that time I have been on a several flights that have developed mechanical problems while in flight. One was on a Medevac flying out of Athens. The crew cut a hole in the floor of the aisleway to correct a hydraulic problem and we lost an engine on a C-130 about an hour out of the Azores. Without a doubt however this incident on the 747 was my scariest. We milled around the terminal for a while and I took the opportunity to call Debbie one last time before boarding. The thought of going AWOL seriously crossed my mind. I didn't want board another plane. To make things worse the announcement was made that we would be boarding the same plane that we had arrived on. We filed on to the plane and sat there while mechanics repaired the engine. They fed us while we waited. About six hours later after being cooped up in that plane we took off and endured another nine hour flight. Thankfully it was routine. Because our flight schedule was so messed up I was placed on a Turkish DC-9 in England. From there I flew it all the way to Istanbul non-stop.
C-5 A  Galaxy

747 Jumbo Jet

   After processing at Incirlik I would eventually be stationed at a Turkish base called Erhac. The morning we left for Erhac I ate a hearty breakfast of pancakes, sausage, eggs, and hash browns in the chow hall. The day was extremely hot. It was about 125 degrees on the ground. Coming from the cool climate of Oregon, I had no short sleeve fatigue shirts as we called our olive green utility uniforms then. We boarded a C-131 which is a propeller driven military passenger plane. Without a doubt this was the roughest plane ride that I have ever endured. I have experienced turbulence on aircraft that would cause beads of sweat on my forehead but this was like riding a roller coaster. The plane was in a constant up and down gyration. The AC was broken on the plane and combined with the motion while wearing long sleeves it wasn't long before I was puking my guts up. I ran to the cramped restroom in the back of the plane. The plane was dropping and rising so violently that I kept slamming my head into the wall as I was puking. When we arrived at Erhac I had a splitting headache and was nauseous for four days. Although I am very prone to motion sickness this was the first and only time that I have ever been air sick.

  We had an alert area at Erhac. This was a series of four hangars that was next to the end of the runway. In each hangar there was a Turkish F-100 uploaded with a nuke and they were all on alert status. This was a priority A resource. The nukes were our responsibility. This was the whole reason that we were at Erhac. The fighters that were carrying them were Turkish and the security for them were provided by the Turks. There was a main gatehouse that we had to pass through that was manned by Turkish security police where they validated our line badges. In front of each barn there were two small guard shacks, about the size of the old telephone booths that used to be plentiful in America at one time. They were out of the way on ether side. The one on the left was manned by American Security Police and the one on the right by Turkish Security Police. The perimeter of the alert area was manned by Turkish Security with K-9 patrols. This is where I learned much of my Turkish. We would spend hours sometimes trying to communicate with each other while we walked our posts. The Turks were not very good at maintaining their aircraft. They would leave the fighters in the stalls for weeks without doing anything to them. There were hundreds of pigeons in the rafters and the fighter canopies were saturated with bird crap. One day, while posted in the alert area, near the end of my tour in Turkey there was the sound of tires squealing. I looked up in time to see a Turkish F-100 skidding down the runway leaving a trail of smoke at a high rate of speed. The fighter had lost it's brakes and the pilot appeared to be standing up in the cockpit. I thought he would run out of runway and crash when all of a sudden a big net popped up out of the ground. The jet hit the net and bounced backwards like it had been fired from a sling shot. The pilot was helped out of the cockpit and taken to the hospital but luckily he only appeared to be shaken up.


Turkish F-100

   I was discharged from the Air Force  in May 1972 but a friend talked me into joining the Tennessee Air Guard in October 1977. In 1979 our summer camp was at Savannah Georgia. This deployment was one of my best ever. I took Debbie and Melanie with me and we had a ball. When we weren't training we were at the beach or touring Savannah which is a beautiful and historic city. We also got to go to Charleston for one day. We were there solely for normal training and to act as simulated patients for our Medical Air Evacuation Unit. When the day arrived for us to train with the medical unit we were outfitted with fake wounds. Some of us had head wounds, sucking chest wounds, and intestinal wounds. They were pretty realistic. I had not been on a plane since I returned from Turkey in 1971 so I was pretty nervous. They were simulating loading wounded men from a combat zone on to a hot C-130. That means a plane with it's engines running while being loaded.

  Nurses and medical aides would strap you on to a stretcher. Then they would carry you at a run up the rear ramp into the plane. Then they would quickly secure the stretcher on to hooks. Rows of stretchers were on either side. The plane would take off, circle the airport and land. Then the next batch of patients would be loaded. I think I went up two or three times. Besides being nervous about flying I was flat on my back, suspended in the air and I couldn't move. On top of everything else on the last flight I was on two female nurses dropped me on my head. Luckily the handles took most of the impact.  One nurse had to have surgery for a dislocated shoulder. This is one reason why I believe that women shouldn't be in combat units. Most women are not strong enough to carry large men out of harms way if they are wounded. Besides the strength issue there are other reasons that I believe women shouldn't be in combat units. America will pay a price in blood one day for the Obama regime's decision to integrate women into combat units.

   In October 1980 one of our planes crashed near a nursery in McMinnville. Four crewmen were killed. The crash happened on Thursday and our regular drill was that weekend. The whole unit was assigned to guard the wreckage. A handful of volunteers in our unit had been there since the crash. Some of them said that when they arrived people were rummaging through the wreckage taking souvenirs..They chased them off setting up a perimeter and an entry control point. The men assisted local fire and rescue people to locate and mark body parts. When I got there on Saturday morning there were pieces of white plastic everywhere on the ground. I learned later that the plastic marked where pieces of flesh were found. Out of four men only one hundred pounds of flesh had been found the first day. The plane had been flying low over the area when one of the wings started coming apart. If the plane had been flying at a higher altitude it could have recovered but at a low altitude it didn't have a chance. You could see where the wing was coming apart because there was a trail of debris that fell into a nursery leading to the crash site. There was a hill above the nursery that held three houses. The plane crashed nose down missing the houses and cartwheeling in a ball of flames. The people in a nearby house said that the heat was nearly unbearable as they hid from the fire. You could see the impressions of the four engines where they hit the ground and most pieces of the wreckage was no bigger than your fist. The largest piece was about the size of a refrigerator. Again the smell of JP-4 was overwhelming. The trees were scorched and pieces of seats, uniforms and other debris was hanging everywhere. There was a single charred boot lying on the ground.

   In May 1983 our unit was tasked to provide security for an air show at Rhein Main AFB in Frankfort Germany. The base brought in Air Force Security Police, K9 units, and Army MP units from all over Europe and the United States. Security was heavy because of a terrorist group called the Baader- Meinhoff Gang aka the Red Army Faction. The gang was exploding car bombs all over Europe and committing other terrorists acts. In addition the Green Party was upset that the airport was extending it's runway and they were planning protests. The whole week of the air show we trained for any possibility. The base was having it's first air show in years. There were estimates as high as two to three hundred thousand people that might be on base. The terrorist threat was real. Two years later, in August 1985 the RAF set off a car bomb on base killing an Airman, a young dependent wife and wounding 20 people. In November of the same year a car bomb was exploded at the PX in downtown Frankfort, wounding 34 people. Besides bombs we were warned about a contraption called a wrist rocket. A sling shot that fired steel ball bearings. We also brushed up on our riot control training. On the day of the air show we reported for duty about 0530. Along with our unit there were hundreds of Air Force and Army MP's. We lined up in a long line and swept the flight line looking for anything that looked suspicious. The bomb dogs were sniffing trash cans and anything that could hold a bomb. The gates were finally opened and the crowds were let in. I was stationed between the static display aircraft and the crowd. A huge crowd was watching the aerial demonstrations from beyond the rope line. Suddenly a demonstration was staged by the Green Party. A line of people started shouting and throwing leaflets into the air. Within seconds several vans full of Polizei or German Police drove into the crowd and in a very short time had the situation under control.

 There were many aerial demonstrations, as is usually the case at an air show. Then five Canadian F-104's lined up for take-off, I snapped a quick picture on my camera. They were a demonstration team similar to the Thunder Birds or Blue Angels. After take-off they flew several patterns then the leader broke off and as he passed over my head I noticed smoke trailing from the plane but I didn't think much about it. The leader flew out of sight but then I saw two American pilots run out beyond the static aircraft. By the looks on their faces I knew something was wrong. I looked up and the lead plane was in a flat spin falling toward the ground. Just then When the plane hit the ground it exploded in a fireball. Within seconds the fire was gone leaving a mushroom cloud of black smoke. I was in total shock for a brief moment but then it hit me that I needed to take pictures. I took a picture of the mushroom cloud and the fire engines going out to the crash site. Suddenly I looked toward the rope line and a tidal wave of people were running toward us trying to get a better look. It took all of us to get the situation under control. I imagined that I had just seen the pilot die because I never saw him eject from the plane. Later I found out that the pilot had ejected just before hitting the ground. Five people died in a car on the autobahn. The plane skidded through a parking lot severely burning several people. I had expected to see a lot that day but an aircraft crash was not one of them.

Bombings in Germany by the Baader Mein-Hoff Gang or Red Army Faction

Bombing by Baader Mein-Hoff Gang 
Bombing at Rhein-Main in 1985 that killed two people

Bombing at Rhein Main 1985

Green Party protest leaflet

    In the Fall of 1986 we lost another C-130 at Ft. Campbell Kentucky. The plane had a five man crew. They were doing touch and go's on Ft. Campbell's runway. A touch and go is when a C-130 touches the runway and simulates dropping cargo from the rear of the plane and then quickly takes off. Just as the plane was about to touch down a throttle cable broke causing one of the engines to go into reverse. The plane spun around and caught fire. All five men survived the actual crash but four became disorientated and jumped off into the fire. Only one of the four survived but he was burned severely. He was flown to Brooke Army Burn Center in San Antonio. His ears and nose were burned off but he would survive. The co-pilot was knocked out but when he came to he had the presence of mind to run out through the rear of the plane. Luckily he was only slightly injured. Our unit wasn't tasked to work the crash because it happened on Ft. Campbell but I was asked to lead the singing at a Memorial Service for the three dead Airmen. They were Major Michael Beadle, Major Timothy Myers, and SMSgt Charles Tipper. Tipper was from Murfreesboro. The burn victim, SSgt Pat Nash, was still recovering in San Antonio but the co-pilot, Captain David Pelham, attended the service. 

  This was one of the most challenging things I had ever done. I was the song leader for the Protestant chapel services at the Guard. I was asked to learn two songs that I had never heard in my life and I had two days to learn them. Besides this the families of the deceased and hundreds of people were going to be there. Along with the Governor of Tennessee, Lamar Alexander, Many high ranking officers, including the Tennessee State Adjutant General, Carl Wallace. Although I had practiced the songs many times in the short time I had to prepare I couldn't get the first song in my head, "Our God of Ages Past". I just knew I was going to make a fool out of myself. To make things worse the local television news channels set heir camera's up right in my face. By the grace of God I got through the service fine. There was a little hesitation in my voice on the first line of the opening song but I soon got it together. Luckily there were no more crashes that I had to deal with for the next eight years. I retired in October 1994. Several years after I retired a Navy F-14 taking off from the Nashville airport crashed into a neighborhood near Harding Place and I-24 killing the pilot and RO, along with several people on the ground. Our unit was tasked to work the crash but luckily I was not there.

Protestant Chaplain Fred Johnson, SSgt Greg Segroves, and the Catholic Chaplain on the right whose name  I can't remember. 

These men were killed in the crash

Governor Alexander and General Wallace

A retired General talking to the wife of one of the deceased


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