B-52 Plane crash, [Military Airshow demostration]
24 June 1994
On June 24, 1994 at Fairchild Air Force Base in Washington a B-52 crash occurred. Four crew members were killed during a practice for an airshow, Arthur "Bud" Holland (46 years old), Mark McGeehan (38), Robert Wolff (46), and weapon systems officer/radar navigator Ken Huston (41). Bud Holland, who was flying the aircraft took it beyond its operational limits and then lost control. As a result, the aircraft stalled, hit the ground, and was destroyed.
The plan for the demo flight called for alot of series of low-altitude passes, and high degree banked turns, steep climbs, and a touch-and-go landing. The flight was also Wolff's "fini flight" (a common tradition in which a retiring USAF aircrew member is met shortly after landing on his or her final flight at the airfield by relatives, friends, and coworkers, and doused with water). Wolff's wife and close friends were in attendence of airfield to watch the flight and join in the post-flight ceremonies).
The B-52 launched at 13:58 and completed most of the flight plan without any problems. Upon preparing to execute the touch-and-go on Runway 23 at the end of the practice profile, the aircraft was instructed to go-around because another aircraft had just landed on the runway. While maintaining an altitude of approx 250 feet above ground level, Holland radioed the control tower asking to execute a 360° left turn, which was immediately granted. The B-52 then began the complete circle left turn around the tower starting from about the midfield point of the runway. Holland flew the aircraft in an extremely tight, steeply banked turn while maintaining a low altitude. About three quarters of the way around the turn, at 14:16, the aircraft banked past 90°, rapidly descended, and hit the ground, exploding and killing all four crew members. McGeehan did atempt to eject as the plane crashed, but was unable to clear the aircraft in time.
The USAF immediately undertook the safety investigation, under the direction of the USAF's Chief of Safety, Brigadier General Orin L. Godsey. A final evaluation of the safety investigation was released on January 31, 1995. The USAF safety report was not distributed to the public. An accident investigation board, called an "AFR 110-14 Investigation," released a separate report in 1995. Unlike the USAF safety investigation, the AFR 110-14 report was released to the public.
The AFR 110-14 investigation identified several factors which contributed to the crash, including the crash sequence, the personality and behavior of Bud Holland, previous supervision and lack of corrective action exercised by USAF officers over Bud Holland, flight plan and execution. The accident board were clear to state the influence was Bud Holland's personality, he had developed a reputation as an "aggressive" pilot who often broke flight safety and other rules. The rule breaking included flying below minimum clearance altitudes and exceeding bank angle limitations and climb rates.
Mark McGeehan, the USAF squadron commander who refused to allow any of his squadron members to fly with Holland unless he (McGeehan) was also on the aircraft. In preparation for the air show, Holland was again selected as the command pilot for the B-52 flight. The demonstration profile as briefed by Holland included numerous violations of regulations, including steep bank angles, low altitude passes, and steep pitch attitudes. Brooks had ordered Holland not to exceed 45° bank angles or 25° pitch attitude during the demonstration.
Brooks took no action when Holland repeatedly violated these orders on its first practice session. The next practice flight on June 24 ended with the crash.
Inadequate pre-flight involvement of Colonel Wolff, combined with Holland's unsafe and risk-taking piloting behavior to produce conditions favorable for the crash to occur. The final factor was the 10-knot (19 km/h) wind and its effect on the maneuvers required to achieve the intended flightpath, in relation to the ground.
Although the accident investigation found that procedures and policies were supposedly already in place to prevent such a crash from occurring, the fact that this crash occurred showed that in at least one instance the existing safety policies and their enforcement had been inadequate.
USAF distributed the findings of the accident investigation throughout the service and today the crash is used in both military and civilian aviation environments as a safety training aid in teaching crew resource management