An Air Force KC-135 jet tanker crashed Friday while...


FAIRCHILD AIR FORCE BASE, Wash. -- An Air Force KC-135 jet tanker crashed Friday while practicing an aerial stunt over Fairchild Air Force Base, killing at least six people in a fiery explosion that engulfed a vehicle on the ground.

Air Force Sgt. Annette Gay said five of the plane's crew members were confirmed dead and one other was unaccounted for. A serviceman in the vehicle also died, she said.


The plane's wreckage was scattered over several hundred yards just off the base's main runway. Besides the vehicle, the plane hit an unmanned radar tower, which toppled into an open area near several large hangars.

One witness said the four-engine jet, a modified version of a Boeing 707, was approaching the base's runway from the south and was turning when it dived into the ground and exploded.

The KC-135, used to refuel other jets in flight, can carry up to 29,000 gallons of spare fuel, but it was not known how much extra fuel was loaded on the ill-fated jet.

Spokane County Coroner Graham McConnell said he went to the base immediately after learning of the crash but he soon left after it was determined the Air Force, not the county, had jurisdiction.


'I got to within a half mile or a quarter mile of the crash scene,' McConnell said. 'There were several areas of smoky, oily fires.'

A KC-135 tanker normally carries a crew of four, including a pilot, a co-pilot, a refueling boom operator and a navigator. Officials could not immediately explain why the plane had two additional crew members.

Judy Nauman, a spokeswoman for the Federal Aviation Administration in Seattle, said the tanker was practicing with a Fairchild-based B-52 bomber at the time of the crash though the bomber was apparently a short distance away and was not involved in the accident.

The tanker was part ofa new aerial act known as the 'Thunderhawks,' which was practicing for its first public performance, base officials said.

The aerial act includes a series of high-banked turns to show off the tanker's top and bottom, a low-level simulated refueling of a B-52 bomber and both high- and low-speed passes over the base at altitudes as low as only a few hundred feet.

Fairchild, about 10 miles due west of Spokane, is a Strategic Air Command base and home to a B-52 bomber wing and a KC-135 air refueling wing.

The last crash involving a Fairchild-based aircraft occurred Oct. 16, 1984, when a B-52 bomber on a simulated nighttime bombing run hit a mesa in the Arizona desert. Two crew members were killed.


The last accident involving a Fairchild KC-135 occurred Jan. 19, 1967, when a jet crashed into a mountain near Spokane, killing nine crew members.

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