Tucson, AZ Jet Crashes Into Automobile, Oct 1978
JET CRASH KILLS TWO IN TUCSON.
PANIC HIT NEARBY SCHOOL .. BUT NOT PLANE.
Tucson (AP) -- Students at Mansfield Junior High School heard "a noise like a sonic boom," and then scattered in panic as a pilotless Air Force jet crashed into an adjacent street, resulting in two deaths and injuries to five others.
"It was turmoil, it was turmoil," said Patty Linder, a teacher at the school, which is near the University of Arizona campus in central Tucson.
Brig. Gen. Robert Kelley, commander of Davis-Monthan Air Force Base, said the A7D Corsair jet was about eight miles short of the base Thursday when its engine stalled. The pilot, Capt. FREDERICK ASHLER, 28, attempted some last-minute maneuvers designed to aim the plane toward a vacant practice field and then bailed out at an altitude of 200 feet, Kelley said.
ASHLER was not seriously injured but was badly shaken by the results of the accident, he said.
The Air Force said it did not know what caused the engine to stall. Major Myron Donald said the A7D's at Davis-Monthan will be kept in the air pending a formal investigation and review of their maintenance histories.
The plane, which exploded in a "big ball of flame," according to one witness, struck a car in which two sisters, both from Tucson, were riding. One was dead at the scene and the other, who had burns over 90 percent of her body, died early today.
The victims were identified as LETICIA FELIX-HUMPHREY, 22, and CLARISSA FELIX, 21.
Also hospitalized was RICHARD FLAGG, 56, of Tucson who was listed in guarded condition after being hit by flying debris. The other injured were treated and released.
Dennis Phillips, a seventh grader, was one of the dozens of people at the junior high, the university and nearby residential areas who saw or heard the noon-hour crash.
"First of all there was a noise like a sonic boom," said Phillips. "They just looked up and everyone ran out front. They didn't know what to think."
Gregory DeConcini, 12, also witnessed the crash.
"We got real scared and started running," he said. "I pulled the fire alarm."
Witnesses rushed to the scene to help and police said a crowd of about 3,000 people gathered within 10 minutes. One of the first on the scene was registered nurse Janet Ireland, who said she "looked up and heard an explosion and saw the plane come down and the upper part of it break up and crash in the street. Part of the plane hit the car and pieces flew everywhere."
Students at the junior high were later herded into a cafeteria while school officials set up a communications system to handle calls that poured into the school from anxious parents.
"We need your help," Principal Maynard Farr told the assembled students. "We don't want you running around in the street or near the wreckage between school and home. You are safe here."
Kelley called the probability of such a crash "very, very low" and said the Air Force was offering aid to the victims and their families.
He also said ASHLER, whose flight ordinated at Tinker Air Force Base in Oklahoma, will be recommended for an award because of his efforts to keep the plane from striking nearby homes.
"He did a super job," Kelley said. "Your chances of being alive are slim when bailing out at such a low altitude."
Casa Grande Dispatch Arizona 1978-10-27