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Mather Air Force Base, CA B-52G Bomber Crash, Dec 1982


United Press International.
Nine crewmen on a B-52G bomber died in a fiery crash in a muddy California pasture near a California airbase.
The pilots of the fuel-laden Stratofortress bomber managed to steer it away from buildings, gasoline pumps and busy roads, witnesses said.
The bomber and another one that had taken off 10 seconds earlier were practicing quick-takeoff maneuvers Thursday when it went down about 1 1/2 miles from Mather Air Force Base, officials say.
The airplane, carrying 290,000 gallons of fuel, blew up "like a napalm bomb" and made a fireball about 250 feet in diameter, witnesses said.
It left a 400-yard-long swath of burning debris, killed at least three horses and four people had to be treated for smoke inhalation.
"They were awful close, about 10 seconds apart," Jim Carver, a contractor whose office is a quarter-mile away, said of the planes. "He might have veered trying to get out of the end of the turbulence" caused by the leading bomber.
"The fireball was 200 or 300 feet in diameter," he said. "It was all fuel. If it had been bombs, we wouldn't be here to tell about it."
Carver and other witnesses said by banking right at the last moment, the pilot appeared to be trying to avoid nearby buildings and gasoline pumps. His huge craft also missed roads busy with morning traffic, coming down about 100 feet from a farm house, barns and sheds.
"I heard the engine roar really loud," said Richard Nide, who was riding a garbage truck about 400 yards away from the crash. "He looked like he was going to go off to the left. Then he banked hard right and the right wing clipped the ground and exploded."
"It looked like he was trying to pull out of it. It was great ball of fire and I could feel the heat all the way to my window. It scared the holy hell out of me."
Both planes had left the runway in a low-level training procedure called "Minimum Interval Take Off."
"MITO takeoffs are used when you want to get airborne in a hurry -- something less than a minute," Lt. Col. Mike Edwards, operations officer for the 441st Bomber Squadron, explained after the crash 10 miles east of the Capitol.
He declined to speculate on the cause of the crash. Air Force investigators convened a board of inquiry within hours of the crash.
No nuclear weapons were aboard the plane, a modified version of a 20-year-old model due for fitting with the air-launched Cruise missile. Sixteen B-52G's each carrying 12 Cruises, became operational Thursday at Griffiss Air Force Base, near Rome, N.Y., the Air Force said.
The victims were identified as:
Maj. JAMES H. YORK, 43, South Bend, Ind., the aircraft commander.
Capt. LYLE A. BRUNNER, 32, Florence, Mont., a bombardier instructor.
Capt. DENNIS E. DAVIS, Hililsboro, Ore., a navigator.
Master Sgt. GERE E. LeFEVER, 42, Conestoga, Pa., an aircraft gunner.
2nd Lt. SCOTT A. SEMMEL, 23, Levittown, Pa., a student co-pilot.
2nd Lt. PETER M. RILEY, Woonsocket, R. I., a sudent co-pilot.
2nd Lt. RICHARD P. ROBESON, JR., 27, Freeport, Ill., a student navigator.
2nd Lt. BENJAMIN C. BERNDT, 24, Norwalk, Conn., a student navigator.
2nd Lt. DANIEL N. BADER, 25, Salt Lake City, Utah, a student navigator.
Intended for replacement by the B-1B bomber, B-52s have been used since the 1950s and often are older than the pilots who fly them.

Altoona Mirror Pennsylvania 1982-12-17


The article should have

The article should have stated the bomber was carrying 290,000 pounds of fuel, not gallons

This was an awful accident.

This was an awful accident. I was one of the maintance crew why serviced the plane prior to the take off. I was playing cards in a friends room, when I saw all the smoke. To this day, I still have that feeling in the pit of my stomache.

I lived -They Died

I lived in the path of those jets. I lived on our ranch that bordered Mayhew and Bradshaw. I was in our home on Mayhew. I was making my parent's bed. I heard the eerie cry from the engines as the captain tried over and over to restart the engines. It made me look out the window.

I looked out across the field and I saw the plane barely miss the tops of the telephone poles. I stared in terror at what I realized was a plane coming directly at me and it was going to crash. I was frozen with disbelief. Then what I saw was the most horrific sight I have ever seen.

The Captain and crew MUST have decided to spare lives and as soon as he cleared all homes he abruptly turned the wing into the ground. It was a strong turn and the wing ripped off. The plane dug deep into the field in a ball of fire tall as the trees around the area. It covered the field and road. Black smoke was making a wall that was unable to see through.

My dear friend Jeff Barmby's Horse came running out of the smoke screaming and it was on fire. I screamed at my sister to call my parents before the lines burned down. We got through and my dad began the fight to get through to us. The roads were blocked in both directions. The fire department couldn't get there because of the onlookers. People were getting out of their cars and standing in our field looking.

Suddenly I saw my mom's truck come barreling through the smoke as my dad raced home. When he got home he took the tractor and some equipment to help in the fire fight. We had hay in the field and some of it caught fire. Then the fight turned to the people that had decided to get a closer look and come through our field. People had actually packed picnic baskets to come and watch. They were stampeding our cattle.

Our neighbors and my dad went to getting all of them back. My dad had to pull up blackberry vines with the loader and cover the fences to help keep them out. All I could think was about those men in the plane and their families. I couldn't understand how those people could be so cold.

It has been 29 years since then and I still see it as vivid today as then. I still cry at Christmas for the families that had to live without them so I could live. I still honor them even though I didn't even know their names until I read this today. I love them and thank them for the sacrifice they gave for me.

Thank You for posting this article. It means a great deal to me. Merry Christmas! Bea

thank you

Thank you Bea I read your story and I was touched you remembered, it means so much to those of us who will never forget that day! My father has missed my whole life, I am now older than he was when he passed away. He never knew my children and they unfortunately will never know him except in pictures and stories we tell. Thank You again for remembering all of them!

Could have been me

I knew one of the student navigators on this flight. His name was Danny Bader. We met in OTS (Officer Training School) and both went through Basic Navigator Training at Mather. Then, our paths parted. I went off to Texas to specialize in B-52Ds, and Danny stayed at Mather to learn all about B-52Gs. We thought he was lucky, because the G-model is much newer that the D-model and in many ways a better plane. Although, in some ways the D-model was better.

If things had been different, that could have been me on that plane instead of him. Now, almost 30 years later, I still remember Danny.

He was slender. He had a thin little mustache that people teased him about. He would make a face and smile. He was serious about his studies, but had a good sense of humor. He was well-liked and respected. He was just 25. I know he was looking to get married and start a family. And then, suddenly, it ended.

May God bless them all.

I find it hard to believe

I find it hard to believe that a buff attempted to take off with 290,000 pounds on board. That would be a HUGE fuel load. I used to be a B-52 Crew Chief in the early '80s when this happened and I recall fuel loads of 220,000 being common......240,000. I don't ever recall them leaving the ground with 290,000 pounds on board. If they were going to max out they usually did it in-flight with in-flight refueling.


I saw it also. Was on my way home heading N on Bradshaw to my place on Kiefer Blvd. Horrific is a good description of the impact and seeing the plane flounder was just sickening. Huge fireball and then the black smoke must have covered a 1/2 mile area at least. I lived 1 mile away from the crash site and when I got home I could only see 2 houses away, the smoke was that thick. It missed my elementry school Sierra Enterprise but was too close for comfort. I believe the only ground injury was a lady that went outside after the impact and she had a heart attack.

As a side note, I went to school with a Jim Bennefield.....

God bless them that perished.

Mather AFB....Crash

I just submitted a comment and neglected to include my name. I would like to give permission to use my I believe it adds credibility to my experience.


I was on the flightline an Mather watching the MITO..The bomber was a transient aircraft from Castle AFB I believe, flying sorties out of Mather.....Still don't really know what happened..It was #2 in the 3 plane cell...Will never be able to get that sight out of my mind..

Mather AFB Wife of Aviator in 1982

That day was one of the most terrifying days I have ever lived as an aviator wife. We lived on Semple Drive in Officer Housing at Mather. Most all of our neighbors were either pilots or navigators, and we wives visited on a daily basis with each other. That morning we heard the explosion and wives were running out the front doors trying to find out what happened.

My next door neighbor was a pilot who was getting ready to go in for a flight when he got the call that a B-52 had gone down. The relief I felt was unbelieveable, but knowing it may be one of my friend's husbands left guilt in my heart. Immediately, two of us wives were running down the street to our neighbor whose husband was a B-52 Navigaor in training. He was on the first plane that took off, but we didn't find that out till later in the day. When you are far away from home, with no family, you lean on each other like family.

It was like we were all traumatized, and couldn't believe what was happening. Thru the years I have relived that day over and over wondering how thoses families got thru the horror of seeing their loved one go down in a fiery crash. We take for granted how brave these men and women are who protect our country and sacrifice so much for us. By chance I came across this site today and finally saw the reason for the crash. Thanks for posting.

article | by Dr. Radut