Keepin 'em Flying...
Near Payette, Idaho
October 10, 1958
Working for the Best...
hundreds of man-hours of maintenance, training, and other preparation
for every hour of aerial exhibition - from fine-tuning the engine, to
coordinating with the air show organizers, a staff of dozens, if not
hundreds, support the pilots in their job of flying the death-defying
stunts and maneuvers.
the flight operations of the team's F-100Cs, the Support Crew, with their
tools and equipment, were flown aboard two aircraft, a C-119 and a
C-123, both painted the same colors as the Team’s planes.
The team's C-123D, Air Force
serial number 55-4521, departed Hill AFB in Utah, bound for McChord AFB
in Washington. Aboard were five flight crew members, and 14
Shortly before 6:30 in the
evening, when the Thundersbirds' C-123 was flying east of Payete, Idaho.
three lights blinking and the wheels were down," said irrigation worker
Norman Meadows. "It looked like, he was going to try and make a
Eldro Gisell. said the plane appeared to be flying through a flock of
the big birds. He said "the formations of geese broke up and the
birds flew in all directions Then I heard the plane's engines stutter
and it seemed to stall. For a moment it sounded like the engines
roared wide open and the plane seemed to pull up. Then it knifed
downward and I heard the explosion."
But Idaho Aeronautics Director Chet Moulton said he
did not think geese could have
caused the crash. Regardless - the C-123 impacted a hillside
six miles east of Payette, and all 19 aboard were killed.
Click here to see the crew and
passenger list of the Thunderbird's C-123B
It set fire to about 5 acres brush and grass, but
a quick-thinking farmer plowed a fire break around it to contain the
Brigadier General James C, McGehee, the wing commander at
Nellis AFB, flew to the crash site to help find out what caused the
crash, and aid in identifying the bodies, which were taken a mortuary
The Air Force grounded all 230 of its C-123s the
the crash for several days to repair a defect in the design of the
fuel system, but it was determined that the defect had nothing to do
with this crash.
The investigation into the
crash was unable to determine the primary cause of the accident, but
concluded that the plane was overloaded, and that the pilot may have
been incapacitated, crew rest restrictions violated, or the pilot seat's
was not occupied by qualified pilot. The theory of bird strike is
still popular with many.
As of 2008, the crash was the worst loss of life
accident in the history of the Thunderbird Squadron.
Near the crash site, the
Payette Kiwanis club and High School Key Club built a memorial to the
men lost in the crash shortly afterwards.