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C-141 Tail Number: 64-0638

A crew flying this aircraft had a heart-stopping day in 1987

Synopsis: On 10 September, 1987, 64-0638 came within 5 seconds of being shot down by anti-aircraft missiles, following a mix-up with diplomatic clearances and misidentification as hostile aircraft by French military authorities. The attack was called off at the last second when airborne foreign fighter aircraft spotted the US flag on the tail of the C-141. There were no injuries.

The Norton AFB crew had departed on a multi-stop "embassy-run" mission to Africa. Prior to departing Charleston, the crew had sought a full mission brief from Charleston MAC Command Post. They were handed a photocopy of the world atlas map of Africa and the Command Post Officer offered the observation, "Dakar is a great crew rest". The mission itinerary was: Charleston-Bermuda-Dakar, Senegal-Robert's Field, Liberia-Kinshasa, Zaire-Niamey Niger-Kinshasa-Bennuda-Charleston.

At Dakar, no flight plan was available for the Kinshasa-Niamey leg. The crew was provided diplomatic clearances for Zaire, Central African Republic, and Chad, but not for me destination country of Niger. Prior to takeoff from Kinshasa, the crew unsuccessfully attempted to contact the MAC command and control for the Niger diplomatic clearance, using both phone and HF radio.

They elected to depart Kinshasa on schedule, planning to get the clearance enroute, and if necessary hold outside Niger airspace, until they received clearance. Enroute, they continued to attempt HF radio contact with any Global HF radio station, to no avail. They maintained normal VHP ATC communications.

The standard routing to Niamey is north from Kinshasa through the Central African Republic, crossing southwestern Chad and into Niger. Shortly after passing the N'djamena VOR, the copilot noticed a couple of French Air Force Mirage F-l fighters maneuvering several hundred yards behind the C-141. At about that time, on Guard frequency, they heard, "Aircraft over N'djamena identify yourself. Divert to N'djamena".

The crew acknowledged with a wing rock. With the Mirages following, they landed at N'djamena Int'l Airport. Aimed soldiers instantly surrounded the aircraft.

While generally aware of hostilities between Libya and Chad, the crew was unaware of the recent fighting in southern Chad. Only two days before, one of two Libyan Tu-22 bombers had been shot down during an attack on N'djamena, the capital of Chad. The French government had come to the aid of Chad in February 1986, and had established anti-aircraft defenses around the capital, using US-made Hawk missiles. French Military Intelligence believed the Libyans would again attack, mis time using an 11-76 (similar in size and shape to the C-141), possibly with chemical weapons and coming from the south. When the French manned air defenses saw an unknown aircraft coming from the south, the French Commander ordered the missiles to fire. While the missiles were in a several minute long pre-launch sequence, some French F-l's, who happened to be in the vicinity, flew by for a final visual confirmation. It was only when the Mirage pilot noticed the American flag on the tail of the green camouflaged C-141, that the attack was called off and communication attempted, approximately 5 seconds from missile launch.

Investigation revealed that the diplomatic clearances provided to the crew were over two years old. USAF Intelligence had not be monitoring the war between Chad and Libya and believed that the fighting was only in northern Chad. 21st Air Force Flight Planners had provided incorrect flight plans for the mission. The use of Mode 4 or other authentication documents was not a factor in the incident, as the French and Chad military would not have had the proper codes, with which to authenticate the US aircraft. The crew was released, after interrogation by French military and US embassy personnel, and continued the mission to Niger (this time with a correct diplomatic clearance). While no known connection exists, the governments of Chad and Libya signed a cease-fire agreement the next day, September 11, 1987.

The above information was provided by Paul Hansen


DEC-1999 at SFO
Copyright: Carl Waldenmaier
Source:Werner Fishdick Collection




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