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Copyright © 1970:James Johnson
This aircraft crashed and was destroyed in an accident in Sondrestrom, Greenland on 28 August, 1976. The accident investigation determined that a runway landing illusion had contributed to this accident. The first third of the runway at Sondrestrom has an up-slope, and during a normal landing, the rest of the runway 'disappears' over the horizon. This may have caused the pilot to think it was either a very long landing, or a very short runway. As a result, after landing the pilot evidently decided to go around for another try. During the liftoff the plane over-rotated for unknown reasons, developed a nose-high attitude and stalled. It crashed on the runway, killing 7 crew members, and 16 passengers. A navigator and three passengers survived the crash.
I'm fairly sure these are AF photos the Sondrestrom runaway area following the
crash discussed above.
If you recognize them as somewhere else please contact me via emailknow.
In February 2007, C141Heaven received the following note from Al Brewer, who was involved with the investigation of the Sondrestrom accident.
C-141 Accident at Sondrestrom, August 1976
Note: This is my personal hypothesis which I think lends depth to the official accident report. As my personal opinion it is offered in the spirit of gaining a better understanding of why this accident occurred and in no way is meant to contradict the official report or to cast aspersions at anyone involved. At the time of this accident I was assigned to HQ MAC in the Aircrew Standardization and Certification Division.
Background: As noted in the accident synopsis the pilot crew members were relatively inexperienced. I do not recall if either had transited Sondrestrom at any time previously. Sondrestrom is not the easiest airfield to operate through. The approach is offset slightly from the runway heading requiring a slight turn after Minimum Descent Altitude to line up with the runway, thus a more compressed timeframe to get airspeed, attitude, configuration (landing flaps), and position set to cross the threshold. As noted in the synopsis the first portion of the runway including the touchdown zone slopes upward. At the normal touchdown spot a C-141 pilot sits too low to see the end of the runway beyond the crest of the slope.
Starting around the end of July 1976 the C-141 pilots assigned to HQ MAC Aircrew Standardization and Evaluation were discussing a trend noticed on their travels through the system.
Some pilots, recently trained in the T-38, were rounding out and holding the nose higher than the normal touchdown attitude before touchdown; and were using aerodynamic braking by holding the nose off for several seconds after touchdown before employing the usual deceleration devices. Note that the Dash-1 specifies that the landing performance data is based on a technique whereby the aircraft touches down and the nose is lowered to the runway within two seconds with spoilers employed when the main gear is on the runway and thrust reverse (TR) started after the nose is down and TR fully applied within six seconds. Holding the nose off invalidates the usual performance calculated by the engineers.
The pilot in control of the aircraft during this landing had a deficiency notation in his training records pertaining to use of this technique.
At the time of this accident, the spoilers were to be operated in the autoland position but without being armed. The copilot, upon touchdown and command by the pilot, was to lift the spoiler control handle and follow the handle to the deployed position with his hand. If the lever did not move after lifting, the copilot was to move it to the deployed position.
Now with all of this in mind, I believe the approach by the accident aircraft was probably normal with a normal touchdown spot possible. I believe the pilot applied a nose high landing attitude and misjudged the payout point due to the slope of the runway. Touching down before he expected it with back pressure to hold the nose off, the aircraft bounced. The copilot lifted the spoiler handle, the wheels spun up from the touchdown and the spoilers deployed. Fighting for control and trying to salvage the landing by holding the nose off, the aircraft stalled, a wing dipped, contacted the ground, and the pilot applied the throttles. He fought a losing battle for several thousand feet with a damaged wing, an aircraft that was behind the power curve, and only a few feet off the ground.
I realize this conflicts in places with the synopsis presented especially with respect to the spoilers. However, it can fully explain the accident. Furthermore, the copilot could have retracted the spoilers during the struggle for recovery. I do not recall any discussion of the aircraft rolling 1500 to 2000 feet then rotating abruptly, rather I recall traveling over the runway 1500 to 2000 feet. Observers, abeam the runway, but situated after the slope up levels out, may have seen the aircraft as the pilot in control began holding the aircraft off but did not see the mains on the runway bearing the weight of the aircraft. Touchdown, wheel spin up, bounce, hold-it-off, spoiler deployment, pitch up, and attempted recovery: unsuccessful. The Dash-1 cautions that spoiler deployment will cause nose pitch up (no-flap landings) but holding backpressure on the elevators with the nose high approximates the attitude of the no flap landing attitude and will allow a pitch up. Thus the caution to lower the nose immediately after main gear touchdown.
With or without the spoilers in the equation I believe the aerodynamic breaking technique was the primary cause in this accident with supervisory contribution by not having a better crew balance going into more challenging fields.
This reflects my recollection of what was discussed by the standardization troops immediately after the accident and how the "aerodynamic braking" technique was actually being worked in the summer of 1976. This issue was addressed with HQ MAC Training and was a special emphasis flight examiner item for the next year. To my knowledge, this technique was not noticed again.
In December 2008 C141Heaven received the following note from Francis Tower:
I was the weather forecaster on duty 28 Aug, 1976 when both
67-0006crashed. We first got the call on 0008 and began our checklists for an aircraft
accident. As you can imagine, it got very busy and noisy. It seem like 45 minutes
later one of the flight controllers got a call regarding 0006. He shouted out to
the commander that he has a report of a C141 crash. The commander shouted back
"We already have the Greenland crash".
"Sir", he replied, this one is in England".
As the weather flight follower it was my job to keep the flight updated on enroute weather. So close to England I wasn't able to contact the aircraft through Mildenhall and update the weather forecast.
To this day I feel sorrow for all crew and passengers on both flights.
Concerning 0008, the speculation in the command post from the experienced C141 pilots was that flying into Sondrestrom and not having landed there before the pilots view (because of the hump in the runway) was of the runway suddenly ending at the base of the mountains. The crew could have panicked and started a go around with insufficient air speed to clear the enclosing mountains.
Capt, USAF Ret.
In March 2009, C141Heaven received the following note from Leon Larson, currently living in Sondrestrom, Greenland.
I got these pictures from some friends at the fire station....
I got these pics from Tom Hansen in February of 2012. He was working at SAB greenland for six years as civilian in the carpentershop. He was very interested in airplanes and taking photographs.