We were returning from a west trip, in late 1972 or early 1973. We picked up a
Dover aircraft in the stage at Elmendorf and had an early morning take-off.
I can only remember one other member of the crew and that was the co-pilot, Lt. Edwards. He was known as Bubba to everyone.
We were at FL290 in the soup all the way across Canada and had just passed Niagra Falls under the control of Cleveland Center. They notified us of traffic, a 707 at FL290, but the co-pilot called back that we were in the soup.
A few minutes past Buffalo we received another notification, a 737 at FL310. Co-pilot informed them we were still in clouds. We broke out around Phillipsburg, PA and the co-pilot (Lt. Edwards) looked out his window and slammed us into a dive. I was at the engineer's panel and immediately looked up front just as the belly of the 737 flashed across the top of the windshield. It is hard to describe the noise but it was loud. I thought it hit the T-Tail but using the sextant we decided it wasn't damaged.
Lt. Edwards or the AC called Cleveland Center and informed them we had left FL290 to avoid a collision with a 737 and had recovered at FL250, and were climbing back to FL290. The controller came back with "Get back to FL290! You are not cleared for FL250!". The tone of his voice basically said "I don't care that I screwed up and put two aircraft in the same spot".
Then he passed us off to New York center, who also didn't seem to care. Everyone got to experience zero gravity (in fact one-G negative). Lt. Edwards and I estimated the 737 came within 40 to 60 feet of our C-141. The A/C notified Dover Command Post what had happened and ask for them to have Flight Safety meet us in ACP. We also declared an emergency when we landed at Dover.
I walked around the aircraft before getting on the crew bus, and there was no apparent damage. When we arrived in ACP we were met by a Bird Colonel, from who knows where. His mission was to get us to not file a Near Miss report. He said the Air Traffic Controller could lose his job if we pushed it. I was a hard headed MSgt, wasn't buying into this line, so I told him "I don't care, he almost killed us and a plane load of civilians."
Then he tried to convince Lt. Edwards and I that our estimation of the 60 feet was not accurate. We stuck with our statement and filed the report.
The investigation revealed that the controller had confused the 707 and the 737's altitude. The 707 was at FL310 and the 737 at FL290. I don't know if the controller was fired or not.
When I read the report about 67-0006 breaking up in flight over England in a thunderstorm I wondered if it was the same C-141 and whether the stress of those negative G's could have weakened it.