Howard Hughs created Super Connies for TWA..
Puckered Petes made them fly for Pen-Air..
Here around 1964 at McMurdo is where we landed on seasonal ice from 7 to
20 feet thick which was plowed smooth for the 'non ski' aircraft . Flying abeam Cape Adare on the
way to Mac was ominous as we flew lower than those mountain peaks and Hallet
station looked like a little dot in the snow. We carried Goobers Beer, supplies, personnel, visiting dignatarys and cumshaw. We stopped for fuel at places like Fiji -
Canton Island - American Samoa - etc.. We once carried Werner VonBraun and his onterage who mostly had Japanese cameras. Later some Japanese visited the ice
and I recall they mostly had German cameras.. Go figure..
One 'UFO' we saw on a dark morning while returning to Christchurch was headed in the opposite direction around 60S, above and blinking an aldus like lamp in a series of 4 each blinks. The only thing I ever morphed over it was when we found out later that day that President Johnson had visited Wellington, so it musta been ' you know who '.. Another time we were headed north while possibly the last R4D was transiting to the ice from Invercargill, N.Z. We kept a good eye out on the radar and talked on sideband with Jimmy Clark when all of a sudden there they were and there they went. We were both assured just having each other close by for a few minutes.. On another flight we lost the elevator control cable, no swet, Dave Eldredge just used the trim tab while JJ Plasko went aft and fixed it.. In flight maintenance 'strictly routine'..
Talk about basic instruments, we had a string and a 3/8" nut hung from the cockpit center overhead as 'whiteout insurance'.. 144 spark plugs in close order flying drill..
Sometime later during a landing at McMurdo, the starboard main mount
dug into some
soft ice, spun the craft around, tore off the right wing and
131644 became another Antarctic radar target. Later I am told it went out on a seasonal berg and eventually became 'one' with Davy Jone's locker. It
was a 'beaut' plane and very well maintained by Pete's troops.. regards,
Dave Riley, 'Sparkasaurus...'
I was assigned to the Connies in Aug of 70 as a mech. The F/E on Pegasus was Phil Wilson, he was onboard when it went in. I don't remember who the other assigned F/E was, maybe Eddie Rohr.
As I recall, a feeling of the demise of the Connies was readily apparent when I checked in. The crash of 644 sealed their fate. 624 made no more ice flights after the wreck. During its last season it flew a couple of CONUS turnarounds, several mail runs to Auckland, made several flights just so folks could get flight time and sat on the ramp in a SAR stand-by status. A sad end to era.
The hand writing was on the wall and the remaining ground pounding crew members jockeyed for positional status, assignments to other work centers were coming. I was very fortunate, got sent to Power Plants and remained in Ch Ch for the rest of that first season. The odd thing was, as the new guy, I did no politicking as I knew nobody. A number of the old guard wound up going to the ice for various assignments and weren't happy after years of holding the fort down in Ch Ch.
After we returned to Quonset, 624 was scheduled to go away. The crew lost interest in it and it just sat around waiting for the transfer date. If I recall correctly, it did have a major calendar inspection pulled and with little fanfare, departed one day for the boneyard.
Regards, Jim, the R-3350-42 guy, Landy, Gaffer..
THE LAST FLIGHT SOUTH BY THE FLYING HORSE "PEGASUS'
Just before 9am on October 8, 1970 the Super Constellation "Pegasus" BuNo 131644 of the United States Navy's VX-6 Squadron departed from Christchurch Airport on a ten and a half flight hour to Antarctic. The ill-fated aircraft ended her life in a tangled heap on the ice of the Ross Sea. For the second navigator Robert O'Keefe the day is firmly etched in his mind recalling the events leading to the crash twenty nine years later.
By NOEL GILLESPIE
FREE LANCE AVIATION WRITER
Just before 9am on a cool dull Christchurch morning of October 8 1970, Lt. Commander Cliff Greau a veteran of two previous Antarctic seasons roared his C-121J Super Constellation into the southern skies.
Appropriately named "Pegasus"- the flying horse, this was her seventh year of Antarctic operations.
Greau's mission was to open up 'Operation Deep Freeze 71" -destination the ice runway William Field, McMurdo Sound, 4,500 miles away over open frozen waters. A routine squadron's flight but was to end in tragic circumstance's ten and half-hours later.
Half an hour out from McMurdo, the weather had deteriorated, to zero visibility with an intense storm, which had enveloped the base. Low on fuel and no alternative airfield, Commander Greau was force to 'crash land' the aircraft. After making five attempts, he veered off to the right side of the ice runway and the "Connie" was destroyed without loss of life.
"Pegasus" BuNo 131644, was the seventh aircraft of VX-6 Squadron, carrying a crew of 12 and 68 passengers including a technician from Lockheed, the aircraft's manufacturer plus cargo and mail for the wintering- over party. At midnight, the first aircraft away was another C-121J "Phoenix", followed by the five C-130 Hercules at one hour intervals.
The twelve-man crew included the commander, two co-pilots, and two navigators, two flight engineers, a radio operator and two loadmasters. The "Connie's" required two navigators because the magnetic compasses and gyros were not operational below 60 degrees south so celestial navigation was required. Its main mission with VX-6 was moving personnel from Christchurch to McMurdo and photo mapping the Antarctic continent.
The weather forecast for the McMurdo area was marginal as a severe Antarctic storm was closing in. It had already caused a 24-hour holdup on flights between Christchurch and McMurdo and had grounded interior flights at McMurdo.
With the weather of paramount concern to the crew and no alternate landing sites, their minds alert, the intrepid naval aviators kept regular contact with oceanic control as "Pegasus" headed towards McMurdo center control.
Quintessentially, O'Keefe a true naval aviator was the aircraft's second navigator. On his inaugural flight to the continent, he was unknowingly a matter of hours away from the grim introduction to Antarctic flying.
Says Bob O'Keefe "As we reached the Point of Safe Return [PSR] at 4pm we had learned that the weather at McMurdo was deteriorating rapidly and visibility at Williams Field was 10 miles with winds of 13 mph, we commenced a conference. Lt. Commander Greau made the call to continue the flight south"
"We really didn't discuss it much, everyone on the flight deck had their own thoughts. We all said a silent prayer as thoughts flashed back to home."
Between 6 and 7pm a snowstorm developed, visibility at McMurdo was reduced to zero with winds gusting to 40 mph.
The "Connie" utilized a slightly longer route into McMurdo than the Herc's because of the mountains on the continent and the Ross Sea required approaching aircraft to stay above Mr. Etna's elevations, then drop rapidly for the approach to Williams Field. The C-121 route required skirting the Ross Sea and Beauford Island then proceed straight into Willy Field"
" I can remember being able to see Williams Field from about thirty miles out as we descended for our approach. The front of the storm was like a great white impregnable wall just to the south of the ice runway. We flew almost directly over the airfield buildings as we raced to beat the storm but we lost".
Beginning to receive vectors from the radar approach, the crew secured everything aboard the aircraft. The crew briefed the passengers on evacuation procedures should the landing attempt be unsuccessful.
"We made six or seven ASD radar approaches. After each abortive approach our flight engineer reported to the commander of our fuel status and after the sixth approach the news we did not want to hear. Only enough fuel for one more approach and fifteen minutes of holding remained until they were completely out of fuel"
He tells of Cdr. Graue informing the crew that he was descending to 100 feet on the next approach, and if Cdr. Avery, the first pilot, could see any part of the runway, he should assume control of "Pegasus" and land the old girl.
If they could not see the ice runway, they were to climb to 500 feet and intercept the Precision Approach Radar Glide Path for the skiway at Williams Field some two miles away, retract the wheels for a wheels up landing on the skiway normally used by the ski-equipped C-130's, as there was not enough fuel for an another approach.
" We began with a certain apprehension, the adrenaline was now pumping and I had responsibilities to carry out in an emergency. We all tightened our seat belts a little tighter and made sure that there was nothing in our shirt pockets to scratch our faces"
Cdr. Avery caught a glimpse of the runway at about 100 feet above the ice and called for Control of the aircraft.
"I can remember vividly that he had completely idled the engines and dived for the ice runway. We landed very hard but would probably have suffered little or no damaged had several frozen snow drifts not formed on the runway, while we were making our first approach."
Such was the force of the Antarctic storm. Unlike the Hercules, the "Connie did not have skis Touching down on the ice, the "Connie" straddled a three to four foot high and eight-foot wide snowdrift between the nose and main landing gears. Immediately on 'hitting' the ice Cdr. Avery placed all four engines into full reverse, just as the right main gear impacted the snowdrift. This caused the aircraft to veer rapidly to the right and turned about 210 degrees clockwise and slide backwards to the right of the runway.
When the main landing gear ran into a massive snowdrift coming to rest in the middle of it, the landing gear twisted and sheared off just below its pivot point inside the gear well.
O'Keefe recalls the right wing tip contacting the ice, as it slid backwards. " I remember watching with absolute horror, the No 4 propeller spinning off the engine. Moments later No 4 engine ripped off its mount, as if by some giant hand followed by No 3 propeller then No 3 engine then the entire right wing. While I recall it in slow motion, I doubt that the whole chain of events took more than a few seconds".
When the "Connie" finally stopped sliding, the two left engines were still running at full power in reverse, as the control cables from the flightdeck had been severed. At this point Cdr. Graue switched off the magnetos to secure engines.
"A very eerie temporary silence ensured" recalls Bob O'Keefe. " Hardly a word was spoken on the flight deck. Seconds later we started a rapid evacuation on the left side of the aircraft, putting all our endless hours of emergency training to work"
At 8.10pm the "Connie" finally slid to a stop on the frozen ice surface. It was only a half a mile from the aircraft parking and cargo staging area, but it took over three hours for anyone to locate the crashed aircraft.
Five onboard were injured, suffering from scalp lacerations, bruises and back stain. "The OIC of the VX-6 winter over party Lt. Ken Koening was at the runway awaiting our arrival from Christchurch, together with a large military terrain stake bed truck with a canvas top. The 'bus' is used for transportation between McMurdo and the ice runway at "Willy Field"
Evacuating the crew and passengers was made via the left main and forward crew cargo doors. As the rest of the crew assembled the passengers away from the aircraft, one of the loadmasters stayed behind with O'Keefe to get as much as possible of the aircraft's emergency equipment unloaded as possible, as fear of fire breaking out was uppermost on their minds.
"We were able to off load all the equipment, which included several tents, which we felt could shield the passengers and crew from the now extreme wind, blistering snow and sever chill factor, by now effecting us all" recall O'Keefe With a 50-mph wind blowing across the ice, it was impossible for the crew to erect the tents. As half the passengers were not properly dressed, it was considered they would be better off inside the 'Connie". With no fuel, likelihood of fire was low and at least they would be out of the freezing wind and 50 plus below zero temperatures.
"The GCA radar crew at "Willy Field" were frantically working with Lt. Ken Koening, ICO to locate us and get us to safety and some shelter. Ken had a radar reflector on the top of a four wheel drive vehicle and was able to talk to radar operators via a radio in his truck."
The radar operator could see the 'Connie" on his screen and directed Lt.Koening towards the crashed aircraft. By this time, the visibility was less than 50 feet, with the snow now driving harder, nothing could be heard for more than a few feet away.
"Driving to within a couple of hundred feet from us, he could neither see nor hear us, or we him" O'Keefe recalled. When he finally discovered our position, he radioed our status to the radar operator's back at Williams Field. They then radioed the information to the squadron on the 'hill', while a support worker, the OIC had brought with him, walked behind the truck, planting flags poles, to which he attached a rope and flags."
This operation took him over 30 minutes to get back to the staging area, then drive the truck to the crash site to evacuate the first of the passengers along with the injured crew.
" I couldn't believe that it took so long to locate us. After a couple of hours, the numbing cold began to work its will on us. We were just concentrating on staying alive O'Keefe said.
O'Keefe recalls he was the last of the crew and passengers to leave the accident scene and be transported to the staging area before being transferred into heated buses for a ride up the hill to "MacTown".
"The harsh Antarctic storm lasted until the following day. By then I was finally able to get down to view my beloved 'Pegasusí. The snow had drifted up against the left side, almost to the top of the fuselage. The main landing gear was still sticking straight up out of the snowdrift, which had ripped it off the aircraft. One could literally follow the trail of parts that had been ripped off as we slid backwards down the ice runway"
Rear Admiral D F Welch told this writer at the time, that as the crash was too close to the runway, it wasn't good morale to have a broken C-121 with only one wing lying about.
Bob O'Keefe remained with VX-6 in Antarctica until March 1973. Earlier this year he attended the decommissioning of the Squadron at Point Mugu Naval Air Station. While over 1600 former VX-6ers were there, the only member of the crew that ill-fated day at Williams Field, was the 2nd Engineer Don Bentley, now retired and living in Texas.
He is now a tax consultant in Scottsdale and flys for a regional airline USAIRWAYS Express.
Another C-121 crashed at McMurdo on October 31 1961, when a specially configured Super Constellation, previously used in Project Magnet, on a flight from Christchurch, landed a hundred yards short of the ice runway. It bounced in the air and landed 50 yards further down the Ross Sea ice approach to the airfield. Its landing gear collapsed as it veered into a snowbank, tearing off one wing and breaking the fuselage behind the wing. Only one of the 23 men aboard was injured.
From: Billy Baker
When I flew to the ice in Oct 70, the squadron flew all of
it's aircraft in on Opening Day. Dave Eldridge was the CO. The Connies
took off first and I think the Hercs were launched an hour of so apart.
I was on the second connie. All the Hercs got to the ice first and the
other Connie crashed upon landing. I have a bunch of photos that I took
of the crash and I will try to find and scan them and send them to
RMC Billy-Ace Baker, USN (Ret), OAE, OBM, DKS, LSMFT
W0 DF-63, 67, 71 & 75
Summer Support DF-74 through DF-80