Air Force plane crashes in Del.

17 aboard huge C-5 escape serious injury

April 04, 2006|By CHRIS GUY | CHRIS GUY,SUN REPORTER

DOVER, Del. -- A C-5 Galaxy cargo plane crashed shortly after takeoff in a field just south of Dover Air Force Base yesterday morning, coming to a sliding halt 200 yards short of a runway and breaking into three pieces. All 17 crew members aboard survived without serious injuries.

"Seventeen people escaped; it's a miracle, an absolute miracle," said Lt. Col. Mark Ruse, commander of the 346th Air Wing Civil Engineering Squadron. "If you look at the condition of that plane and think there are 17 people alive, it's amazing. "

Three of the injured, including one of the plane's cockpit crew, were taken to Christiana Hospital in Newark. By midday, their conditions were listed as "stable or better," said Ruse.

The others, covered with jet fuel, were taken to Kent General Hospital in Dover, where they were decontaminated. None of the injuries was life-threatening.

The crash was the first for a C-5 in more than 15 years. The last occurred in 1990 at a U.S. base in Germany during Operation Desert Shield.

The aircraft, the Air Force's largest, had just departed for a U.S. naval base in Spain with a cargo of jet fuel when the crew declared an emergency and turned back for Dover, crashing at 6:42 a.m., officials said.

It could be days or weeks before the cause of the crash is determined, officials said. An Air Force team began an investigation and other experts were due to arrive yesterday afternoon, said Ruse.

Apparently, most of the crew escaped on emergency slides that deployed from the plane, but the cockpit crew was removed with the help of a ladder truck from a local fire department, officials said.

Dozens of photographers and reporters gathered along Route 9 near the airfield to get a better look. With the plane's tail section lying several hundred yards behind, the fuselage lay perpendicular to runway 32.

The cockpit, shorn from the rest of the craft, was turned at a 90-degree angle facing the runway, about 200 yards away.

The was no fire or smoke from the wreckage, but emergency crews pumped the remaining fuel from the plane and doused a shattered wing with foam.

Mary Burke, who lives near the airfield, stood watching the spectacle yesterday. Most mornings she jogs past the runway.

"I come here nearly every day to jog," Burke said. "But this time, I slept in. My [grown] kids called to see if I was OK because they know I usually come by here."

Emergency crews including firefighters, medical personnel and security forces, some wearing hazardous materials suits, combed through the wreckage, including a turbine engine that was ripped from one wing.

Dover is the home base of the 436th Airlift Wing, which operates the U.S. military's largest and busiest air freight terminal. The base also houses the Defense Department's largest mortuary, which processes bodies from the nation's wars.

The C-5, manufactured by Lockheed Martin Corp., is one of the world's largest planes and routinely hauls tanks, trucks and troops.

The planes - 28 are stationed at Dover - are nearly as long as a football field and more than five stories tall.

chris.guy@baltsun.com

The Associated Press contributed to this article.

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