22/03/1956 North American F-86F Sabre 52-5373 &52-5355
|North American F-86F Sabre||52-5373||45th Fighter Day Squadron||Sidi Slimane, French Morocco||Ferry Flight||1||0|
|North American F-86F Sabre||52-5355||45th Fighter Day Squadron||Sidi Slimane, French Morocco||Ferry Flight||1||0|
On the 22nd
March 1956 at approximately 13:35 hours a flight of three North American
1st Lieutenant Wendell B. Stockdale with a F-86
The flight arrived
over the Cherbourg area several minutes early and continued on course for
Southampton. The flight was still
ahead of time over Southampton and continued on course to Burtonwood.
Whilst over-flying the Burtonwood area, the flight leader experienced
trouble with his radio compass and subsequently handed over the lead to the
number three aircraft flown by 1st Lieutenant Stockdale to lead the flight to
Prestwick. The flight was still ahead of time. When they thought they were over Prestwick, as indicated by
the swing of Lt. Stockdale's and Lt. Wells' radio compasses, Captain Hambrick
attempted to contact the tower and after numerous failed attempts by all three
pilots, they finally made contact on the guard channel. The tower asked the
flight leader if the flight could penetrate VFR, to which Captain Hambrick
replied "negative", whereupon the tower cleared them to
penetrate on the Prestwick range. During
the descent, at around 15,000 feet, the tower contacted the flight and notified
them that the range had been turned off. (Lt.
Stockdale believed the range had actually been turned off when the radio
compasses indicated station passage.)
Electing to continue letdown without benefit of navigational aids, they descended to around 2,000 - 3,000 feet. When they broke out of the clouds, they found they were out over the Irish Sea. They did see an airfield on an island but the runway was too short so they contacted the tower for a DF steer. The tower told them to tune into a marker located a half-mile from the end of the runway. Unable to get a positive identification on the radio compass, the DF homed in on what was later determined to be a radio station in the Netherlands. Now unsure of the actual location of the beacon, they again called for a steer. Burtonwood heard the call and asked them if they were in trouble or needed a steer. Still attempting to locate itself, the flight spent some time in the area maintaining VFR before accepting a steer to Burtonwood. (According to Lt. Stockdale, it was at about this point in the flight that they collectively agreed that they were lost, so the flight leader declared an emergency).
On the heading to
Burtonwood, they then climbed up to around 17,000 feet, maintaining this
altitude for a time, following the steers given by Burtonwood and estimating
there was now a good chance of exhausting their fuel before arriving at
Burtonwood, Captain Hambrick decided to let down, maintaining VFR below the
clouds. The flight continued at
approximately 1,500 - 2,000 feet, in the hope that they would spot a suitable
landing strip en-route to Burtonwood.
52-5373 Crash site
10 -12 miles from Burtonwood at 15:55 hours, and at approximately 1,000 feet,
1st Lieutenant Stockdale's aircraft flamed out.
Then, according to eyewitness and newspaper accounts, he tried to make a
forced landing on what had been a reclaimed open cast site.
The aircraft with its undercarriage down, came down low over New House
Farm on Winstanly Road at about a height of about 60 feet, the aircraft touching
down on a fence near to where Chair Wood now stands.
After overshooting the pasture he was aiming for, Lt. Stockdale touched
down in a recently ploughed field. The
undercarriage, external fuel tanks and wings were torn off, the fuselage rolling
and careering across the field at an angle of 30 degrees.
After rolling over
a number of times, the fuselage went through a wooden fence on the other side of
the field and ended up on its side in a drainage ditch 100 yards from Moss Vale
Farm on Up Holland Road, the tenants of which, Mr. and Mrs. Danny Ball, who were
not at home at the time. The
aircraft was a complete wreck after traveling about 100 yards across the field.
Pieces of it were strewn over a 200-yard area, the nose was at one end of
the field, with the undercarriage and wing 20 yards from the fuselage. The whole
area was littered with shattered Perspex and ballast bags.
The pilot's helmet, cracked down the middle, was lying on the ground near
Close up of cockpit
Stockdale crawled from the wreck with facial injuries, two fractured vertebrae
and bad cuts. He stumbled across to
some people who were coming to help and passed out.
He was removed to Wigan Infirmary in an ambulance that had to be towed
out of the field by a tractor after it got stuck in the muddy field.
He was transferred to the Air Force Hospital at Burtonwood at 18:23 hours
and then later to the Air Force Hospital at Wimpole Park near Cambridge. At the time of the accident, 1st Lieutenant Stockdale had a
total of 531:30 hours flying time with 167:50 hours in the F-86.
When the alarm was
given, it was treated as a general emergency, and six fire engines and a couple
of ambulances from surrounding districts were at the scene with commendable
Close up of nose section
investigation by the US Air Force revealed approximately one gallon of fuel
remaining in the tanks of 1st Lieutenant Stockdale's aircraft. The damage to the
farmer's property, at 1952 prices, amounted to $125.80, to make good the land
$56.00, 27 yards of fencing $53.00 and replacing 24 yards of fencing
removed by recovery crew $16.80.
Captain Hambrick's aircraft ran out of fuel and landed, with minor damage, short of the runway at Burtonwood. Lt Wells in the third aircraft made it down safely, landing on a taxiway that was closed because of the construction equipment on it.
Captain Hambrick's aircraft 52-5355 at Prestwick
year-old 1st Lieutenant Wendell Stockdale from Columbia, Pennsylvania was
hospitalised from March to May of 1956, after which he returned to ground duties
in French Morocco, serving as Assistant to the Commander of the 45th FDS until
his tour was up in September 1956. He
then returned to the United States, assigned to Wright Patterson Air Force Base,
Dayton, Ohio, as a Flight Test Engineer in the Division of Flight and All
Weather Testing. Due to his head
injuries and a period of amnesia, he was not immediately allowed to return to
flying status. It was approximately
a year before the flight surgeons determined that his amnesia was psychological
and was not due to physical brain damage. (Evidently,
oftentimes when something terrible or frightening happens to a person, the brain
will do the victim a favour and cause him to permanently forget most or all of
In September 1960,
the Air Force selected now Captain Stockdale to attend the University of Chicago
where he earned a Master of Business Administration degree in 1961.
Upon graduation, he was assigned to the Cost Analysis Division, Air
Research and Development Command, at Andrews AFB near Washington D. C.
While on this assignment, he performed a cost analysis of the Skybolt
missile for which he was awarded the Air Force Commendation Medal.
During his Air Force career, he also completed the USAF Squadron Officers
School in 1957 and the USAF Command and Staff College in 1966.
In May of 1963,
Captain Stockdale resigned from active duty, transferred to the U. S. Air Force
Reserves and accepted a position with the Columbia Telephone Co., Columbia,
Pennsylvania, as Assistant to the President.
Subsequent advancements placed him in the position of General Manager of
an operating telephone company and as President of a telephone supply company.
He retired from the USAF Reserve with the rank of Lt. Colonel in June
1975. He currently owns and manages
a brokerage company in Lancaster, Pennsylvania, specializing in commercial and
industrial real estate.
Stockdale was born in Aplington, Iowa, on the 29th August 1930. Aplington is a
small town in northeast Iowa, with a population of 500.
He graduated from high school in 1948 and went directly to the U.S. Naval
Academy from which he graduated in 1952, taking his commission as a Second
Lieutenant in the U.S. Air Force, S. N. 23537A.
At that time, the Air Force was accepting up to 25% of the graduates from
the Naval Academy and West Point as the U.S. Air Force Academy had not yet been
in existence long enough to graduate a class.
The Navy flight surgeons had determined that Stockdale was not qualified
for flying duty with the Navy because of a deviated septum, so he transferred to
the Air Force. His first duty
assignment was as a Supply Officer at Middletown Air Force Base, Middletown,
Pennsylvania where he served until January 1954.
In June 1954, he married Jane Hinkle of Columbia, Pa.
They have one daughter (born just two months before the accident), two
sons and five grandchildren.
In January 1954,
Lt. Stockdale passed the Air Force flight physical and entered flight training
at Bartow, Florida (Pa-18 and T-6); then to Bryan, Texas (T-28 and T-33); then
to Del Rio, Texas (T-33 gunnery), and finally to Nellis Air Force Base, Nevada
where he transitioned into the F-86F, Class of 55 F.
His assignment from Nellis was to the 45th Fighter Day Squadron (FDS) in
French Morocco to which he reported in September 1955.
recalled in February 2001 the events of his crash as follows:
flaming out, I loosened my seat belt and harness in preparation for a low
altitude ejection. As I lowered my
head in preparation for blowing the canopy, I noticed what I thought was a
school below and ahead of me. (I
found out 36 years later, it was a hospital at Billinge,
Mr Hornby worked there later as head of maintenance, and his daughter
worked there as a nurse, Mr Hornby was a local farmer who was first on the
scene.) By the time I glided my
aircraft safely beyond the hospital, l estimated that I was well below 800 feet
-- too low to safely eject. I
turned left and then right after spotting a pasture in which to set down.
I decided to land diagonally across the pasture, which was adjacent to a
ploughed field. From my farming experience in Iowa where I was reared, I knew
that pasture ground was usually much harder than a ploughed field and that the
plane might not sink into the pasture turf.
Unfortunately, I overshot the pasture.
Had I not overshot, I would have had more than the 300 feet in which I
stopped in the ploughed field, and I am sure the crash would not have been as
violent. In deciding where to put the aircraft down, I also knew I ran the risk
of running into a building at the far end of the pasture.
I remember it as a barn but it could have been a house.
Had the plane ran into it, at least it would have been at a relatively
slow speed, so I was prepared to take that risk".
undercarriage sank unevenly, imparting a rotating motion to the aircraft.
The mud piled up in front of the wheels ,causing first the external fuel
tanks and then the wings and undercarriage to be torn from the fuselage.
The wingless fuselage then started to spin like a football, in the
process of which the headrest and canopy were sheared off as the fuselage spiraled
two or three times across the field. Had
I still had my shoulder harness and seat belt fastened, I probably would have
been decapitated. Fortunately, in
the days before the automatic opening seat belt, shoulder harness and parachute
opening mechanisms, the procedure was to unbuckle the seat belt and shoulder
harness before bailing out at low altitude.
By doing so, as the seat and pilot tumbled through the air after
ejection, the pilot did not have to worry about finding and unbuckling the
shoulder harness and seatbelt in the very short time available".
lucky break for me was that the ejection seat did not fire upon impact or when I
evacuated the plane. The standard
procedure was to reinsert the safety pin in the ejection seat before a crash
landing to prevent the seat from accidentally firing upon impact.
After flaming-out, I had very little time and was very busy.
I do not remember whether I forgot or whether I was too occupied flying
the plane and looking for a place to land, but in any event, I did not put the
safety pins in. When the plane ended up on its side, had the seat blown, I
would have been ejected into the wooden fence and the hard ground along the
fence line. Also most fortunately,
there was no fire. I was later told
there remained only about a gallon of fuel left in the tank."
shoulder harness or seat belt to restrain me, the tremendous deceleration caused
my head to slam into the gun sight. The
helmet, although it split down the middle, did limit the damage to my face.
I incurred a fracture of the right zygoma arch and maxilla, and my right
sinus was crushed. I also fractured
two vertebrae and had many cuts and bruises of varying severity.
I was very lucky that the fuselage did not come to rest upside down.
As I was bleeding profusely, had it taken a long time to right the plane
and get me out, who knows what might have happened?
I think I used a couple of my nine lives that day!"
managed to get out of the aircraft by myself and sat on a rock.
A farmer working in an adjacent field had called the emergency services.
The ambulance was there very quickly and I passed out shortly after the
ambulance arrived. As I recall, I
came to a couple of days later in the base hospital at Burtonwood.
I credit Mr Hornby, Mr Alker
and Mr Boardman for saving my life. I
was told that one of them called the ambulance while I was still in the air.
When the ambulance got stuck in the mud, they pulled it out with their
tractor. They were responsible for
my prompt medical attention and quick departure for the hospital.
Years later, I was told by Mrs Hornby that it was Mr Boardman who found
my watch in the ploughed field the day after the accident."
“Again, another fortunate break for me was that Dr. Lett was on duty at Wimpole Park Air Force Hospital near Cambridge where I was eventually sent. He was one of the foremost ear, nose and throat doctors in the Air Force and a specialist in treating head and facial injuries similar to mine. He did a wonderful job on me."
personal recollections of the accident stopped after I made a turn onto final
approach and started again a couple days later in hospital.
Details, especially covering the period of my amnesia, were supplied from
what I was later told by others -- some of it not until 36 years later when I
visited with Mrs. Hornby."
Shot showing wing with fuselage in distance
A number of local
eyewitnesses recalled the events to the press as follows,
“I was working in the farm yard, All at once I heard a
"Swishing" noise, looking around I saw a jet aircraft approaching from
the North, North East. At this
time, the aircraft appeared to be about seventy feet in the air.
It just barely cleared a clump of trees South East of the farm.
I realised the occupant was experiencing difficulties and I started
running in the same direction the aircraft was traveling.
A slight rise in the ground prevented my seeing the aircraft actually
touch down. At this time, I heard the impact, followed by a
"whooshing, woof", a sound similar to an explosion and saw clumps of
dirt flying through the air. Next,
I ran to the farmhouse and notified Mr Alker, to phone for assistance, which was
done immediately. Then I got the
tractor going and drove it half a mile to the scene of the accident.
As I arrived, the ambulance was at the scene and the pilot was being
assisted into it. When the
ambulance started to leave it became bogged in the mud and I used the tractor to
pull it out, and it then departed for
the hospital ".
“I was working in the farm yard of "Greenslate Farm", Billinge, when
I heard the sound of jet planes traveling in a Southerly direction.
I saw two planes, then I saw one of the aircraft bank to the left.
Then on the aircraft that had gone to the left, the aircraft then banked
to the right, at this time he was out of sight for a few seconds.
The aircraft now headed towards RAF Burtonwood, but loosing height.
The aircraft seemed to be gradually loosing height. Right then it seemed definite that it was going to crash.
Just then, when it was almost one hundred feet above the ground, the
aircraft struck the ground, and I saw dust and dirt flying into the air.
I was standing approximately half a mile from the scene of impact. Then I drove immediately to the phone box and notified the
Police stating that they should send an ambulance.
I drove to the scene of the accident, with the ambulance following.
When I arrived, the pilot was in a crouched position and seemed very
dazed. The pilot mumbled something
to the effect, "Where am I" I
attempted to comfort him and assisted in putting him into the ambulance.
I remained at the scene of the accident and prevented people from moving
anything until the arrival of the Police".
“I was working in my garage on Up Holland Road and I heard the noise of the
jet engine as the plane went over and then it cut and I heard a muffled bang, I
didn't think at first that the aircraft had crashed".
Shot showing fuselage with wing in background
May of 1992 during a holiday, Col. Stockdale and his wife visited the site and
meet the wife, daughter and granddaughter of Mr. Alfred Hornby.
(Mr. Hornby had died just a few months before the Stockdale's visit.)
Mrs. Hornby recalled that Mr. Hornby was working on the Greenslate Farm
when he observed a flight of aircraft flying very low.
He noticed that one of them was apparently in trouble as it was not
making any noise and had separated itself from the others.
He was aware that it was losing altitude and when he saw that the wheels
were down, he knew it was definitely in trouble and was trying to land. After the airplane hit the ground, he immediately went to the
phone and called the police. He then went to the plane, getting there about the
same time as the ambulance He discovered the pilot sitting on a rock, very
disoriented and not knowing where he was. He
said something like, "That was surely a rough ride.
Where am I".
Stockdale visiting the crash site in 1992
Col. Stockdale visiting the crash site in 1992
related that a friend and neighbour of Mr. Hornby, Mr. John Boardman, were also
in the area that day. Mr. Boardman
did not see the crash, but from the noise and dust, he knew the aircraft he was
watching had crash-landed. He asked
Mr. Alker, who was in a nearby farmhouse, to call for an ambulance while he
drove his tractor to the crash site. By
the time he got to the site, the ambulance had arrived and was loading Lt.
Stockdale into it. As the ambulance
started to leave for the hospital, it got stuck in the mud.
Mr. Hornby and Mr. Boardman used the tractor to pull the ambulance out.
From the time they first saw the aircraft until the ambulance left the area,
they estimated it was no more than twenty minutes.
Mrs. Hornby recalled that it did not take long after the accident for the
roads for miles around to become impassable due to the mass of vehicles coming
to see where the "Yank" had crashed. Col. Stockdale recalled
that it was a very emotional afternoon for his wife and him.
Herb Harper, who
was one of the American crash party, recently recalled his involvement in the
accident as follows:
Armament Technician, I was called out to the crash site to de-arm any
explosives, guns and the pilot's ejector seat, which contained explosive
devices. By the time I had arrived,
the injured pilot had already been removed.
I did know he was injured and he was expected to live but I did not know
who he was, and since he was from another unit, I did not ask.
When I got to the crash site, the aircraft was lying on its side with the
wings missing. After I checked to
make sure the guns were safe, I had to crawl through the fence and brambles to
get into the cockpit. This was a
tight squeeze and when I got there and viewed the condition of the seat
mechanism, I almost had a heart attack. To
fire the ejection seat the pilot would pull up on the seat handles.
I was already in the cockpit area when I noticed the handles were in the
raised position, almost the firing position.
Just a slight touch in the wrong way would fire the seat.
I can still close my eyes and see me and the seat clearing out that fence
and brambles, and as I am here to tell this story, it is obvious everything went
Following is the
extract of a letter sent to the St. Helen's Reporter shortly after the incident
by Billinge Council:
The act of
selflessness performed by First Lieutenant Wendell Stockdale when, out of fuel,
he piloted his Sabre jet into a ploughed field on Moss Vale Farm, Billinge,
rather than abandon it over a populated area (the population was around 5,000),
prompted Billinge Council to send a letter of appreciation to the Officer
Commanding the US Air Force base at Burtonwood. It reads:
meeting of the council last evening (Monday) reference was made to the wonderful
handling of the Sabre jet by First Lieut. Wendell
Stockdale, whose plane unfortunately crashed in this district. I am asked by the council to convey to him, through you, sir,
the council's admiration of his gallant act, and also their thanks for averting
what might otherwise have been a disastrous calamity had the machine crashed
upon the houses. I also express a hope that the officer will soon be fully
recovered from his injuries and further his service career, and benefit his
service with further distinction."
- Yours faithfully, Clerk of the Council.
A spokesman at
Burtonwood told the St Helens Reporter:
indeed proud of First Lieut. Stockdale,
and grateful to the council for sending this letter of thanks.
The letter with a covering note from this camp, will be sent to his home
unit at Morocco, and entered in his military record. At the moment, Lieut. Stockdale's condition is very
satisfactory, but he will spend some time at Burtonwood convalescing."
F-86F-25-NH Sabre 52-5373 was built at North American's Columbus, Ohio plant and
was a fighter bomber version of the aircraft built from October 1952 under
contract number 193-1/259, with the first aircraft appearing in January 1953.
No F-86F-25-NH aircraft were sent to Korea.
The aircraft had 676:55 hours on the airframe at the time of the
incident. The aircraft carried the
squadron emblem on the fuselage behind the cockpit, an American Indian riding an
aircraft and wearing a long feathered headdress.
The aircraft also carried the 17th Air force emblem on the vertical
stabilizer, a circle of five stars on a yellow background. On one side of the
cockpit was the crew chiefs name, Staff Sergeant J E Woolridge.
This aircraft and
the other two were dropped from the 45th Fighter Day Squadron at 16:00 hours on
the 22nd March 1956.The 45th Fighter Interceptor Squadron activated at Suffolk
County Air Force base, New York, on the 1st November 1952 with the F-86F, moving
to Sidi Slimane Air Base, French Morocco, in May 1953.
On the 8th October 1954, the unit was re-designated the 45th Fighter Day
Squadron. The squadron's mission, among other things, was to assure
that no Russian bombers threatened U.S. interests in French Morocco, such as
Sidi Slimane and Ben Guirir Air Bases, several radar stations, and the Naval
installations at Rabat. The 45th
FDS converted to
The history of the
45th goes back to 22nd November 1940 when the War Department constituted the
45th Pursuit Squadron. The unit was
activated at Wheeler Field, Hawaii on the 1st December 1940 where they served as
part of the fighter defence of Hawaii. When
the Japanese launched their surprise attack on Pearl Harbour on 7th December
1941, the 45th suffered heavily from the losses endured on that fateful day.
The squadron fought throughout the Pacific region with honours and was
deactivated on 15th October 1946 after returning to Hawaii on 25th November
recently recalled some notable events while flying the F-86 Sabre:
landing after a low- level formation training flight out of Nellis AFB, the crew
chief jokingly complained that he had to clean cactus stains off the
underside of my wings. I
estimate I had been no more than 10-20 feet above the desert floor.
My flight leader and instructor was Paul Kauttau who was a veteran of the
Korean War with 2 ˝ MIG's to his credit -
a real daredevil and a skilful pilot." .
"One day when flying patrol alone over the Atlas Mountains in eastern French Morocco, the radar site controlling my flight advised me that an aircraft was headed towards Sidi Slimane Air Base. The radar controller believed it to be Russian and I was to intercept and verify identification. I was flying around 25-30,000 feet. Upon verifying that it was a Russian aircraft (I recall that it was a "Bison" but I am not sure), I got into attack position, armed my guns and followed it for a time. If it did not reverse course by a certain point, I was to attack. I did not think about it at the time, but with all the guns on that large Russian bomber, if an attack were ordered, I should have had help. With only six 50-calibre machine guns, I would have been no match for it. Our F-86's could carry air-to-ground rockets but I do not recall that they had air-to-air rocket capability. In any event, I was not carrying any rockets that day. I suspect the decision makers on the ground were not too worried as the Russians flew these reconnaissance flights quite frequently and usually did the same thing -they came close to the "attack point" but never dangerously so. That day was, fortunately for all, no exception. As the Russian bomber approached the attack point, it started to make a lazy turn and headed back to where it came from. It was a good thing that he turned or the Cold War might have gotten a little hotter!"
Crash site of 52-5373, Winter 2000
|Pilot||1st Lieutenant||Wendell B Stockdale||23537A||25||Injured|
|Pilot||Captain||James M Hambrick||-||-||Ok|
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