Report from Art Kerr
On 11 July 1965, the 961st lost a Connie
at sea off Nantucket Island.
Lieutenants Fred Ambrosia and Tom Fiedler were the pilots. Tech Sergeants
Gene Schreivogel and Gil Armstrong were the flight engineers. There was a
full crew on board as well as some ROTC instructors who were at Otis for
ROTC summer camp; they were getting some EC-121 mission familiarization.
There were three survivors but most of the crew were lost, some bodies
were recovered. Miscellaneous parts of the aircraft and crew equipment
were picked up. Found Tom's flight jacket - had his keys in the pocket.
Made it easy to get his car started - Jim Goodman drove Tom's car back to
the mid-west to give it to Tom's parents. (Jim was later shot down in
Vietnam in an AC-47 - entire crew KIA.)
The stories told by the survivors were amazing. It was a large fire -
number three engine. About at the time of level-off, the emergency
occurred. It was a pitch black night and they were in the weather.
sea had swells but was not rough, at least the water wasn't as cold as in
the winter. Visibility was "zero zero" at the surface. The crew shut down
and feathered number three. They discharged fire extinguishers but the fire
persisted. Talk among the Connie folks at Otis at the time was that the fire
continued and burned back into the nacelle and maybe even into the wing,
and that there was smoke in the fuselage.There may have been another engine
problem too. I've since learned that survivors said that they didn't see any
smoke in the cabin and that while descending, they removed the overwing
hatches and had thrown at least the right overwing-hatch overboard
through the hatch opening. Number three prop was seen to be definitely
feathered. The crew very professionally went about their ditching procedures.
Fred decided to put it down in the water - a night-time
ditching in zero-zero weather while on fire. Too far from land. A B-52 in
the area heard their radio calls. A ship was in the area (I vaguely
remember this as a German Navy destroyer). The crew made a rapid descent
from 15,000 feet down to about a thousand feet and then set up a steady
slow rate of descent, nose up, on a heading aligned parallel to the
swells. When the Connie contacted the water, it broke up fore and aft of
the wing into essentially three large sections. The nose section sank
immediately. Most of the crew had gotten into survival suits and LPUs. I
don't think the rafts got deployed. (The rafts were permanently stowed in
compartments on the top surfaces of each wing; deployed by pulling a
handled in each overwing emergency exit.)
The search and rescue continuedfor several days. At the accident board, I remember listening to Fred's
voice on a recording of some radio transmissions. One thing they wanted
me to do was identify his voice - I had flown with Fred more than anyone
else. His were the only radio transmissions heard. His father was also
in the Air Force, a Lieutenant Colonel assigned to Burma as an Air Attaché.
I met with Fred's father and mother to tell them about Fred's time in the
Lieutenant Fred Ambrosia was posthumously recommended for the award of the
Distinguished Flying Cross. Such a high recommendation for an award was
almost unheard of at the time - truly a most significant acknowledgement of Fred's
amazing feat of airmanship. Only through his skill were there any survivors at all.
There were many other awards recommended for other crewmembers. At the Otis
for the 16 crew members who lost their lives, we had a missing man flyby at
about 300 feet - five EC-121Hs in a "six-ship" close formation, with the number two
slot open symbolizing the lost Connie. There is a monument at Otis ANG Base
memorializing the crew. There was an individual ceremony for Fred Ambrosia at Arlington National
Cemetery. This was arranged by Fred's parents. A plane load of 961st people flew
Andrews for the event. A minimum flight crew stayed with the Connie at Andrews
while most of us went to Arlington. This was a few weeks after the accident.
Following a service in the Chapel, we went to a section of the cemetery reserved for markers
when there are no remains to be interred, and a memorial marker was dedicated for Lt
The crew that had stayed with our Otis Connie made a fly-by during the
After I left the 961st AEW&C Squadron, I had heard about another 551st
Connie being lost at sea under some not too dissimilar circumstances.
Then a new wing commander was apparently brought in to get things
straightened out and a third Connie was lost near Nantucket; new wing
commander was one of the pilots on that flight - IM not sure, but I heard
that the entire crew was lost.
One of the last things that happened to me before I left Otis was an
out-of-the-ordinary sort of in-flight emergency that occurred on 31 August
1965. In looking for old stuff about the 961st, I came across some
write-ups about it which I've enclosed. The aileron cable broke on short
final while practicing a flight control hydraulic boost out landing. The
control wheel snapped out of our hands, rotating fully to the 90 degree
right position - and it was jammed fully displaced to the right - the
wheel was stuck in a position straight up and down - no lateral control.
We used differential power to keep the wings level and make turns; got
around on a very wide traffic pattern and lined up on a very long final
approach. One thing that's not in the write-ups that seemed sort of
humorous to me at the time was my checking on the crew to see if they were
ready for landing when we were out on long final for runway 23, flying
level at about a thousand feet: I happened to look back down the aisle
and noticed that most everybody was putting on parachutes and some were
already heading for the door (which was on the left side, aft). Had to
make a PA announcement to convince everyone to stick with the bird - the
final approach looked to be fairly stable and the winds weren't too bad.
Turned out okay; at maintenance debrief we wrote up the aileron control as
being inop - it took a while for folks to understand what we were talking
about. And then there was some strange criticism from some wing weenies
who thought we should have tooled around out over Cape Cod Bay while they
foamed the runway (?) and got more fire trucks from around the local area!
It looked to me like it was time to get the bird on the ground and get the
crew to the club!!
Well, that's about it. I had a great going away party (that's another
thing about the 961st - we had lots of super parties). The squadron gave
me the standard pewter mug with glass bottom, engraved with the dates of
arrival and PCS departure. While thinking about my early operational
flying experiences in the C-121 Connie and writing this tome, I was
sipping beer from my 961st mug. There's a lot more that occasionally pops
up out of deep memory from time-to-time. Great squadron. Magnificent
airplane, loved every minute of it - beautiful machine, that Connie.
copyright 1997 Art Kerr