Chapter 5.
Record American


July 13, 1965




The downed plane out of Otis AF Base was a segment of the Air Defense Command’s flying radar stations, a part of the protective screen for the East Coast from Norfolk, Va., to Newfoundland. Due to its new airborne electronics system, known as ALRI (Airborne Long Range Input), it was a significant factor in the AF decision in 1963 to deactivate the Texas Tower radar stations off the coast with no loss in adequate air defense radar surveillance. Its function is to detect and attack intruders as it sweeps the horizon in all directions at all flight altitudes, down to water level.

The ditched radar picket craft was one of 36 attached to the 551st Airborne and Early Warning Control Wing at Otis.


Approximately 5000 officers and men are assigned around the clock to support the activities of the $2.5 million aircraft.

Powered by Wright turbo compound engines, the EC-121H is the military counterpart to the commercial Super G carries six tons of highly technical equipment, cruises up to 330-miles-an-hour and has a range of 4000 miles. The plane normally can stay aloft up to 14 hours on an average mission.

The EC-121H is no beauty as airplane designing goes, but what it lacks in aerodynamic good looks it makes up for in the reach of its long-range radar potency.

‘WARNING STAR’Every few hours one of the planes of the wing, with a normal complement of 16, takes off from Otis for its sweep somewhere far out over the ocean. Because the plane searches out, tracks and alerts the U.S. about approaching aircraft it has been dubbed the "Warning Star."

The flying radar stations send out electronic beams to pick up approaching aircraft. As soon as contact is made ALRI goes to work immediately.The information is flashed into data processors, then relayed to SAGE (Semi-Automatic Ground Environment) Center, Continental Air Defense System.



July 13, 1965




"All I know is that my sweetie is alive," declared Mrs. Jane Surles, 24, of 191 Pinecrest Dr., wife of Airman 2/c David Surles, 24, one of the survivors of the radar picket plane crash in the Atlantic. And Mrs. Surles, in the true fashion of a military man’s wife, said any future decision by him to keep flying "is up to him. It’s his life," she said. "I had expected the worst when I heard of the accident," Mrs. Surles said.



Mrs. Surles visited her husband at the Otis Air Force Base Hospital. We didn’t say very much at that time. We were just rejoicing at his being safe. "Then he called me Tuesday morning. Again we had little conversation," she continued. He is in pretty good condition," Mrs. Surles said. Airman Surles, a technician, is from Raleigh, N.C. His wife calls the Washington, D.C. area her home although she is originally from Illinois.



"Of course, we feel terribly about the other men and their families," Mrs. Surles said. "Now, I am on my way to the hospital to see him again."

Mrs. Caroline Witcher, wife of 1st Lt. Bruce E. Witcher, another of the three survivors, was too shocked by the tragic crash to discuss her husband’s brush with death.



July 13, 1965



Mrs. Mattie Washam said Monday she was planning for a visit by her son and his family when she was informed that he was one of a crew of an EC121 radar picket plane that ditched in the Atlantic ocean about 100 miles northeast of Nantucket.

Mrs. Washam, of suburban Belvidere, said her son, S/Sgt Raymond M. Washam, 34, radio operator on the EC121, telephoned her about a week ago, and said he and his family were coming to visit her as soon as he got leave "in about a week." Mrs. Washam said her son’s wife and two children, a daughter, 4, and son, seven months, are living at Otis Air Force Base.



July 13, 1965


Man’s survival in the water is dependent on many variables, including his physical condition, the clothing he wears and the temperature of the water.

These were the conditions to be considered in the case of the 19 crewmen of the Air Force radar picket plane forced down off Cape Cod.

Initial reports failed to list what had caused the deaths of some crew members, whether they had been injured in the water landing, or had died from exposure.

But water temperatures in the area of Georges Banks were estimated at between 55 and 58 degrees.

Survival charts indicate a man dressed in a flight suit such as the crewmen would have worn during the mission could only live between two and four hours in such temperatures.

If he were wearing an exposure suit--the equipment designed to protect the human body from the rigors of frigid water--the immersed man might live more than twice that length of time.



July 13, 1965




Less than 24 hours before the ill-fated Air Force picket plane left Otis, one of the two Massachusetts crewmen aboard shared his 25 th birthday with his wife and baby daughter in their home in Sagamore.

Airman 1stC John N. Puopolo of Roslindale and Sagamore and Airman Charles H. (Chickie) Williams, 21, of Worcester, were the two local airmen aboard the plane when she soared seaward Sunday. The Puopolos - John, his wife Nina and their 16-month old daughter, Karen, had a birthday cake in an otherwise quiet observance. Mrs. Puopolo, from Schenectady, first learned of the plane ditching when the base called her early Monday. "Since then I haven’t heard a word from them about John," she said. I am hoping and praying that he will come through all right. He’s been in the Air Force seven years. I listened briefly to the news about the crash over television after hearing from the base, but I haven’t turned on TV or radio since.

The parents of Airman Puopolo, Mr. and Mrs. Rocco Puopolo of 69 Wellesmere Rd., Roslindale, stayed up all night waiting to hear the fate of their only son. Their home was filled with relatives and neighbors as word of the crash spread. The mother was on the verge of collapse and the family physician administered a sedative. He matriculated at Northeastern "but after three months came home with a paper for us to sign," the father said. "Her wanted to join the Air Force although he was only 17. We signed permission although we wanted him to remain in college."

Airman John served in Korea and Germany before being shipped to Otis and his family has been living in a year-round house on the Cape.

Airman Williams, single, is the son of Mr. and Mrs. John Williams of 11 Nixon Ave., Worcester. He joined the AF three years ago after graduating from South High School in Worcester. His folks were told of the crash Sunday night and they have been depending on broadcasts for further news. Mrs. Williams said she "thought I heard his name mentioned as one of two boys who were rescued but we were so excited hearing his name that we weren’t sure what went before that news. We are worried but we feel confident that he is all right."

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