Experts investigate 18-year-old crash site

  • Published
  • By Master Sgt. Rich Covington
  • Air Warfare Center Public Affairs
Experts here visited an 18-year-old crash site recently to make sure no human remains, unexploded munitions or environmental hazards remained.

On May 2, national and state environmental specialists were performing wildlife checks when they came across what looked like a military crash site 5,000 feet up in the Delamar Mountains 70 miles north of here. They found ammunition, several large sections of an aircraft and two large cannons scattered over a 500-foot area. They also found several large bones nearby.

"We're not experts on military hardware and weren't sure about whether the bones were human or animal, so we decided to go ahead and contact Nellis officials," said Jack Spencer, a biologist with the U.S. Department of Agriculture.

A trip to the site recently confirmed that the site held the remains of a May 23, 1984, crash of an Air National Guard A-7D Corsair belonging to the 150th Tactical Fighter Group at Kirtland Air Force Base, N.M.

The official accident report from 1984 states that 1st Lt. Eddie Torrez, the pilot of the single-seat aircraft, was flying out of Nellis AFB for the U.S. Air Force Fighter Weapons School. The crash happened as he was flying a practice air-to-air engagement against an F-4 Wild Weasel. Torrez ejected but was killed. The lieutenant's remains, more than 500 live training rounds, and some pieces of the aircraft were recovered and removed from the crash site in 1984.

Spencer routinely surveys the area for dangerous wildlife and other hazards. He travels the rugged terrain by foot and mule.

"I doubt if any civilian could find the location or stumble upon it by accident," Spencer said. "Very few people know this area or have even been up here."

Officials here made an unsuccessful attempt to find the site by air after hearing from Spencer. Air Force officials then decided to bring him along to help find it. They traveled on a CH-47 Chinook helicopter flown by people from the Nevada Army National Guard's 140th Aviation Battalion. The team brought a second wildlife official who works with Spencer, mountain lion expert Jim Buhler, to help find the site.

"Nature has done a better job of cleaning up the site than we could," said William Sandeen as he surveyed the crash site and took soil samples. According to Sandeen, an environmental specialist with the 99th Civil Engineer Squadron here, most of the fuel and other chemical hazards have probably naturally decayed and the site is returning to its former state.

He believes most of the fuels and chemicals burned off in the explosion when the fighter hit the ground. Burned juniper trees can still be found at the crash site.

Sandeen said that if the crash had happened today, Air Force members would have picked up most of the debris and added nutrients to the soil so the area could quickly return to its former state.

"However, if we tried to clean up this site now, it would cause more harm to the environment than it would help," he said.

Experts from the 99th CES explosive ordnance flight combed the site but found no unexploded 20 mm training rounds. They did find the remains of the fighter's multibarrel cannon, but safety officials determined it posed no hazard to the public.

Although officials were confident no human remains were there, Maj. Henry Lau, a flight surgeon with the 99th Aerospace Medical Squadron, also searched the site. He found no remains.

Federal and military experts are confident that the area poses no danger to the public, wildlife or the environment.

Anyone who finds a crash site should contact Air Force or civilian officials, said Lt. Col. Joseph Mastrianna, deputy commander of the 99th Support Group, who also visited the site.

"Most of all, please do not pick up or remove anything," he said. (Courtesy of Air Combat Command News Service)