Mid-September in southern Illinois is typically a mix of cool mornings and comfortably warm, sunny days as summer comes to a close and ushers in the beginning of fall.
Farmers are busy harvesting the hundreds of square miles of corn fields surrounding Scott Air Force Base.
It was one of those days 45 years ago on Thursday, Sept. 16, 1971, when one of the Air Force’s new C-9A Nightingales crashed during a training mission.
The then Military Airlift Command aircraft, tail number 22586, was one of the first to arrive at Scott when the primary mission transitioned in 1969 from one of primarily transporting cargo to one of operating “air ambulances” to carry patients throughout the world.
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Approximately two hours into the training flight, the three Air Force pilots on board, Lt. Col. Lloyd M. Clore, Maj. Aubrey L. Akin, Jr. and Capt. James L. Rhame, Jr., were flying among wisps of clouds and light winds practicing “touch-n-goes,” meaning the aircraft touches down as if to land then takes off again.
Akin, a native of Houston, and Rhame, from Hampton, Va., were both active duty pilots from the 375th Aeromedical Airlift Wing, 11th Aeromedical Airlift Squadron at Scott AFB. Rhame was piloting, while Akin, a flight examiner, was in the co-pilot seat, evaluating Rhame and Clore to qualify them as aircraft commanders. Clore, an employee of Southwestern Bell from Fairview Heights, was riding in the cockpit’s jump seat. He was a long-time traditional reservist in the 932nd Aeromedical Airlift Group’s, 73rd AAS, as well as a veteran of World War II and the Korean War.
At about 2:50 p.m., Rhame and Akin brought the aircraft down to perform another touch-n-go when, what was later determined to be a failure of a first-stage fan blade of the No. 2 engine, caused a failure that left parts of the engine lying on the runway. The aircraft then traveled about a mile northwest reaching about 400 feet before descending quickly to a point just east of today’s Highway 158, and about a quarter mile north of Wherry Road along old Highway 158, toward a hill and the home of William and Louella Klotz.
The plane crashed through the trees and into the home before exploding and killing all three pilots.
Klotz and his wife were 10 miles away in Belleville at the time attending the annual convention of the Illinois State Grange where friends had convinced them to stay for an evening event. The Klotz’ had planned to be home by 2:30 p.m.
Emergency crews rushed to the scene to find the severed tail section and a tower of flames where the house had been. By the time the fire was extinguished, all that remained was the front stoop and chimney of the six room brick home.
According to a Belleville News-Democrat article, the aircraft cut a swath 500 feet wide and 1,000 feet long from the time it hit the trees surrounding the house until it came to a stop at a clump of pine trees bordering the farmyard—“Bricks from the Klotz home were found several hundred feet away. Two new pairs of coveralls and two new workshirts, purchased recently by Klotz, were flung from a closet and landed in a tree. They were not damaged.”
According to an Air Force spokesperson, the accident was the first crash involving a Nightingale, marring the aircraft’s perfect four-year record. It was also the first accident at Scott AFB since 1966 when a C-119 Flying Boxcar crash landed nearby with no injuries.
Facing the possibility of death often goes along with service to a nation. Regardless of the cause, it can happen anytime and anywhere. For the families, friends and coworkers of Clore, Rhame and Akin, Sept. 16 will always mark a day of loss and remembrance.
On Sept. 24, 1971, 932nd AAG Chaplain Capt. John Richter published an “In Memoriam” article in the Command Post. In it he wrote something still applicable today as we continue to sacrifice to defend the Constitution and protect the freedoms of others, “And so our prayers reach out in deepest sympathy to the families of our fellow Airmen. We would remember their lives with pride and gratitude to God.
“Their service to man and nation will remain an inspiration to us and challenge our best efforts as we press on.”