Local Lifestyle, News

Air guard members recall plane crash on Fairview Drive 30 years ago

by Trish Rudder

It has been 30 years since the C-130 airplane from the 167th Air National Guard crashed on Fairview Drive and killed all six crewmen on board.

On October 7, 1992 the cargo plane took off from the Martinsburg airport about 9:12 a.m. and at 9:23 a.m. it struck the cross-country power lines at Spruce Pine Hollow in Hedgesville.

An investigative report was completed by the military by mid-December 1992, but the information was not approved for release until late February 1993.

According to a March 10, 1993 edition of The Morgan Messenger, military officials confirmed at a press conference on March 5 that the plane was flying at an altitude less than 400 feet when it struck the lines before crashing into a house on Fairview Drive.

The owner of the house, Milton Barnhart, escaped from his burning house after the plane crashed into it.

The press conference was held at the Martinsburg air base and mostly conducted by Lt. Col. Ronald T. James of the Maryland Air National Guard who was appointed by WV Adjutant General Joseph Skaff to investigate the crash.

The complete written report was not made public. Like the tape from the cockpit voice recorder, it is considered “privileged” information by the Air Force.

After a “summary of facts” was read to the reporters, James fielded questions but avoided any hint as to why the crash occurred, the newspaper reported.

According to the information disclosed, the training exercise was to prepare one of the pilots, Dallas Adams Jr., for an instrument qualification evaluation to be held later that day.

A plaque commemorating the six crewmen who perished in the C-130 plane that crashed on October 7, 1992.
photo submitted by Alice Lantz

The plane first approached Dulles International Airport, but due to air traffic congestion, it was not given clearance. The crew advised Dulles that they would call again later, and headed west.

A few minutes later, the plane was seen flying northwesterly near the Morgan-Berkeley County line. Witnesses on the ground said the plane was making a left-hand turn at a low altitude when it struck power lines at Spruce Pine Hollow.

The left wing severed two “static” cables, which are meant to divert lightning. Those cables were 381 feet above the ground and were above three high tension lines. Two of those lines were also severed, according to the report.

The static cables became entwined with the wing. The impact ruptured a fuel tank and a fire started on the outer left wing.

The plane stayed in the air for 1 minute, 37 seconds after striking the power lines and eventually crashing on Fairview Drive.

Just before the collision, as the plane passed over Pious Ridge Road, there was a loud explosion, cables and parts of the left wing fell to the ground, and the airplane rolled to the left, according to the report.

Lt. Col. Wayne Lloyd, the commander of 167th Airlift Group at that time, said some missions call for flying as low as 300 feet, but that mission of the C-130 that day did not involve flying so near the ground.

Lloyd said no one should believe the pilots were trying to fly under the power lines.

“Nobody in his right mind would try to fly beneath those cables,” he said.

Retired Air National Guard member Alice Lantz was in the military for 30 years. She served in the West Virginia Air National Guard at the 167th Airlift Wing as an aeromedical evacuation technician, flew on training missions and knew the flyers that perished.

Not only did she witness the crash, Lantz spent the weeks after the crash, during the investigation and cleanup, working the operations center at the accident’s site.

Lantz said she was outside her house near Peter Yost Road on Rt. 9, when she saw the plane in distress. It was only 250 feet in the air and she could see the pilot. The engine was on fire.  She screamed, “Oh my God, they’re on fire.”

She said she knew she had to remember everything she saw, so she began scanning the plane from front to back. She ran into the house and phoned the 167th Operations Counter at the base. She saw smoke and saw the plane go down.

She got into her car and drove to Fairview Drive. Since she was a member of the 167th  Airlift Wing, she was assigned to the site’s operations center and worked with the investigators.

Lantz said the crew members were good guys, “I always felt safe with the crew,” she said. She had friends on that plane.

Retired 167th Airlift Wing member, Roland Shambaugh was in Germany at the time of the accident. Shambaugh was born and raised in Berkeley Springs and his home was there.

“I knew these guys very well,” he said.

“The 167th is very close knit and not like active duty – the 167th becomes family,” Shambaugh said on Monday.

He has two children serving in the 167th.  “Our legacy lives on.”

The crew members who died were Alfred J. Steinberger III, Lt. Col., 45, of Leesburg, Va.; Dallas O. Adams Jr., Capt., 32, of Upper Marlboro, Md.; Frederic E. Jones, Staff Sgt., 24 of Martinsburg;  James T. Hinchman, Staff Sgt., 31 of Inwood; George F. Griffith, Master Sgt.,56, of Moorefield; and John R. Funkhouser, Technical Sgt., 32 of Martinsburg.

Lantz said a memorial service will be held on Friday, October 7 at 10 a.m. at the 167th base in Martinsburg.

“It affected so many people; we were all a big family,” Lantz said.