||AW3 James Allen Piepkorn
Hometown: Emmett, Idaho
Former AW Tim "Difar Roach" Kindred:
I had a quick meal with Jim Peipkorn before he departed for Toronto with the VP-8 bird that went down over Poland Springs. He and I met in high school and our paths seemed to follow. We both enlisted in the Navy, went to San Diego for Boot Camp, and then to Millington, and Jax, etc. He went to '8 and I went to '10. My crew was back in Brunswick for some 14B44 time and were headed back to Lajes when we got the news about the accident. A tough day personally.
BNAS mourns its third crash in ten months; Cause still undetermined
Brunswick Times Record September 25, 1977:
By Kevin R. Convey and Catherine Wilson
BRUNSWICK--As the Navy community mourned the deaths of eight fliers killed in a fiery crash near Poland Friday, Navy officials still could offer no explanation for the cause of the accident.
While families, friends and colleagues of the dead Patrol Squadron 8 crewmen gathered for a memorial service at the Brunswick Naval Air Station (BNAS) chapel this morning, wreckage from the demolished P-3C Orion was being moved from the crash site to a hangar on base for inspection.
It was the third fatal crash in ten months involving Brunswick-based P-3C planes. One crashed into a mountainside in the Canary Islands on December of 1977, killing 13 members of VP-11, and another crashed at sea off the Azores last April, killing seven VP-23 crewmen.
Lt. Cmdr. R.S. Hopewell, safety officer for all patrol squadrons on the east coast, said the Navy has listed the causes of the first two accidents as "undetermined."
A number of eyewitnesses to Friday's crash reported the propeller-driven aircraft exploded in the air after colliding with a small plane resembling a Piper Cub or Beechcraft, according to Hopewell, who is also spokesman for the investigation team.
Reports of the midair collision have not been confirmed, Hopewell said, and no wreckage of a second plane has been located. "There is still no evidence beyond eyewitness accounts that another aircraft was involved.
"The widespread location of the various components of the aircraft would lend itself to the conclusion that the aircraft in fact broke up in mid-air," he said.
The plane left the base at about 12:05 p.m. Friday, Hopewell siad, bound for an air show at Trenton, Ontario. The crewmembers had all volunteered for the flight, he said, "and in all likelihood were a mixture of personnel that normally would not be found on the same crew."
About eight to 10 minutes later, just after radio and radar contact with the plane had been "handed over" from BNAS to the Federal Aviation Administrations's Air Route Traffic Control Center in Nashua, N.H., residents west of Poland reported an explosion and flames in an area just off Route 11.
Upon arrival at the scene, local firefighters and police found the wreckage scattered over a two-mile radius, and immediately spread foam over the main crash site to prevent flames from spreading.
Over 50 eyewitnesses were interviewed near the site between Friday and Saturday, Hopewell said. The exact location of each piece of wreckage has been mapped, and Navy crews began to move the debris from the site to the base hangar yesterday.
Most of the wreckage should be removed by tomorrow, Hopewell said, and it will be positioned in the hangar exactly as it was found on the site to aid in reconstruction of the accident.
Hopewell said he did not know the nature of the final radio transmission between the plane and the ground, but it was made only "moments" before the crash and gave "no indication of an emergency transmission."
Officials at FAA's Boston Air Traffic Control Center confirmed the plane was in contact with the Nashua center, but declined to release the contents or the time of the final radio transmission, or the time or location of the last radar contact with the plane.
Hopewell said he didn't know the last reported altitude or airspeed of the aircraft, and could day only that "weather was not a factor in the crash."
The possibility of sabotage as the cause for the crash, Hopewell said, is not a likely one.
The aircraft was "probably built in the late 60s or early 70s, Hopewell said, and was not carrying any weapons at the time of the crash. Explosives and flammable materials aboard the plane included oxygen, fuel, and hydraulic fluid.
The aircraft was not carrying a flight recorder at the time of the crash, Hopewell said. The flight recorder is a device that monitors each system of the aircraft, as well as speed, altitude and other factors affecting flight. Recorders are installed in the rear of the aircraft and are designed to separate from the aircraft in the event of an accident.
Hopewell said many P-3Cs do not carry flight recorders, and that they are not mandated by any Navy regulations.
Commercial airliners are required to carry the flight recorders.
The investigation is begin conducted by members of VP-8, Hopewell said, with the assistance of outside experts in pathology and accident investigation.
The maintenance records of the aircraft will be studied by the investigators, according to Hopewell, but he could not say what they contain.
The activities and whereabouts of dead crew members during the last 72 hours before the crash are also a part of the investigation but Hopewell said he had no information on the prior activities of the crew, and wasn't sure he could release the details in any case.
By all accounts, the P-3C has an excellent safety record, Chief Michael Walsh, assistant public affairs officer for the Commander of the Naval Air Force, U.S. Atlantic Fleet, said the incidence of crashes over air time is "very low" throughout the fleet, and said the fleetwide average "would not be much different than for any of the squadrons in Brunswick."
Meanwhile, hundreds of people gathered today to pay tribute to the fallen Navy men at a memorial service.
Local Navy officials are finding it difficult to express their feelings about the crash, VP-8 was commended this summer for its maintenance excellence. The squadron has logged 118,600 miles in 15 1/2 years without an accident.
As details of the investigation filter into the BNAS tactical support center each day, the impact of Friday's crash sinks deeper into the minds of military personnel stationed in Brunswick, their families, and the civilian community.
More than 75 mourners, mainly officers wearing dress blues and their wives, stood outside the base chapel during this morning's memorial service while a capacity crowd filled the sunlit room.
Five bouquets decorated the chapel vestry where a plain altar was draped in white. A wreath of white and orange flowers stood before the altar and directly below a stark gold cross hung from the ceiling while Chaplains W. B. O'Connor and H. T. Lewis officiated at the service.
"We pray for those whose tears are not yet dry, who listen to familiar voices and look for still familiar faces," O'Connor told the congregation of about 400 people. A flag flying in front of the chapel was lowered to half mast before the 30-minute ceremony began at 10:30 a.m.
"From the human standpoint their death was untimely," O'Connor said during the sermon. "They were all doing their work, intent on doing their part to preserve the peace of the world while serving in the highest tradition of the Navy."
Rear Adm. R. R. Hedges, commander of Patrol Wings Atlantic based in Topsham, said he was stunned by the third crash.
"There isn't any pattern," he said. "That's probably what bothers us the most."
Attributing the crash to either mechanical failure or human error was a little too simplified, he said, since other factors like atmospheric conditions might be responsible.
"The best thing that can be done is to determine to the best of our ability what actually happened," he said. "We've always been a professional organization. We'll do all that is possible to find out just exactly what caused it."
Hedges, who flew over the crash site this weekend, said one of the priorities set by the Navy investigators was to discourage curiosity about the area since the wooded region in Poland where wreckage was scattered probably holds the answer to the cause of the accident.
Several officers commended people for all the offers of assistance following the unexplained crash.
"The local relationship between the Navy and the civilian community here is the best that I've encountered in my 30-odd years in the Navy," he said. The human compassion and the concern of people shown on the ground and in the air was a comforting feeling, he said.
"There is far more help being offered than can possible be used," Hedges said.
Describing the crash as a tragic loss, Capt. Benjamin Hacker, BNAS commanding officer, said the voluntary response offered by military personnel and especially civilians "has just been staggering in magnitude." He called it a most generous display which he deeply appreciated.
Donald J. McKissock, executive director of the Brunswick Area Chamber of Commerce and a retired naval officer, said, "Our whole conversations, our whole life right now seems to be revolving around the accident."
"I'm an ex-naval officer myself and it strikes very close to the heart," he said. "My heart goes out to the families of the aviators." The occurrence of three crashes since last December is mind boggling, he said.
Crash Victims; Following are the names of the eight Navy airmen killed in Friday's P-3C crash in Poland: Lt. Cmdr. Francis William Dupont Jr., Topsham; Lt. j.g. Donald Edward Merz, Berkeley Heights, N. J.; Lt. j.g. Ernest Arthur Smith, Tubac, Ariz.; Lt. j.g. George David Nuttelman, Topsham; ADC Larry Raymond Miller, Brunswick; AD3 Robert Lewis Phillips Jr., Monaca, Pa.; AW3 James Allen Piepkorn, Emmett, Idaho; AWAN Paul Gregory Schultz, Santa Rosa, Calif.
Navy displays wreckage; Not a pretty sight
Brunswick Times Record September 29, 1977:
By Kevin R. Convey
BRUNSWICK--One look at the wreckage left from Friday's fatal P-3 crash in which eight men died is enough to show why there were no survivors.
It must have been horrible.
Most of the wreckage from the aircraft, which broke up in the air west of Poland, has been trucked to the Brunswick Naval Air Station for further examination, and Hangar 2 has been made into a giant crypt to hold the remains.
Lt. John James, public affairs officer for the base, told the reporters who gathered for a tour of the hangar this morning that what they were about to see is not pretty.
He was right.
Most of the wreckage was heaped in piles of jagged metal, grotesquely crumpled beyond recognition or belief. Much of the metal was charred by flames and the smell of electrical fire wafted throughout the hangar and hovered over heaps of twisted scrap.
Large pieces of the fuselage and wings lay wasted on the floor, some sheared cleanly in two, others jagged as if separated by a massive can opener. A number of the larger fragments looked like modern sculpture in poort taste; others showed all too plainly the sheer and simple horror of the fiery crash.
One of the biggest pieces of the wreck, a stabilizer from the tail, looked almost new. Except for the jagged metal where it had separated from the tail, it could almost have been a new component, waiting to be attached to an aircraft under construction.
And yet, like many of the other pieces, this one had snagged branches and leaves from the forest floor where it fell from the sky like a bird without wings.
More than 50 boxes dotted the hangar floor, filled with tiny metal scraps and fragments; mute testimony to the force of crash.
Of all four propellers, only one looked relatively unscathed. Still, it had been ripped from its engine, its steel connecting gears bent and smashed. Standing on its side, the prop dwarfed other pieces which, if whole and undamaged, would have made it look very small.
Two guards with VP-8 emblazoned on their hats walked about the hangar, as if standing guard over the remains.
Standing next to a piece of the collapsed fuselage, one guard shook his head and said, "Even the thought of it is really grotesque."
But the most poignant comparison to the terrible panorama inside the cold, dark hangar was no more than 500 yards away. There, basking in the bright sunlight and caressed by fresh fall winds, were four more P-3s, standing whole and ready in stark comparison to their fallen sister inside.