On 4 December 1971, the LC-130 aircraft Juliet Delta 321, piloted by LCDR Ed Gabriel, was damaged during takeoff from this site ("D59") 125 miles south of the French station Dumont d'Urville and about 850 miles from McMurdo Station. It had just completed the second of five supply flights to the French Carrefour traverse party, part of a U.S./French glaciology project. The traverse was on its way to the Soviet station Vostok from Dumont d'Urville. After an uneventful open field landing and resupply, during the takeoff at an altitude of about 50 feet, two JATO bottles (165-pound solid-fuel rocket bottles used for "jet assisted take off" from soft open-field landing sites) broke loose from their attachment points on the left rear fuselage. One went up the tailpipe of the #2 (inboard left side) engine; the other struck the #2 propeller. The propeller went to pieces, and some of the flying debris took out the #1 engine and propeller, with several large pieces entering the cargo compartment. Above left is a photo from Ralph Lewis taken during the rescue; above right is a U. S. Navy photo taken just after the crash (AJ 9/79; when this photo was published there had been plans to recover the aircraft during the 1980-81 season).
Since they had just gotten airborne, the sudden loss of power from engines 1 and 2 with 3 and 4 still at maximum power caused the plane to yaw hard left with the right wing coming up rapidly. Ed rolled the aileron full right wing down, applied full right rudder, and closed the throttles. He managed to get the plane straight and level just prior to the impact (which collapsed the nose ski. He resisted any urge to power the plane out of the problem, otherwise they would have struck the snow in an extremely left wing down attitude and the aircraft would have cartwheeled itself to pieces, with loss of life. The pilot was awarded an Air Medal for his amazing presence of mind. The photo at right (Ralph Lewis) taken just after the crash shows the JATO mounts on the left side of the aircraft, with the burn marks from the bottles that broke free.
At left, one of the #2 engine propeller blades that punctured the fuselage. And at right, a view of the end of that propeller blade INSIDE the fuselage. This was crew member Tom Gregg's seat. He was standing back by the left rear door watching the JATO bottles go off in more ways than one...the prop blade cut his movie camera in half. The right photo is probably by Frenchman Pierre Laffont (and provided by Jim Mathews). The photo at left is from Lennie Bourgeois, a VXE-6 QA guy who went in on the rescue flight. Below, a few more of Lennie's pictures taken during the rescue and recovery mission:
Below...two official Navy photos of the survival situation, with captions, thanks to Raymond Norwood.
Eventually conditions improved enough to allow a rescue plane to land. The Navy personnel who arrived to inspect the aircraft and investigate the accident determined that salvaging it would be too dangerous and costly; the salvage crew was given only an hour to cut loose the most valuable instruments (and take some of these photographs), and the aircraft was left to get buried. Below, a photo of folks in front of the rescue aircraft (Lennie Bourgeois).
The accident investigation revealed that painters at Aero Corp, the company that did the last overhaul, had completely painted over the slider mechanisms on the latches. This could cause binding and jam the release mechanism. This was the first year Aero was doing overhauls, prior to that Lockheed did all the reworks and no paint was applied to these parts. One result of the investigation was a modification to the JATO mounts (and the JATO bottles used on the ice) so that the bottles could no longer be jettisoned in the air. (Here is the Antarctic Journal article about the crash, but it is rather brief compared to the above detailed description from Jim Landy who was around for the accident investigation. Jim was aboard the last JATO mission on 321 before the crash, and they had problems with the JATO latches on the left side, two of the bottles failed to release...)
In 1977-78 VXE-6 mounted an assessment/survey mission to evaluate the feasibility of recovering 321, and the aircraft was partially excavated. At left is Richard Horton's picture of the excavation, at right is his view of the tail section. The four engineers recommended recovery, which was originally planned for the 1979-80 or 1980-81 austral summers, but budget restrictions cancelled the project.
The crash site was directly south of Dumont D'Urville on an annual traverse route, so the aircraft location was a landmark on these trips. In 1982-83 Mike Savage accompanied one of these traverses as part of the NSF automated weather station (AWS) project. He was probably the first American to visit 321 since 1977-78...below are three of his photos of what was visible as he passed by. At left...the tail as seen from a distance. In the center...Gerd Wendler of the University of Alaska is contemplating the tail. And at right, friend Mike Savage is next to it. (Here's a closeup hero shot of Mike.)
Perhaps as a result of Mike's pictures and report submitted to Brian Shoemaker, planning for the recovery of 321 started again, and in 1986-87 a team set out to travel to the site, build a camp, and dig out the aircraft. On 25 December of that season 321 was pulled to the snow surface. The details of this effort are best described in this Antarctic Journal article from March/June 1987...
At left below is a view of 321 before the excavation started. At right is what things looked like a few weeks later (U.S. Navy photos from the VXE-6 decom CD)
Some of the ITT/ANS crew taking a rare break. From left: Jim Mathews (project manager), Didier Simon, from Expeditions Polaires Francaises, Dan Cheek, heavy equipment operator, and Russ Magsig, heavy equipment mechanic. Not pictured: Roger Biery who designed the excavation pattern, cook/medic/radio operator Michael Brashears, and project engineer George Cameron (this and the next three photos are from Jim Mathews).
At right, a view of the excavation in progress.
At left, digging out the wings of 321.
The four engines and three propellers were removed and shipped out for rehab; this salvage effort alone more than paid for the entire recovery effort. At the end of the season 321 was parked on the surface 300 feet downwind of the camp.
In 1987-88 the team returned to complete the project. Unfortunately, before the recovery could be completed, another LC-130 (131) crashed at the recovery site on 9 December 1987, with two deaths and a total loss of the aircraft. Killed were LCDR Bruce Bailey and AK2 Donald M. Beatty. Here's more information about the crash, with photos; the Antarctic Journal article about the crash is here. Nevertheless, the project continued to completion, and 321 flew back to McMurdo on 10 January 1988. Thence it went to ChCh for further rehab, it returned to VXE-6 service a couple of years later. This is the Antarctic Journal article about this historic flight.
Back to the future...in 1993 Jim Mathews stopped by Point Mugu to see if 321 was around, and so it was. Here he is in front of it. The aircraft first returned to the ice on 27 October 1993 after a number of mechanical aborts (and the landing at McMurdo was on 3 engines due to a prop fluid leak). A few years later in 1998 Jim flew from Pole to McM aboard 321. After the decom of VXE-6, 321 was mothballed at Davis-Monthan AFB near Tucson, AZ, perhaps awaiting refurbishment for future use...
Here's Guillaume Dargaud's page with many more photos of the crash site, subsequent visits, and recovery.
[Acknowledgements...this section could not have been completed without help from PK Swartz, Bruce Raymond, Jim Landy, BillyAce Baker, Richard Horton, Marty Diller, Lennie Bourgeois, Ralph Lewis, Jim Mathews, Raymond Norwood, Mike Savage, and Joe Hawkins. For more aircraft photos from the VXE-6 decom CD and elsewhere, check out this section of Joe's site]