By Ron Craft
We were invited to speak at the Theater in the Woods at EAA AirVenture Oshkosh 2018 about a special mission on September 5, 1983, when our KC-135A was heading to Royal Air Force Mildenhall in England after departing Pease Air Force Base in Portsmouth, New Hampshire.
mission was to refuel F-4E Phantoms across the Atlantic Ocean heading to
Ramstein, Germany, from Seymour Johnson AFB in North Carolina as part of
across the Atlantic after completing four of the necessary eight refuels needed
to cross the pond, one of the F-4s developed significant engine trouble.
Realizing he needed to find some dirt to land on as soon as possible, the pilot
of the F-4 immediately turned for Gander International Airport in Newfoundland.
after the F-4 diverted, I heard them say on my headset, “Go get ’em.” My first
reaction, since it was my very first mission as a young airman, was what are we
going to do? The real issue, other than helping the F-4, became the 22
passengers aboard all of whom were off-duty military personnel, some with their
spouses catching a “normal” military hop to Europe probably on their honeymoons
as this was the only way military personnel could afford to travel to Europe.
decision was immediately made and our aircraft, a KC-135A nicknamed North Star, redirected toward the ailing
Capt. Robert Goodman, took our tanker full throttle to catch the F-4, which was
already 100 miles away. The F-4 continued to lose altitude as more mechanical
issues were occurring.
locating the F-4 in the now declining weather conditions, the tanker needed to
throttle back to idle and quickly descend to meet the F-4 at around 9,000 feet off
the Atlantic where the water temperature was nearly 30 degrees Fahrenheit. These
water conditions were not conducive to sustaining life for very long at all.
an aircraft with a refueling boom is not in the design features for the tanker nor
is it in the training handbook for our crew, but we did what we had to do to
help secure the fighter and crew. Again, we had 22 passengers and their lives
were also in danger.
some amazing coordination between the boom operator on our aircraft and our
pilot, we were finally able to maneuver into position to make a hookup.
we started to climb, the F-4 was not offering much thrust on its own to match
our rotation and climb. After reclaiming a little altitude, a brute force disconnect
occurred and the F-4 once again was heading toward the deep water. Again, we
entered into another descent needed to catch him.
time the fighter was in an even worse attitude. With an unbelievable maneuver
by Doug Simmons, the boom operator, we made another connection and again reversed
this point, we were much closer to the water. It almost seemed that we could
reach out and touch it.
like a well-oiled machine the crew attempted another, slower climb trying to keep
the fighter on our boom. After climbing higher than the last try, unfortunately,
the fighter broke off the boom again.
entire time, our 22 passengers are enduring the repeated ascending and
descending in this tanker that is shaking like an Apollo rocket on takeoff due
to our extreme slow speed, turbulence, and assisting the F-4. This was not an enjoyable
I am currently writing a book Hell Over High Water and it is extremely important that we find these 22 passengers. The authenticity of the story must have their thoughts.
We are reaching out to everyone to help us find them. Hopefully, you can help. This is a highly decorated story and it displays the bravery and honor of our crew and that of the F-4’s crew. I’m sure those 22 passengers would want to be on the record with their testimony.
you or someone you know was on that flight as a passenger, contact me at HOHW83@gmail.com or Mark Roemmich
story will demonstrate one example of what the training, discipline, and
professionalism our country’s military produces.
The story can be found on Hell Over High Water on Facebook. Please feel free to like and share the page for updates on the book and movie to follow. This will also help us locate these passengers!
you all, and to my fellow veteran brothers and sisters, thank you for your service.