ABILENE Texas (KTAB/KRBC)- On October 12th, 1966 three C-130 Hercules air crafts left Dyess Air force base on a navigation training mission. The third in that formation would not return. Lt. Col. Robert E. Johnson, Maj. James G. Ashcraft, 1st Lt. Karl M. Klein, Staff Sgt. John A. Brace, A3C Douglas G. Kouba, and A2C Gary D. Speer were on that flight.
Thomas McCaughn was 21 at the time. He says just 3 days after the accident, two Air Force Police (AP) were at his door with instructions to report to the site of the crash and join the investigation team. Though McCaughn says he was no expert.
“All I was supposed to do was gather the autopilot components so that the experts could look at them…I wasn’t the expert crime scene investigator, I was the grunt. If I had been asleep and my roommate had answered the door because he worked auto-pilot too. He would have been the one that had gone out there.” Says McCaughn.
The air craft went down on a Wednesday at 9:35PM. McCaughn says he had no Idea what to expect when he arrived, apart from the rumors of 5 men dead that had made their way back to Dyess. It quickly became apparent that he would not forget that day.
“Just seeing the wreckage painted a pretty vivid picture of what went on out there…It definitely left a lasting impression on me.” McCaughn Says.
A local report of the event from The Aspermont Star newspaper holds an account of the first man to arrive on the scene the night of the crash. Carroll Brazee of Guthrie just 9 miles north of the crash was driving with his wife when according to The Star they heard an explosion and saw a “pillar of flame mount into the sky about 10 miles away”
Brazee and his wife made their way to the crash site, Brazee jumping a gate to search for survivors in the wreckage and flames.
“When we got to the main part of the fire where it looked like a lot of gas had exploded we heard some heavy breathing, Kind of like someone had some blood in his throat and nose.” Brazee told The Star.
That labored breathing was coming from A2C Gary D. Speer. Brazee and two other local men found him with his legs pinned underneath the tail of the plane. They dragged him 20 to 30 feet clear of the danger. Thanks to their efforts Speer would survive the incident. Though his left leg and right foot would later be removed, and he sustained some brain damage.
Though Brazee and others searched throughout the night, Speer would be the only survivor.
“When the right wingtip hit the ground one of the engines kept going and came off the wing and you could see where it went out cutting circles through the mesquite trees…The plane spun around and the main wings broke in half and dumped the fuel down on the cockpit.” McCaugh Said.
He recalled looking down at his military issue boots and seeing the same boot mangled and empty on the ground before him.
“The toe was burnt off gone…the laces up back to the heel was spit shined.” Says McCaughn.
The names of the five men that did not make it home are now enshrined at Dyess Memorial Park. Forever remembered for the sacrifice they made.