|TRAGEDY AFTER MIDNIGHT: COCOA GOES DOWN -- JUNE 27, 1958
A KC-135 aircrew, with the call
sign "Cocoa," attempted to break
a transatlantic speed record just
after midnight June 27, 1958.
The tanker, weighing more than
289,000 pounds at takeoff from
Runway 23, hit some power
lines before plunging across the
Massachusetts Turnpike at
12:30 a.m., according to
witnesses. It then exploded in
the back yard of a nearby
family's farm. All 15 people
aboard the plane were killed.
The explosion sent a huge
fireball into the sky that some
people first thought was a
nuclear strike on Westover.
One of those in the crew was
Brig. Gen. Donald W. Saunders,
commander of the 57th Air
Division at the base.
Also killed was Lt. Col. George
Broutsas, aircraft commander,
and 99th Air Refueling
CREW OF COCOA: Four members of the ill-fated crew of Cocoa, the third of four KC-135s that was to attempt to break a
transatlantic speec record, review a map on the flight line at Westover. The tanker behind them may be the one that
went down at 12:30 a.m. on June 27, 1958 (serial #56-3599). But there's no way to tell here because the four-digit
serial number normally positioned behind the "Milky Way" band is not visible. The KC-135 was supposed to be the
third of four taking off that night. The crews were attempting to beat a transatlantic speed record. The lead tanker, call
sign "Alfa," and piloted by aircraft commander Maj. Burl Davenport, did complete the trip to London to break the record,
as did the second, "Bravo." SAC ordered the fourth tanker to remain on the ground at the base after the accident.
(Holyoke Transcript-Telegram clipping provided by Stan Lukasiewicz)
editorial column June 27, 1958
The headstone of Brig. Gen. Donald W. Saunders is in a
graveyard in his home town of Athens, N.Y.
(photo taken by Anthony Appa)