One morning during the winter of 1973 I left the 35th Tactical Fighter Squadron building located adjacent to the center of the Kunsan AB, Korea, runway.  Four of us were on our way to the south end of the runway to sit on air defense alert.  During my time at the Kune the wing always had two F-4s on air defense alert to intercept any unidentified airplanes that approached the Korean Air Defense Identification Zone (ADIZ).  We had to be airborne within ten minutes from the time the bell rang – literally there was a very loud bell sound that when activated caused us to run to the airplane, do a cartridge start and blast off into the sky and follow the instructions from the air traffic controller who vectored our two F-4Ds to the target.

I will never forget this particular morning because the four of us watched as one of our F-4D models crashed and burned trying to make a heavy weight take off.  The D model had three external tanks with full fuel plus a simulated B-43 nuke bomb (2,060 or 2,120 lbs).  I don’t have the D model weight stats handy, but a block 50 E model with this configuration would have been 57,120 lbs.  That is a heavy takeoff weight!

The airplane didn’t crash entirely because of its weight.  The Phantom crashed primarily because it had an engine fire right after max abort speed and never got enough airspeed to stay in the air.  The Phantom was on fire as it got airborne.  I could see the flames coming out of the airplane as it passed me a few hundred feet off of the ground.  We watched as the airplane disappeared behind a small island at the south end of the Kunsan runway.  The airplane descended behind the small hill on the little island.  We then saw a big orange and black fire ball, but no chutes.  I remember the awful feeling I had at the time watching two of my friends die.  Fortunately both guys ejected safely behind the small hill on the little island, but we could not see their chutes.

Chuck Banks, the pilot, told us later that he realized he was on fire immediately after getting airborne plus the tower told him on the radio.  As Chuck was reaching for the panic button to blow everything off the airplane he was distracted when the Phantom lost all electrical power while just a few hundred feet above the runway.  The loss of power got the crew’s attention.  Instead of pushing the panic button anyway (it had a battery backup) Chuck put the RAT (ram air turbine) out to get electrical power.  He then became distracted by the stalling airplane and never did hit the panic button.  The heavy weight of the airplane and the loss of power caused by the engine fire meant that the airplane did not have much airspeed and was unable to climb.  As the airplane slowed and started to descend because of no power the frontseater gave the eject order.  I recall the backseater telling us later he said “I’m out of here” as he pulled the ejection handle.

The reason the airplane was configured with the tanks and two nuke bombs is because that is how it was configured when the Operational Readiness Inspection team landed at Kunsan.  The airplane and crew were on nuclear alert when the ORI team arrived so during the ORI they were going to be tested by flying a low level mission in the same configuration and dropping their bombs on target +/- two minutes of their TOT.

Joe Boyles says Chuck Banks was the pilot.  Ron Price was the GIB.  I recall us laughing in the squadron building when the crew returned because Ron Price said they busted their ORI check ride because Chuck attempted a GIB Ladd that was 100+ (or however many miles Kunsan was from the bombing range) miles short of the target and he was not within 2 minutes of the TOT.  The low angle drogue delivery (LADD) was one of two bombing profiles USAF F-4s used to drop nuclear bombs.

Click on the title above to see Chuck Banks’ comment to this story.

2017-01-20T19:03:13+00:00 By |11 Comments

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  1. Lyle L. Becker's Wife Jeannie February 15, 2012 at 2:20 pm - Reply

    I truly enjoyed your story, very exciting and scary as well. Lyle has AD but I do read him stories from time to time I find interesting…he kept on saying, I remember…Poo guy only wish he did. Thanks for the story, Jeannie and Lyle

    Editor: Jeannie is married to former 35th Tactical Fighter Squadron commander Lyle Beckers, fighter pilot and two time MiG killer.

  2. David Jacobson June 9, 2012 at 11:29 am - Reply

    These stories bring back memories of a profound time in my own life with the 35th TFS back in 76-77. While we were several years out from Vietnam, and the focus became a little more “safety” oriented, we nevertheless had our moments of both exhilaration and sadness.

    During my stint at the Kun (beginning right after the Panmunjom tree incident) neither the 35th or the 80th lost an F-4. There was a midair just a few months prior to my arrival, and one T-38 aggressor loss over the Yellow Sea in the first week after my arrival where one of our pilots was riding in the back seat. Only one chute was sighted after some kind of internal explosion, and it immediately sank under the water.

    The GIB LADD story is funny. He must have been destined for Koon-ni range where many of us had the delightful privilege of serving as range officer for a week. I swear that day to day life in the 35th at the time would have rivaled the antics in the movie “Animal House” that came out a couple of years later.

    I am so glad I found your site and will enjoy reading stories posted here for weeks to come.


    • On the Net June 9, 2012 at 8:06 pm - Reply

      The day I arrived at Osan AB in 1972 I watched an F-4 approaching for a landing with smoke trailing from behind. It suddenly dove to the ground and exploded just short of the runway. I saw only one chute. I found out later from the accident report that the GIB had ejected some time before the approach and the pilot shut down his good engine after getting a fire warning light because the warning lights were wired in reverse.

  3. Curt Coombs November 8, 2012 at 2:52 pm - Reply

    I was a Juvat at the time you arrived I returned to civilization Nov 20 1976 to become an Iwso at Luke. I was had just returned to the Kun after our turn at the aggressors. As a recall the Pilot In the T38 was one of ours named Rawlins. I was the wso of the lead F-4 headed inbound for the guard complex at Panmunjom with two planes each with two 2ooo LGBs and our pave spike pod. We were called off about 2 min. from our TOT by Air Division. I almost had to serve on the midair accident board, but the higher ups decided a lowly wso couldn’t understand all that Pilot stuff. Even though whatever happens to the pilot happens to the wso 2 milliseconds later. A look at the photos was more than enough for me.

  4. Chuck Banks November 17, 2012 at 1:27 pm - Reply

    What a shock I had when I found this article!!! Lots of names I know on this site. I saw your mention of seeing this crash and the “GIB LADD” on another site and followed the link. Larry Taylor actually put the GIB LADD in my weapons records.

    Good description of the events. I think that only a handful of people actually saw Ron’s chute, and no one saw mine. Ron’s seat fired at about 400′ and got him to about 600′. Mine fired at about 200′. Due to the sink rate and rolling left fast, I went horizontal and had about 2 seconds in the chute before hitting the 45 degree water. Actually, the weight wasn’t the main problem. Also, we only had one shape. It was on the left side. We reached 300 knots. When I pulled the throttle back. both engines were already winding down through 50%.

    The accident board never figured out what went wrong. They guessed that the centerline tank may have been installed improperly, since the training for one of the guys hadn’t been signed off properly. I’m convinced that we had the same problem as 5 other F-4Ds during the next few months. The rubber bladders in the #3 fuel cell of a batch of aircraft built at about same time was faulty. They leaked fuel out into the metal tank early in the life of the plane. Over the years, it corroded a weld until it finally burst. Since that cell is fed by all the others and feed the engines, it’s nearly always full. That dumped 1,800 pounds of JP4 into the engine bays and stopped feeding the engines. The problem wasn’t discovered until the 6th plane had the massive leak near home base and landed without catching fire.

    Now, I have to read all the other stories on this site. Thanks for starting it.

    • On the Net November 17, 2012 at 4:54 pm - Reply

      Great to hear from you Chuck. If you are in contact with Larry Taylor tell me how to find him. How about some stories for the site? Send me an email at so I can add you to the list of found 35th TFS guys.

    • Ron Price March 19, 2014 at 3:04 pm - Reply


      It was a great surprise for me to to find this and your comment! I am a few weeks away from retirement and working currently in the Pentagon, aka the 5-sided wailing wall. After the Kun I went to Spain, then pilot training at Craig back to the F-4 via MacDill for RTU, then Seymour Johnson. I then went to Fighter Lead In at Holloman and back to MacDill for F-16s then on to Shaw and back to the Kun in F-16s. It was there I became diabetic and went from flying into AF acquisition at the F-16 SPO at Wright-Patt, then Pentagon and back to Wright-Patt and retired in 1996. Since then I had various industry jobs in Dayton and the DC area. Anne and I have four children and our 8th grandchild is due this May in Suttgart, Germany. We’ll be visiting there and plan to sell our home in Springfield VA this summer and move to Ft Collins CO for retirement. I have thought of you often over the years and glad for the news that as of Nov 12 you were alive and well. Thanks be to God for his blessings to us then, since, and now! I look forward to hearing from you!! Best regards, Route Pack

      • Chuck March 21, 2014 at 1:19 pm - Reply

        Glad to hear from you. I work in Springfield and live near Dulles. We have to get together.

        Right now, I’m on vacation in Marbella, Spain. Tomorrow, we drive to Cartegna to another timeshare for another week. We flew standby from BWI to Ramstein and hope to get back the same way about 1 Apr.

        Contact you then.

  5. Cliff Young November 14, 2014 at 8:10 am - Reply


    Great to read these stories. I remember all of you very fondly. Recently Tim Claiborne (aka CC or Cheap Charlie) came and visited me in in Denver and we had a great time reminiscing. Also saw and talked with Jeff Pritchard when he was in Denver. I see that you’re planning on retiring in Fort Collins. Although I got out of the AF after 6 years and am now an absent minded professor, I still reflect back on the days. I would love to get together and talk. To all who may be in or around Denver, a get together would be great.

    Cliff Young

  6. Gene Dawson December 3, 2015 at 8:03 pm - Reply

    I can’t believe I just stumbled across this while searching for an Air Force acquaintance who is nowhere on this site? What are the odds.

    I was a young 1st Lt pilot in the 80th TFS when this accident happened. I was on alert and out checking out our F-4D in it’s TAB-V shelter. My view of the runway was between two hangars and I saw this airplane fly between the hangers on it’s takeoff. I noticed the flames, but my view came and went so fast I wasn’t sure I could believe what I saw. We ran further out of the TAB-V shelter so we could see the departure end of the runway and all we saw was the huge plume of smoke. No chutes were visible to us so we were highly concerned.

    I was also on the accident investigation board and we flew out to the crash site in a Chinook helicopter at low tied and walked around. I can still remember the sight of two J-79 afterburners sticking up out of the mud. There were very few pieces of the plane larger than 1 or 2 feet in size. I was amazed at the damage considering the plane was probably not going much over 250kts, if that, at the time.

    Gene Dawson (Scout)

    • Chuck Banks December 6, 2015 at 9:03 pm - Reply

      I would love to talk to you. I never saw the accident report. I’ve always wondered if it was reconsidered after the same thing happened to 5 more D models during the next 6 months. All of them had it happen after flying for awhile. Mine was on takeoff heavyweight on a slightly rough runway. The 6th one landed before catching fire. That’s when they discovered that the rubber bladder in the #3 fuel cell was bad, and fuel had been in contact with the aluminium welds for a long time until one split. At least, this it what I have heard over the years.

      You didn’t have much time to see my chute, because it was only open for about 2-3 seconds before I hit the water. Ron got out a bit higher and had several seconds. I’m on vacation right now. Crazy coincidence. Just today I took photos of a manikin in a Martin Baker seat in the San Diego Air & Space Museum. I got back to my room, and saw your comment in a mmessage!

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