MARYSVILLE, Calif. — A four-engine KC-135 tanker crashed and burned Tuesday during practice for takeoffs and landings a mile north of the Beale Air Force Base runway, killing all seven crewmen aboard.
Capt. Joseph Saxon, information officer at the base 50 miles northeast of Sacramento, said the victims were from Castle Air Force Base near Merced. Their names were not immediately released.
An accident board of Air Force officers immediately began an investigation to determine the cause of the crash. The aircraft did not have a flight recording device that is contained in commercial planes.
Col. James Wilson, base commander, told reporters that the aircraft was practicing touch-and-go landings and takeoffs in which a plane touches the runway for a few moments and then returns to the air. Such maneuvers occur at altitudes of 1,300 feet and below.
Circling for Landing
Wilson said the plane was circling for another practice landing when it crashed and burst into flames at 12:30 p.m. The crash touched off a blaze that blackened about 100 acres of grasslands before being brought under control by firefighters an hour later.
A 15- to 18-foot section of a wing was on the ground at the crash site, and the remainder of the plane was strewn over a large area, Wilson said.
"There is very little of the plane left," Wilson said. "It is burned badly. All four engines are broken off."
Wilson said the crew flew to Beale on Tuesday morning from Castle Air Force Base. He said the routine training mission had to be conducted at Beale because of construction work on the Castle runway.
The base commander said there was normal radio communications between the plane and base personnel.
Wilson said that during its 30 years in existence the tanker has "had an accident record that is extremely good."
"They are a very safe aircraft to fly" and are used for aerial refuelings of bombers, fighters and virtually all other types of Air Force aircraft, he said. The plane is the military counterpart of the Boeing 707.
He said the aircraft, capable of carrying more than 100,000 pounds of fuel, normally carries a "very light load" of 50,000 pounds on such training missions.
It was the worst air accident at the base since February, 1974, when seven crewmen died in a crash of a B-52 bomber.