The So-Called Brunswick Naval Air Station “Jinx”
Is there such a thing as a “jinx”? Apparently some assigned to the Brunswick Naval Air Station in Maine wondered if it could be so as evidenced by an Associated Press story that ran in many newspapers in the autumn of 1978.
“There’s a feeling that the wing has been hexed, jinxed, or is under some supernatural spell,” Rear Admiral Ralph Hedges told the press, “and it’s almost impossible to fight because we don’t know why our planes have crashed.”
The admiral was referring to three recent fatal aviation crashes that had resulted in the deaths of 28 men from the Brunswick Naval Air Station. All three accidents involved Lockheed P-3 Orions, a top-secret, four-engine, anti-submarine patrol aircraft of the day.
December 11, 1977
The first accident occurred on December 11, 1977, when a P-3 Orion, (Bu. No. 153428) assigned to Patrol Squadron 11, left Brunswick NAS for a ship surveillance mission in the Canary Islands off the coast of northwest Africa. It was there that the plane crashed and exploded into the side of a mountain while flying in foggy conditions and all thirteen crewmen aboard were killed. The plane hit with such force that the debris field was scattered for 2,000 feet.
Those crewmen were identified as:
Lt. (Jg.) James Charles Ingles
Lt. (Jg.) Kirk Broadman Williams, 25. He’s buried in Forest Lawn Memorial Park in Elmira, New York. (www.findagrave Memorial #99381886)
Lt. (Jg.) Michael Jay Rowe, 28. He’s buried in Fort Smith National Cemetery in Fort Smith, Arkansas. To see a photograph of Lt. Rowe, see www.findagrave.com, memorial #1139678.
Lt. (Jg.) Francis Xavier McKeone
Lt. (Jg.) John Robert Williamson III, 25. He’s buried in Barrancas National Cemetery in Pensacola, Florida. (www.findagrave.com, Memorial #1331145.)
AO2 Marvin Lee Brown, 26. He’s buried in Key West Cemetery in Key West, Florida. (www.findagrave.com, Memorial #18191246)
Chief Petty Officer Wayne David Westland
Petty Officer 1c Michael Barry James, 22. There is some confusion as to his place of burial. To see a photograph of PO1 James in uniform, see www.findagrave.com, Memorial # 44756157, and 44226295.
Petty Officer 2c Wayne Thomas Kiess, 25. He’s buried in Greenwood Memory Lawn Cemetery in Phoenix, Arizona. (www.findagrave.com, Memorial #38587290)
Petty Officer 3c Bobbie Dale Payne
Petty Officer 1c Fred Woodall. Jr., 32. He’s buried in Oak Grove Cemetery in Rockwood, Tenn. (www.findagrave.com, Memorial #35013611)
Petty Officer 2c Gerald Lee Nesbitt
Petty Officer 2c Claude Marshal Cantrell, Jr., 31. He’s buried in Oak Hill Cemetery in Cartersville, Georgia. (www.findagrave.com, Memorial #8968837)
April 26, 1978
The second accident occurred about four months later on April 26, 1978, when another P-3 Orion, (Bu. No. 152724), of Patrol Squadron 23 out of Brunswick NAS crashed in the Atlantic Ocean about 20 miles northeast of the Azores. All seven men aboard were lost.
The bodies of four of the missing crewmen were later recovered.
The dead were identified as:
Lt. David G. Schwerstein
Lt. Michael Edward Hayes. He’s buried in Arlington National Cemetery. ( www.findagrave.com, Memorial #22254464)
Lt. (jg.) Michael John Dziubak, 25. He’s buried in Kingston Memorial Cemetery in Lawnville, Tenn. (www.findagrave.com, Memorial #82371278)
AD1 Robert W. Hasselbacher
AD1 Randolph Edward Affield, 26. He’s buried in Nebish Township Cemetery in Nebish, Minnesota. (www.findagrave.com, Memorial #105229276)
AO3 Robert Joseph Elmore, 29, of Rock Island, Ill. He’s buried in Rock Island National Cemetery. (www.findagrave.com, Memorial #61518069)
AT3 Weslie Donald Putnam, of San Jose, California.
September 22, 1978
The next accident took place on September 22, 1978, when a third P-3 Orion, (Bu. No. 152757), from Brunswick NAS, suddenly exploded in mid-air over the town of Poland, Maine, killing all eight men aboard. The debris fell from the sky over a wide area, in some cases narrowly missing some homes.
The Orion had taken off from Brunswick NAS just minutes before bound for Trenton, Ontario, Canada, to take part in an air show as a display aircraft. The aircraft was assigned to Patrol Squadron 8.
One witness to the accident told a reporter, “When the plane blew up, there was a big mess of debris and pieces flying all different directions. It was just an incredible big boom and a huge ball of fire, and then there was fire flying around everywhere.”
Another witness who was piloting a private plane about fifteen miles away told reporters, “All of a sudden I saw a big flash in the sky.”
The Navy later reported that over 75 witnesses were eventually interviewed.
Initial reports were that the Orion had been involved in a mid-air collision with another aircraft, and some reported seeing parachutes in the air shortly after the explosion, but these reports turned out to be in error.
The cause was later determined to be “whirl mode” of the #1 engine. “Whirl mode” is a low frequency vibration in the engine mounts that can cause the engine to separate from the air frame. In this case, the #1 engine separated taking 11 feet of wing with it, which sheared off a portion of the rear stabilizer.
The crew were identified as:
Lt. Cmdr. Francis William Dupont, Jr., 36, a veteran of the Vietnam War. He’s buried in St. Peter’s Catholic Cemetery in Rome, New York. (www.findagrave.com, Memorial #16581045)
Lt. (Jg.) Donald Edward Merz, 27. He’s buriend in St. Teresa Cemetery in Summit, New Jersey. (www.findagrave.com, Memorial #92979679)
Lt. (Jg.) George D. Nuttelman
Lt. (Jg.) Ernest A. Smith
AW2 James Allen Piepkorn, 21. He’s buried in McCall Cemetery in McCall, Idaho. (www.findagrave.com, Memorial #58839202.)
AWAN Paul G. Schulz.
AD3 Robert Lewis Phillips, Jr., 25. He’s buried in Sylvania Hills Memorial Park, in Rochester, Penn. (www.findagrave.com, memorial #126103090)
ADC Larry Miller
It was these three incidents within the span of nine months that fueled the rumors of a jinx. Fortunately there were no further accidents involving p-3 Orion aircraft from Brunswick NAS until many years later.
March 15, 1973
Before these three latest accidents, the only other fatal accident involving a P-3 Orion from Brunswick NAS occurred five years earlier on March 15, 1973.
On that date, a P-3 Orion, (Bu. No. 152749), left Brunswick for a routine training flight and crashed in the Atlantic Ocean about 40 miles off the Maine coast, killing all five crewmen aboard.
They were identified as:
Lt. Cmdr. John E. Boyer, 36, of Lewiston Penn.
Lt. Grover R. Caloway, 27, of McGehee, Ark.
Chief Machinist Mate Jeremiah K. Sullivan, Jr., 32, of York, Penn.
AW2 Reginald Lee Walker, 25, of Bristol, Indiana.
AD1 Wayne C. Clendenning, 34, of Vanceboro, Maine.
In early April of 1978, two of the missing crewmen were recovered by the Navy salvage ship USS Edenton. They were not identified in the press.
Aviation Safety Network
Bangor Daily News, “Two Bodies Recovered From Navy Plane Crash”, April 16, 1973
Florence Times Tri-Cities Daily, “Workers Comb Debris Of U.S. Navy Plane”, December 12, 1977
Ellensburg Daily Record, Navy Plane Crash Kills All”, December 12, 1977
Bangor Daily News, “Missing Plane Debris Found”, April 28, 1978
Spokane Daily Chronicle, “U.S. Navy Plane Down With 7”, April 27, 1978
The Eugene Register-Guard, “7 Crewmen Lost In Navy Plane Crash”, April 27, 1978
Portland Press Herald, “Fiery Crash Of Navy P-3 Takes 8 Lives”, unknown date.
Portland Press Herald, “Witnesses Saw Huge Fireball In Sky”, unknown date
(Lexington, N.C.) The Dispatch, “No Second Plane In Fatal Crash”, September 23, 1978
Lewiston Daily Sun, “Navy Begins Search For Cause Of Crash”, September 28, 1978
Lawrence Journal-World, “Navy Fliers Sense Jinx”, September 29, 1978, Pg. 13
(Utah) The Deseret News, “Navy Fliers Fear Maine Base Jinx”, September 29, 1978
(Penn.) The Gettysburg Times, “The Jinx In Brunswick, Maine”, October 5, 1978, Pg. 24.