Fifty Fallen Stars

Fifty Fallen Stars

5.0 1
by A. J. Northrup

The author's purpose for compiling the data which comprises this book is to honor the 50 officers and airmen who died in the ditching of three Air Force aircraft in the North Atlantic while defending their Country during the Cold War in the 1960s and to the four crew members who survived.

The author also wanted to document the three crashes hoping that the

See more details below


The author's purpose for compiling the data which comprises this book is to honor the 50 officers and airmen who died in the ditching of three Air Force aircraft in the North Atlantic while defending their Country during the Cold War in the 1960s and to the four crew members who survived.

The author also wanted to document the three crashes hoping that the crews will be remembered and for the families of the crew members to have something of historical significance to pass on to future generations in remembrance of their loved ones.

Included in the book is information obtained from the Air Force, from several members of some of the families of the crew members, from several fellow flyers and former commanders who served with and knew many of the flyers, from the personal reporting of the survivors, from the many newspaper articles from that era which reported the disasters, from official records retained by government entities at all levels, as well as photographs and documents from the personal collections of families and friends of the crew members. Several next of kin of the flyers shared their personal heart felt and moving recollections of the flyers, of the anguish they experienced and how the loss of their loved ones changed their lives. Included are an assortment of more than 100 black and white photographs, documents, and illustrations.

The author, now retired from the United States Air Force, also has included his own recollections, observations, and narratives based on his personal experience when he earlier was assigned to the same Air Force organization as a crew member on the same type aircraft, flying similar radar surveillance missions over the North Atlantic from the same Air Force base.

The Lockheed "Super Constellation" had flown radar surveillance missions from Cape Cod Massachusetts at Otis Air Force Base for 10 years, accumulating hundreds of thousands of flying hours without a loss of life, performing early warning radar surveillance missions over the North Atlantic.

The ten-year celebration hardly had ended when on July 11, 1965 one of the Super Constellations, the Air Force model EC-121H radar aircraft, crashed approximately 125 miles from Nantucket Island Massachusetts. Three crew members survived the crash and 16 died. Seven of the crew members' bodies were never recovered.

On November 11, 1966 [Veterans Day] another EC-121H crashed in approximately the same general area as the first one, under unexplained circumstances, with the loss of all 19 crew members. No bodies ever were recovered.

On April 25, 1967 another EC-121H ditched in the North Atlantic at Nantucket Island just after having taken off from Otis Air Force Base. There was one survivor, and 15 crew members were lost. Only two bodies ever were reported by the Air Force as having been recovered. However, death certificates on file at Nantucket Town Hall reflect that eight other members of the crew also were recovered. The files of the Town of Nantucket, the Massachusetts Registry of Vital Statistics, and the Air Force Casualty Branch had no record identifiable with the five remaining members of that crew. One former wife of one of those five said her husband's body was not recovered. Whether the bodies of the other four were recovered remains a question unanswered.

Colonel James P. Lyle, the Commander of the 551st Airborne Early Warning and Control Wing (AEW&C) to which all the aircraft and crew members were assigned, was piloting the plane which crashed at Nantucket. Colonel Lyle had been assigned to take over that command nine months earlier, and it was he who during the memorial service for the victims of the November 11, 1966 crash had presented each of the next of kin with the United States Flag. Now five months later Colonel Lyle had met the same fate.

The Air Force, following time tested procedures, does not release the cause of aircraft crashes, but did furnish a summary indicating that two of the three had caught fire in-flight, and being unable to extinguish the fires, the pilots had ditched the aircraft into the ocean. However, one aircraft with the loss of all its crew went down for unexplained reasons without communications having been received from its crew as it disappeared from radar.

A special subcommittee of the House Armed Services Committee was appointed and the press reported their presence at Otis Air Force Base and Nantucket while investigating the three aircraft crashes. Although government records reflect that this two-man subcommittee existed for a period of two months, there has been no record found of their ever having made a report of their investigation to anyone or having documented it in any manner as a matter of record.

The military personnel records of the 50 who died and the four who survived reflect that only three of the four survivors received recognition in the form of a medal. Only three of the 50 who died were awarded medals (posthumously).

Numerous eye witnesses to the crash at Nantucket believed that Colonel Lyle deserved recognition for his bravery in what they believed adverted a major disaster on the Island when he elected not to land his crippled aircraft there but ditch into the ocean. Colonel Lyle was not even considered for an award, medal, or recognition. Neither was his navigator - the only survivor.

Based on all the documented eye witness reports, the author asked the Town Selectmen at Nantucket Island to consider taking some belated action to honor Colonel Lyle. On April 22, 1998, three days short of the 31st anniversary of the crash, the Town Selectmen formally recognized Colonel Lyle in taking evasive action to avoid harming the citizens of Nantucket.

Tenacious undertakings by the author to get the United States Government and the Air Force to give belated and deserved recognition to the flyers were both frustrating and unsuccessful.

The EC-121H aircraft were phased out, the 551st Wing was deactivated on December 31, 1969, and Otis Air Force Base was renamed Otis Air National Guard Base. Today at that base Otis Memorial Park is dedicated to the 50 members of the three crews of the three aircraft who lost their lives.

Today, with the exception of the remaining immediate family members of the flyers and some of the friends of the flyers, few remember these tragic events ever happened at all.

About the Author
Born December 15, 1936. Member of the USAF from 13 December 1954 - 1 July 1975 [Retired grade - Senior Master Sergeant]
After completion of Basic Training at Lackland AFB, Texas, was classified as a Airborne Radio Operator. Completed the Airborne Radio Operator Course at Keesler AFB, Mississippi, in August 1955 and was assigned to the 961st Airborne Early Warning and Control Squadron, 551st Airborne Early Warning and Control Wing, 8th Air Division (ADC) at Otis AFB, Massachusetts. Was assigned as a member of a flight crew on RC-121 (Super Connie) which was an airborne radar platform (similar to the present day AWACS).
Completed the Airborne Electronics Countermeasures Course at Keesler AFB, Mississippi, in May 1956, and performed those dual duties (Airborne Radio Operator/Electronic Countermeasures Operator) with the 961st AEW&C Squadron until November 1959.
In November 1959 was assigned to the 7405th Support Group, Headquarters United States Air Force Europe (USAFE), Wiesbaden AB, Germany, as an Airborne Radio Operator.
In April 1961 was assigned to the 7260th Support Group, United States Air Force Europe (USAFE), at Wiesbaden AB, Germany. This unit was the "sister" unit of the unit at Andrews AFB, Maryland, which had the mission of transporting VIPs' throughout the world. While serving as a Airborne Radio Operator on those missions visiting 23 foreign countries flew several missions into Moscow transporting VIP to or from that location and flying missions to support the US Embassy located there.
Accumulated 2877 flying hours in 14 various type aircraft.
Served one year as a Buyer in the Base Procurement office after returning to Otis AFB, Massachusetts, from Germany.
Was assigned to the Air Force Office of Special Investigations, OSI District 1, at Detachment 107 at Otis AFB, Massachusetts, in January 1964, and completed the Special Investigators Course (Class 64-B in May 1964. Completed the Procurement Investigators Course in December 1967.
Assigned to OSI District 50, Detachment 5002, Tan Son Nhut AB, Saigon, Vietnam from February 1968 until March 1969. Assigned to OSI District 1, Detachment 102 at Hanscom Field, Bedford, Massachusetts, from April 1969 until June 1973. Assigned to OSI District 1, Detachment 109, Griffiss AFB, New York, from June 1, 1973 until retiring in July 1975.

Read More

Product Details

Northru, A. J.
Publication date:
Product dimensions:
6.00(w) x 9.00(h) x (d)

What People are saying about this

Victor Gobbi
I received your book yesterday, I haven't put it down yet. I think you've done a great job. I personably knew and flew with just about all these men. Thank you very much.
Madison C. Schnepp
The "Fifty Fallen Stars" and the hundreds of others who were more fortunate, served their country well and braved many hours "on station" over the harsh North Atlantic Ocean, at low altitudes, on days and nights when most American's were comfortable at home and unaware of the risks that were being taken in their behalf. Through your book perhaps more Americans will learn of the sacrifices made by patriotic servicemen during a time when most citizens were enjoying peace and prosperity.
Joseph L. H. Guenet
Thank you for your efforts on this book. I have found the effort I expended have rewarded me both emotionally and mentally. A number of old friends have contacted me since I started the effort and that alone has been a wonderful gift. Once again thank you for all your efforts and time putting this story of the 551st in book form.
Sam Stimple
Your book is excellent--informative yet sensitive. I appreciated the note you wrote to me on the inside cover. Thanks for all your hard work. I have only read the report of the third accident, the one that took the life of my brother-in-law Frank Ferguson, but hope to settle in and read the rest of the book soon.
Tony Boyle
The book is a great credit to these fallen heroes of the Cold War. These men need to be remembered and your book is a fine tribute to them.
Bob Greaney
I received my copy of the Fifty Fallen Stars in the mail yesterday and was up late into the night finishing it. It is a great book. I read every page, and I will readily admit that I had to wipe my eyes, and clean and wipe my glasses quite a few times. I will treasure this book, until my dying day.
Wayne Minnick
In his Book,Fifty Fallen Stars, A. J. Northrup has created a poignant memorial to the brave air men who perished in three crashes of EC-121 aircraft in the late 60's while defending the North Atlantic frontier of the United States. Northrup has amassed a record consisting of newspaper accounts, government documents, and recollections of survivors of the crashes, as well as the impressions and observations of relatives and friends of the deceased. The book presents many challenging views not the least of which is that the Air Force may have been derelict in providing adequate survival equipment for the men who flew such perilous missions. The book is an historical record that illuminates and humanizes an important page in American history. It is well worth reading.
—(Florida State University)
Dean Boys
As a former crew member on the EC-121 and a contributor to the book, I think A. J. Northrup is to be commended for his effort in describing the mission, the lifestyle at Otis and the circumstances of the three aircraft lost there. I was there when all three crashed and I learned more about the crashes after I read the book than when I was at Otis. Thanks and well done A.J.
Ken Woods
The book really brought back a lot of old memories as well as a sense of sorrow for the "Fifty Fallen Stars" and their families. Using the collection of all the information that you have compiled, perhaps they will receive the credit they certainly are due. The book is a "must" for anyone that ever had anything at all to do with not only AEW&C, but flying in the Air Force in general.
Richard A. Vogel
It is a masterful piece of work which vividly describes the events! Congratulations on a fine documentary; may it bring you ample rewards for the work it took!
J.W. Neal
I received your book on the 551st today and have spent most of the evening going through it. It has brought back many memories. I still wear one of the 961st patches on my jacket.
Lee Robbins
The book is well done; I had several emotional moments while reading it. I'm glad you took the time to write it. Thanks.

Read More

Customer Reviews

Average Review:

Write a Review

and post it to your social network


Most Helpful Customer Reviews

See all customer reviews >