It was the 5th of June, 1969. At Eielson AFB Capt. Kingdon Hawes of the 24th SRS had taken over as the acting squadron commander of their unit in place of Lt. Col. Bowen who had just departed for the lower 48 to attend his son's wedding. Early that morning, a modified RC-135E reconnaissance aircraft name "Rivet Amber" had taken off from Shemya on a trip over the Bering Sea to Eielson AFB, AK. Amber was not engaged in an operational mission at this time, but rather was returning to Eielson AFB, AK for normal, routine maintenance.Rivet Amber was a special, somewhat experimental and very costly ($35 million in 1960's dollars) RC-135E, highly modified with a large section of the metal fuselage having been replaced with fiberglass to house a large, state-of-the-art and very unique phased array airborne radar built by Hughes Aircraft that was capable of transmitting seven megawatts. It could track an object the size of a soccer ball from a range of 300 nautical miles. It was said that rabbits and birds that managed to find themselves in the radar's target area could be fried on the spot. There were 19 crew and passenger personnel onboard, more than the usual load. Whenever a plane would depart Shemya heading for the lower 48, and given they had any spare room onboard the aircraft, they would often also carry passengers. Rivet Amber was no exception in this case.It was around 0900 or 1000 hrs in the morning when Capt. Hawes got a call from his Command Post with a message indicating that Rivet Amber had missed a radio ops normal report and that he would be kept advised. Shortly afterwards, Capt. Hawes was asked to report to the Command Post to talk with the Wing Commander. It had been decided by the Wing Commander that a search and rescue mission with Rivet Amber as the target would be initiated by the Coast Guard. Capt. Hawes was then asked to talk with the seven wives whose husbands were crewmembers attached to the 24th SRS. Hawes knew seven of the personnel onboard the aircraft...the front enders and EWOs that were attached to their team, and tried to explain to each of their wives to the best of his ability what had happened. It had been a very difficult and emotional time for Capt. Hawes. It is a task not relished by anyone.Rivet Amber had been in operation about a year before embarking on this flight. Between 30 and 45 minutes after takeoff a radio message was intercepted from Rivet Amber. The last words received were "experiencing severe vibrations...going on oxygen and descending." After having received what seemed to be a few more RF key clicks, Rivet Amber disappeared somewhere over the Bering Sea between Shemya and Eielson AFB, and into history.There have been many theories put forth regarding the loss of Rivet Amber. The possibility that Rivet Amber was shot down is highly remote. Given the reported vibration, there may have been some form of mid-air catastrophic air frame or control failure. No one knows for sure exactly what caused the demise of Rivet Amber and all personnel onboard. Any proposed theories are just that without recovering the aircraft and submitting the parts for extensive analysis.Today, when one passes by the Wing Headquarters building located on Eielson AFB, Alaska, they will see the name "Rivet Amber" inscribed on the building in honor of the crewmembers and personnel that were lost on this, the last flight of Rivet Amber.
Rivet Amber During Launch
This page is dedicated to the crew and passengers onboard Rivet Amber and to the surviving members of their families. We all thank them for their service and the sacrifices they made on behalf of their country:Ltc. Charles B. MichaudMaj. Peter S. CarpenterMaj. Richard N. MartelCapt. Michael E. MillsMaj. Horace G. BeasleyMaj. Rudolph J. MeissnerCapt. James F. RayM/Sgt. Herbert C. GregoryS/Sgt. Lester J. SchatzT/Sgt. Donald F. WondersT/Sgt. Hervey HebertT/Sgt. Charles F. DreherS/Sgt. Robert W. FoxT/Sgt. Eugene L. BenevidesS/Sgt. Roy L. LindseyS/Sgt. Richard J. Steen Jr.Sgt. Douglas ArcanoSgt. Sherman E. Consolver Jr.Sgt. Lucian A. Rominiecki"Greater love hath no man than this, that a man lay down his life for his friends"John 15:13Memorial Day, 28 May 2001
** A special thanks goes to Jenny Wonders who lost her father, Tech. Sgt. Donald F. Wonders, in this tragic event when she was just one year old. "You are loved and missed by your family; wife JoAn and children Pat, Dan, Kylee, and Jen, and all of his grandchildren." (Note: Don is the 2nd crewmember from the right, located on the picture at the top left-side of the page. Click on the picture image for a larger version.)A special tribute by Jenny Wonders