S. Hiott
VHi Res

My name is Steve Hiott and I was the Crew Chief for Cobra Ball II (664) when she crash landed on 15 March 1981. Back then I was a TSgt. and had been on Shemya a little over 11 months of a 12 month tour. I didn't mind the tour at Shemya, in fact it was a welcome break from troubles back home, mainly separated and getting a divorce.

I lived with the aircraft and many a times I just stood on the small balcony close to my room and admired the view. The flight crews and maintenance crews got along very well and we were like one big family. We also had many friends on the maintenance crews from Offutt that rotated in an out of Shemya on TDY. So when the aircraft crashed we lost more than an aircraft, we lost friends, that made it hit home in our hearts.

I remember that we launched 664 to go to the lower 48 for its scheduled wash. It was TSgt. Martin "Marty's" turn to accompany 664 to the wash rack and back to Eielson for a phase inspection.  After 664 departed Shemya (663 was in Greenville) a beach party broke out on the beach and people from all over the base started showing up. Someone brought a large truck and a generator. Others donated also and before you knew it we had a Grand Ole Time (considering the weather) not knowing what was coming in a few days.

I don't remember much about the next few days (a lot of water under the bridge) except that the tanker came in fine with Marty on it and he was with me when the accident happened. We had word that 664 was coming in on approach so Marty and I along with others opened up the hanger doors a little so the trucks could come and go. We stood outside waiting for the aircraft to land but instead of landing she went around and all I could see looking up was the glow from the landing lights. We went back inside and waited until we received word that another attempt was being made. The second time was the same as the first so we went back inside again. When the aircraft came around for the third time (we were always told that the aircraft was allowed three passes due to fuel constraints) we once again went outside. Marty said here she comes and pointed to a bright light approaching. I said to him, "that's not them that's a truck on the dirt road", but a few seconds later I realized he was right and said he's too low, way too low because when the aircraft usually touched down it did so almost always directly across from hanger two which was very close to the runway. I could see the landing lights but could not make out the aircraft until it was on the runway. As it approached I could see flames coming out from the right side of the aircraft and my first thoughts were that it had blown number three engine but the flames were going back to the tail. I can see the action even now pretty clear but from that day to the present I remember no sound, none. Others said it made a terrible sound but I head none. The aircraft continued down the runway and started to veer to the right, that's when I knew things were going from bad to worse. I don't know what would have happened if it veered to the left. Most likely it would have taken out hanger two. Instead, the aircraft went over the embankment on the ocean side and as it did the tail and aft fuselage broke off. I stood there horrified as the main fuselage went over the embankment and I could only see a fire vortex instead of the interior. I really thought at that moment that all were dead.

We ran toward the aircraft (it was over the embankment with the cockpit facing us and the tail sitting on the end of the right wing. Suddenly we saw survivors coming up the embankment and our bus pulled up. We ran to the survivors and help the ones we could find get into the bus. After that I started walking down beside the runway to look for more when the aircraft exploded with a terrible fireball and believe me, I heard and felt that one. My first instinct was to run like hell but I had nowhere to go and pieces of aircraft were raining down all around me. I continued on down looking the embankment when a few minutes later there was a second explosion with the same effect. I remember a short time later that a pickup truck pulled up beside me and the driver told me to get in. By this time I was so tired I couldn't stand up and crawled into the truck which took me to the hanger doors. I got out and collapsed inside the doors of the hanger and gasped for breath for a few minutes. When I could stand I went to the orderly room where most of the crew were assembled. Some were making phone calls, some were in shock and some were crying.  Some were also missing. I then went back outside and remember the fire department asking me it they ran their fire trucks over the embankment would I be able to pull them back with my tow vehicle. I said sure and they tried but kept getting stuck. I really don't know if I could have pulled them back up but I figured I would deal with that later. The crosswind was so strong that it blew everything back at the fire trucks and they couldn't fight the fire but they tried, they really tried.

Over the next couple of days the runway was shut down but a Navy P3 managed to land on the clear part of the runway to bring medical help. The end of the runway that was closed had engines, landing gear and numerous large pieces of wreckage scattered along the path of the aircraft. I remember when they found the last body I was with E Systems marking and recovering critical parts when the mortician crew asked for my help in clearing some cables and such so they could recover the body. That sight still stays with me today. The last week of my tour at shemya was living in the hanger with a lot of recovered wreckage, not a pretty sight.

I left Shemya and went back to Charleston where I had been offered a position with Job control but had turned it down. After the accident I accepted the job because I needed a break. Later on someone (I can't remember who) sent me a copy of 664's last takeoff from Shemya and a picture of the Memorial. The date of the crash never really meant much to me until 16 years later when my second wife died suddenly in my arms one Saturday morning. A short time later while looking at the pictures of the Monument that I realized the crash and my wife's death were both on March 15th.

I went on and retired from the Air Force in 1988 but I still miss the bond of my Air Force family. Even today most people never realize that even in peacetime we have heroes risking and giving everything to keep us free. When I hear the sound of jet engines today I look up and watch. To those still serving remember, there are many who know what you do and appreciate it. There are some like me who miss it also.

Thanks for the opportunity to say a few words.  

Steve Hiott
MSgt. USAF (Ret.)

K. Crooks

Kingdon R. Hawes (Webmaster)
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