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Four Killed In U.S. Air Force Tanker Crash

June 17, 1986

PANAMA CITY, Panama (AP) _ A U.S. Air Force air-refueling jet crashed into the jungle early today while trying to land at Howard Air Base, killing all four crew members aboard, military officials said.

U.S. Southern Command spokesman Bill Orsbine said the plane, a KC-135 Stratotanker based at Grissom Air Force Base in Indiana, crashed before dawn on a hill just south of Rodman Naval Base. Rodman Naval Base lies a half-mile south of Howard.

Orsbine said in a telephone interview that rescue teams went to the site.

Lt. Gerry Herbel, a public affairs officer at Grissom, said by telephone that all four crew members aboard the plane died. Their identities were not released pending notification of their relatives.

Tech. Sgt. Dayton Strickland, another spokesman for Grissom, said the KC- 135 Stratotanker normally carries a pilot, co-pilot, navigator and fuel boom operator. The aircraft crashed just after completing its refueling mission, Strickland said.

The KC-135 Stratotanker is converted from the civilian Boeing 707 and is used by the Air Force for air-to-air refueling.

Howard is 3 miles south of Panama City, in what once was the U.S.-controlled Panama Canal Zone. Also in the area is the U.S. Southern Command, the headquarters for military operations throughout Latin America.

The KC-135, first delivered to the Strategic Air Command in 1957, operates at near sonic speed and altitudes above 40,000 feet equipped with a boom to transfer fuel in flight to other aircraft.

The aircraft that crashed was one of about 30 belonging to the 305th Air Refueling Wing at Grissom. Strickland said the wing has a tanker task force assigned to Panama and crews rotate between Grissom and the Canal Zone.

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