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A Letter Home - written March 29, 1980

Glenn Knight

© 2003-2011 by Author

Author's Email Address Outdated
(Glenn Contact Me to Update.)

A letter written on March 29 1980 to his family in Eastern Pennsylvania by MSgt. Glenn B. Knight, NCOIC of the Public Affairs Office, TUSLOG Det. 10, İncirlik Common Defense Installation, Turkey.

Hi All, Well I guess it's about time I got my thoughts together and put them down on paper before they get lost entirely. This has been the most eventful month so far. Actually, everything was quite calm and normal until mid-afternoon on the 14th when the quiet under current of action which seems to precede most disasters started in earnest. Key staff members being pulled out of meetings and suddenly telephones being tied up. I got the base commander out of a meeting for a phone call - when he hung up he actually leaped over a desk and out the door to his car. Then, the first word over the Secondary Crash Network, "We have a missing aircraft, C-130, call sign. . . we have lost radio and radar."

From that moment on we knew that, at the very least, we had a cargo aircraft which made an emergency landing on a highway or in a field. Since there is usually a short lull in the action I decided to call our headquarters in Ankara to alert them and conduct a little business before it all broke loose.

To call Ankara we must get the operator at İncirlik to call the Ankara operator who gives us our number. Because the equipment is so old and worn, about half the time we connected to someone trying to call out of Ankara.

The operator placed my call and click - "Hello". I asked, "Who is this?" The voice answered, "This is General Burns [Commander of TUSLOG, headquartered in Ankara], I'm trying to get the İncirlik Command Post". "Yes sir," I replied, "I'll get the operator."

By the time I got the operator the Secondary Crash Net was ringing again. "Assemble the Disaster Response Force on Main Ramp B," it directed.

Our regulations call for the Public Affairs Officer to go with the DRF on-scene. But Capt. Jackie Clark [the Public Affairs Officer, and my boss] was expecting her closest friend back that day on one of our two C-130s so I took off with our crash kit to Main Ramp B. Capt. Clark came along to drive my car back to the office. While I reported in to the DRG she went to the Operations Center where she learned that it was not her friend's plane, but by then I had left with the explosives ordinance team to gather up equipment and meet at the main gate.

Col. Ozçan, the Turkish Base Commander, borrowed a helicopter from the Adana Martial Law Commander and he and Col. Green, the senior American Commander [Det 10/CC] headed toward the last known position. In the mean time the other C-130 was in the vicinity searching and two F-4s were conducting high level vector searches. The other C-130 spotted the wreckage and guided the helicopter to it.

By the time I got to the main gate we had a known down with 18 SOB (souls on board).

Capt. Clark took my place on the DRF. I headed back to the office. It was about 4 p.m. On returning to my office I realized that we had left the lowest ranking person, Airman First Class Mark Hess, alone in the office. My administrative NCO was on emergency leave and my newspaper editor went home earlier in the day very sick. The commander's admin NCO stopped in to see what was going on so I sent her to get my editor out of bed. I checked on the required notifications and Mark had made them and then some. So realizing that the office (we call it the Emergency Operating Area during a crisis) was in good hands I went to the Command Post.

At the Command Post I learned that the crash site was due west of the base 14.5 miles, near the edge of the Tarsus Mountains. I also learned that there were 6 crew and 12 passengers on board. SSgt. Denise Cornella, my very-sick editor, took my place at the Command Post. I drove over to the Airlift Operations Center to get copies of the passenger list and crew orders. They were reluctant to give them to me but I finally cajoled them out of the information.

As I was leaving the operations officer lowered the phone from his ear and quietly announced, "There are no survivors-I have the confirmation." The room which seconds earlier has been a hubub of activity became ghostly silent, everyone froze in place. A second later the shock was over, the professionals returned to their sometimes grim duties.

During this time a convoy of fire trucks, ambulances, rescue vehicles, police cruisers, staff cars and carry alls was plodding past Adana being led by the Turkish Jandarma and getting directions to the crash site from the C-130 still in the air and the helicopter heading back to the base. As they got to the crest of a hill they looked down on the smoking, splintered wreckage. It didn't look anything like an airplane.

Not having radio contact with the helicopter which had surveyed the scene and concluded that there were no survivors, the rescuers-medics, cops, commanders-started down the embankment through mid-calf mud. When their trucks and cars got bogged down they ran the remaining few hundred feet to find only small reminders that people were on board. There were no lives to save, no bodies to look at, only pieces to be picked up for later identification. The horror was so intense that in the videotape which was taken for the local base television station, the members of the DRF could be heard in the background alternately laughing and crying while going about their grim tasks.

Returning to my office the sun was beginning to set. We went about the business of putting out a news release telling the base, and the world, officially, what we knew of the crash. We also answered a constant stream of calls on our Rumor Control Line. Some of the rumor control calls were tough--people trying to find out who was on board because they had a husband or friend flying that day. Those flying included all of our school teachers returning from a 3-day training conference. We were able to say for sure it was not them. But others wanted to know who died. We couldn't ask for a name because while we could probably confirm their friend's safety, there were those we knew were dead. We can not give names of deceased and to say nothing was the same as confirming it. So we did not ask!

SSgt. Thelma J. Bankey, the commander's admin NCO, had stuck with Mark and me in the office and finally I asked her to get us something to eat. At about 8:30 we heard that the DRF, now called a recovery force, had called the recovery off due to darkness and was returning. The TV crew had returned earlier so I sent Mark out for a break to review the films. He returned convinced that it was all too gory to be shown on TV but the TV people said they had clearance from Capt. Clark to run it.

Capt. Clark and the base commander, Col. Glenn Young, were the last ones to leave the scene that night and got stuck on a back road. They had to get pushed out of a hole. They got back to base just after 9 p.m. and she called the office from the command post. I asked Mark to relay his impressions of the film while I drove over to the station. Our TV service is run by military people in the same career field as mine. TV is closed circuit going only to people on base. The radio signal is broadcast to Adana.

I had written the news release and there was no problem with it being broadcast-we had to tell people what happened. It was the pictures that could cause the problem. As I walked in the studio I could tell that Capt. Clark had called and told them not to run it. I asked to see the edited film clip and decided that, while it was not pretty, it was not repulsive and I decided to back the TV station. Besides, it was now a quarter to 10 and they already had the whole news show built around that clip. On my recommendation, Capt. Clark got Col. Young to agree. The film ran.

I went back to my office, sent everyone home until 1 p.m. Saturday and drove the 15 kilometers to Adana [where my family and I lived in a penthouse apartment] and a restless sleep. The family had [earlier in the day] talked me into going to see a movie with them-Miss Piggy in the Muppet Movie-and I had looked forward to it. They went to the movie without me but on the way home got me to laugh for the first time since mid-afternoon with recollections of the Muppet antics.

We had nothing more to do until all of the next-of-kin had been notified (we figured noon at the earliest). But, as had been our [family] regime, we had to get up to be on base for an 8 a.m. basketball game. Chris [our son who was 10 at the time] was on the undefeated team.

At about 9:15 a.m. Bev [my wife], who had headed out the gym door looking for some coffee, came back and told me Lt. Chris Clero, casualty assistance officer, was looking for me. The notifications had been made. [The other member of our family was Marianne, who was 8]. I went to the personnel office to get full identifications then to the office to write the follow-up story with names. It was starting to become clear that most of the passengers were members of a local rock music group. They were so good that they had been asked to go on tour to some of the remote sites within Turkey. They had left that morning for Sinop in northern Turkey but the plane couldn't land because of bad weather.

Another person on board was a courier for classified messages. A 54 year old black master sergeant from the Virgin Islands. He almost always wore a yellow jump suit and a blue raincoat with a green baseball cap. He looked odd but he was a very likeable gentleman who went out of his way to be nice to everyone.

The whole aircrew was on temporary duty from Dyess AFB, Texas. The navigator, LtCol. Ben Barnette, had been the İncirlik Director of Personnel when I arrived here. He had returned to the states about six months ago and was sent back on temporary duty. To die in Turkey.

Well, I had the names and the authority to release them so I started working on the news release and called Capt. Clark to come in and help. To shorten this considerably, Mark also came in to help and by mid afternoon I called in SSgt. Bankey to type the final message to the world. At 5 p.m. Mark and I were alone again in the office. We had learned a lot that day about how everyone reacted-and it was all good. Our paper [The Looking Glass] comes out on Friday but we decided to do a 2-page special edition and get it out Monday. We agreed to meet again at about 3 p.m. Sunday to start it. Well, our little special edition turned out to be 6 pages and we got it to the printer by noon on Monday-people are still telling us that what we did was impossible. I've included a copy for your review.

Never, in my 18 years in the news business, have I had as many people stop me in the streets and offices and either thank me or congratulate me on our special edition. After the special edition went to press the commander of our Office of Special Investigations called and said, "Congratulations on your Thomas Jefferson award!" We knew we were in the running but had heard nothing. The message had come in Friday afternoon and was mis-routed to him. Winning the Thomas Jefferson Award means that a panel of professional journalists picked our newspaper as the best in the entire Department of Defense [by category, ours was mimeograph newspapers]. We had earlier been named best in our command and best in the Air Force.

This week started off kind of slow. Capt. Clark found out she will be leaving the 31st rather than the 2nd which means that I will have to play host to Col. Cole, the command director of public affairs next week, rather than her. With no PAO, I'm in charge of the shop (I really would rather not be in charge because the management leaves too little time for the writing I love) until the new PAO comes in. That was supposed to be "before the end of April" but this week I learned he will not get there until almost mid-May. And before he gets in I will have to host Col. Cole and arrange for Mark and Denise to cover the activities of the Commander in Chief of our command, including a TV interview and a mock presentation of our Thomas Jefferson Award.

On the 18th of April we are going to get a Management Evaluation Team inspection. They happen every two years and the team inspects everything we do. Last Thursday afternoon I got a call from Capt. Mike Whitaker who told me that I was in charge of setting up a ceremony for the departure of the caskets on Friday. Thursday was also my deadline to write questions for the CinC of the command to answer in his interview on Tuesday. Between arranging for a color guard, honor guard, chaplain, pall bearers and a Turkish honor guard I wrote the questions, got them approved by the commander and sent them off by message.

Then it started to rain hard so I checked with the weather forecasters and found out that Friday was going to be identical to Thursday. So I went to the commander with this information along with the facts that follow:

Two of the caskets probably would not go because they were to go to Spain for burial and we could not get Spanish approval to unload them. Instead of 18, there were 19 caskets. The extra casket contained the parts that could not be identified. The airlifters wanted to put them all on one palate for some technical reasons. The commander's decision was to have a small color guard, a chaplain and a few friends, to palletize the load and not to have the Turks. So I went back to the office and started un-arranging everything I had arranged and re-doing the whole thing.

While this was going on the Stars and Stripes [newspaper] called and wanted to know if the American prisoners had been released as they had been expected to be. It turns out they were not. Three Americans (one male, two female) have been in prison here for more than 7 years for drug smuggling. Last year the Turkish government developed an amnesty law which would include them. They were told they would be released March 12. In late fall the Turks started releasing prisoners based on the new law and had released about 600 by March 5 when they decided that they had misinterpreted the law and that prisoners would have to serve two more years before release.

As I left Thursday afternoon we were expecting to have a color guard, chaplain and a few spectators to see the two groups of caskets off. Two in a C-5 at 8 a.m. and the rest on a C-141 at about 3:30 p.m. Before I went to work Friday morning I stopped to see the mortuary affairs officer who told me that the C-5 was broke and would be departing at noon and that all of the caskets would be on it when it departed if the Spanish clearance came in on time.

I went back to the office, rearranged everything and told the commander that the afternoon ceremony would conflict with Commander's Call which my office sets up for him. I suggested he cancel the call. He said he'd make a decision after his regular Friday meeting with all the colonels on base. About an hour later I was told the C-5 would be broke until midnight and that all but the two for Spain would go on the C-141. Then someone called telling me the ceremony would be 45 minutes later than I had planned, that it would include color guard, honor guard, chaplain and the whole base would be invited. I went to see the commander-who told me to cancel Commander's Call-and he told me the colonels had decided to do it this way. I asked him who was in charge and he said Capt. Whitaker. I called Capt. Whitaker and told him the good news-then I bailed out.

Next, Capt. P. J. Crowley [TUSLOG PAO at Ankara] with another question from Stars and Stripes-this time a formal request we call a query. They suggested that there had been a formal decision at İncirlik not to try to identify certain kinds of drugs because too many would be identified and there wouldn't be enough people left to run the base. As usual, it was a statement taken out of context. The statements were accurate but they did not mean exactly what they said. I'll finish it off with a formal message response Monday but it takes time. Also on Friday we found out that the commander of the wing at Dyess AFB, Texas had held a press conference in which he suggested the C-130 was shot down by terrorists. This is absolutely false but he got a lot of news coverage.

At about 3 p.m. my command public affairs people called to ask where I got my questions from. I told them that they were all common concerns. They told me that no one knew the answers-which means they have no idea what our problems are. They also said they didn't think it would be proper for the CinC to present our award to us. Well, this ended up with the TV interview and our award presentation being canceled.

Just as we were thinking about going home after a long hard day the Rumor Control phone rang. Someone wanted to know if it was true the Adana [actually Çukarova] dam had broken and Adana was flooded. While it had been raining heavy for two days, this did seem a bit far-fetched. On checking it out we found out that while it was wrong-there was a chance it could happen. The water level was less than 1 meter from the crest and 65 small communities along two rivers fed by the dam had already been evacuated.

Very tired at 5:30 we started for home realizing that on the way we had to cross one [actually both] of those rivers. The bridge [John F. Kennedy Memorial Bridge] for E-5 [Trans-European Highway Number 5] usually stands 10-12 feet above the water level. Last evening the water was lapping across the very top of the bridge. [It turned out that the modern Kennedy bridge was damaged but the 800 year old Roman arch bridge a thousand feet down river was unhurt] Once across the bridge we found our normal turn 4 feet under water and we could see water spouting from the manholes. They have been working on a new drainage system along Ataturk Blvd. since mid-summer and are just now finishing it. But, the system drains into the river and with the water so high in the river the drainage system was working in reverse. We finally made it home and looked down Ataturk but could see nothing.

This morning we slept late (no basketball game) and listened to the base radio. Suddenly they announced that the base water pump was flooded and that all they had were emergency supplies. Also, travel between İncirlik and Adana was not possible since both bridges are impassable. Also the high school band would not return from Ankara since the roads were impassable. Also, water distribution points are being set up. Also, numerous things have been cancelled. Our water has been on an off all day [normal]. So far it is not discolored. And since we always add Clorox anyhow, we are OK. We also keep about 10 gallons for drinking and flushing the toilets-we are used to it [as opposed to those on base who take drinking water for granted].

When we looked down Ataturk this morning we saw water creeping this direction-but it has stopped. Four blocks south of us the water is 4-6 ft deep. Up here it is dry. So-not being able to get to base I was forced to take my first day off in about 3 weeks. The only thing I did today was write this letter. I expect things will be close to normal by Tuesday or Wednesday.

Love, Glenn

P.S. It's raining again-think I'll look up the passage about the Ark in the Bible-just in case.

P.P.S. I just looked outside and the whole section of the city which is under water is also without electricity. Including the American Consulate where their underground parking lot is an under-water parking lot. It's odd to see them without electric since they have an emergency generator-but their generator is in the basement. (I wish I could remember how big a cubit is)

Sunday Morning 30 Mar 80

Hi Again----

It rained last night and the water level is higher. It now comes to within a half block of our place. The kids were watching this morning while one of the Turkish paratroopers who guard the Consulate slipped and fell into about 3 ft of muddy water. While we have heard nothing yet on the radio about conditions I assume the bridges are still closed. Unless it starts to go down this afternoon, I may not be able to get to work tomorrow. Apparently the base is in real bad shape. 90% of the work force is Turkish and 90% of them live in Adana. When the roads were cut by the water most facilities were working with minimum staff. Those workers could not get home and the ones at home could not get to work. Part of the Turkish union contract says that we may not replace Turks with Americans if for any reason the Turk can not make it to work and we may only switch certain Turks to other jobs. Just heard that the band is on its way from Ankara by bus and is expected at about 5 p.m. I wonder how they are going to get across the bridges. Perhaps someone knows something we don't. [The letter continued on with personal notes and family chit chat]