KSLA Salutes: Surviving the crash

Retired Air Force Pilot and others recall 30th anniversary of B1-Bomber crash landing

Pilot recalls dramatic crash landing of B-1 bomber

(KSLA) - Friday, Oct. 4 marks 30 years since a four man crew aboard a B-1 Bomber from Dyess Air Force Base in Texas, crash-landed safely outside of Edwards Air Force Base in California.

October 4, 1989 is a day that in reality was supposed to be like any other day for Jeff Beene.

“(It was a) Beautiful day, early fall,” said Beene. “Gorgeous day.”

Jeff was a 29-year-old captain in the Air Force getting ready to perform some training in the B-1 Bomber over at Dyess Air Force Base in Abilene, Texas.

“We showed up to fly that morning, and our tanker was canceled," he said.

At the time a U.S. Air Force tanker jet had exploded in the air killing everyone aboard just outside of Maine.

The four-man crew aboard the B1-Bomber that crash landed in 1989. Crew was made up of Captains Jeff Beene, Vernon Benton, Robert Hendricks & Lt. Col. Joseph Day (Source: Carol Beene)
The four-man crew aboard the B1-Bomber that crash landed in 1989. Crew was made up of Captains Jeff Beene, Vernon Benton, Robert Hendricks & Lt. Col. Joseph Day (Source: Carol Beene) (Source: Carol Beene)

Beene as well as Captains Vernon Benton, Robert Hendricks and Lt. Colonel Joseph Day were all aboard the B1-Bomber when it eventually took off, but soon they discovered issues with the B-1’s hydraulic systems that powers its wings.

“When I heard the noise I pretty much knew what had happened," Beene said. "I looked up at the hydraulic indicators and sure enough we had lost a hydraulic system — the number two hydraulic system in that aircraft forward movement. “

For Jeff, it was no problem, they would end their mission and just go home — at least that’s what they had planned to do until they soon realized the nose gear on the $280 million aircraft wouldn’t extend, preventing the crew from landing.

“When it extends you feel it, you hear it, the disruption in the airflow," he said. "You obviously know it happened. Well when he flipped the switch it obviously didn’t happen.”

A regular day soon turned the complete opposite for Jeff Beene and his crew.

“I had probably had several interviews lined up for the day," said Caroline King. "I know we were probably closing in on deadline on the newspaper, and then we get a call.”

King’s day inside Dyess’s Public Affairs Office quickly changed the moment they got the news.

“I just recall at a moment where the day seemed to be very hectic and very busy," she said. "I actually went off to the side and I said a prayer.”

But she wasn’t the only person praying that day.

“Our Sunday school class was gathering that night at a friends house," said Carol Beene. "There was probably going to be 30 to 40 people gathering so I checked in with that friend and then I got the phone call.”

Sgt. Caroline King a few years after the crash at Barksdale AFB. (Source: Caroline King)
Sgt. Caroline King a few years after the crash at Barksdale AFB. (Source: Caroline King) (Source: Caroline King)

From the moment Jeff’s wife Carol got her call, her church family was by her and her family’s side.

“They sat me down in the middle of the living room, everyone stood around and prayed for me and for Jeff and for everything," she said. "So it was a very calming time to be with them.”

But at that moment, all that was on her mind was a quick decision to wake up early that morning and have breakfast with her husband.

“I was thinking well I gotten up with him this morning out of my routine," she said. "I didn’t want that to be the last time.”

But back in the sky, more issues were arising for Jeff and his crew

“Now I had lost one hydraulic system which affected handling, the main landing gear (was) down and it just handled differently, and refueling I couldn’t refuel as heavy," said Beene."

And soon they were left with some tough decisions to make.

“The crew members with us, there’s a situation that might not turn out the best here," Beene said. "We knew that we could eject from the airplane, bail out if we needed to. We could get out to the Pacific, take it out over the ocean.”

But ultimately, they decided to try and land the plane, so they headed to a dry lake bed outside of Edwards Air Force Base in California.

The dry lake bed was 44 square miles made up of 14 runways. The longest runway was almost eight miles long. Because of its properties, and B1-Bomber platform engineers and experts were stationed at Edwards, this was the best location to try and land the plane.

The crew attempted a few touch and go landings when they arrived.

But while they were trying to make things happen, over in Texas, Carol was receiving her moment of assurance.

Jeff Beene and his wife Carol after becoming a recipient of the Mackay Trophy in 1989 (Source: Carol Beene)
Jeff Beene and his wife Carol after becoming a recipient of the Mackay Trophy in 1989 (Source: Carol Beene) (Source: Carol Beene)

“I just remember vividly looking at the sky," she said. "The lord just audibly told me, this is the same sky and I’m the same God and you’re going to be okay.”

“It went from a final ‘okay I’m out of control’ authority, a nice little bounce," Beene said. “It made contact there was a lot of dust but very smooth."

“All we had was a phone call that they landed," King said. "They landed safely. The plane was pretty much minimal damage, and it was a relief.”

“The phone rang and Bob the Captain, took the phone call in the bedroom, and I walked back there and I think I was followed by like 40 people," Carol said. "We were all in the hallway so he got the call that he was down and they were safe.”

Jeff returned home three days later, and soon the crew was awarded various medals and the famous Mackay Trophy for their heroic flight.

Jeff and his crew members with Congressman Charlie Stenholm after receiving the Mackay Trophy in 1989. (Source: Carol Beene)
Jeff and his crew members with Congressman Charlie Stenholm after receiving the Mackay Trophy in 1989. (Source: Carol Beene) (Source: Carol Beene)

In January, the crew all went back to Edwards Air Force Base to pick up and return the plane home to Texas.

With the 30 year anniversary approaching, Caroline, Carol and Jeff can all tell you October 4, 1989, is still a day in their lives they won’t ever forget.

“You have these flashbulb memories and everyone has one and I have a handful of them from my time in the service and that’s probably the top one," King said.

“You look back and you think about this amazing teamwork, you think about all the training, you think about the efforts they went to take care of us, to give us everything that we needed to successfully recover the airplane," Beene said. "And I think those things were pretty amazing.”

Caroline was able to meet Carol and discuss that day wither her after she stopped in Haughton to visit her farm a few months ago. At the time both women had no idea they both were at Dyess Air Force Base during this incident.

Jeff still keeps in touch with the crew on that plane, and they plan to get together in Abeline, Texas in November for a reunion.

Jeff and Carol still have the dirt from the dry lake bed the day the plane landed.

“I remember almost so many of the details," said Carol Beene. "I mean I may not remember everything from two weeks ago, but that day there was a lot of vivid memories.”

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