Separation of an Engine From a C-5A Aircraft at Altus Air Force Base, Oklahoma

Published by the Government Accountability Office on 1971-11-22.

Below is a raw (and likely hideous) rendition of the original report. (PDF)

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                                  COl’hiOLLER           GENERAL     OF      THE       UNI
                                                      WASHINGTON.    D.C.         20548


            Dear Mr.      Long:                                                                                       7
                  This is in response            to your request          of October        19, 1971,
          that we determine         whether        information       concerning        the separa-
     & tion of an engine from a C-SA ,                              _t at Altus     Air Force k~ !” ‘.” “,
          Base, OklahoxXn             September         29, 1971, was deliberately              with-
,G,a&@@%eld from the Congress and from top Department                              of Defense          3(
       ;j ,(DOD) officials.
                  We found that top DOD officials                   were apprised         of the
           accident     soon after      it occurred,          and we found no evidence             of
           a deliberate     attempt       to withhold         information      from them or from
           the Congress.        Rather,     the delay in informing               the Congress
           seems to have occurred           because the significance                of the acci-
           dent did not become apparent                 until     3 days after       its occurrence,
          when the Air Force determined                  that it would be necessary              to
           replace    the engine pylons            of seven additional           C-5A aircraft        be-
           fore permitting       further      flight.

                   Shown below are the specific                             questions  in your         letter   and
            a discussion    of the information                           that we developed.

                    1. If the news of the engine falling        off came out at that
                       time (on September    29, 1971, when Mr. Henry Durham was                                      ,,
                  La   testifying  before the    Joint  Economic Committee),     it    *“I’
       L               would have proven very embarrassing         to the Air Force.      ‘jr
                       Was this testimony    considered   in the decision     to with-
                       hold the announcement     of the accident?

                    We found no evidence  that Mr.                                  Durham’s  testimony   was a
             factor   in the way in which the Air                                   Force handled    the news re-
             lease of the engine separation.

                     It appears,      in          fact,    that the news release         was handled
             in accordance       with           normal Air Force procedures,             which is to
             release    a story     at          the location        of the incident      and to make
             the Air Force Public                   Information        Office   in Washington   avail-
             able to answer any                 follow-up       inquiries     from reporters.


                                                50 TH ANNIVERSARY                   1921- 1971

        The engine separation        occurred      at 2:46 p.m.,         Central
Daylight      Saving Time (CDST), on September             29, 1971 at Altusd:.“’         :,I”.
Air Force Base.         Prior   to 6 p.m. that day, the Al&s                 Air
Force Base Information         Officer,      in accordance          with Air Force
regulations,       issued the following        news release.
        “A C-5 Galaxy from the 443rd Military                 Airlift     Wing
        was damaged in a mishap at Altus             AFB [Air Force
        Base] this afternoon        (1445).      As the aircraft          taxied
        into the runway,      prior     to take-off,     full       power was
        applied    and one engine separated          from the wing, fall-
        ing to the ground.

       “A small fire     from residual     fuel within          the wing was
       quickly  extinguished.       Extent    of damage         to the wing
       has not been determined.         Cause of the          incident      is
       being investigated     by a qualified      board         of officers.

       “The aircraft   is one of the Wing’s original      C-5s and
       was assigned   here early in 1970.   It had    logged  more
       than 1,275 flying   hours and 3,100 landings.”

       The Air Force informed              us that the above release           was read
on the Altus       radio    station      (KWHW) at 6 p.m.,        CDST, on Septem-
ber 29, 1971.         On  the    following      day   the  accident    was reported
in the local       newspaper --the Altus           Times-Democrat--and         on tele-
vision    stations      in Lawton (KSWO) and Oklahoma City                 (KWTV).
On October       1, 1971, the Daily           Oklahoman,     an Oklahoma City
newspaper,      printed     a picture       of the C-5A aircraft         without    the
engine . Quite often           the wire services          would pick up such a
story   from the local         press,      but in this     instance    they did not.

       2. News of the accident,      according    to Senator William
G-        Proxmire’s    office,  would have been impetus     enough to
1”        offer    the amendment on the C-5A and to again drag the
          unfortunate     story of the C-CA into the press.         Did
          the Air Force foresee      this ~;2s a possibility  and opt
          for a delay in announcing        t&e accident?


      As discussed    above we found no delay in announcing     the
news of the accident.      Within  4 hours of the engine separa-
tion,  the Altus   Air Force Base Information    Officer issued    the
news release.

       3a.   In an article     in the Washington       Post of October   8,
             1971, Mr. Mike Getler       reported    that Mr. Jerry
             Friedheim    had said that even top DOD officials         had
             not been notified      of the accident.        Is this a normal
             and an acceptable      procedure?

          This does not seem to be either              a normal or an acceptable
 procedure.       The article      may have been somewhat misleading,
 DOD records      indicate     that Mr. Friedheim          stated  only that
 Mr. Daniel     Z, Henkin,       Assistant      Secretary     of Defense       (Public
 Affairs),     had not been informed            of the accident,        Officials
 of the Air Force Information              Office,     however,   stated      that
.Secretary     Henkin’s     staff    was informed       of the accident         on Sep-
 tember 30, 1971, at the daily               9 a.m. interservice        staff      meet-
 ing for the Public        Affairs      Office.

       3b.   What is     the official   DOD practice in announcing    such
             incidents      to the Congress and to top DOD officials?

       DOD policy is to have the individual         services   involved
inform   Congress and top DOD officials        of such incidents.          The
Office   of the Secretary     of Defense,   for example,     would be in-
formed by Air Force Secretary        Robert C. Seamans, Jr.         Officials
of the Air Force Information       Office   advised    us that they dis-
cussed the accident     with Secretary     Seamans on September        29 and
30, 1971, and advised      him that the accident       was reported      to the
news media at Altus     Air Force Base in the normal manner.

        Air Force practice     is to notify       all top Air Force officials
immediately      of all unusual     events by telephone.           Within     25
minutes     of this accident,    it   was   reported     by  telephone      to   Air
Force Headquarters,       and within      8 hours all concerned          Air Force
commands, including       the Chief of Staff,         received     a full    message


       The Air Force Director      of Legislative        Liaison   informed
us that he received      telephone    notification       of the accident     on
September    29, 1971, and requested         his staff    and the Air Force
Information    Office  to determine      its significance.         On Monday,
October 4, 1971, when the Director             learned   of an order to re-
place the aft engine pylons        on seven other C-5A aircraft,            he
asked for sufficient       details  to inform        the Congress.

        As a matter   of policy     the Director      attempts,    whenever
possible,    to advise    the Chairmen of the House and Senate Com-
mittees    on Armed Services      and of the House and Senate Commit-
tees on Appropriations        before     the information       is made available
to the news media.        In this     instance    he did not advise      them of
the engine loss,      but he did advise        them of the subsequent        order
to replace     the engine pylons        at about 11:30 a.m. on October           6,

      3c.   How long did it take the Air Force to announce the
            weight-lifting  record achieved by the C-5A at Edwards
            Air Force Base?

        On May 21, l969,     the Lockheed-Georgia        Company announced
that on that same day a C-5A Galaxy had established                 a weight-
lifting    record.    Air Force Information       Office    personnel   point
out that,     when such a planned      event occurs,      a press release
usually    is prepared     and coordinated   in advance so that it can
be released      soon after    the event takes place.

      4. Who was responsible  for           delaying   the release     of this
         information  for a week?

        As discussed     above, there     was no delay in making public
the news of the accident          soon after   it occurred.        Normally    the
Information      Office   would not issue further         releases   after   the
initial     announcement     of the September     29, 1971, engine loss was
made to the news media in Oklahoma but would hold itself                    avail-
able to answer inquiries          for further    details.


       On Friday,      October     1, 1971, the Information           Office      re-
ceived    an inquiry      from a reporter         for a weekly magazine.              The
reporter     did not have an urgent            deadline;    therefore      his in-
quiry    was routinely       deferred    to Monday, October          4, 1971.
While preparing        the requested        data,    the Information       Office
learned    that 2 days earlier         the aft engine pylons           were identi-
fied as the probable          cause of the engine separation               and that
orders    had been issued to replace              those pylons     on seven other
C-5A aircraft      before     further    flight.

        This information             was drafted       into a potential              reply    to
the magazine        inquiry        and was coordinated           with the          Military      Air-
lift    Command and the Air Force Systems Command.                               On Wednesday,
October      6, 1971, with coordination                  completed,        the     Information~~~~/qg’/
Office     provided       its information          to the Air Force              Legislative        /“.
Liaison      and to the DOD Office               of Public      Affairs.,for           release.    7)&0lq~~
While approving           the news release           for the magazine              reporter,
Secretary      Henkin        (Public    Affairs)       considered        the     information         of
sufficient       interest       to use for general            release.           This was ac-
complished       at about 5 p.m. on October                  6, 1971.

        5. Is     the Air      Force     or DOD investigating             this     delay?

      Neither        the Air      Force nor DOD is investigating                    the manner
in which the         release      of the news of the accident                    was handled.

        6. What was the reason for                  finally     releasing         the   informa-
           tion on the accident?

     As stated  above the accident     was first    reported    to the
news media on September     29, 1971.   Further   release    of   informa-
tion regarding  the engine separation     was made when its signifi-
cance became apparent     by the order to replace      the pylons      on
seven other C-5A aircraft.

       While examining            into    the reporting    of this accident,                  we ob-
tained   documentation            from    and had discussions     with officials                 of


   the Office    of the   Secretary   of Defense    and of the     Department
   of the Air    Force.

         No other distribution         of this   report  is being made.     If
   we can be of further       assistance      in this matter,   please  let
   us know.

                                          Comptroller   General
                                          of the United   States

p The Honorable   Clarence      D. Long
~1 House of Representatives