Wednesday, December 7, 2011

Pegasus Plane Crash

This is The Super Constellation "Pegasus" pre October 8th 1970.......

And hours later...........

The story follows; but the plane remains here perfectly preserved in ice. Despite crashing and 40 plus years of Antarctic weather; it really is well preserved. If you look at some of the close ups and pictures of the open compartments, the hoses, metal, and even wooden pieces are in perfect shape. Things do not deteriorate here like elsewhere due to the difference between dry cold and wet cold. It's similar to the difference between the heat in say Texas as compared to Florida. Anyway; check out the pictures and if you choose to read the story. It sure makes me glad that we had 4 cancellations due to weather. Yeah no need to take chances. Also on that note I have a real uneasy feeling when I hear the term "Point of No Return" thrown around. How about turning around before that point. Enough said.....

So enjoy the photos and following story.

People have left there mark on the tail section.

At different times of the year due to wind and temperature more or less of the plane is exposed. I borrowed some pictures from others to show more of the plane.

These are the photos showing how intact the hoses and such are....

Yeah I know I shouldn't have...but....I did....(Panda is my nickname here)

Until next time.......

"Cooking on Ice"

Story below:


By Noel Gillespie

Just before 9am on October 8, 1970 the Super Constellation "Pegasus" BuNo 131644 of the United States Navy's VZ6 Squadron departed from Christchurch Airport on a ten and one half hour flight to Antarctica. The Ill-fated Aircraft ended her life in a tangled heap on the ice of the Ross Sea. For the Second navigator Robert O'keefe the day is firmly etched in his mind recalling The events leading to the crash twenty nine years later. (Over thirty years now)

Just before 9am on a cool dull Christchurch morning of October the 8, 1970 Lt. Commander Cliff Greau a veteran of two previous Antarctic seasons roared his C-121J

Super Constellation into the Southern Skies. Appropriately named "Pegasus"-the flying horse, this was her seventh year of Antarctic operations.  Greau's mission was to open up "Operation Deep Freeze 71", destination the ice runway Williams Field, McMurdo Sound, and 2,600 miles away over open frozen water. A routine squadron's flight but was to end in tragic circumstance's ten and one half hours later.

Half an hour out from McMurdo, the weather had deteriorated to zero visibility with an intense storm, which had enveloped the base. Low on fuel and no alternative airfield, Commander Greau was forced to "crash land" the aircraft. After making five attempts he veered off to the right side of the  ice runway and the "Connie" was destroyed without loss of life.

"Pegasus" BuNo 131644 was the seventh aircraft of VX-6 Squadron carrying a crew of
12 and 68 passengers including a technician from Lockheed, the  aircraft's manufacturer
plus cargo and mail for the wintering over party. At midnight the first aircraft away was
another C-121J "Phoenix, followed by  five C130 Hercules at one hour intervals. The twelve man crew included the commander, two co-pilots and two navigators, two flight engineers, a radio operator and two load masters. The "Connie's" required two  navigators because the magnetic compasses and gyros were not operational below 60 degrees South so Celestial navigation was required. Its main mission with VZ-6 was moving personal from Christchurch to McMurdo and photo mapping the Antarctic continent.  The weather forecast for the McMurdo area was marginal as  a severe Antarctic storm was closing in. It had already caused a 24 hour holdup on flights between Christchurch and McMurdo and had grounded interior flights at McMurdo.

With the weather of paramount concern to the crew and no alternate landing sites, there minds alert, the intrepid naval aviators kept regular contact with oceanic control as

"Pegasus" headed towards McMurdo center control.  Quintessentially, O'keefe a true navel aviator was the aircraft's second navigator. On the inaugural flight to the continent, he was unknowingly a matter of hours away from the grim introduction to Antarctic flying.  Says Bob O'keefe " As we reached the point of no return (PSR) at 4pm we had learned that the weather at McMurdo was deteriorating rapidly and visibility at Williams Field was 10 miles with wind of 13 mph, we commenced a conference. Lt. Commander Greau made the call to continue the flight South".  " We really didn't discuss it much, everyone on the flight deck had their own thoughts.  We also said a silent prayer as thoughts flashed back home".

Between 6 and 7pm a snowstorm developed, visibility at McMurdo was reduced to zero
with winds gusting to 40 mph. The "Connie" utilized a slightly longer route into McMurdo than the Hurc's because of the Mountains on the continent and the Ross Sea required approaching aircraft to stay above Mount Erebus's elevation, than drop rapidly for the approach to Williams Fields.  The C-121 route required skirting the Ross Sea and Beauford Island than proceed straight into "Willy Field".  "I can remember being able to see Williams Field from about thirty miles out as we descended for our approach. The front of the storm was like a great white impregnable wall just to the South of the ice runway.We flew almost directly over the airfield buildings as we raced to beat the storm but we lost".

Beginning to receive vectors from the radar approach, the crew secured everything
aboard the aircraft. The crew briefed the passengers on the evacuation procedures should landing attempts be unsuccessful.  "We made six or seven ASD radar approaches. After each abortive approach our flight engineer reported to the commander of our fuel status and after the sixth approach the news we did not want to hear. Only enough fuel for one more approach and fifteen minutes of holding remained until they were completely out of fuel"  He tells of Cdr. Greau informing the crew that he was descending to 100 feet on the next approach, and if Cdr. Avery, the first pilot, could see any part of the runway, he should assume control of "Pegasus" and land the old girl.

If they could not see the ice runway, they were to climb to 500 feet and intercept the
Precision Approach Radar Glide Path for the skyway at Williams field some two miles
away, retract the wheels for a wheels up landing on the skyway normally used by the ski
equipped C-130, as there was not enough fuel for an another approach.  "We began with a certain apprehension, the adrenaline was now pumping and I had responsibilities to carry out in an emergency. We all tightened our seat belts a little tighter and made sure that there was nothing in our shirt pockets to scratch our faces".  Cdr. Avery caught a glimpse of the runway at about 100 feet above the ice and called out for Control of the aircraft.  "I can remember vividly that he had completely idled the engines and dived for the ice runway. We landed very hard but would probably have suffered little or no damaged had several frozen snow drifts not formed on the runway, while we were making our first approach".

Such was the force of the Antarctic storm. Unlike the Hurcules, the "Connie" did not
have skis. Touching down on the ice, the "Connie" straddled a three to four foot high and eight foot wide snowdrift between the nose and main landing gears. Immediately on 'hitting' the ice Cdr. Avery placed all four engines into full reverse, just as the right main gear impacted the snowdrift. This caused the aircraft to veer rapidly to the right and turned about 210 degrees clockwise and slid backwards to the right of the runway.

When the main landing gear ran into a massive snowdrift coming to rest in the middle of it, the landing gear twisted and sheared off just below it's pivot point inside the gear well.  O'keefe recalls the right wing tip contacting the ice, as it slid backwards. "I remember watching with absolute horror, the No. 4 propeller spinning off the engine. Moments later No. 4 engine ripped off it's mount, as if by some giant hand followed by No. 3 propeller then No. 3 engine then the entire right wing. While I recall it in slow motion, I doubt that the whole chain of events took more than a few seconds".  When the "Connie" finely stopped sliding, the two left engines were still running at full
power in reverse, as the control cables from the flight deck had been severed. At this
point Cdr. Greau switched off the magnetos to secure engines.  "A very eerie temporary silence ensued," recalls Bob O'keefe. "Hardly a word was spoken on the flight deck. Seconds later we started a rapid evacuation on the left side of the aircraft, putting all our endless hours of emergency training to work".  At 8:10 pm the "Connie" finely slid to a stop on the frozen ice surface. It was only a half a mile from the aircraft parking and cargo staging area, but it took over three hours for anyone to locate the crashed aircraft.

Five onboard were injured, suffering from scalp lacerations, bruises and back strain."The OIC of the VX-6 winter over party Lt. Ken Korening was at the runway awaiting our arrival from Christchurch, together with a large military terrain stake bed truck with a canvas top. The "bus" is used for transportation between McMurdo and the ice runway at "Willy Field".  Evacuating the crew  and passengers was made via the left main and forward crew cargo doors. As the rest of the crew assembled the passengers away from the aircraft, one of the loadmasters stayed behind with O'keefe to get as much as possible of the aircraft's emergency equipment unloaded as possible, as fear of fire breaking out was uppermost on there minds.  "We were able to off load all the equipment, which included several tents, which we felt could shield the passengers and crew from the now extreme wind, blistering snow and sever chill factor, by now effecting us all" recalls O'keefe. With 50-mph winds blowing across the ice, it was impossible for the crew to erect the tents. As half the passengers were not properly dressed, it was considered they would be better off inside the "Connie.”  With no fuel, likely hood of fire was low and at least they would be out of the freezing wind and 50 plus below zero temperatures.  "The GCA radar crew at "Willy Field" were frantically working with Lt. Ken Korening, ICO to locate us and get us to safety and some shelter. Ken had a radar reflector on the top of a four wheel drive vehicle and was able to talk to radar operators via a radio in his truck".  The radar operator could see the "Connie" on his screen and directed Lt. Korning towards the crashed aircraft. By this time, the visibility was less than 50 feet, with the snow now driving harder, nothing could be heard for more than a few feet.  "Driving to within a couple of hundred feet from us, he could neither see nor hear us, or we him" O'keefe recalled. When he finely discovered our position, he radioed our status to the radar operator's back at William's Field. They then radioed the information to the squadron on the 'hill'. While a support worker, the OIC had brought with him, walked behind the truck, planting flag poles, to which he attached a rope and flags".  This operation took him over 30 minutes to get back to the staging area, then drive the truck to the crash site to evacuate the first of the passengers along with the injured crew. "I couldn't believe that it took so long to locate us. After a couple of hours, the numbing cold began to work its will on us. We were just concentrating on staying alive” O'keefe said.  O'keefe recalls he was the last of the crew and passengers to leave the accident scene and be transported to the staging area before being transferred into heated buses for a ride up the hill to "Mactown".

"The harsh Antarctic storm lasted until the following day. By then I was finally able to get down to view my beloved "Pegasus". The snow had drifted up against the left side, almost to the top of the fuselage. The main landing gear was still sticking straight up out of the snow drift, which had ripped it off as we slid backwards down the ice runway".  Rear Admiral D F Welch told this writer at the time, that as the crash was too close to the runway, it wasn't good morale to have a broken C-121 with only one wing lying about.  Bob O'keefe remained with VX-6 in Antarctica until March 1973. Earlier this year he attended the decommissioning of the Squadron at Point Mugu Naval Air Station. While over 1600 former VX-6ers were there, the only member of the crew that ill-fated day at Williams Field, was the 2nd  Engineer Don Bentley, now  retired and living in Texas.  Another C-121 crashed at McMurdo on October 31, 1961 when a specially configured Super Constellation, previously used in Project Magnet, on a flight from Christchurch, landed 100 yards short of the ice runway. It bounced in the air and landed 50 yards further down the Ross Sea ice approach to the airfield. It's landing gear collapsed as it veered into a snow bank, tearing off one wing and breaking the fuselage behind the wing. Only one of the 23 men aboard was injured. 

Brought to you by the McMurdo Historical Society


  1. Glad you posted this. Although i am sure Mom wont be it was awesome to see. Thanks brother. And Merry Christmas and Happy New Years!

  2. Was one of the passengers on Pegasus and want to, again, thank the Lord for the skill imparted to the crew that brought us safely back to the ground despite the very worst Antarctic weather. Henry J. Storm, LCDR, USN, Retired

    1. I work with one of the passengers.that was on board that day his name is James lyda

    2. I'm working on a story about it and I'm looking for first-hand accounts. You can email me at

  3. Glad to see the story posted even if there are some errors. I was one of the two engineers on the aircraft not Don Bently. I am Robert L Creekbaum AMEC Retired and later became leading chief at Mcmurdo

  4. I believe my dad Robert Dean was the radioman on this flight. I am searching for confirmation. Any information would be so helpful. Dad passed away November 15, 2016 after telling the story throughout my life. I was 1 year old when it happened. Thanks, Greg Dean Tampa, FL. Originally from Cincinnati, OH where my parents also lived.

  5. My dad, Mike Widstrom, was on the ice when the crash happened and later helped to take off the tail. He says that one survivor took the toilet seat as a souvenir because he was puking in the head for most of the flight. Thanks for this - my dad always talks about how great of a time he had on the ice.

  6. My father ADR 1Phil Wilson was the flight engineer