September 23, 1995
Web posted at 5:45 a.m.EDT
ANCHORAGE, Alaska (CNN) -- A high-tech Air Force surveillance plane crashed near Anchorage Friday, killing all 24 crew members aboard. Twenty-two of the flight crew were American; the remaining two were Canadian.
Emergency teams cut a path to the otherwise inaccessible crash site with a bulldozer.
The Airborne Warning and Control System (AWACS) plane, the first of its kind to crash, went down shortly after taking off from Elmendorf Air Force Base at 7:30 a.m. local time (11:30 a.m. EDT). It was beginning a four-hour training mission with 24 crew members on board.
Eyewitnesses said the four-engine plane crashed in an enormous fireball in a heavily-wooded area two miles northeast of the runway, sending up a dense cloud of black smoke that could be seen 30 miles away. The crash ignited 125,000 pounds of jet fuel and tossed debris over several acres.
The cause of the crash has not been determined, but one source, speaking under condition of anonymity, said that about a dozen Canada geese were found dead at the end of the runway closest to the crash sight.
Elmendorf spokesman Major Jerry Brown said the plane's "black box," which could provide clues to the crash cause, has not yet been found.
Alaska Gov. Tony Knowles called the crash a "huge loss" and ordered the state's flags flown at half mast through Sunday. He said he contacted commanding officers at the base Friday and asked them to send his condolences to families of the crash victims.
Air Force search and rescue units responded to the scene. Elmendorf Air Force Base, just north of Anchorage, is home to Pacific Air Force AWACS flight squadrons. The AWACS planes are used for reconnaissaince and surveillance.
The plane, built on a Boeing 707 frame, was introduced in 1977. It was one of two of the $180 million planes based at Elmendorf.
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