Phyllis Richardson’s siblings and cousins always called her Chicken Little when she wouldn’t jump the “canal-sized” ditch with them in front of their Galivants Ferry home.
“They always jumped across it,” Richardson said. “I was always scared. But I promise you I jumped it that night.”
Richardson jumped that ditch at age 12 in December 1972, when she followed her father out of the house after two military planes crashed in mid-air above Horry County, and it seemed likely the fiery remnants of the large aircraft were headed straight for their home.
“He hollered to my Mama to get us out,” Richardson remembers, referring to her and her three siblings who ranged in age from six months old to 10 years old.
Thirteen men died in the Dec. 5, 1972 crash when an F-102 interceptor based out of McEntire Air National Guard base near Columbia collided in mid-air with a C-130 transport plane out of Pope Air Force Base in North Carolina. The aircraft crashed to the ground near the Bayboro area off Joyner Swamp Road.
Horry County Council plans to hold a memorial for the victims of that crash on Dec. 5 at 2 p.m. in Berea Baptist Church on Joyner Swamp Road. Councilman Al Allen said that a memorial headstone and a historical roadside marker will be installed in their honor.
“The accident occurred on a night combat profile mission, referred to as a CORONET SIERRA mission, designed to test the various options and capabilities of the … aircraft,” an Air Force incident report read, noting it was a training mission.
Questions still remain about the cause and details of the crash. Jamie Thompkins of the Horry County Historical Preservation Society said the highly-redacted incident reports were not released until the late 2000s. Allegedly, the mission was a secret, highly-classified endeavor.
A Dec. 13, 1972 article in Conway’s Field and Herald newspaper states that around 7:25 p.m. a fireball in the air was seen by people driving on U.S. 701. Drivers on U.S. 501 in Marion also saw it.
“It lit up the entire Earth. It was the brightest light you could imagine,” Richardson said of the fiery site of the C-130 crash. “We didn’t see the collision in the air, but we heard it. It shook the house awful hard.”
As she followed her father, who was holding her baby sibling in his arms, she saw her mother and siblings in the doorway, where her mother seemed to be frozen in fear.
“I do remember looking back and seeing my Mama,” Richardson said. “I was crying, knowing in my mind I might not see them again [if the plane were to hit their house].”
While some may ask why her father took them outside, she believes her father did the right thing.
“It was raining down pieces of plane,” she said. “My Daddy honestly felt it was coming on top of the house, and he knew if it landed there our chances of survival were none.”
Edward Hardwick, who was a freshman at Coastal Carolina at the time, was staying with family about a mile away. When his parents went Christmas shopping, they heard a loud “boom.”
“The lights went out, and everything outside just lit up. It scared us, we didn’t know what it was,” Hardwick said, and his family rode down to check out what happened. “It was kind of eerie. By then we knew it was a plane, but we didn’t know a lot at the time. It was a kind of a sad time because we knew a lot of people had lost their lives there.”
A large section of the C-130 fell between Richardson’s uncle’s home and her cousins’ on Tyler Road, near Berea Baptist Church. Her father, Ronald Tyler, worried from his home down the road that his brother’s home may have been hit.
Richardson said the crash cut off the phones and electricity, and no one would let them back near their homes until sometime the next day, so there was no way of knowing at the time whether their other family members were injured, or worse.
The Field and Herald reported a heavy rainstorm the next morning that made it hard to locate the deceased’s remains and investigate the crash.
The crash made news across the country, and a New York Times article from Dec. 6, 1972, said that the body of Capt. Thomas Haygood of Lexington, pilot of the F-102 aircraft, was recovered about three hours after the crash.
According to gendisasters.com, Johnny Creel was the Horry County Civil Defense Director at the time of the incident, and he was quoted as saying this incident “was the worst military air disaster in South Carolina history.”
Due to the Air Force investigation and cleanup, the roads in the area were closed off to the public and she was out of school for about a week. Buses couldn’t come through to pick up the children in that area, she said.
Hardwick remembers the military setting up outside of the local corner store, and people couldn’t get into the area without identification for weeks.
The Air Force incident report said that the fuselage impact crater made by the C-130 was around 60 feet long, and the crater continued to smolder for three days. The crater was eventually filled in and the area now doesn’t show any visible scars from that night.
The Tyler family still has some coins and pieces of instrument panel from the crash that they found years after cleanup, as well as a piece of propeller that was stuck standing upright in the ground.
“It was not unusual to be in the fields years later, and come across small pieces of the airplane,” Richardson said. “Daddy found them near the site where the [solo] pilot had fallen, much later in time.”
Richardson’s brother Greg was 10 in 1972, and he said he was feeding his little sister a bottle when the crash happened.
“We were all scared,” he said. “It seemed like it [watching the plane fall] lasted forever but it probably didn’t.”
Richardson got emotional as she recalled bystanders saying that it almost appeared that the plane was following the path of the dirt road, purposely steered to avoid homes as it came down from the sky.
Both siblings also said that although they weren’t positive it hadn’t fallen at a different point in the night, the next morning they were startled to find a “refrigerator-sized” piece of plane along the ditch where Richardson jumped across with her father.
The Tylers’ extended family all live in the area, and Greg said that his cousins, who were not home at the time, discovered doorknobs blown out in their home, one forcefully enough to knock out a piece of a wooden table in its path.
One of the biggest things Greg remembers was how hard his mother clung to him in her fear.
“He said Mama was holding him so tight as they were standing by the door that he could hardly breathe,” Richardson said.
Scheryl Warr, who was 4 years old on that day, remembers her own mother’s grief in their doorway after two men in uniform knocked on her door to let her mother know that her father, Sgt. Billy Maxwell Warr, Sr., had been killed in the crash.
“I heard a knock at the door. I, of course, was curious and looked to see what was going on,” Warr said. “I had never seen my mother so upset before. It actually scared me. I just knew something was really wrong even though I was only 4 years old.”
She said she doesn’t have a lot of memories after that of the time, until she said she and her family flew out to California to live with her grandparents.
“My mother and grandparents did very well at keeping us happy and safe,” Warr said. “I do have to say the older I got, the harder his death was for me. I cannot really explain why.”
She is thankful her mother had taken many photos of her father and his children up until then, and said the hardest part was coming to terms with the traumatic event.
“Realizing that you no longer have a father and all your friends in school would ask ‘Where is your dad?’,” Warr said, “It was really surreal.”
Warr is grateful that Horry County is holding the Dec. 5 memorial, and she plans to be in attendance. She thanked Thompson for his help in organizing the event.
“I am so grateful that the county of Horry is honoring and recognizing those men, including my father, that served our country and put their lives in danger every day for our country,” Warr said. “It is such a blessing and honor to be able to be present and witness the unveiling of the historical marker that will have not only my father’s name on it, but those men that were also involved in this horrific mid-air collision.”
Kathy Fischer’s brother, 23-year-old Doug Thierer, was on the C-130 with Warr’s father.
“Doug wasn’t even supposed to be on the C-130 mission that day,” said Fischer, who was in eighth grade at the time of the crash. “Someone fell ill, and he volunteered. He volunteered because he loved to fly … he had always told his wife that if he dies, that’s how he wanted to go out.”
Fischer said they have since made a visit to the area and have befriended the Tyler family.
“Phyllis, she was my age at the time,” Fischer said. “I never thought about that. It gave me a different empathy. I never thought about what was going on [down] on the ground because we were so totally devastated.”
She looks forward to coming from her home state of Illinois to attend the memorial.
“It’s well-deserved for these airmen and their families,” she said. “We thought it was the best that could be done right now, and such an honor.”
Warr feels the memorial will give the families even more of a sense of closure after so long.
“I feel I will have closure, and peace in my heart,” Warr said. “I can’t say it will be an easy day, but I am coming with my heart filled with joy and my children by my side. I am really blessed that my father and the other men will not be forgotten.”
U.S. Air Force
Lt. Col. Donald E. Martin of Texas
Maj. Keith L. Van Note, of Iowa
Capt. Douglas S. Peterson of Illinois
Capt. John R. Cole of Oklahoma
Capt. Louis R. Sert of Missouri
Capt. Marshall K. Dickerson of Illinois
2nd Lt. Douglas L. Thierer of Illinois
M-Sgt. Billy M. Warr, Sr of California
M-Sgt. Gilmore A Mickley, Jr of Pennsylvania
T-Sgt. Claude L. Abbott of Georgia
T-Sgt. Robert E Doyle of Virginia
A1C Gerald K. Faust of Wisconsin
S.C. Air National Guard
Capt. Thomas C. Haygood, Jr. of South Carolina