Evaluation and Assessment of Significance
Archaeological Site: 8BY1817 (Aircraft Crash)
Final Report, April 24, 2017, page 7.

Archival Research

While some archival research occurred prior to (and concurrent with) fieldwork, the bulk of the research was conducted following the assessment on site. Quigg visited the Bay County Public Library where he reviewed primary and secondary resources on the history of Tyndall AFB, including information on T-33A aircraft operating from the base, in the Local History Room. The archaeologist also examined the library’s microfilm collection of the Panama City News-Herald newspaper, assisted by local historian Marlene Womack, searching for articles related to aircraft crashes on or near Tyndall AFB during the date range of documented T-33A accidents (1952-1985). USAF accident reports of T-33A aircraft on or near Tyndall AFB were obtained by request from Aviation Archaeological Investigation & Research in portable document format (pdf) via email and closely studied. Several bound volumes were perused, and a myriad of reputable online resources were accessed, that provided helpful data on the history, technical specifications, and design, as well as the assemblages, components and parts, of the T-33A aircraft and associated types. Please see the bibliography for a complete listing of resources.

September 14, 1955.

At 18:30 Second Lieutenant Hugh D. Cox and First Lieutenant Joseph L. Hong-Moo were briefed for an evening mission in T-33A #49-9995A. Cox (pilot) and Hong-Moo (Radar Officer) were to fly as a target aircraft for F-86D interceptor aircraft. At 18:45 the crew received a weather briefing stating that current conditions were scattered clouds at 1,300 feet forecast to lower to 1,000 feet and becoming broken (a thicker cloud cover than scattered). Cox and Hong-Moo climbed the ladders up to the cockpit in preparation for departure. After engine start, warm-up and pre-flight checks, Cox taxied the aircraft for departure and lifted the Shooting Star from the runway at 19:51. Climbing to 23,000 feet, Cox reported “intermittent radio trouble” and was given a course back to the base by ground control. At 20:47 ground control recorded radar contact with the aircraft twenty-two miles from the base at 1,300 feet and shortly thereafter Cox radioed the tower stating he had the field in sight at three miles out. The tower operator observed #49-9995A passing over the airfield heading northwest. At 20:55 an explosion was seen and heard by several witnesses. Lieutenants Cox and Hong-Moo were killed upon impact in the crash of T-33A #49-9995A.20

Tyndall AFB firefighters were successful in extinguishing the small forest fire around the crash site. A Tyndall AFB helicopter hovered over the crash site with search lights to provide illumination. Due to the extreme trauma resulting from the impact, the remains of Lieutenants Cox and Hong-Moo were recovered and sent immediately to the laboratory personnel of the Memorial Branch at Wright-Patterson AFB near Dayton, Ohio for identification. Examination of the accident scene continued for several days due to the complete destruction of the aircraft resulting in fragmentation of the structure throughout a densely forested area. The salvage effort was meticulous, and resulted in approximately 95% of the aircraft debris being recovered. Investigators determined the aircraft impacted at a 45 to 50 degree angle heading generally south. The flaps and landing gear were extended in preparation for arrival on the runway.21

The day after the crash, under the headline of “Officers Killed in Jet Crash Are Identified” the Panama City News-Herald led the story with, “Tyndall Air Force Base today identified two officers killed Wednesday night in the crash of a T-33 jet plane...” Lieutenant Cox, age 24, from Kinston, North Carolina was survived by his wife and one child. Lieutenant Hong-Moo, age 28, from Derby, Connecticut left behind his wife of one year. The article concluded by reporting the USAF had appointed a board of inquiry to investigate the accident.22

Crash Analysis

TIGHAR offers the following interpretive synopsis of the accident, based on the official USAF crash report.

The pilot was attempting to make a visual approach following ground control guidance to a runway of Tyndall AFB at night in marginal instrument conditions. The cloud ceiling was ragged, reaching as low as 700 feet with low scud (low lying cloud fragments). The aircraft was flying low and slow with landing gear and flaps extended in preparation for touch down. During a left turn the pilot lost control of the aircraft, most likely due to a “stall.” A stall occurs when air flow over the wing is interrupted, in this case due to the low speed and turn angle, resulting in loss of lift. Essentially, the wing quits flying. Usually, as it appears to have happened in this accident, the stall caused the aircraft to spin downward. At such a low altitude, there is not enough time for the pilot to recover aircraft control before impact with terrain. In aviation, this scenario is known as the classic “stall/spin” accident usually occurring in the landing pattern. Second Lieutenant Cox had received his wings less than two months before the fatal flight. He had a total of 286 flight hours, with just over 24 hours as “First pilot” or “Pilot in Command.” In the three months prior to the accident, Cox had only four hours of instrument flying time and four hours of night flying experience. During a check ride with an Instructor Pilot two days before the crash, Cox experienced vertigo and became disoriented while flying in instrument conditions; the instructor took over the flight controls to re-establish level flight. The USAF accident review board concluded the probable cause of the accident was “the pilot’s loss of orientation because of all or any of the following factors: low level of experience, configuration in which the aircraft was flying, i.e. wing flaps down, gear down, and in a turn at low speed, absence of a reference horizon in the direction of the turn, low ceilings.” The review board concluded its proceedings with the following recommendation: “That all newly assigned pilots be required to demonstrate proficiency on both day and night flying with an Instructor Pilot prior to being released for local flights as first pilots.”23

Opinion

TIGHAR offers the following opinion. This accident was an unfortunate case of a pilot encountering a situation that was beyond his current capabilities and experience. In retrospect, it was entirely predictable and preventable. A visual night approach in intermittent instrument conditions requires rapid transitioning between focusing “on the gauges” and outside the aircraft while maintaining correct airspeed, rate of descent, and navigation. Some fault also lies with the aircraft traffic controller who should have guided Lieutenant Cox through a full ground controlled instrument approach that would not have required the low level, low speed turn that resulted in the crash of T-33A #49-9995A.

Interpretation Summary and Conclusion

The archaeological, archival, and environmental evidence supports the conclusion that the material culture on 8BY1817 is from the September 14, 1955 crash of T-33A #49-9995A. The sparse grouping of artifacts on site (less than 5% of the aircraft) indicates the wreckage was removed with impressive detail in salvage efforts. Quigg notes that most crash sites yield a much higher percentage of debris left behind. The archaeologist also posits that post-crash disturbance of the site has resulted in a somewhat larger debris field than the crash originally created, as heavy equipment involved in wreck salvage, clear cut timbering, firebreak construction, and mowing activities have all contributed to removing fragmentary artifacts from their original locations in situ. Finally, Quigg suggests some looting of the site may have occurred over time given the relative close proximity to recreational sites and residential areas. 

Figure 23. T-33A with 49th Fighter/Interceptor Squadron, Tyndall AFB October, 1980.24


20

“Major Aircraft Accident Report: T-33A-1-LO 49-9995A,” 14 September 1955, Tyndall Air Force Base, Florida, Aviation Archaeological Investigation & Research, http://www.aviationarchaeology.com/ (Accessed April 4, 2017). Back.

21

Ibid. Back.

22

“Officers Killed in Jet Crash Are Identified,” Panama City News-Herald, September 15, 1955, Microfilm Collection, Bay County Public Library. Back.

23

“Major Aircraft Accident Report: T-33A-1-LO 49-9995A.” This accident synopsis was prepared by Richard Gillespie, Executive Director of TIGHAR. Mr. Gillespie spent fifteen years as an aircraft accident investigator prior to founding TIGHAR in 1985, where his work continues to include aircraft accident investigation, now directed toward the interpretation of historic crash sites. The aviation term “instrument conditions” refers to piloting an aircraft without visual references outside the cockpit. In such scenarios (usually at night or while flying in clouds), the pilot must rely solely on the flight instruments inside the cockpit to maintain proper control of the aircraft. Back.

24

http://Cloud9Photography.us (Accessed March 26, 2017).
Abstract & Introduction Previous Investigations and Preliminary Findings Site Specific Aviation Historical Context Site Specific Aviation Historical Context 2 Artifact Analysis
Artifact Analysis 2 Archival Research NRHP Assessment of Eligibility & Recommendation Bibliography  

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