Following a normal takeoff and initial climb, the C-5 aircrew observed a No. 2 engine “Thrust Reverser Not Locked” indication light. They shut down the No. 2 engine as a precaution and returned to Dover AFB. All 17 people on board the C-5 survived the crash, but three crewmembers were seriously injured when the aircraft stalled, hit a utility pole and crashed into a field about a mile short of the runway. The other passengers and crewmembers sustained minor injures and were treated and released from local hospitals. The Accident Investigation Board’s findings cleared up months of speculation about a crash many experts termed a miracle after all 17 passengers and crew members survived despite the four-engine cargo jet’s breakup and a 10,000-gallon fuel spill.
“They lost situational awareness and they were complacent in flying the airplane,” said Air Force Col. Raymond G. Torres, who led the official investigation board. According to the report, the crew came in too low and too slow, with incorrect flap settings while making a type of emergency landing regularly practiced by flying crews.
The plane also was underpowered, according to the report, after one of its four engines had been shut down because of erratic warnings from an alarm system. Pilots mistakenly tried to throttle up the engine they shut down instead of one of the remaining three working engines. That left two engines throttled up, one idling and one shut down. “Clear and convincing evidence” showed that the pilot failed to use all of the available engines during a miscalculated landing approach that was hampered by incorrect settings on the big plane’s wing flaps.