The Green Ramp Disaster

On March 23, 1994, a mid-air collision occurred between an F-16 and a C-130E at approximately 300 feet above the ground. On impact, the F-16 pilot applied full afterburner to try to recover the aircraft, but the plane began to disintegrate, throwing debris on the runway and the road that ran around it. Both F-16 crew members ejected, but their aircraft — still on full afterburner — continued on an arc toward Green Ramp at the former Pope AFB in Fayetteville, North Carolina. The wreckage of the F-16 punctured the fuel tanks of a C-141’s right wing, causing a large fireball, which combined with the F-16 wreckage and continued on a path taking it directly into the area where a mass of 82nd Airborne Division paratroopers were sitting and standing. The debris-filled fireball — estimated to be some 75 feet in diameter — tore through the waiting soldiers. Most of them didn’t see the crash, but heard it. Some found safety, most did not. Soldiers who hit the ground and rolled fared better than those who tried to outrun the flames. In the end, 23 men died and more than 80 were injured. It was the worst peacetime loss of life suffered by the division since the end of World War II. An Air Force investigation identified multiple causes for the collision, faulting air traffic control for the majority of the errors. Two Air Force officers involved in the crash were relieved of duty and transferred to other jobs, and three enlisted men were disciplined. No disciplinary action was taken against the pilots.