1994 B-52 Crash, Fairchild Air Force Base

The worst week in the history of Fairchild Air Force Base ended in a tragic, fiery explosion.

The week of June 19, 1994 was a dark time in the history of Fairchild Air Force Base. On June 20, 4 people were killed and 22 wounded in a murderous rampage carried out by a disturbed shooter. Just four days later, a B-52H Stratofortress, piloted by Lt Col Arthur "Bud" Holland, stalled, crashed into the ground, and erupted in a ball of flame and smoke. All four men aboard the plane were killed.

June 24, 1994, started out as any other ordinary summer day in Airway Heights, WA. It was partly sunny, with a predicted high of 75 degrees. A nice day for a flight. At 1:58 pm a B-52H, callsign Czar 52, took off at Fairchild Air Force Base with the purpose of practicing maneuvers for an airshow. Piloting the aircraft was Holland, and his copilot Lt Col Mark McGeehan. Rounding out the crew of four were radar navigator Lt Col Ken Huston and safety observer Col Robert Wolff.

Holland was a skilled pilot. However, he had a long history of pushing aircraft past their limits. It was ultimately determined that he was responsible for the crash, but his superiors were aware of his prior behavior. Lt Col McGeehan had complained about Holland’s reckless behavior and wanted him grounded, but he was unsuccessful. Holland only ever received verbal reprimands despite multiple occasions of reckless aviation. Official flight plans for bombers never included acrobatics or strenuous maneuverers, yet Holland frequently tested the aircrafts limits.

Czar 52 was flying along with a KC-135, which was also practicing maneuvers. After the KC-135 landed, Czar 52 was instructed to fly a missed approach. At an altitude of 250 feet, Holland banked left into a 360 degree turn around Fairchild’s control tower. The maneuver was too much for the aircraft and the results were devastating. Czar 52 went past 90 degrees, denying all airflow over the wings, and stalled. The low altitude made any attempt to recover impossible. Czar 52 crashed and was engulfed in a horrific fireball. It was 2:16 pm Pacific time. Four lives were lost.

An on base memorial, known as Memorial Grove, was established on August 2, 1994. Located in a park with red leaf maple and cherry trees, amongst others, the memorial is dedicated to the victims of both the shooting and the B-52 crash.