It was mere yards away from being a major calamity when two German jets flying from Holloman Air Force Base in southern New Mexico collided about 15 miles northwest of Carlsbad on Friday.

One of the burning Tornado aircraft passed so closely to the Marathon Indian Basin Gas Processing Plant that a worker shakily remarked: “We thought it was going to fall on the plant!”

The Marathon Indian Basin gas processing plant was narrowly missed by a burning German jet.

Luckily, it did not, nor did it hit three gas wells in its path. It came to rest on a rocky, barren hillside about one mile from the Kincaid Ranch near Eddy County Highway 408.

The arid land where both flaming planes fell is far from being void of people and activity. The gas processing plant, which produces explosive vapors as a by-product, had about 30 employees on duty at the time, and scores of pipeline construction workers and vehicles were in the area. The land is spider-webbed with surface gas and oil lines, and forested with storage tanks and petroleum wells. A few miles up Queen’s Highway in the Gaudalupe Mountains are campgrounds, a church youth retreat and the popular tourist destination, Sitting Bull Falls. The second German Tornado splattered over a mesa between the Kincaid and H-Bar-Y Ranch.

Ande Marbach of the Kincaid Ranch points to the horse pasture where the Luftwaffe aviators landed by parachute.

The investigation of the crash has not begun. U.S. troops clad in black tee shirts, camouflage and carrying M-16 carbine rifles are guarding the crash sites. A temporary command post consisting of air-conditioned portable metal barracks, a motor home, and antenna arrays have been set up on a rise overlooking one crash site, and within five minutes of the other impact area.

Air Force Lt. Col. Colman, the onsite commander, stated, “The investigation will be conducted by the German air force, not the USAF. The Germans are flying in a special crash investigation team and should be on the ground soon.” The colonel also noted, “The Germans made this mess and will have to pay the bill to clean it up. We want to do everything possible to ensure that the crash site is decontaminated. The titanium in the planes burned so hot that there is not much left to clean up. This crash doesn’t present much of an environmental hazard, but if a stealth fighter crashes, the hazard is severe.”

Remains of the burned Tornado aircraft approximately one mile from the Kincaid Ranch.

All four German aviators parachuted from the burning aircraft and were treated and released in Carlsbad, but have refused to comment on the disaster. The cause of the mid-air crash has not been determined.

Colman commented that it was almost a head-on crash that ripped the wings from the planes, but an oilfield environmental clean-up contractor stated that he saw the jets “playing side-by-side” before the mid-air wreck occurred. Oilfield worker Russell McKibben said, “I heard an explosion and thought, what the hell is happening? I turned and saw smoke coming out of the wings of one plane and they were both spiraling down.”

German Tornado on runway

The crash of the two planes near Carlsbad brings the total to six disasters involving the German air force since it started flying in Southern New Mexico. Similar catastrophes and public health concerns in Germany — where the Luftwaffe suffered a 36 percent crash rate for F-84F Thunderstreaks, and almost 30 percent loss of the F-104F Starfighter — created demands from that country’s citizens to move Luftwaffe training to Holloman Air Force Base in New Mexico, and Labrador, Canada.

Military personnel and organizations from other countries are sheltered under the Foreign Immunity Act. They are immune from prosecution in the United States when they are acting in a project sponsored by the U.S. government.

Tornado line drawing

A Holloman AFB public affairs spokesman was asked if the results of the crash investigation would be made available to the public under the Freedom of Information Act. He was also questioned as to whether the U.S. Air Force could produce documentation showing the Luftwaffe crash occurred in airspace authorized for military training. He did not provide answers to either question.

This article was funded by a grant from the Paragon Foundation, 1200 N. White Sands Blvd, Suite 115, Alamogordo, NM 88310- 505-434-8998. For more information on the New Mexico Luftwaffe, visit the Paragon Foundation Website and read the “Perilous Skies” research article.

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