the vista oaks Apartments crash
F-106A 59-0144 is pictured as it climbs in the air in full afterburner.

On May 29, 1978 Major Jack Butcher and his wingman, Capt Bruce Miller lifted off from McChord AFB in their F-106's on a routine flight to Tyndall AFB. Seconds into the flight, the the aircraft piloted by Capt Miller (s/n 59-0144) suffered a catastrophic engine failure due to a faulty weld in the powerful J75 engine. As Miller attempted to direct his aircraft to a less densely populated area off base, he lost all ability to control the burning interceptor and was forced to eject. The aircraft crashed, tail first, into a drainage pond located middle of a apartment complex near the McChord runway. No one on the ground was injured and Miller ejected safely but the aircraft was a total loss.


The pilot, Air Force Academy graduate Captain Bruce Miller, continued his career as a fighter pilot in the Air Force retiring as a Lieutenant Colonel wit the Oregon ANG's 142 FIG / 123d FIS. Click the following link for a video covering this accident from LTC Miller titled the "Memorial Day Miracle".

Visit "59-0144 Crash May '78" from www.f-106deltadart.com

As seen in the photo above McChord is surrounded by a very dense population of homes and businesses.


The pilot of an Air Force jet that crashed into an apartment complex pond Monday as he stayed with the burning F-106 until the last possible moment before ejecting.



The pilot of an Air Force jet that crashed into an apartment complex pond Monday as he stayed with the burning F-106 until the last possible moment before ejecting.


Capt. Bruce W. Miller, 28, said he couldn't bail out "until I was certain I could avoid hurling the flaming aircraft into a major population area of Tacoma"


Miller's delta-wing fighter caught fire almost immediately after takeoff for McChord air Force Base and crashed in a shallow pond surrounded by apartment buildings.

Gary H. Price, MSgt (Ret) collection - www.f-106deltadart.com

The end of the line for F-106 -144, a pond in the middle of the Vista Oaks Apartments in Tacoma WA, one of the buildings surrounding the pond can be seen in the background. The pond was drained after the accident to assist in the recovery of the aircraft for the investigation.


No one on the ground was injured and Miller parachuted to earth safely. "I feel it was a miracle of God, a dramatic display of his power and mercy that the aircraft impacted where it did," said the pilot in a written statement today.


"The near tragedy was averted, and I thank God for my life and the others he spared," Miller added


Air Force officials said a board of inquiry was expected to convene today to investigate the cause of the crash. Officers said Miller would be required to decline interviews until after the investigation is complete, but they did allow him to make a written statement.


Capt Miller, who was taking off on a two-leg flight to Tyndall Air Force Base, Florida, when the crash occurred, gave this sequence of events:


"Shortly after liftoff, my aircraft started burning. I started a immediate right turn to the east in order to find a sparsely populated area in which to safely eject . . . . "


"The cockpit rapidly filled with smoke, and my visibility was significantly reduced. I chose to delay the eject sequence until I was certain that I would avoid hurling the flaming aircraft into the major populated area of Tacoma."


"I stayed with it until the control became unresponsive and I then initiated ejection."


Capt. Miller, a native of Fayetteville, N.C., said that his chief concern was to turn the blazing jet away from the city. 

Gary H. Price, MSgt (Ret) collection - www.f-106deltadart.com

Parts from the ill fated interceptor are laid out in a hangar at McChord AFB, the canopy is one of the few recognizable components remaining. 


"The primary concern of all pilots is the safety of those on the ground," he said, "Many airmen have given their lives rather than to allow a controllable aircraft to impact in a populated area.


"In the most dire circumstances, our thoughts go to the lives of others because that is how we are physically and morally trained."


Over 300 people live in the Vista Oaks apartment complex where the plane came down, and most of them were home because of the Memorial Day holiday. 


But the fiery plane spiraled down squarely in the middle of a cluster of buildings, exploding harmlessly in a shallow drainage pond. Two apartments were slightly damaged, but no one was hurt.


Air Force officers pointed out that had Miller not turned the plane as soon as he experienced difficulty, it would probably had come down over densely populated South Tacoma.


F-106A 59-0144 is pictured in better days in the late 70's