The Tanker Ghost
The KC-10 tanker is a magnificent aircraft. Based on the McDonnell Douglas DC-10 airliner, the KC-10 represented a great step forward in U.S. Air Force air-refueling capability over the 1950s era KC-135 tanker at the time of its introduction in the 1980s. The KC-10 carries more fuel and more cargo than the KC-135. Additionally, the KC-10 is itself air-refuelable, greatly extending its mission range over the KC-135. Between 1981 and 1987, the U.S. Air Force took delivery of sixty KC-10s. Fifty nine aircraft remain in service. One aircraft, tail number 82-0190, was destroyed in a ground fire with the loss of one life.
On September 17, 1987, KC-10 82-0190 landed at Barksdale AFB in Louisiana. The crew taxied-in and parked the aircraft without incident. About an hour after the crew departed, three maintenance ground crew members were working on the aircraft. According to the mishap report, one airman was in the cockpit, one was in the left main gear well and the other was in the boom operator’s station at the rear of the aircraft. Unbeknownst to the ground crew, a leak had caused fuel vapors to accumulate in the center avionics bay, which is a small compartment filled with electronic equipment underneath the main floor amidships in the aircraft. Somehow, perhaps from a spark due to electrical arching, the fuel vapors ignited, and with 63,000 pounds of jet fuel in the tanks, resulted in a massive fire. Miraculously, two of the ground crew escaped the inferno, but one perished in the explosion and fire.
Once the mishap investigation concluded, the Air Force dutifully salvaged what parts it could from the burned-out hulk of 82-0190. These parts went back into the KC-10 supply inventory and were used on other airframes as needed. At this point, the official Air Force story concludes. However, as a few in the KC-10 community know, by firsthand experience, this was not the end of the story.
Similar to reports of appearances by Don Repo’s apparent ghost on L-1011 aircraft which received parts salvaged from Eastern Airlines flight 401 after it crashed in the Everglades in 1972, KC-10 air and ground crew began experiencing strange incidents on aircraft which had received parts from 82-0190. A couple people claim to have encountered an apparition of the deceased airman. However, the most common report is the smell of the aftershave worn by the airman. Those who knew the airman in life claim he enjoyed using liberal amounts of aftershave. These people insist the scent they’ve encountered is the same smell they associated with the airman when he was alive – yet they smelled it after his death and while working alone.
I’ve personally spoken with several of these witnesses during candid conversations in which they had no reason to lie. I’m confident that at the very least they believe they have encountered the airman’s ghost. Interestingly, scent is one of the most often reported signs associated with paranormal activity – the other being sound.
Is the Air Force KC-10 fleet haunted? Perhaps, but considering it maintains the best safety record of all aircraft in the Air Force inventory, not many people find reason to complain about the airman’s ghost watching over the remaining airframes.
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