On the morning of May 6, 1981, the Advanced Range Instrumentation Aircraft, ARIA 61-0328, lifted off from Wright-Patterson Air Force Base Fairborn, Ohio. An hour later all 21 aboard perished in a fatal crash in a farmers field while on a training mission over Walkersville, Maryland. A bronze plaque along with 21 flowering crab apple trees were placed in the memorial garden at the National Museum of the Air Force Fairborn, Ohio, each tree representing a crew member or passenger.
On May 6, 1981, EC-135N, Serial Number 61-0328, call sign AGAR 23, departed Wright-Patterson Air Force Base, Ohio, at 1005 Eastern Daylight Savings Time (EDT) on a routine training mission. On board the aircraft were 17 crew members and 4 authorized passengers. The flight proceeded uneventfully as planned for approximately 45 minutes. Then, in a few brief moments, a sequence of very rapid events resulted in a crash with the loss of all on board.
At 1049:48 EDT, the Federal Aviation Administration (FAA) lost radar contact with AGAR 23. The aircraft was cruising at Flight Level 290, at .78 Mach while performing a navigational training leg.
For undetermined reasons, the aircraft pitch trim moved to the full nose-down position. The aircraft then rapidly pitched over, most likely upon release of the auto-pilot, and induced sufficient negative "G" forces to cause the generators to trip off line, resulting in the loss of all, AC electrical power. The pitch trim could not then be moved electrically. This condition, while unusual, can be controlled if prompt corrective action is taken; however, if corrective action is delayed approximately 8 seconds, the aircraft pitch angle will be greater than 30 degrees nose-down and the airspeed in excess of 350 knots indicated airspeed. Under these conditions, the aircraft cannot be controlled until the pitch trim is moved toward neutral.
While it is evident that recovery was delayed, the reason for the delay is unknown. The aircraft became uncontrollable and entered a steep descent. During the rapid descent, an explosion occurred at approximately 1300 feet above ground level followed immediately by catastrophic failure, and complete break-up of the aircraft.
Excerpt from ARIA 328 Crash Report
Edited by Randy L. Losey