WILMINGTON, Ohio – At 91, Bill Zugelder, the only remaining survivor, clearly remembers when two military planes collided over Clinton County 54 years ago.
“I landed by a pig pen. I could hear the pigs rooting in the feeders. I could look over and see the burning wreckage of the other airplane,” Zugelder said Sunday at a ceremony to dedicate a plaque at Denver Williams Park.
It was April 18, 1964. Weather conditions were rough for nine C-119 Flying Boxcars on a routine practice mission, Zugelder said.
“We were lead ship in a 9-ship formation - 3, 3, and 3,” Zugelder said. “He said, ‘Don’t lose sight of that light.’ At that point, we should’ve just peeled off.”
But they didn’t. And his plane collided with another in mid-air. Just like that, 17 lives – 11 officers and six enlisted men – were lost.
One of them was Kathy Snapp’s brother. She was grateful to see so many local Green Berets and others at Sunday’s ceremony.
Each man’s name was read as a bell tolled.
“I was just amazed when I saw how many people were here,” Snapp said. “I think when they see the names actually on there, to me, it’s a little mindboggling. To think that many were gone, in an instant. Just like that.”
Only two survived.
“It was hard to comprehend that we were actually in an airplane crash. That didn’t register," Zugelder said.
He also was pleased to see his brothers final honored more than a half century later.
“It’s something I’m sure that the family and the people, and the county can be proud of,” Zugelder said.