Wing history: pilots sacrifice all

  • Published
  • By Col. Douglas Hayworth
  • 137 ARW MXG/ Commander
     The dangers of flying are easy to forget because of our long and incredible flying safety record. In the 64-year history of the 137th, six pilots have lost their lives during local training flights. Presently, there is no monument, picture or plaque on base to commemorate their sacrifice. This is part 3 of a 3-part series:
     Shortly after 6 p.m. on Tuesday, March 17, 1959, two F-86s from the 185th Fighter Interceptor Squadron took off from Will Rogers Air National Guard Base on a local air intercept training mission. 
     They were flying in trail formation and made a slow right hand turn to the north. Six minutes into the flight, when they had reached 11,000 feet, the trailing aircraft piloted by Capt. Jerry D Gardner started a descending right hand turn until the aircraft impacted the ground northeast of El Reno. No radio calls were heard and Gardner made no attempt to eject. Gardner, 28, a graduate of Idabel High School, entered the Air Force in 1949. 
     He joined the Oklahoma Air National Guard in Wing history: pilots sacrifice all 1956 and was a junior at the University of Oklahoma. He was survived by his wife and two sons.
     On June 22, 1960, a two-ship flight of F-86 fighters from the 185 took off at 2045 from Buckley Air National Guard Base in Denver.
     This night navigation mission to Will Rogers Field was the third flight of a planned three flight cross country mission. Leading the flight was 2nd Lt. Raymond Sanders, 24. 
     When they were approximately 55 miles from Oklahoma City the two aircraft separated to make individual approaches. No further radio contact was heard from Sanders. His wingman, Lt. Charles Thornton, reported Sander's plane exploded suddenly during flight.
     Wreckage was scattered over a 2-mile area between Kingfisher and Watonga. Sanders was not found until the next morning, over 5 miles away. Evidence on the ground indicated that he had ejected successfully, but because of extremely high winds his parachute had dragged him over one-half mile.