On July 28, 2010, at approximately 6:22 p.m. Alaska Daylight Time (UTC-8), the C-17 took off from Runway 06 at Elmendorf Air Force Base to practice maneuvers for the upcoming Arctic Thunder Air Show.
After the initial climb followed by a left turn, the pilot executed an aggressive right turn. As the aircraft banked, the stall warning system activated to alert the crew of an impending stall.
Instead of implementing stall recovery procedures, the pilot continued the turn and the aircraft entered a stall from which recovery was not possible. The plane crashed and exploded in a fireball about two miles from the airfield.
Anchorage Fire Department Captain Bryan Grella described how a fireball extended to around 750 feet (230 m) into the air, an estimated 2 miles (3.2 km) from Anchorage.
Debris from the crash was spread along 200 feet (61 m) of the Alaska Railroad tracks which carry a passenger and freight trains daily through the base area, north to Wasilla, although no trains were scheduled to be passing through at the time of the crash.
The crash killed all four crew members aboard: Majors Michael Freyholtz and Aaron Malone, pilots assigned to the Alaska Air National Guard’s 249th Airlift Squadron; Captain Jeffrey Hill, a pilot assigned to Elmendorf’s active-duty Air Force’s 517th Airlift Squadron; and Senior Master Sergeant Thomas E. Cicardo, a loadmaster of the Alaska Air National Guard’s 249th Airlift Squadron.
Track repairs to the nearby railroad caused freight services to be suspended, and passenger services to be diverted by bus. The air show went ahead as planned as a tribute to the four dead airmen
The investigation report into the crash was released on December 13, 2010. It blamed pilot error, stating that the pilot’s overconfidence in executing an aggressive right-turn maneuver led to a low-altitude stall and subsequent crash, despite the warnings correctly provided by the aircraft’s stall-warning system, to which neither the pilot nor any other crew member responded effectively.
As noted by several aviation commentators, the crash presented significant similarities with the 1994 crash of a B-52 bomber at Fairchild Air Force Base, Washington.
On both occasions, the local USAF unit’s chain of command apparently failed to prevent the pilots involved from developing deliberately unsafe flying practices for aerial displays of large aircraft