on Sep. 17, 1987 KC-10 tanker tail number 82-0190 exploded on the Barksdale ramp while undergoing routine maintenance after a mission.
The KC-10 arrived at Barksdale AFB and all 17 crewmembers departed the plane.
About one hour later, three ground crew members were on board; one in the cockpit, one in the left main gear wheel well and the other in the refuellers operating position at the rear of the plane. An explosion occurred.
Two escaped, miraculously, but one airman, Sgt. Joseph Burgio — a former Olympic wrestling hopeful and two-time New York state wrestling champ who volunteered as a coach at Parkway High School — died.
The source of the explosion was somewhere in or near the centre access compartment which is between the forward and centre wing fuel tanks.
It could have been much worse. Just two hours before, the plane had arrived with 17 people on board.
The KC-10 had 63000 lb of fuel on board; 15000 lb was in the forward tank. The centre and aft fuel tanks were empty; the remaining 48000 lb was in the wing tanks.
The explosion destroyed the entire centre section of the aeroplane, leaving only the tail intact and severing and dropping the cockpit to the ramp, according to an online report.
This is not the first time we tell the story of a tanker that blows upon the ground: here’s our article about a KC-135 Stratotanker that exploded after a failed pressure test.
As reported by Shreveport Times The aircraft, KC-10 tanker tail number 82-0190, known through most of its career as “Lady Luck,” was often in the public eye as a flying ambassador and goodwill vehicle. So much so, in fact, that in January 1987 then-Secretary of the Air Force Pete Aldridge helped rename it as “Rollin’ Out the Red,” with sporty new nose art.
Former 2nd Bomb Wing commander Brett Dula recalled that day in a memoir for the Air Force Academy Class of 1964 alumni association.
“One day, General Jack Chain, (commander in chief of Strategic Air Command) visited and spent much of the day with the 8the Air Force commander,” he wrote. “A subsequently confirmed design flaw caused a massive fire aboard one of our KC-10s, which had just completed an afternoon mission. One man, Sgt. Joey Burgio, died of smoke inhalation and the aircraft burned to the ground with the four-star and three-star watching the whole thing. … Some really talented people came together to perform incredibly under tough circumstances.”
One of Burgio’s friends, Air Force retiree Reagan Moon, now living in Bossier City, also recalls that fateful episode.
“I remember that sad day on the KBAD ramp like it was yesterday,” he said. “I was in our squadron, the 32nd Air Refueling Squadron, and was downstairs when I just happened to look out on the ramp. I saw this big flame come up … I looked and saw the fire coming up. That was the first explosion.”
With other squadron personnel, they ran out onto the ramp and drove out to the stricken airplane as a second explosion took place. Flight engineers such as Moon and pilots were told to start the engines of other KC-10s parked wingtip to wingtip and fore and aft of the burning airplane to taxi them out of danger.
Moon saw his friend taken from the charred KC-10 and knew that Burgio was gone.
“He suffered from massive smoke inhalation, but he wasn’t burned at all,” Moon recalled.
Moon misses his friend.
“Burgio was just a super nice guy,” he said. “You wouldn’t meet a nicer person.”
The cause of the incident was attributed to a fuel vapour explosion in the centre fuel tank.
Investigators found that fuel had leaked, and vapours probably had been ignited by arcing from a battery near the pump area for the tank.
Shortly after the incident, the USAF ordered checks of all KC-10s and found a dozen similar leaks.