30 years later: When my father nearly died on February 25th, 1988, after the 18 servicemen crash of United States Army CH-47D near Chico, Texas. He was 1 of 8 survivors.
Falling to earth: Looking back at tragedy
An insightful online article by Brandon Evans| Published on WCMessenger.com Wednesday, February 26, 2014
With his final gasps, the pilot repeated the same question, over and over.
“Did I miss the little town? Did I miss the little town?”
Ronald W. Bender was a 40-year-old U.S. Army pilot from New York. His co-pilot was Scott J. Temple, 43, of nearby Irving. They were at the controls of a twin-rotor Chinook CH-47D on a routine training flight from Fort Hood to Fort Sill, Okla., when it went down in flames in a pasture about two-and-a-half miles northeast of Chico.
There were 18 servicemen on board. The date was Thursday, Feb. 25, 1988.
Department of Public Safety Trooper Paul Geiser was administering first aid to Bender.
“He was burned extremely bad,” said Robert Rankin, DPS sergeant and incident commander at the scene. “When Paul started administering first aid, the pilot kept saying, ‘Did I miss your little town?’ He was talking about Chico. That was his concern.
“The man was extremely thirsty, so Paul went to get him a wet rag to moisten his lips, but by the time he returned the pilot had passed.”
Both Bender and Temple died at the scene after ensuring the Chinook missed homes, businesses, highways and people as it hurdled to earth. The pilots were two of the six servicemen who died at the scene. Four more died later at area hospitals, bringing the toll to 10.
Rankin was in Decatur when he first heard the call come over the scanner at 3:29 p.m. When he looked up toward Chico from the hilltop in town, he could see a plume of dark smoke curling and ballooning into the sky on an unusually warm late February afternoon.
“I knew immediately it was pretty serious,” Rankin said. “But I had no idea it was a military Chinook with 18 men on board.”
The fiery Chinook fell apart for miles in the sky as gravity pulled it into the pasture.
“About two miles to the east of Chico, I began to see pieces of the aircraft lying next to the roadway or out in a pasture,” Rankin said. “Then as I got to the scene I saw the carnage.”
Teenagers Dale Christopher, Johnny McDaniel and Brad Clampitt were some of the first to arrive. Some of the men were still alive, their bodies still on fire. The young men used their T-shirts to put them out. Christopher was so affected by what he saw he later joined the U.S. Marines.
“There were 18 people on board this Chinook,” Rankin said. “And when we got there, there were 18 live bodies. After we arrived and set up triage, we started losing them.
“That’s the hard part, when you start helping someone, and forming a relationship with them, and then they pass on. That’s what I remember most. It was tough.”
One of the soldiers on board was unhurt.
‘How did you get away without injury?’” Rankin asked. “He said the fire started in the back, and the Chinook was filling up with smoke. The transmission had caught fire. As the fire spread, all those aboard started crowding toward the front.”
Even though the aircraft lost power, it continued with a lot of forward momentum. As he saw the ground coming toward him, the soldier was able to bail out about 30 feet up. He landed and rolled in a coastal field without injury.
“One or two had jumped out right before it hit,” said Galen Wiley, a Chico Police Department officer at the time. “They weren’t even touched by fire. But those that rode it down … There was a catastrophic failure in the transmission system, and a fireball came through there.
“It’s a thousand wonders any of them survived. That pilot brought them down in an area, in a field, that wasn’t going to hurt anybody else, and he did it without it completely exploding. It could have been worse.”
SCENE OF WAR
Wiley was a young police officer. He’d just completed certification training about three years prior. He was 22 and working part-time, dividing his time between patrolling at night and helping at his family’s hardware store on the Chico Square.
“I was right here in this office when I heard it on the scanner,” Wiley said. “They dispatched all the first responders, anybody that was available. I jumped out into the white Blazer and started heading that way.
“You kind of prepare yourself mentally for what you are fixing to see, whether it is a car wreck or crime scene. And usually whatever you can imagine is worse than what you see. I’m thinking it was a news helicopter with maybe four people, at the most, on board. That was as far as my imagination went that day.
“But when I got out there I saw heavy smoke and olive drab across the pasture. I thought this ain’t right. I don’t even know if this is a helicopter. There’s not enough left to tell.”
Rankin said it was impossible to identify what kind of aircraft it was.
“There was one rather large piece of wreckage about 6 or 8 feet tall and smaller pieces scattered everywhere,” he recalled.
“I cut straight across the pasture,” Wiley said. “I was running over terraces. My adrenaline is pumping by now.
“I get there and bodies are everywhere. There were already a lot of other people there, but they weren’t first responders. It was just people that saw it go down and went to see what they could do. They were there to help.
“It was like a war scene out there. If you were a Vietnam veteran and went out there, you’d probably have a flashback because all the bodies everywhere. I’d never seen anything that graphic – ever – and I never have since.”
Many of the victims were horribly burned.
“I had latex gloves on and we were helping load survivors onto CareFlite,” Wiley said. “I remember thinking at the time that these guys just crashed on a helicopter, and now we’re putting them on another one.
“Everywhere you touched them, because they were charred, you had to make sure you only touched them in one spot, because wherever you touched them was going to leave a break in the skin,” It was pretty rough.
“I can still see it if I close my eyes. One of them was looking at me, and we was charred black. And all I could see was the whites of his eyes. That still haunts me. It’s like his eyes were crying out ‘help me,’ and you knew he wasn’t going to last much longer.
“I did not have myself mentally prepared for what I was going to see. You can’t prepare yourself for the smell. It is a horrific smell. One of the worst smells there is is human hair burning.”
Paul Arrington Jr., 72, worked for Chico Auto Parts at that time. Their wrecker trucks played a vital role that day. Though the accident occurred on a clear warm day, the ground was thick and muddy from winter rains. As emergency vehicles moved through the fields, fighting the grass fires and getting to the injured, tires got mired in the muck again and again.
“I just happened to be standing in the door when the helicopter flew by,” Arrington said. “And I saw something the size of a barrel fall off of it. I knew something wasn’t right. Then boom! It went down. The fire trucks went out, and they were getting stuck. So we had to go out there and pull them out to keep things moving.”
Grass fires were breaking out across the pasture, located off County Road 1560.
“I never saw anything like that before or since, and I hope not to ever see anything like it again,” Arrington said.
HELPING THE HELPERS
Most of those who responded that day, from veteran first responders to rookie officers, had never witnessed such a loss of life or such grisly injuries. But at the time, counseling programs for first responders was rare. Most had to deal with it on their own.
“I did real good for a while,” Wiley said. “It’s funny how catastrophes affect people differently. Most first responders have different ways of dealing with what they see. I remember thinking I was macho. They had a debriefing for first responders if they wanted any counseling, to talk about it. I remember thinking, ‘We don’t need that. We’re tough.’
“Then on the third day it hit me. I’m out there in the back patio of my house and I’m crying like a baby. I’m still like that today. I’m fine until the third day. Then I unload.”
Rankin said sometimes it helps to isolate yourself from it.
“You realize it’s happening to someone else and not you or one of your loved ones,” he said. “That isolation kind of helps you move on. Even though you feel sorrow for those involved, too much of that sorrow will get a hold of you. So you kind of isolate yourself from all the pain and loss and carnage. But that was the most loss of life I’ve experienced at one time.
“After that incident, it was so massive that one of the local churches offered counseling for all the men and women involved. I remember neither me nor any of my troopers attended. We just talked it over amongst ourselves. It’s unfortunate we didn’t attend. We probably should have.
“It was a massive scene, and we all had to deal with it. As emergency response has improved, counseling has become more mandatory. A lot of us didn’t get it like we should have. But we dealt with it in our own way.”
Times have changed. It’s common now for first responders to go through some type of counseling or time off after dealing with certain situations.
“We used to never bring in counselors, now we do every time,” said Doug Whitehead. Now chief deputy with Wise County Sheriff’s Office, Whitehead was Chico’s police chief when the Chinook crashed.
“We now have what I call a cathartic dumping, you just lay everything out there,” he said. “Then the counselor decides if someone is having serious issues and needs more counseling. Others just need to go through a debriefing, and they’re ready to get back out there.”
In the late 1990s, it became a lot more common to bring in counselors.
“It’s the same in law enforcement now like it is in schools,” Whitehead said. “Counselors are brought in. Back then you just dealt with it. We never thought about it. There was a transition, finding that it would be necessary for some officers. Some are OK, but others are going to have trouble handling it.
“We all deal with it in different ways. You may have trouble sleeping at night after. I might start having increased arguments with my wife or falling off in my job and duties because my mind is preoccupied. These events that we attend or investigate, they do have an affect on you.
“It’s something every first responder has to deal with.”
COMFORT IN COOPERATION
The Wise County tradition of agencies working together is something that can give comfort when a crisis strikes, even one as overwhelming as the Chinook crash of 1988.
Rankin was a DPS officer for almost 29 years. He joined in 1972, and right out of recruit school he was stationed at Decatur. He worked there eight years, then was promoted to supervisor in 1981 and stationed in Laredo. He transferred back to Decatur in 1983 in a supervisor position and remained there until 2001.
“A special thing about Wise County, and I recognized this when I left and went to Laredo, was the working relationship that all the agencies, all the first responders, have,” he said. “When we arrived, we worked together as a unit and did what was best for those in need … It’s unbelievable how everyone would pitch in and did what needed to be done.”
“All the first responders who showed up were immediately tending to the injured, regardless of the fire or what kind of hazard it was,” he said. “Everybody jumped in and started helping the injured. Everybody was doing their job. I never even had to stand up and say I’m incident commander. Everybody knew what they had to do and did it.”
“We lived in a quiet community,” Whitehead said. “We never had much worse than car crashes. But we did the best we could.”
Whitehead received a plaque from the city of Chico for his efforts at the scene. Last Friday, for more than 30 years of service to the Wise County Sheriff’s Office, he received the Bo Wright Memorial “Riding for the Brand Award.”
FROM THE ASHES
For years after the crash Wiley continued to deal with those directly affected.
“I used to take survivors … out there,” he said. “Parents and family from as far away as Pennsylvania would want to come and see the crash site. That’s a natural, human instinct. You want to see where it happened. You want some closure.
“Some wanted to make sure it wasn’t some government cover-up, and it actually happened like they were told. Every time I took one out there we’d find some debris. I bet you can still find some debris out there today.”
“One minute you’re flying in the air like that and then you’re dead,” Whitehead said. “These people never had a chance to say goodbye to those they loved. In a matter of seconds, you think about how many people that crash affected.”
Some of those the first responders saved have gone on to help others.
Capt. Calvin Turner was 30 when the aircraft went down. Following an extended hospital stay and rehabilitation, he medically retired from the Army with 11 years of active duty service. He went on to earn a Master’s Degree in Education from the University of Texas at Austin in 1995. He then founded a firm in Austin devoted to assisting U.S. military service members and veterans in financial management.
Due to the efforts of the two pilots, Turner and seven of his fellow officers were able to live out their lives.
And no one in the little town of Chico was hurt – anywhere except their hearts.
- Sgt. 1st Class Kenneth R. Simpson, 36, of Honey Grove
- Capt. Michael J. Monahan, 35, of Kingston, Pa.
- 1st Lt. Donald G. O’Quinn, 24, of Purvis, Miss.
- 1st Lt. Christopher D. Kurkowsky, 23, of Miles City, Mont.
- 1st Lt. Charles P. Moses, 24, of Dallas
- 1st Lt. Lynn Dial, 31, of Iowa
- 1st Lt. Wayne Locklin, 24, of Parlin, N.J.
- Staff Sgt. Raymond T. Hill, 31, of Michigan
- CW 4 Ronald W. Bender, 40, pilot, of New York
- CW 4 Scott J. Temple, 43, of Irving
- Staff Sgt. Paul Stroud, 26, of Fort Worth
- Staff Sgt. Rafael Adame, 27, of San Antonio
- Sgt. 1st Class Jerry Cook, 36, of Jacksonville
- 1st Lt. Steven L. Casteel, 26, of Arkansas
- 1st Lt. Richard Fields, 25, of Clementon, N.J.
- Capt. Calvin Turner, 30, of Killeen
- Sgt. 1st Class Frank A. Prather, 32, Daytona Beach, Fla.
- Spec. 4 Paul L. Patricio, 20, of Seattle, Wash.
19 thoughts on “30 Years Later: 1988 U.S. Army CH-47D Crash Near Chico, Texas Detailed With Original Video and Newspaper Clippings”
Thanks for sharing this incident from Jan. 1988.
My nephew was on of the 3 young men who were first responders that day. He went on to graduate at Chico High School and joined the service. It caused him to become a man that day.
My father was Sgt. 1st class Kenneth R. Simpson. I was 10 when it happened. This incident shattered my family. My mother descended into addiction and never came out. All my siblings and I suffer from abandonment and PTSD, we never did get to know about our father. If anyone knows anything about him I would love to hear it. Thank you
Your Father was a Great man and leader. I remember a Class A uniform inspection and the First Sergeant highlighted him for his Navy ribbons and battle stars.
Tell him thank you for me. My father was one of the ones that died that day. His name was Kenneth R. Simpson.
I’ve been trying to find anyone who was there I’m kari parkin Kenneth Ray Simpson’s daughter could you have your nephew contact me please
My name is Harold Lewis, I was your father’s First Sergeant, and buried your father. I knew Ken and your mother very well and I cannot tell you enough what a wonderful man he was, and a great soldier. If possible tell your mother I said hello, and wish her God’s speed. She was a wonderful part of our units family support, my wife Sally and her were dear friends.
My name is Richard Fields and I was on that chopper. Your nephew and his two friends are heros….they might have been teenagers but they had the hearts and courage of the strongest of men. They were the first people on site, and while they were helping us, dozens of grown men and women were standing outside the fence watching..scared of the fires I’m sure. But your nephew disregarded his own safety for others. A hero!
Hi I’m trying to reach you I think you can really help me I’m Kenneth Ray Simpson’s oldest daughter and I’ve never really been able to process this tragedy that has effected both our families I’m pleading for your wisdom and life experiences with coping I really don’t want to die just existing instead of living I want my children to see what my father saw in me before everything got so messed up, and I’ve been in therapy since I was 18 I’m 45 now lol so
You’re Father was my Platoon Sergeant. I still think of him today. I do remember meeting you and you’re Family. Prayers are with you.
Kari, My name is Steve Casteel. I was at the time 1LT Steven L Casteel, as you can see from the list of survivors. Your father worked for me at the 92nd FA Battery, 2AD, He had been my operations NCO. If you would like to ask me anything about him and the crash I will try an answer all of your questions. My email is: Stevecasteel50@gmail.com I am so sorry you guys had to go through all this. I just came across this page today 7/22/2022 I wish I had seen it much earlier. Please tell your siblings I am open to try and answer all their questions.
I was active duty stationed at the burn unit (USAISR) and was on the flight team that brought them to hospital. I vividly remember specifically Lt Kurkowsky, we were same age him from Montana me from Wyoming. He died after we got him back, while moving from gurney to bed. It’s been a long time but this memory haunts me to this day. I left patient care shortly after.
My daughter in law s father Sgt. Simpson died in the crash.
Ray Hill, Paul Patricio, Ron Bender and Scott Temple were all in my
(158th Aviation det.) unit. Was the worst day of my life, for other reasons
than this. Well, including this!
Not sure if this will reach you, but my name is Kevin Temple, I’m one of the 5 kids of Scott Temple. I often ask myself if there’s someone out there that also knew my dad and would be interested in sharing any stories. We still occasionally talk to Dave Rogers, if you remember him, he and his wife were pivotal in helping our mom navigate this event. Just looking for stories that could be shared around a cup of coffee.
My email: email@example.com
Hope you are doing well, God Bless
Sgt. 1st Class Kenneth R. Simpson, 36, of Honey Grove, 1st Lt. Wayne Locklin, 24, of Parlin, N.J. These Great soldiers were my Platoon Sergeant & Platoon Leader. Till this day in the year 2020 I shall not forget them and what they instilled in me.
Thank you so much for that. I really needed to know something about him. I am happy to know that he touched someone’s life like that.
I knew Cpt Calvin Turner, 1LT Wayne Locklin, 1LT Steven Casteel, 1LT Richard Fields, SFC Kenneth Simpson, SSG Rafael Adame while serving in A Btry 92nd FA (2AD). I was the Executive Officer for the battery through Reforger in the fall of 1987, at which time I completed a branch transfer to the Transportation Corps. I was originally scheduled to be on this flight, but because of my branch transfer I was replaced.
1LT Locklin was one of the best men at my wedding in December 1987 and 1LT Casteel was also in the wedding party. Have you ever seen how the married couple at a military wedding leaves the church and walk under an “arch of sabers”? Well, I wanted to do it, but a little differently than normal. Typically, at an officer’s wedding, the saber bearers are officers…I wanted my saber bearers to be senior NCOs from my old unit. So, I touched bases with 1SG Lewis and he made the arrangements. It’s been a long time, but I’m almost positive SFC Simpson was one of them. It was an honor to have men that I respected so much to participate in my wedding. When I got the call the day after the crash (from 1SG Lewis, if I remember correctly) I felt like my heart was torn out of my chest – it was devastating. The call and the subsequent days are hazy in my mind now, but hearing about 1LT Locklin and SFC Simpson in that call definitely struck a nerve that has never left me.
To the Simpson family: I am so sorry to hear what y’all have gone through since that devastating day. That sounds so…trite; after all, how could it be anything but traumatic. I just cannot come up with any words that are worthy, and for that I apologize. I can say, without a doubt, that your father was an incredible man – I agree with the previous post by Brian wholeheartedly. He was so good at his job while having such an impish sense of humor – it was such a pleasure to be around him. We were so blessed to have such great NCOs in that unit, and your father was definitely at the top. Rest assured, those who served with your father are definitely better for it – he impacted so many. May God grant you the serenity to continue living with your loss.
My name is Steve Casteel. At the time of the crash I was 1LT Steven L Casteel and your father worked for me. He was without a doubt the most humble man I knew. He was just a fantastic NCO. He made my life easy for me. I just found this page today and saw your post. I have thought about you guys often. If I remember correctly there were 6 of you. He talked about you always. So sorry you had to go through all that at such a young age. My heart goes out to you.
My name is Ray Dobbs I was a lieutenant in the United States Army 1985 through 1989. I went to officers basic School, Field Artillery Fort Sill Oklahoma between May of 1985 through October.
There were approximately 40 to 50 lieutenants in my class which included some Marine lieutenants.
One of my classmates was Lieutenant Lynn Dial who died in this crash. If any of his survivors would like to contact me feel free to do so. I remember Lynn as being life of the party if you will! He was a team player and everyone liked him and respected him!
I learned of his passing while I was still in the US Army and I was devastated. Rest in peace Lynn we will meet again.
423-335-0789 text me first and mention Lynn my phone has a Spam protector.