The Final Flight of Balls 85

by David Hilton 6-23-2012 (Updated 1-27-2013)

This is an evolving document. As more information is obtained, this work will be revised and reorganized.

I started researching this crash on February 4, 2012. My interest initially was spurred by a possible family relation to Col. Walter. I wanted to find out more about the man, and crash that took his life. However, in the course of researching this, I have opened up more questions than answers, which has fueled a desire to determine what exactly happened in the skies above the Nevada desert on December 6, 1977. What started off as a simple curiosity has grown into a far larger research project. I hope in the following narrative to bring to light some of the answers I have found, and some of the new questions that have been brought to the forefront by my research.

The Aircrew

Lt. Col. David Allen Jacobsen

Lieutenant Colonel David Allen Jacobsen was born on January 11, 1934 in Rock Valley, Iowa. In 1955 he was commissioned a Second Leutenant in the South Dakota Air National Guard, and a year later he completed navigator training. He graduated in 1960 from South Dakota State University with a Bachelor of Science degree in Business, and in 1961 he earned his pilots wings. In 1962 he entered active duty, and went on to serve three combat tours in Southeast Asia where he flew over 475 combat missions during the Vietnam War.

In 1968 he completed Fighter Weapon School at Nellis AFB, and then became an instrutor there in the F-4 Weapons School. In 1973 he was assigned to the 522nd Fighter Weapons Squadron where he was in charge of F-4 Operational Test and Evaluation. He then went on to become Chief of Standards and Evaluation of the 57th Fighter Weapons Wing. Later he was selected as the senior Tactical Air Command representative on the F-15 Follow-On Test and Evaluation project. His final assignment was as the Commander of the 433rd Fighter Weapons Squadron at Nellis AFB, Nevada.

Lt Col. Jacobsen's decorations included the Distinguished Flying Cross with 7 Oak Leaf Clusters, the Meritorious Service Medal, the Air Medal with 28 Oak Leaf Clusters, the Air Force Commendation Medal, and the Air Force Outstanding Unit Award with valor V and Oak Leaf Cluster.

Col. William Hilton Walter, III

Colonel William Hilton Walter, III was born on October 23, 1934 in Columbia, South Carolina. He graduated from the University of South Carolina on May 9, 1959 with a Bachelor of Science degree, and was commissioned a Second Leutenant in the US Air Force Reserve. He then continued his medical training at the Medical University of South Carolina in Charleston, SC until he graduated in 1961. After graduation he was transfered to the regular Air Force and stationed at Kindley AFB, Bermuda as a medical officer until 1964. Most notable during his time at Kindley AFB was the retrieval on November 29, 1961 of Enos, one of the first chimpanzees sent into space by NASA. During this time, he was photographed examining Enos while at Kindley AFB, and this photo was featured in an issue of LIFE Magazine.

Col. Walter went on to hold multiple positions in the Air Force, and eventually completed medical training to be a cardiologist. Eventually he became the commander of the base hospital at Nellis AFB, Nevada, which was his assignment at the time of his death. This hospital was renamed after his death to the William H. Walter III Hospital. He was named as a honorary member of the US Air Force Thunderbirds in 1977. Col. Walter's awards included the Legion of Merit, and the Air Force Commendation Medal with 1 Oak Leaf Cluster.

The Flight

An F-4, F-5's, and an F-15 on the flight line at Luke AFB. Image courtesy Air-and-Space.com
  An F-4, F-5's, and an F-15 on the flight line at Luke AFB. Image courtesy Air-and-Space.com

The mission was to be a simulated attack on an airfield that was conducted on December 6, 1977. It was being conducted as part of the Fight Weapons Instructor Course at Nellis Air Force Base. Flying on this mission were three F-4's that would be searving as Combat Air Patrol fighters, two F-5's that would serve as bombers, and two F-15's that would be bomber escorts. The job of the F-4's would be to defend the simulated airfield. The F-5's would strike the airfield, and the F-15's would escort and defend them from the F-4's.

As the F-5 and F-15 strike group approached the combat area, the lead F-15 and the two F-5's were at an altitude of 8,000 MSL (Mean Sea Level). The second F-15, 75-0085, piloted by Lt. Col. Jacobsen was between 28,000 and 30,000 ft. So as you can see Jacobsen's F-15 is significantly higher than the rest of the strike group. As they approached the target area, the lead F-15 engaged the lead F-4 about 17 miles south of the target airfield. Lt. Col. Jacobsen continued north to engage a F-4 that was circling near the target airfield. The F-5's had maintained their attack run on the airfield up to this point, while their F-15 escorts defended them. At this point, the lead F-5 turned to the right, from a northeast heading, towards the southeast. The F-4 that Lt. Col. Jacobsen had been moving to intercept, then engaged the F-5 as he completed his turn. The second F-5, piloted by Capt. Williams, callsign Gomer 36, made a turn towards the airfield, and saw his leader engaged by the F-4. At this time, Capt. Williams saw Lt. Col. Jacobsen's F-15 pass between his F-5 and the F-4 in a steep dive. Seconds later Lt. Col. Jacobsen was heard to say "Get out, Doc!" Col. Walter, in the backseat, then jettisoned the canopy from the F-15, but did not initiate the ejection process. A couple of seconds later Lt. Col. Jacobsen iniated the ejection sequence from the front seat. Lt. Col. Jacobsen and Col. Walter did eject before impact, however the extreme high speed, over 800 mph, resulted in their death when they cleared the aircraft and entered the windstream. Capt. Williams, callsign Gomer 36, observed Lt. Col. Jacobsen's F-15 impact on the desert floor at approximately 8:17am when he remarked in the transcript "Good Lord!".

My Research

My research started with the thread about this crash on the AlienScientist Forum that has since been deleted (Alienscientist.com, 2012). Edgar Fouche and several other forum members had done some initial research, and provided a starting point to build on. They had found several pieces of information from Lt. Col. Jacobsen’s obituary, as well as a listing of the crash on an ejection history website. While interesting, these sources offered relatively little information beyond confirming that the crash had indeed taken place. The most important clue that these sources offered were names of several people that had been at Nellis AFB when the crash occurred.

My initial effort was the attempt to locate the original obituaries of Lt. Col. Jacobsen and Col. Walter. I found multiple sources of Lt. Col. Jacobsen’s obituary in several newspapers, most notably the Rock Valley Bee, the Sioux Center News, and the Muscatine Iowa Journal. Despite exhaustive efforts, I was unable to locate any listing of Col. Walter’s obituary other than a mention of him in Lt. Col. Jacobsen’s obituary. I conducted a thorough search of newspapers and archives in South Carolina since it was Walter’s home state, but I was unable to locate any mention at all of Col. Walter. My next effort was to attempt to locate the grave of Col. Walter which had been located in Bamberg S.C. in the South End Cemetery by Alienscientist Forum members. I drove down to Bamberg, SC to visit the grave of Col. Walter. However, I was not able to locate the grave on my initial trip, and I will have to make a second trip.

Air Force Ground Personnel

Next I decided to try to contact people who had been at Nellis AFB at the time of this crash. I contacted the webmaster of the ejection history website that the Alienscientist Forum members had found, and requested contact information for the several people of interest that had mentioned the crash on his website. The webmaster was kind enough to forward my request to the two individuals that I wished to talk to. The first of these two people was Col. Peter R. Nash, who stated that he served as the medical officer on the crash investigation board (Ejection-History.org.uk, 2008). The second was Msgt. James Ratcliff, who stated that he was working on the flightline when this crash occurred (Ejection-History.org.uk, 2008).

Of the two people contacted, only Msgt. Ratcliff responded to my request to talk. Msgt. Ratcliff informed me through email that he was not interviewed during the official investigation, but that he remembered some of the base rumors about it. He also stated that he remembered that a cockpit recording existed that had Lt. Col. Jacobsen’s last transmission being “Doc, get out I can’t see.” He also stated that the rumor was that the canopy came off for some reason while the aircraft was doing over Mach 1. Msgt. Ratcliff also remembered Lt. Col. Jacobsen specifically, stating that “Col. Jake was old school. He would fly with his flightsuit sleeves rolled up, or pushed up to near his elbows. His flight gloves were cut down to look more like racing gloves, rather than to cover his hands and wrists.” Also, Msgt. Ratcliff stated that he had a copy of the Nellis AFB base newspaper Bullseye that covered this crash. He also stated that he had the original photos of the aircrew, Jacobsen and Walter, and the aircraft, 75-0085, that were used in the Bullseye article.

After the exchange with Msgt. Ratcliff, I decided to try to obtain a copy of the December 1977 issue of Bullseye. I contacted the Nellis AFB Public Affairs Office, and asked to be put in touch with the individuals that publish the base newspaper. The Public Affairs officer informed me that the base newspaper is produced by a private company called Aerotech News, and provided me with their contact information. I then placed a call to Aerotech News, and asked if I could get a copy of the December 1977 issue. After a few moments on hold, the person informed me that Aerotech News does not maintain an archive of their past publications. Furthermore the person stated that Aerotech News took over publication of Bullseye in 1999, and that previous to that Nellis AFB had itself published the periodical.

After the call to Aerotech News ended, I contacted the Nellis AFB historian, Mr. Jerry White, to ask if a copy could be obtained from their archives. Mr. White stated that each base newspaper is produced by each individual Air Force base, unless they are contracted out like the Nellis Bullseye. Although he could not speak for all Air Force bases, he stated that old copies of the Nellis base newspaper were not retained in their archives unless they were used in a historical document written by the base historians. After a search Mr. White informed me that he did not have a copy of the issue of Bullseye, but he suggested I speak to Mr. Dan Wheaton with the 57th Support Group who also maintained some historical documents. I then called Mr. Wheaton, and after a search of his archive he informed me that he did not have a copy of the Bullseye. He stated that the only thing he had in reference to the crash was brief mention of it in an old base publication, which was no more than three sentences long. Months later, Mr. Wheaton was able to provide me with a photo from the dedication of Jacobsen Hall at Nellis AFB. Also Mr. Lawrence Crespo, Nellis Base Photographer, was able to provide me with images of Jacobsen Hall (Building 102) and of the old William H. Walter, III Hospital (Building 625) which are linked to in the right column of this page.

Next, in an attempt to uncover sources, I decided to try to research facts that were included in Ed Fouche’s story about the incident in his 1998 lecture at the International UFO Congress. Mr. Fouche mentioned that the F-15B at the time had a Fairchild prototype CCD camera in it. I researched this, and found that Fairchild Imaging had indeed been working with early CCD cameras for commercial and military applications in the 1970’s (Fairchild Imaging, 2012). I contacted Mr. Rex Bordwell, Vice President of Programs at Fairchild Imaging, and asked him if he could confirm this. Mr. Bordwell stated that he did not know, but would check for me and email me his findings. I also found out during this phone call that Fairchild Imaging had changed its name in 2011 to BAE Systems. To date, I have not heard back from Mr. Bordwell. I filed a FOIA (Freedom of Information Act) request on March 26, 2012 with the Air Force Safety Center requesting a copy of any video footage that may have been retrieved from the crashed aircraft. On June 23, 2012 Headquarters, Air Force Safety Center responded to the FOIA request stating that they had no audio or video recordings from this mishap.

Richard J. Dobbek, Aerospace Engineer

After speaking to Mr. Bordwell, on February 18, 2012 I placed a Freedom of Information Act request with the Air Force Safety Center, Kirtland AFB, for a copy of the crash investigation report. About two weeks later, I received in the mail a copy of the releasable portions of the report. From this crash report several leads were gathered about this incident. Based on information in the crash investigation report, I was able to determine the names of pilots who were in the mission when this incident occurred, as well as an engineer who had prepared a report that was included in the crash investigation report. I will return to the pilots later in this article, but for now I will concentrate on the engineer. The aerospace engineer, Richard J. Dobbek, was working at Wright-Patterson AFB at the time, and had prepared a report titled Aircrew Escape Analysis Based on Ground Scatter of Equipment. In this report, on page S-6-9, Mr. Dobbek made a rather startling statement in all capital letters, “No combination of aircraft dive angle and aircraft speed could be found that would satisfy the ground scatter of equipments” (Dept. of the Air Force, 1978). Further into his report he states that “It becomes immediately obvious that from a glance at Figures 1 and 2 that canopy departure occurred significantly sooner than the ejection initiation in both cases” (Dept. of the Air Force, 1978). Mr. Dobbek was able to conclude that the canopy departed the aircraft at approximately 5950 feet above the impact point.

In an effort to answer questions about the report, I attempted to locate Mr. Dobbek. I discovered that he had unfortunately passed away, however I was able to locate his wife, Mrs. Bernice Dobbek. In our initial phone conversation I explained to her that I was a researcher, my interest in the incident, and how it was related to her husband’s work. She stated that she still from time to time receives calls from Air Force personnel seeking various forms of information related to her husband’s work. I asked her if by chance she had kept any of his documents, thinking that perhaps some information could be gathered covering the crash of 75-0085. She stated that her son had kept his documents, and that she would pass on my number to him. I also made mention of the rumor as stated by Mr. Ed Fouche in his 1998 presentation, that a lawsuit had been associated with this crash. I asked her if she had any knowledge of this, to which she responded that she did not. I thanked her for her time, and our call ended. I had hoped that her son would contact me, and perhaps be able to give me further information.

Oddly, about a month later on April 17, 2012 at 6:27pm, I received a phone call from Mrs. Dobbek. This call was very odd because she had me on speaker phone, and I could tell someone else was present with her. She seemed rather evasive, and asked me to again explain my interest in this crash. I explained my interest, informing her that I was simply researching it due to historical interest, and possibly for publication. She then asked a very odd question of me, she wanted to know if I was involved in the original lawsuit, or if I was bringing a new lawsuit. I informed her in no uncertain terms that I was not involved in the original lawsuit, nor was I involved in any new litigation. She then stated that her husband had testified in the original lawsuit involving this crash. I was stunned; she had just confirmed that there was a previous lawsuit, and that her husband had in fact testified in it. I asked her if she could tell me where the original lawsuit had been litigated or the year in which it occurred, but she refused. She then seemed to be in a hurry to terminate the call. The call ended at 6:32pm, I then documented the conversation and the time. I have not heard from Mrs. Dobbek since, nor have I tried to contact her again.

Peter W. Merlin, Aviation Archaeologist

Peter W. Merlin

On April 19, 2012 I contacted Peter W. Merlin, a contract historian with NASA and an aviation archaeologist. I had seen Mr. Merlin in several documentary films concerning Area 51 and crashed aircraft, and he has also written multiple books on aircraft over the years. I had discovered from online sources that Mr. Merlin had visited crash sites on behalf of others in the past, so I sent him an email via his website, TheXHunters.com. I asked him if it would be possible for him to visit the crash site, and document it for me. I had already located the position on Google Earth using information contained in the crash investigation report. He responded via email asking that I send him what information I have. I then sent him all of the details that I had uncovered, including the complete crash investigation report. On April 23, 2012 Mr. Merlin stated that he was going to be in Nevada in May to view an eclipse, and that he would have the opportunity then to visit the crash site for me. On May 22, 2012 I received an email from Mr. Merlin stating that on May 20, 2012 while on his trip, he had located the crash site. It was in the same area as described in the crash investigation report, approximately 90 miles northeast of Las Vegas in rough terrain. Mr. Merlin had also taken multiple photos of the area, and had collected several samples of crash debris that he would be mailing me. On June 4th I received the package from Mr. Merlin containing multiple debris samples, and an autographed copy of his most recent book, Breaking the Mishap Chain: Human Factors Lessons Learned from Aerospace Accidents and Incidents in Research, Flight Test, and Development.

The Aircrews

At this point I would like to return to the pilots and aircrews that were listed in the crash investigation report. I was able to identify two of the pilots from the transcript section of the report. The first pilot was listed as “Capt. Dellwardt.” Through my research I was able to conclude that his full name is David Joseph Dellwardt, and was a 1968 graduate of the US Air Force Academy. I was also able to determine that sometime prior to 2005 Mr. Dellwardt changed his last name to “Kozak” (UnbiasedFacts.org, 2005). All efforts to locate and contact Mr. Dellwardt have been unsuccessful. The second pilot I was able to locate is listed in the crash investigation report as “Capt. Rietsema.” I was able to determine that his full name is Kees W. Rietsema, a 1973 graduate of the US Air Force Academy (USAFA73.org, 2012). Rietsema eventually retired a Colonel from the Air Force, and is currently a faculty member at Embry-Riddle Aeronautical University (Embry-Riddle, 2012). Two other pilots were also identified by Peter Merlin after he reviewed the crash investigation report. Listed on the transcript page is “Capt. Keyes” and "Maj. Hanchey.” Mr. Merlin identified “Capt. Keyes” as being retired General Ronald E. Keys. Gen. Keys is currently a member of the Center for Naval Analyses Military Advisory Board, and is also on the Board of Trustees of Embry-Riddle Aeronautical University (CNA.org, 2012; Embry-Riddle, 2012). I have not been able to contact Gen. Keys despite several attempts. Mr. Merlin also identified “Maj. Hanchey” as Jerry L. Hanchey, who went on to retire as a Lieutenant Colonel. Interestingly Lt. Col. Hanchey was the first pilot to eject from an F-15. I have been able to locate Lt. Col. Hanchey, but he has not responded to my attempts to contact him.

Airmen flying in the mission on December 6, 1977

Of all of the pilots involved in this training mission I have only been able to contact one of them, Kees Rietsema. Unfortunately he has not been open to discussing the incident with me. Initially I sent Dr. Rietsema an email identifying myself, and asking if indeed he was the individual listed in the crash investigation report. His response was only one line, “David…are you the same person who asked me about this several months ago? Cheers, Kees”. I responded to this email stating that I was not the same person, and this was my first attempt at contacting him after reviewing the crash investigation report and conducting other research. I also asked if he could share the contact information for the other person that had tried to contact him. He never responded to my email. To my knowledge the only way to determine Dr. Rietsema’s involvement was to file a FOIA request with the Air Force Safety Center at Kirtland AFB requesting the crash investigation report. Then research the pilots involved, just as we had done, and determine a way to contact Dr. Rietsema. I filed an additional FOIA with the Air Force Safety Center on April 22, 2012 asking for the names and dates for all requests for information concerning this crash since 2010. On June 23, 2012 the Air Force Safety Center responded to my request stating that no records existed for anyone who had requested the crash investigation report. On April 23, 2012, I received an email from Peter Merlin. He informed me that he too had independently arrived at the same conclusion after researching the pilots, and had also tried to contact Kees Rietsema after I had. Mr. Merlin identified himself, and presented his credentials. Dr. Rietsema responded to Mr. Merlin stating, “Something strange is happening here. This is the third request in the last six months for information about this accident.” He further stated, “In view of the multiple requests for information about this accident which happened years ago, I am somewhat wary about what is going on here.” On May 5, 2012 I sent a lengthy email to Dr. Rietsema explaining who I am, and why I was researching this crash. I also shared with him all of the information I had at the time. To date Dr. Rietsema has remained silent, and has not responded to either myself or Peter Merlin.

The Families

My next research effort was to attempt to contact the family of Lt. Col. Jacobsen. Through research I was able to locate documentation that listed the names of Lt. Col. Jacobsen's children, a daughter and a son. I was able to locate them both, but only the daughter responded. After an exchange of messages, she agreed to a phone conversation about what she may remember about the crash. I provided her with my email address and my phone number. Her final message to me on March 19, 2012 stated, “I am leaving for a vacation on Wed through Sunday of this week. It may be best to speak then. If that is okay with you, send me your email/phone #, and we can schedule a time to speak and I can possibly fill in the blanks to some of your questions. I can maybe set you up with one of the investigators of the crash after we speak, and if I get his permission to talk to you.” This was the last message I received from her. She never called, and has not responded to any further messages from me.

I was able to contact the brother of Col. Walter, Mr. Todd Walter. We had a great phone conversation about his brother and his military career. Mr. Walter shared with me that at the time of the crash, Col. Walter was also expecting to be promoted to Brigadier General shortly, and had been at Nellis AFB for about one and a half years. Mr. Walter also shared that the reason Col. Walter was in the backseat of the F-15 that day was to get his flight hours which he was required to maintain as a flight surgeon. During his time at Nellis AFB Col. Walter had developed a friendship with the aircrews stationed there, and had also developed a relationship with the US Air Force Thunderbirds areial demonstration team. Col. Walter was also friends with Major General Dick Carr, who in 1976 was promoted to Brigadier General and appointed to Deputy Chief of Chaplains of the United States Air Force. Brig. Gen. Carr was present at Col. Walter's funeral in Bamberg, SC in 1977. This lead to a conversation about the funeral, during which Mr. Walter shared a few of his memories. Mr. Walter stated that there were many Air Force personnel present at the funeral including higher ranking people. Also at the funeral were members to the USAF Thunderbirds. Mr. Walter stated that he remembered a conversation with a Thunderbirds member who stated that they would never know the reason for the crash. The Thunderbirds member further stated that the plane in question had a history of flame-outs, and that Col. Walter's death had been instant when he ejected.

Oddities

There is one point I would like to discuss concerning an oddity in the crash investigation report. At the end of the transcript, on page M-3, it seems to very sanitized. By that I mean any feeling of concern seems to be missing from the other pilots in the transcript at the time of the accident. It also has an unnatural and scripted feel to it. Knowing that text transcripts can very often be devoid of the feeling of the moment, I decided that in order to clarify the events I needed to hear the audio instead of simply reading it. I filed another FOIA on March 26, 2012 with the Air Force Safety Center, and requested copies of the audio transmission from the incident. On June 23, 2012 Headquarters, Air Force Safety Center responded stating that no such record exists in their archives.

One final fact that I wish to include here at the end. On March 3, 2012, I placed an open request for information concerning the crash of F-15B 75-0085 on Military.com's Air Force forum. I received a very curious response from an anonymous user. The message stated, "My uncle was the crew chief on her. He told our family on his deathbed that it was a big cover up and that there were extraterrestrials involved on a massive scale. Nothing specific for you though. Sorry." All attempts to contact this user failed, he never responded. However, I could tell from information I could gather from his profile, and other posts he had made, that he was active duty Air Force. I had hoped to be able to get a name for the crew chief of 75-0085 at the time through Air Force documents in order to identify who this could have been, but I have not been able to. It is entirely possible that this is someone's idea of a joke, regardless this bit of information remains mysterious and unconfirmed, but fascinating nonetheless.

Military.com Message   Anonymous comment posted on Military.com in response to my request for information.

Current outstanding FOIA requests with the Air Force:

  • Safety Investigation Board's report, interviews, and conclusions about the crash.

Materials I would like to locate:

  • The issue of LIFE Magazine that featured the early space program's monkies, and had photos of Col. Walter.
  • The issue of the Nellis AFB newspaper, Bullseye, that had an article about the crash.
  • Copies of the audio and video from 75-0085 during this incident. (Probably impossible to obtain.)

I would also like to speak to anyone that was involved in this mission, or heard anything about it.

Update 1-27-2012:
Col. Walter's service record was added, as well as a brief biography.



References

AlienScientist.com. (2012). Coverup F-15 & UFO Crash Nellis Range. Retrieved on 3-30-2012 from
http://www.alienscientist.com/forum/showthread.php?1260-Coverup-F-15-amp-UFO-Crash-Nellis-Range!!!

CNA.org. (2012). Military Advisory Board Members. Retrieved on 5-15-2012 from
http://www.cna.org/reports/energy/board#Keys

Department of the Air Force. Air Force Safety Center. Crash Investigation Report: Mishap December 6 1977.
Kirtland AFB: Air Force Safety Center, 1978. Print.
Retrieved on 4-14-2012 from http://www.david-hilton.net/75-0085.html

Embry-Riddle Aeronautical University. (2012). Kees Rietsema, Ph.D. Retrieved on
4-25-2012 from http://www.erau.edu/administration/trustees/tr-rietsema.html

Embry-Riddle Aeronautical University. (2012). Board of Trustees - General Ron Keys. Retrieved on
4-25-2012 from http://www.erau.edu/administration/trustees/tr-keys.html

Ejection-History.org.uk. (2008). F-15 Eagle Losses & Ejections. Retrieved on 3-30-2012
from http://www.ejection-history.org.uk/Aircraft_by_Type/f-15.htm

FairchildImaging.com. (2012). Fairchild History. Retrieved on 3-20-2012 from
http://www.fairchildimaging.com/about/history.htm

UnbiasedFacts.com. (2005). Jumpseat Protection List 9-Sept-05. Retrieved on 4-25-2012
from http://www.unbiasedfacts.org/MasterScabList.pdf

USAFA73.org. (2012). Class of 1973. Retrieved on 5-15-2012 from
http://usafa73.org/images/cs14.gif