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Thursday, January 15, 2015

History of Bates County: Tragedy Strikes Missile Escort

Typical Minuteman missile transport vehicle
By Doug Mager

This is the final segment of our three part History of Bates County series featuring information about Minuteman missile silos and launch facilities formerly located throughout the area

June 11, 1982. Misty, overcast conditions greeted twins Les and Wes Nieder, 19, of Amsterdam as they began their daily farm chores, which included a trip down F highway near the Miami school. 

Around 9:30 am, they met an Air Force missile transport heading west. It wasn't unusual to see one of these trucks at any given time. What was unusual was the UH-1 Huey helicopter flying very low, slightly erratically. The helicopter was not tracking with the vehicle but had just crossed over the highway and was headed northeast.

Unknown to the Nieder's, the pilots had radioed a few minutes earlier to let flight control know there was a problem with the aircraft. It is guessed that they may have been trying to make it to a suitable landing spot, possibly at Kilo 1, the closest Air Force facility which was just a couple of miles away.

Wes told his brother something was terribly wrong and thought the helicopter was probably going to crash. The tail section was wobbling badly and it was obvious the pilot was having difficulty controlling it.
Members of the Whiteman Air Honor
Guard participate in the dedication of the
UH-1F for those who died in the Bates
County crash June 11, 1982
The Nieder's, somewhat panic stricken, tried to signal the transport truck to stop so they could inform the driver about what they had just seen. No dice. Unbeknownst to them, military transports don't stop for anything.

Not even if their escort helicopter was in trouble.

The truck continued towards Amsterdam as the twins headed their vehicle north to find the wreckage.

In the muddy farm field just west of CC highway, about 3/4 of a mile north of F highway, 6 men are trapped in the burning helicopter. Those first on the scene, including the Nieders', said some screamed for help, but the flames were simply too hot- plus ammo bursting from within made getting close too dangerous.

The wreckage burned for about 3 hours while Air Force personnel, police and TV crews poured into the area. It was later in the afternoon before the bodies were removed and the area secured for the evening.

X marks the spot where the Huey helicopter went down just north of
F highway and west of CC highway in northwestern Bates County
In all, the scene was tightly guarded for several days while the investigation continued and wreckage was finally removed.

Those who lost their lives were Capt. Richard Conrardy, 2nd Lt. James Hebert, Staff Sgt. Richard Bohling, Sgt. Thomas Meredith, Senior Airman Marion Pace and Senior Airman David Jones. 

A memorial for those who died was dedicated June 11, 1984 at Whiteman Air Force base.

It was later determined that a small piece of the main rotor had broken loose, striking the tail rotor. The imbalance caused structural failure.

**The writer of this article walked the area of the crash a few weeks later- only to find a tiny bit of debris- a charred piece of a metal watchband. A sad reminder of the tragedy that unfolded a short time earlier.