A team of accident investigators, including explosive experts from RTI, found evidence that an external airborne force had affected the aircraft prior to impact.


On September 10, 1987, a civilian aircraft crashed on the White Sands Missile Test Site in the mountainous Red Rio/Oscura area of New Mexico. The aircraft referred to as Tanker 07, owned by Black Hills Aviation, crashed while performing a contract air fire suppression support mission on the missile base. This area was also the testing site for the evaluation of the Army’s Line of Sight Forward Heavy Missile phase of the Forward Area Air Defense System [FAADS Project].

During the course of this litigation, appellants took depositions from numerous eyewitnesses to the crash, as well as others. One eyewitness stated that the right wing of Tanker 07 fell apart shortly before the crash. Another testified that Tanker 07 tilted slightly up, as if trying to climb, prior to the crash. A third eyewitness stated that Tanker 07 lost 200 to 300 feet of altitude just prior to the crash. Discovery in the case disclosed that the area in which Tanker 07 crashed had no scheduled or actual missile launches, that the airspace was protected, that there were no activities taking place in areas adjacent to the crash site involving the firing of live ordnances or missiles, and no witnesses saw any indication that a projectile or missile struck Tanker 07 before it crashed.

A team of aircraft accident investigators, including explosive experts from RTI, conducted an analysis of the crash debris. The experts found evidence that an airborne external force had affected Tanker 07 prior to the aircraft’s impact to the ground.  The evidence included a conical-shaped piece of metal found in the lower right side of the co-pilot’s back during the autopsy. No part of Tanker 07 matched the conical-shaped piece of metal. Additionally, there were markings on a turbine blade in the right jet engine of Tanker 07 which were indicative of an event occurring on the right side of Tanker 07 just prior to the crash.

However, the district court concluded there was no basis that any external force was under the exclusive control of the United States, particularly that there were no accidental missile firings or other military activities on the base at the time of Tanker 07’s crash and that there were no military activities that might have interfered with the flight of Tanker 07.

3D scans of the plane wreckage