A new book captures the events that led up to both a mass shooting and B-52 crash at Fairchild Air Force Base. Warnings Unheeded was written by Andy Brown, the military police officer who stopped the gunman's rampage with a remarkable pistol shot.
Brown has spent seven years developing this book and, with the help of public records requests and military investigations, he concluded both of these tragedies could have been prevented.
Every day, the men and women of Fairchild Air force Base perform remarkable feats of aerial agility, deliberately getting two planes so close together they can touch each other in a high altitude hookup. But back in 1994, it seemed fate was conspiring against the 92nd Air Wing.
“It was a bad week,” said Brown. “There was a B-52, with four people on board, that crashed during an air show practice session. It was four days after the hospital shooting.”
Despite the shooting that left five people dead and 22 injured, the base forged ahead with its plans for an upcoming air show, a chance to uplift the spirits of a grieving community. Back then, Fairchild was wrapping up its mission as a bomb wing and Spokane was losing the familiar B-52s to another base.
As part of a celebratory sendoff, plans called for a B-52 to perform some low altitude, sharp turn maneuvers during the air show, and Lt. Colonel Bud Holland would be at the controls.
“Bud Holland, there's no question that he was a skilled pilot, a lot of pilots, I've read their statements, and they don't question his ability to fly, but they question his judgment, his airmanship, when it comes to safety,” said Brown.
Two years before, Holland had buzzed his daughter's softball field at Mead High School. Holland's co-pilot said the 70 degree bank turn caused the bomber to nearly fall out of the sky.
“According to the pilot who flew with him, he got into a death spiral and the other pilot had to assist him in pulling out of that maneuver,” said Brown.
Air traffic controllers at Spokane International Airport admonished Holland on the radio for the stunt that brought the dropping bomber to within three thousand feet of the campus.
“Towards the end of his career, he had become increasingly reckless and pushed, according to what I've read from the other pilots who worked with him, he pushed the airframe beyond its limits, especially at low altitudes while he was performing the maneuver,” said Brown.
Holland once claimed his signature high-pitch-angle climbs popped rivets out of the B-52's aging aluminum skin.
And after a video was taken at the Yakima training center of Holland clearing a ridge top by no more than 30 feet, his immediate supervisor at Fairchild knew Holland was a danger to anyone who flew with him.
“One of them went out of his way to try to prevent tragedy, tried to get that pilot grounded, and was overruled,” said Brown.
Lt. Col. Mark McGeehan knew Holland was just 30 days away from retirement and decided the only way to keep Holland from killing somebody was to fly with him.
“When his attempts to get Bud Holland grounded failed, he said none of his men would fly with that pilot,” said Brown. “If anybody had to be his co-pilot, he would do it.”
And so McGeehan was in the bomber's right seat as Holland took the B-52 up for its last air show practice. After diving toward Fairchild's airstrip to pickup speed, Holland banked the plane into a near 90 degree turn. It was a beautiful, but deadly maneuver. The plane stalled and plunged to the ground, narrowly missing a weapons storage area and the Fairchild survival school campus.
Lt. Col. McGeehan's wife and children witnessed the crash.
McGeehan ejected from the cockpit, but it was too late. The jet fuel fireball McGeehan had tried to prevent engulfed him. Killed in an effort to protect his other airmen.
All four people on board were killed. Several months later, an Air Force investigation determined the cause of the B-52 crash was pilot error.
Fairchild's new wing commander was just entering the Air Force back in 1994 and had nothing to do with this accident. Col. Ryan Samuelson says that type of reckless airman ship just wouldn't fly in today's Air Force.
“Here at Fairchild Air Force Base, and across our entire Air Force, we focus on sticking to our standards, we focus on teaching crew resource management where our crews talk to each other and learn from each other and have the ability to say, 'Time out, that is not what is in our books, let's get back into standards,'” said Col. Samuelson.
Col. Samuelson says now, regardless of your rank, if you think a pilot is being unsafe, you can skip the chain of command, go right to the top, and call someone on their dangerous flying.
Even something like just breaking up with a significant other could get a pilot on restricted flying status until they are no longer emotionally distracted.
Brown's book, Warnings Unheeded, goes on sale this Saturday. He'll be hosting a book signing party at the Northern Quest Casino on Saturday from 2 to 5 p.m