Stretching before him was a solid bank of cloud containing heavy thunderstorm activity which reached above 45,000'. A little later, when Rogers thought he had returned to 25,000 feet, he was actually about 27,000 feet and 20-30 knots slower than indicated. Nothing moved at Kadena for three days.
The aircraft suffered significant damage. I watched the pilot and reconnaissance system operator in their bright orange flight suits leap from the remnants of their aircraft and run from it as fast as they could.
But those decisions were made far above my rank. A normal rendezvous and in-flight air refueling were completed at a "Block Altitude" of 25,000 to 27,000 feet. Kadena and the airspace around it had to be secure. As he touched down, a fireball engulfed the left landing gear. I sought out a good vantage point to observe the landing: The local chieftain's new throne is Colonel House's ejection seat! I jumped down from the building and several of us started running toward them, but a fire truck and a base security car cut us off.
To launch, the SR-71 would start its engines inside the hangar and, flanked by an entourage of trucks, creep its way to the end of the runway. It looked like the pilot was going to pull off a picture-perfect landing. Randomly an aircraft would have just one, or none.
Lots of bodies came out. But since some air could pass though the obstructed tube, this steady state test, which is basically a leak test, did not reveal any problems. The Crash Site Today. Comment on this Story.
They were able to eject safely.