Thursday, January 19, 2012

Titan II Complex 373-4: Was It Really Haunted?

"As far as 3-4, apart from the soot on the walls around the switchgear, there are two things that stand out in my memory.


Firstly, I remember when out in the silo, I would from time to time see something out of the corner of my eye, which when I looked was nothing out of the ordinary. I know some people will put that down to paying too much attention to the stories about the site, but that's the only site I ever noticed that at, even compared to the other site where a death had occurred, 373-5, which was pretty much like every other site; no reputation, and nothing unusual happening.


The second happened late one afternoon when I accompanied the crew chief out to the silo while he completed some task he needed to do before he could head back to the base that day. Seems to me we had to go down to level 3, or it may have been level 4. It was a long time ago, and my memory is not clear on what level exactly we went down to, only that it was below level 2 but not more than a couple of levels.


All the maintenance people had already finished their tasks and left the silo before we went out (which makes me now think he may have wanted to doublecheck their work) . Anyway, he had accomplished whatever he needed to do/check on, and we had boarded the silo elevator to return to level 2. When we got there, I raised the wire mesh internal gate, and was just opening the bi-parting doors when the elevator call bell started ringing. I remember being very annoyed that the crew commander hadn't let me know that someone else had come out to the silo after we had left the control center (something very uncharacteristic for him to do) so I plugged in the WTMN headset and called the Control Center to see who else was out there in the hole. The crew commander answered, and after hearing my question about who else was in the silo, told me there was no one else out there except us. Now I'm wondering wtf was going on, so after discussing my intentions with the crew commander, I tell the crew chief there's no one else out there but us, and we're going to find out what's going on.


Of course, as all this is happening, the elevator call bell continues to ring. We get back on the elevator, close the doors, and the elevator goes down to level 8. We get out, walk around the launch duct, open the launch duct access door and check out the deflector, open each of the floor hatches to check out the silo sumps, and of course find absolutely nothing out of the ordinary.


The ride back up to level 2 and on through to the control center is uneventful, as was the rest of that alert. Of course the rest of the crew wanted me to fill them in on what was going on. All I could tell them was what had happened, I had no other explanation to offer.


Before anybody suggests the crew chief was pulling a joke on me, I was the one driving the elevator, standing on that side of the elevator where the elevator control panel was. He never had the chance to push another level's button without it being obvious to me what was going on. And I never considered him to be the jokester type.


As best as I can recall, this was early fall of 1972"  Former Titan II crew member "Sherwood" as posted on themissileforums.com

Missileers tend to refer to launch complexes with their own designations.  The 308th Strategic Missile Wing's Titan II complex 373-4 was referred to as 3-4 for those who routinely manned it and pulled nuclear alert duty.  Sometimes, these sites took on the name of the local geographical area.  In the case of 373-4, its forever tagged as...Searcy.  I've tried to recall worst events in SAC's ICBM history, but fail to come up with anything that rivals the tragedy that occurred at complex 373-4 on August 9, 1965.

THE SENTINEL-RECORD Wednesday, August 11, 1965, By Al Schay
SEARCY, Ark. (AP) - Air force investigators swarmed the scorched launch tube of a Titan 11 missile complex Tuesday to find the cause of an explosion and fire that killed 53 civilians in the "gun barrel" of America's mightiest ballistic missile. The tragedy was the first in the history of the Titan system, which includes 54 complexes that have been fully operational since December 1963.   Read more at techbastard.com 
I suspect that most of my readers have never heard of the accident at Searcy.  With exception of a few individuals, Searcy has receded from the Air Force's memory.  For those few who still remember...


"... He told me he was MCCC on duty the day of the fire. He saw smoke coming up one side of the long cableway, with clear air going down the other side. In about '74, I got an MFT (name escapes me, and he's not in either of my two crew pix) on my crew who told he was there, in casual status, and was detailed to help carry out the bodies and clean up after the fire. Said he saw an ear stuck to the emergency ladder, and finger scratches in the sooty silo walls."


"I also worked relief in the site that burned in 1965 killing 53 people. There were some who refused to work 373-4 because they thought it was haunted. It did have a morning mist that was waist high. The gravel would settle after you walked across it and sounded a bit like someone was following you across the compound to the entrance. They never got the soot off the walls in most of the silo or the long passage from the blast door to the silo."


"During an evaluation in the simulator two years later they threw a "fire in the diesel engine area" at the crew that was on duty. The commander almost lost it. I don't think he ever fully recovered."  Former Titan II crew member


A complete recounting and investigation of the accident can be found on techbastard.com.


Searcy, Arkansas provides a good example for my theory detailing the passing on of personal experiences by missile crew members.  The above statements by the former Titan II crew members were posted in a forum back in 2010 and 45 years has elapsed since the incident's occurrence.  The memories still appear "fresh" for it was a life-changing event for those that were actually on alert and those that assisted in the recovery operations back on August 9, 1965.

Was complex 373-4 haunted?  As far as ghosts are concerned, I really can't say with any degree of certainty, but Searcy does haunt those who lost love ones and members of the military that were there.

Addendum 3/26/2012:  I've added a follow-on based on contact with one of the individuals that was quoted in this post.  Sherwood, on-line moniker, contacted me via themissileforums.com with the following:



"I see you used my 373-4 story on your blog. Not annoyed, just surprised to see it show up elsewhere. I found it while searching for Titan II pictures, something I repeat from time to time.

Follow-on: On our next alert out at the site, I opened up and inspected the silo elevator control relay cabinet. I wanted to see if there was anything there that could explain the previous alert's experience.

I didn't see anything at all out of the ordinary there. It was clean, with no evidence of any sooting. I didn't really expect to see anything, because all switches and cabinets in the silo were explosion proof, but I wanted to rule that possibility out.

The other thing that happened (though not to me personally) was that the other two members on the crew reported the WireTypeMaintenanceNet call signal went off in the wee hours when my half of the crew was sleeping. Whether that was before or after the elevator incident I don't really remember.

There was not a WTMN headset station in the bedroom of the Titan II control center. I think there was one on that level by the site pressurized water tank, but you'd have to open the bedroom door to access it, and I'm a very light sleeper so I know that scenario doesn't fly. We were all business on that crew - no jokers, totally unlike a crew I was on later."


Thanks Sherwood for the follow-on story.  Should you recall other experiences, please let me know.

10 comments:

  1. Serving as an mft for four years my experiences at 3-4 were always strange.Secured phones falling out of there stations at different levels with no one out in the hole at all hours of the night and ringing in the cc.Generator starting without loss of power or even a power spike.Strange noises at unoccupied levels.Glad to be tranferred to the acp.

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  2. Anonymous, thanks for the comment. Your feelings toward the site seems to be echoed by a few others. On www.missileforums.com, there are others that have had "experiences" similar to yours.

    System anomalies? Or, are we more in-tune to the history of the site which in-turn plays on our psyche.

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  3. I saw the video of the site . Has it been filled or destroyed ? Is there no way to get back down there ? Seems just wrong for them to go through that and then have every thing covered up and forgoten .

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  4. The site at Searcy was not destroyed due to the fire. It would later be reactivated and continue in an operational mode until deactivated with all of the remaining Titan II sites in the mid-1980s. To the best of my knowledge the silos were imploded and back filled with the debris per SALT agreements with the then USSR.

    The Titan site near Damascus, Arkansas, was totally destroyed in 1980 after the punctured propellant tank incident.

    Both incidents long forgotten with the exception of a few. Titan system was an unforgiving beast.

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  5. As a former Titan II BMAT I had the opportunity to pull alerts at 3-4. I never saw anything too strange but we always liked to mess with the new guys. You prime the pump with several ghost stories on the way to the site, then when it is time for sleep shifts, you take a radio maintenance net transceiver to the sleeping quarters without the new guy knowing you have one. Key the net, it rings in the control center and you make the new guy answer the call. There are plenty of ghostly pleas for assistance but the other crew member denies hearing anything. Always fun to mess with the new guy. I guess they call that hazing now.

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  6. I was a BMAT/MSAT from 1982 til deactivation and I always enjoyed going out to the "ghost site". Inevitably something strange would happen out there, especially when maintenance has departed for the day. One alert we were doing our nightly check of the silo and got off the elevator at level 5, walked around the level and came back to an elevator that was gone. Looks like it went down to level 8 on its own and we had to call it back to level 5. WTMN calls would happen on their own and the gate phone would occasionally ring with no one on the other end!

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  7. My crew pulled alert at complex 3–4 in the early to mid-1970s. On two separate occasions we encountered strange occurrences. Both occurred when maintenance was no longer on the site. The first situation occurred on a Saturday. We completed daily shift verification and settled in for a normal alert. Sometime in the early evening hours I saw launch door open light on my LCCFC. I sent two of my crew members out to check out the situation. They found that the duct door on level eight,was open approximately 5 inches. The launch the door handle, a large bar device, was in the up position "open ". We secured the door, and entered the situation in the Daily log. The second situation occurred also at night when no one else was on the complex. Once again, a light on the launch console came on. It said blast door open. We found that the hydraulic pins of the blast door adjacent to The control center and been withdrawn and the blast door was open a few inches. We scured the door and entered the anomaly and the crew log. Dan Rausch Maj. Ret. on crew from 1968-1973.

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  8. I pulled several alerts at 3-4 during the 80s, I was a skeptic about all of the ghost stories, until one night. I went to the crew rack for my sleep shift, after awhile I felt the vibration of someone coming up the stairs and then felt my bed shake. I awoke thinking my BMAT was waking me for his rest shift but no one was there. I went downstairs and the rest of the crew wondered why I was up. Very Strange.

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  9. I was a MFT assigned primarily y to site 3-4 from 1967 until 1970. Probably because of the sensitive nature of this accident, it wasn't discussed much among crew members at that time. No talk of ghosts, and no bizar incidents in my three tears there. I have learned more about the accident in recent years from the internet than I knew when I served. It was an honor to serve and not something to talk ill of years later.

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  10. One of my brother's good friend's family owns the property where 3-4 was located and have it as pasture land now. He says that every now and then, they'll see something weird out in that field. Usually it's something like lights out by where the old silo or things like that.
    I'll have to talk to my brother and see if he can give me some of the details of those stories.

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