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ATLANTA, Georgia (CNN) -- The Air Force temporarily grounded its fleet of C-141s to determine why the wing of a C-141 StarLifter collapsed during refueling for a trip to Germany.

Military engineers from Warner Robins Air Logistics Center near Macon, Georgia, were in Memphis, Tennessee, on Sunday to investigate the incident, which happened Friday night at Memphis International Airport.

The damaged wing of the Air National Guard aircraft spilled about 9,000 gallons of jet fuel onto the tarmac at the National Guard facility located on the grounds of the airport.

"We're trying to ascertain whether it's just a single airplane problem or if it's a fleetwide problem," said Col. Fred Smith, vice commander of the 164th Airlift Wing of the Tennessee Air National Guard.

Crews were able to contain the spill before fuel reached Nonconnah Creek, Smith said. The C-141 was holding 120,000 gallons of fuel when the wing collapsed, and some of the fuel still was being drained on Sunday.

An airman who slipped in some of the fuel suffered a broken leg, and another strained his shoulder, Smith said. Another got fuel in his eye, but was able to flush it out, and required no medical treatment.


The following information was provided to Aerospaceweb.org by a witness to the incident.

The aircraft in question was aircraft 61-0778. The nose art was of an old man in a robe with an hourglass and a sickle and was titled "Father Time". Aircraft -778 was the first C-141 to join the USAF and be accepted as an operational jet airlifter. This also made this plane the worlds first jet airlifter. In the early 90s it had its center wing box replaced due to cracking (as most of the C-141s did) and also underwent conversion from a B to a C model. This conversion involved an all glass cockpit.

After 9/11, our unit (164th Airlift Wing) deployed to Germany. This plane went with us and up until the accident day, it was one of the best and most reliable planes that we had.

The cause of the mishap came down to fatigue and bad communication. A fuel leak had developed in the accident wing in the #2 main tank. The plane was pulled into the fuel barn (the hangar in the background of the photos). The leak was repaired and pressure plugs were inserted in the place of the vent plugs. The wing was charged with compressed air. The theory being that if the tank would hold a certain pressure for a certain time, then the leak must be fixed. This also allowed for the replaced panels to "seat."

The plane was then taken back out to the line and refueling started for her next trip to Germany later that day. The personnel who performed the repairs had put in a 20 hour day and went home. Follow on personnel did not swap the pressure test plugs for the vent plugs. As fuel flowed into the #2 main, which is the closest to the fuselage, the air had nowhere to go and compressed until it blew out the skin. Unfortunately, the pressure was so great that it broke the wing spar in the process.

Thus ended the life of the first ever C-141. The plane has been stripped of useful parts and the hulk cut up as scrap. The back third of the fuselage was sent back to Lockheed for corrosion studies of the airframe.

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