The Crash of Walter Ray in Article #928
By: Bill Goodwin (Former CIA Contractor)
I was included on two trips from the area to the crash site of A-12 Article 928 (Lockheed production No. 125) that crashed on 5 January 1967, killing CIA Project Oxcart pilot Walter Ray. The first trip by land was shortly after the crash when my coworker from Baird (periscope/projector/sun compass) and I started driving to the crash site. On the way the Cadillac had a flat tire and we spent the night under the UP RR tracks. By the time we arrived at the crash site the next day a new search area had been set up and we eventually reached the new area with my camping trailer in tow. We searched for the cockpit cameras along with others for the better part of a week. We made an interesting exit from the area, in a snow storm, to route I-15; a USAF tanker rig, a bunch of AF vehicles and the civilian vehicles. During this phase we were at the crash site of the seat where many things were picked up and taken back to the area. by one of the choppers. During our stay, we saw many herds of wild horses on the surrounding ridges.
A second trip was made a little later to specifically look for the cockpit cameras, this time with the Cadillac, Jeep, camping trailer, two Honda 90's, a horse trailer and two horses. The area of interest was dictated by information specifically created by computers at headquarters. This trip was cut short, however, because of the sudden deployment to Okinawa. According to the printed reports, the cockpit cameras were never found.
What was remarkable to me is that the A-12 pilots, especially Walt Ray, could remember to make helpful comments on our relatively minor equipment during the debriefings. This was even more so in the early days of training when one emergency after another occurred during the flight.
Walt and I had made at least 2 trips together in rented airplanes with him as the pilot. For a trip back east to Illinois, we rented a 2-engine Bonanza. Apparently the fuel-mixture control on the rented airplane was opposite of the AF version at the area. We left from CA and some where around Tucumcari, NM, Walt noticed that we were using too much fuel. We landed to refuel. During takeoff the engines backfired violently and Walt mushed the plane back to the runway with the stall warning horn blaring the entire time. I was told later that if someone else with less experience than Walt's had been the pilot, we would likely have ended up in a nearby field. Because the fuel mixture had been too high, all of the spark plugs were essentially shorted out. This was Xmas eve, but somehow Walt convinced a mechanic to work on the airplane and we departed the next day with the rest of the trip without event.
What makes Tucumcari stand out is that Walt's final training flight actually turned at Tucumcari. Later, when I was returning to Elgin, IL, after the program closed in 1969, my Jeep and camping trailer rolled just west of Tucumcari due to gusty winds. We were told that there had been several recent wrecks on the road leading into this town, due to the winds. The Jeep was righted and was able to haul a 14-foot U Haul trailer full of my stuff from over 6 years on the project, the rest of the way to Elgin.
Reading about the quest to find the crash site in the 90's brought back memories of our adventures, but ours were certainly under more controlled conditions.