Off Cape Cod – October 12, 1953

Off Cape Cod – October 12, 1953


F-94 Starfire
U.S. Air Force Photo

      At 4:55 a.m. on the morning of October 12, 1953, 1st Lt. Joseph F. Grollinger, and 2nd Lt. Louis G. Sebralla took off from Otis Air Force base in an F-94C Starfire, (Ser. No. 50-1027), in investigate an unidentified aircraft which had appeared on air defense radar.  The weather was rainy with thick upper clouds which affected radio communications and radar signals.   Lt. Grollinger’s call sign that morning was “Mailbag  White”.  

     A short time after take off  Otis tower received a last radio  transmission from the aircraft with only the words, “Mailbag 42”, which was not the designated call sign.  No further radio contact could be established.   At about that time, residents of outer Cape Cod reported hearing a loud boom.  

    A large scale air-sea search was instituted.  At mid-afternoon on the 12th, an oil slick was spotted about three miles off shore from Orleans, Massachusetts, but it was too diluted to be conclusively identified as jet fuel.  Investigators later determined the slick likely came from a fishing boat whose captain admitted to pumping oil overboard in the same area.  None-the-less, dredging operations were commenced in the vicinity, but nothing was found.   

     On October 15th, a Coast Guard crew from the Nauset Lifeboat Station was dispatched to investigate a reported sighting of possible aircraft wreckage floating in the water off the town of Brewster, but nothing was found. 

     A two-man inflatable raft that was recovered on October 16th by a Navy boat off Provincetown, Massachusetts.  Air Force authorities didn’t believe it came from the missing jet as those carried aboard the F-94C were of a one-man type. 

     Based on the numerous reports of people hearing a loud boom, some speculated that the F-94 had suffered some sort of catastrophic malfunction, but others theorized that the loud noise could have been the result of the pilot initiating the jet’s afterburner.      

     On October 31st, a fishing boat crew reported they saw an aircraft wing bobbing in the water north of Boston, but didn’t attempt to retrieve it, and a Coast Guard helicopter sent to investigate found nothing.

     Eventually the search was called off with no conclusive answers as to the fate of the F-94 and its crew. 

     The aircraft and its crew were assigned to the 437th Fighter Interceptor Squadron at Otis AFB. 

     Another F-94C from Otis AFB was lost fifteen days later off Cape Cod while investigating an unidentified aircraft that had appeared on air defense radar.  For more information click here: 


     Unites States Air Force Crash Investigation Report # 53-10-12-5, dated 12, October, 1953

     Cape Cod Standard Times, “2 Otis Flyers Are Missing In Jet Plane”, Oct. 13, 1953, 1.

     Cape Cod Standard Times, “Plane Makes Forced Landing At Provincetown”, Oct. 14, 1953

     Cape Cod Standard Times, “No Trace Of Jet Found By Searchers”, Oct. 14, 1953

     Cape Cod Standard Times, “Cape Squadron Continues Search”, Oct. 14, 1953

     Cape Cod Standard Times, “Search Continued For Jet Aircraft”, Oct. 15, 1953

     Cape Cod Standard Times, “Air Search For Jet Plane Is Ended, Oct. 16, 1953, 1

     Cape Cod Standard Times, “Life Raft Found, Will Be Examined”, Oct. 17, 1953, 2

     The Lowell Sun, “Push Search For Missing Jet Airmen”, Oct. 13, 1953, 1.



Off Falmouth, MA. – October 27, 1953


Off Falmouth, Massachusetts – October 27, 1953

Buzzard’s Bay


F-94 Starfire
U.S. Air Force Photo

     At 7:00 p.m. on the evening of October 27, 1953, a U.S. Air Force F-94C Starfire jet, (Ser. No. 51-5522A), took off from Otis Air Force Base in Falmouth to participate in a two-ship night-radar training mission.  The other aircraft taking part in the exercise was Ser. No. 51-5585.     

     Each aircraft carried a crew of two men.

    Ser. No. 51-5522A was piloted by 2nd Lieutenant Arledge Wayne Suggs, 22, with his radar observer, 2nd Lieutenant David Holmes Barckhoff, 23.   

     The second aircraft (Ser. No. 51-5585) was piloted by Lt. R. J. Cochi, with his radar observer Lt. H. W. Bradt.  

     Both aircraft were assigned to the 58th Fighter Interceptor Squadron, of the 4707th Defense Wing of the Eastern Air Defense Force.

     Lt. Suggs was to fly as the target aircraft in what was to be more or less an aerial game of hide-and-seek.  Their call sign for the mission was designated as “Ablaze 65”, and the pursuit aircraft was designated “Ablaze 64”

     One minute after take-off Lt. Suggs turned off the afterburner and began circling the base in a holding pattern at 2,000 feet while waiting for Instrument Flight Rules (IFR) clearance from Otis tower.  The weather at the time was poor, with overcast conditions rising to nearly 10,000 feet.  

     At 7:20 p.m. Lt. Suggs received clearance to fly “500 on top”, and he initiated a gentle climb with an increase to power, on a heading of 260 degrees from the base.

     Approximately three minutes later while at about 6,300 feet, the aircraft was rocked by an explosion in the aft section.  The pilot immediately reduced throttle and began a gentle turn to the left. 

     A portion of the official Air Force investigation report narrative describes what happened next, “A bright orange glow was noted surrounding the aft section of the aircraft. The pilot called the Radar Observer stating, “We are on fire.”  The Radar Observer replied, “Affirmative.  Hell yes we are!” The Radar Observer then asked the pilot if he wanted the canopy blown.  The answer was in the affirmative.  At this time, an attempt was made to gain altitude but the elevator control was very sloppy and ineffective.  The canopy blew, and although dazed by the air blast, the pilot switched to Guard Channel (UHF) and called “Ablaze 65, May Day, May Day, May Day.”  He reached for the left arm rest and after several unsuccessful attempts to raise it, raised the right arm rest.  He then attempted to again raise the left arm rest without success.  By this time, he felt the Radar Observer had time to prepare for and eject himself, so he ejected.  He blacked out momentarily, and when he came to, he was tumbling through the air.  He pulled the rip cord and the chute blossomed and realized he was still in the seat.  He unbuckled the safety belt and the seat fell away.  While descending over the shore line, he heard an explosion in back of him (away from shore). He landed near a country road, walked to a house and called the air base.”      

     Lt. Suggs landed safely in a wooded area somewhere between the North Falmouth traffic rotary and Old Silver Beach.  He was able to free himself of his parachute and make his way to a private residence on Shore Road where he encountered the owner of the house who brought him inside.

     The homeowner later told to a reporter of the Cape Cod Standard Times what happened next; “I put the man down on the living room couch, gave him some coffee and called Otis Air Force Base.  The man appeared very dazed and confused and kept mumbling about his buddy who had bailed out a few seconds before this man left the plane.”

     As a point of fact, Lt. Barckhoff hadn’t bailed out, and he and the aircraft were missing. 

     “This flyer”, the homeowner went on, “who said his name was Lieutenant Suggs, said the plane caught fire somewhere over this general area and he headed the craft in the direction of Buzzard’s Bay before the two men bailed out.”

     An ambulance came and transported Lt. Suggs back to Otis AFB for treatment.  Meanwhile an extensive search was underway to locate Lt. Barckhoff and the missing plane, but come daybreak nothing had been found. 

     Foul weather hampered the search.  Military personnel, fire and police, and civilian volunteers combed the woods and shoreline for clues. A special air rescue squadron was brought in from Westover Field in Chicopee, Massachusetts.  An Air Force Crash boat and Coast Guard vessels dragged the bottom of Buzzard’s Bay.  Yet despite these efforts, no trace of the F-94 or Lt. Barckhoff was ever found.     

       The cause of the accident was not conclusively determined because the aircraft was never found.    

     Although Lt. Suggs survived this ordeal, he later lost his life on March 12, 1956, when an F-89 Scorpion jet he was piloting on a training mission over Michigan crashed in the Huron State Forrest. 

      Below are selected pages from the 96 page Air Force Investigation Report. 

Click on images to enlarge.

Suggs/Barckhoff Accident Report Face Sheet

Suggs/Barckhoff Accident Report
Face Sheet

Report Narrative

Report Narrative

     Another F-94C aircraft from Otis AFB was lost on October 12, 1953, fifteen days prior to this incident.  For more information click here:


     United States Air Force Crash Investigation Report # 53-10-27-7 dated 27 October, 1953.

     Cape Cod Standard Times, “Jet Flyer Safe, 2d Hunted In Accident”, Oct. 28, 1953, 1.

     Cape Cod Standard Times, “Radar Officer From Otis Still Missing”, Oct. 29, 1953, 1.

     Cape Cod Standard Times, “Air Officer Search Pushed”, Oct. 30, 1953.

     Cape Cod Standard Times, “Bay Check By Divers Considered”, Oct. 31, 1953.

     Falmouth Enterprise, “They Heard Blast Overhead And Found Man Walking”, Oct. 28, 1953.

     Falmouth Enterprise “Scalloper Discovers Fragment of Body”, Nov. 13, 1953, 1

     Salem News, (Salem, Ohio),“Lt. David Barckhoff Lost After Jet Plane Mishap”, Oct. 29, 1953.

     Iosco County News, “Wurtsmith Jet Crash Kills Two”, March 15, 1956, p1.

     The Daily News – (Huntingdon and Mount Union, PA) “2 Planes Crash Killing 6; Jet Lost In Forrest”, UPI, March 13, 1956












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