| My name is Douglas Bowling, but I used to be A1C Douglas W. Bowling. I was stationed at Fire Station # 3 that night. I remember how loud the engines were on takeoff. You see, the runway at Ramstein is short for a loaded C-5, so they lock the brakes and run the aircraft at full throttle to create a burst of speed (or as close to a burst as a C-5 can muster). I was still awake when he was sitting about 100 yards away from the Fire Station preparing to take off. I never heard the plane crash.
I remember the fire phone ringing, so I picked up the line in the day room . One phone was located in the Station Captain's bunk room and one was in the day room so that we wouldn't miss the call in case of a crash or ground emergency. I picked it up in time to hear, "The C-5 is down at the departure end of the runway and is on fire."
I was a driver on a P-19 (Call sign, Crash 5) with a crew chief named SRA Chuck Kesterson. I already had the engine running and the door up when he jumped into the cab. As we rounded the end of the runway by way of the access road, I looked down the runway to see what the best approach was going to be. That's when I saw flames everywhere. It was about 1/4 mile away, but it was bright. Brighter than anything I had ever seen outside of the sun itself. I looked at Chuck and said, "It's burning, Chuck." He didn't say anything. "Chuck, it's on fire, the plane is on fire." This time he simply told me, "Just get us on scene, Doug." I had never seen a real fire. I had only been a firefighter for about a year and the only fire I had seen was training pit fires and BBQ's. We had to exit the base through the main gate and by the time we got to the gate and the small, one lane access road to the field where the place was located, all the trucks from Fire Station # 1 had arrived. Trees were down and the trucks had trouble getting through, so Chuck told me to continue to the other end of the field for a different approach.
When we pulled up, it was magnificent. I don't mean to be disrespectful of the tragedy, but the fire was beautiful. I had never seen so much fire in one place. It looked as though a wheat field had been crop dusted with gasoline. By the time we reached the fire, the rescue crew were helping to free the passengers who were still strapped in their seats which were now upside down. I remember that we used 2 tanks (2,000 gallons of water) before we even got out and pulled a hand line. As the driver, it was my responsibility to stay in the truck and operate the pump and turrets if need be.
There were 3 fire fighters next to the largest section of the plane's wing and they were discharging halon and dry chem extinguishers from a pickup truck. It was a flowing fuel fire on the wing section and it would not go out. My Assistant Fire Chief told me to use the bumper turret and try and knock the fire down to protect the 3 fire fighters. With the last bit of water in the tank, I discharged the bumper turret and extinguished the fire. Later I learned that the wing most likely would have exploded like a giant grenade had the fire continued as a flowing fuel fire. I was given the Air Force Achievement Medal for my actions that night, although I've never really felt that I did anything to deserve a medal. It was my job to protect lives and property, so that's what I did. The people who deserved the medal were the instructors and mentors who made it 2nd nature for us to do what we did.
We were there throughout the night putting out small spot fires. Brakes, cargo, wheel assemblies. I remember that they had lots of Spam on board and the fire caused them to explode throughout the night. Each time we would hear the Spam popping, we would hit the deck for fear that the missing firearms were discharging rounds.
The thing that caused the most nightmares in the months to come was the cockpit area. There was a man lying there on his side, still strapped into his seat. I knelt next to him and cried. He looked as though he was sleeping. I remember that his Mickey Mouse watch was still ticking. I don't remember his name I remember his face. The crash doesn't really bother me anymore, although I decided not to become a career fire fighter once I separated from the Air Force.
I spent a lot of time in Fred's Lounge after that night. I would spend a lot of time pretending that it didn't bother me. I lived with other guys in the Fire Station for a year after that night and they went through everything that I went through, but people just don't talk about it. Seeing your pictures helped me remember that it will be a part of me for the rest of my life. I remember the way my friends sobbed at the memorial service when they played taps. We didn't know any of the people on board. We did know that 5 people lived through the crash but then one died in the hospital a day or 2 after the crash. I'm thankful to God that there weren't any more than 17 on board that night, it could have been over 100. I wish that I could tell the family members how much their loss affected my life and my friends lives.