By Michael Warner
The 26th of November is an important date in Novato’s history. Forty years ago on this date, a U.S. Air Force jet crashed into a Novato hillside on the east side of town and changed our community forever. The accident was cited as the main reason for ending all military aircraft operations out of Hamilton Air Force Base. The story of that day has been largely forgotten though, except by those who were there.
On Nov. 26, 1972, Captain Michael D. Burmeister was a part of training mission leaving from Hamilton, returning to K.I. Sawyer AFB in Michigan. They had flown out to the West Coast a few days before to deliver much-needed spare parts. When his F-106 Fighter lifted off the end of Hamilton's runway no one knew this would be the last time anyone saw him alive.
His aircraft would suffer a mechanical failure resulting in a forced landing just north of the base at 9:55 a.m., just north of Atherton Avenue. The accident report later concluded that the speed brake for F-106 S/N 59-0089 might have come open during flight. This would have caused the aircraft to enter a stall (loss of lift) at a much higher speed.
Burmeister’s flight leader, Captain Kolodzinski saw him disappear through the thick overcast shortly after takeoff. About a minute later, smoke drifted up through the overcast and Captain Kolodzinski notified Hamilton of an off-base crash.
It was also concluded the Burmeister had plenty of time to bail out of his aircraft but decided to stay in the aircraft because he knew there were homes just north of the base. Burmeister summoned all his strength to maneuver the large jet away from the homes and crashed into a hillside. He was killed instantly by the impact.
Debris from the aircraft was thrown more than a quarter mile away from the impact site. The engine of the F-106 came near Bahia Lane. (The exact site is not being revealed so as to prevent treasure hunters from trespassing in people's yards.)
The Air Force camped for two weeks on Bahia Lane during the cleanup. The property owner who had the jet come down in his backyard remembered being kept from surveying the impact site by two Air Force Security Police (Air Force version of MPs). The Air Force had to keep coming back many times after the initial two weeks because more pieces were found of both the pilot’s body and the plane. Except for the tail section, the plane had essentially exploded into small pieces.
To this day there is no memorial to 25-year-old Captain Michael D. Burmeister except a small plaque at the U.S. Air Force Academy in Colorado Springs, Colo., that marks his grave. He gave his life so that others may continue to live. If it were not for his sacrifice, many more would have lost their lives that day.
There is a plan in the works to create a memorial to honor Captain Burmeister by some of the property owners in the Bahia neighborhood. If anyone has an interest or information in this project, let us know in the comment section below.
Michael Warner is a ranger aide with California State Parks and San Marin High School alumnus. He collaborates with Matt Cerkel, a ranger with Marin Municipal Water District on Mount Tamalpais in researching and locating military aircraft crash sites in Marin and Sonoma counties.