I stand corrected, and this is a tribute to the Patch model of sharing hyperlocal information.
Novato Patch was contacted by Mike Warner, a former San Marin High student (class of 2007) about a story I wrote about a plane that crashed on Novato’s east side in the early 1970s. Mike donates his time with Matt Cerkel, a Marin Municipal Water District ranger and a local authority on Marin’s military plane crashes. The information Mike and Matt provided Novato Patch has prompted me to amend and correct the original story in the paragraphs below.
As mentioned in the first article, lifelong Novato resident Patti Titman asked us to look into a plane that crashed in the area near her parents’ house in the Atherton/Bugeia area. To the best of her recollection, it occurred sometime in 1971 or ’72 and it was a plane from Hamilton Air Force Base, about seven miles to the south as the crow flies.
As I started my online research, I came upon two crashes that were fairly well publicized at the time, though one was in 1970 and the other was 1964. What didn’t match up was that the crash that was closer to the Patti’s time period was not a jet, but a prop transport.
Early press accounts of that crash stated that the plane went down shortly after takeoff. However, it was actually four minutes after takeoff, and four minutes was enough time to cover the 18 miles to Schellville, between Sears Point and downtown Sonoma. That’s where the 1970 transport plane crash took place and killed 13 servicemen, not near Bahia. There was but one survivor, Captain George Burk, whose story of survival and recovery is extraordinary and deserves a read.
The crash that Patti Titman recalled coming down in the hills between Atherton Avenue and the Bahia area occurred Nov. 24, 1972. The plane was a jet, just as Patti thought, as did her future husband, Earl Titman, who lived on the west side of town and remembers checking the wreckage with a friend. Earl Titman is now a sergeant with the .
The Air Force had a tight clamp down on the accident site, which may account for the lack of easily searchable information about the incident. The jet involved, an F-106 Convair Delta Dart, was one of the military’s most technologically advanced fighter aircraft at the time. Protection of advanced technologies was paramount then, just as it is today.
Mike Warner, now a Sonoma State student, has a binder of military records that have been opened for public consumption years later. Many have not been made available on the Internet. Excerpts of an e-mail from Warner contains more detail about this particular crash and uncovers the heroic efforts of the pilot that day.
“Self Sacrifice: Sacrifice of oneself or one's own interests for the benefit of others. On Nov. 24, 1972, Captain Michael D. Burmeister was a part of training mission leaving from . 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. 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 wing man saw him disappear through the thick overcast shortly after takeoff. Seconds later smoke drifted up through the overcast, and Burmeister’s wing man 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 of his strength to maneuver the large jet away from home and crashed into a hillside. He was killed instantly by the impact. Debris from the aircraft was thrown over a quarter mile away from the impact site. The engine of the F-106 came down on Bahia Lane.
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 remembers being kept from going into his own backyard 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 as more pieces were found of both the pilot’s body and the plane. Except for the tail section, the plane had essentially exploded into many small pieces.
To this day there is no memorial to 25-year-old Captain Michael D. Burmeister except a small 12-by-6-inch 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.”
Warner adds that some of the people who lived in the house closest to the crash site are still there, but they are wary of pinpointing the location of the crash for fear of treasure hunters and trespassers. For that reason, we won’t get more specific on that impact zone except to say it’s a hillside between Atherton and Bahia.
I’d like to say thank you Mike Warner and Matt Cerkel for your diligence, your willingness to help Novato Patch get the story straight and for paying tribute to those who have served in the military.