Remembering Rivet Amber 50 years later

  • Published
  • By Kendra Williams
  • 55th Wing Public Affairs

Rivet Amber was a one of a kind RC-135 outfitted with reconnaissance equipment that disappeared with 19 aircrew members onboard over the Bearing Sea June 5, 1969.

Retired Lt. Col Kingdon Hawes, the acting squadron commander the day of the incident, gave an account of the events surrounding the loss of the aircraft.

“This is a very personal story to me. Here it is 50 years later, and I still haven’t gotten over it,” Hawes said as he teared up recounting the events.

In addition to the squadron eventually being assigned here, six of the 19 members onboard Rivet Amber were on temporary duty from Offutt and four others had previous ties to the installation.

“I believe this is important squadron heritage that needs to be remembered,” said Maj. Glenn Roberts, 45th RS Historian. “Hawes has done an immeasurable amount of work and countless presentations over the years to ensure the memories of those lost will not be forgotten.”

Approximately 100 people attended the event, including current and former 55th Wing Airmen, many of whom are aircrew on the RC-135 Cobra Ball aircraft that conducts a similar mission set as Rivet Amber.

It was the largest loss of life ever involving an RC-135, which has been flying for the Air Force since the mid-1960s. The last fatal crash involving the aircraft was in 1985.

During the Cold War the Rivet Amber was the largest and most expensive reconnaissance jet of its kind equipped with the most powerful and sophisticated airborne radar that ever flew.

About 40 minutes after departing, Irene 92, which was River Amber’s last call sign, transmitted its final message. The crew reported experiencing vibration in flight and that they needed to don their oxygen masks.

All 19 Airmen on Rivet Amber were presumed dead.

Hundreds of Airmen searched unsuccessfully for two weeks for any sign of the aircraft and crew however, the remains of the 19 passengers nor the aircraft were ever found.

“As long as I’m still standing vertical above this earth, this story is going to continue to be told,” said Hawes.