At 5 A.M. on May 23, 1969, in Suffolk, England, a Hercules C-130E roared to life. With its propellers spinning, the plane lurched forward. The problem? No pilot was on board, only a mechanic. And a drunk one at that, who’d been up all night attempting to drown his many sorrows. And now Ground Crew Sergeant Paul Meyer was in the cockpit of a 60-ton transport aircraft, rumbling down the runway.
Security patrols rushed to the scene, but there was nothing they could do to stop Aircraft 37789 from taking flight. Meyer lifted off and banked left almost immediately, according to witnesses, who reported that his wingtip nearly nipped the ground.
Sergeant Meyer had been stationed at RAF Mildenhall, the home of the U.S. Air Force’s 36th Airlift Squadron, for about three months before his long night and fateful flight.
“Sgt Meyer was under considerable emotional stress throughout the period” that he had been in the U.K., according to the official report filed after the incident.
A Vietnam veteran, Sergeant Meyer, just 23 years old, was dealing with several emotional issues. He had gotten married just eight weeks before his deployment. His wife, Jane, was battling her former husband over money issues. Meyer longed to be closer to her to lend her support but had been refused leave. He had also failed to pass a promotion, despite being allegedly better qualified than promoted peers.