The final resting place of SR-71 Blackbird #61-17974 better known as Ichiban was in 25,597 feet of water, in an area known as the Mariana Trench.
At the controls were Pilot Lt. Col Dan House, and RSO Blair Bozek. As #974 accelerated through three times the speed of sound, the left compressor bearing froze, causing the immediate disintegration of the port engine, and resultant explosion from the catastrophic failure sending shrapnel through critical hydraulic lines.
Lt Col House managed to slow #974, and even descend below 10 thousand feet. Both crew ejected safely, and were quickly rescued by local fishermen in the waters below.
As the photos (first posted by our friend Linda Sheffield Miller on her beautiful Facebook Page Habubrats) in this article show the wreckage of SR-71 #974 was recovered from the bottom of the South China Sea in 1989 and then moved to Kadena AB.
Former US Air Force (USAF) Tech Rep at Beale Jack M Levine explained to The Aviation Geek Club: “When 974 was raised from the ocean by the US Navy, the chemical TEB that mixed with oxygen to ignite the engines caused flames to shoot out from around the SR-71 like Puff the magic dragon when it was raised up out of the water. The chemical caused a high flash temp to get the engines to ignite. This was needed because the fuel JP7 would not lite without the mix. The TEB was stored in special tanks to allow for up to 16 shots to start the engines when unstarts would happen or to ignite the after burners.
“The tanks were apparently ruptured as the damaged SR-71 showed in the photos. The white box was the Nav Guidance Group. The glass window at the top was for the star tracker platform to scan the sky for star search and acquisition. We use to refer to this Guidance Group as R2D2 from Star Wars. It did not move as a robot. It was installed in the aircraft behind the rear cockpit and in front of the refueling receptacle.”
According to former USAF CMSgt (Ret) Roberto Garnica “It was witnessed and reported that the aircraft impacted the water inverted, all heavy components broke through their upper support structure – note the landing gear is sticking out from the top of the wing! Both engines broke all mounts and broke through their nacelles upper structure!”
“SR-71 #61-7974 wreckage was placed back in the same hanger it departed on its ill-fated flight months earlier,” former Blackbird RSO Colonel (Ret) Don Emmons recalls in Richard H. Graham book SR-71 Blackbird Stories, Tales and Legends. “Although this was an ideal place for the Accident Investigation Board to examine the wreckage, it didn’t do much for the morale at Det 1. Imagine the tremendous satisfaction and pleasure of working daily on a larger-than-life machine, and then later, viewing it daily in a destroyed state. Consequently, when the board completed its investigation, the wreckage needed to be removed ASAP. Burial at sea seemed the best option.”
Thanks to the US Navy assistance the wreckage was subsequently transported to the harbor and transferred to a waiting vessel.
Emmons concludes: “The remains of SR-71 #974 were buried at sea with full military honors. The occasion occurred at 1157 hours on Christmas Eve of 1989. The coordinates given placed it several hundred miles from Okinawa. The final resting place was in 25,597 feet of water, in an area known as the Mariana Trench.”
Photo credit: U.S. Air Force and U.S. Navy