Losses and Aviation Safety

Ichiban Wreckage: The story of how SR-71 Blackbird #61-7974 was recovered and buried at sea

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.

On Apr. 21, 1989, SR-71 #61-7974, better known as Ichiban departed Kadena Air Base (AB) on a mission.

Remains of the front cockpit.

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.

Main fuselage body (upside down).

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.

SR-71 Ichiban Wrecakge.

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.

Ichiban tail fin.

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.

Pratt & Whitney J58 engine.

“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.”

ANS port hole.

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!”

Another photo of SR-71 Ichiban Wrecakge.

“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.”

Removing classified items from the front cockpit.

Thanks to the US Navy assistance the wreckage was subsequently transported to the harbor and transferred to a waiting vessel.

Landing gear coming through the top of the wing. Note the NO STEP lines.

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.”

This print is available in multiple sizes from AircraftProfilePrints.com – CLICK HERE TO GET YOURS.
SR-71A Blackbird 61-7972 “Skunkworks”

Photo credit: U.S. Air Force and U.S. Navy

Dario Leone

Dario Leone is an aviation, defense and military writer. He is the Founder and Editor of “The Aviation Geek Club” one of the world’s most read military aviation blogs. His writing has appeared in The National Interest and other news media. He has reported from Europe and flown Super Puma and Cougar helicopters with the Swiss Air Force.

Recent Posts

US Navy Operations Specialist explains why Ukrainian F-16s will most probably win BVR engagements against Russian Su-35s

Ukrainian F-16s Vs Russian Su-35s American-made F-16 fighters will arrive in Ukraine this summer: in… Read More

10 hours ago

The Minerve (i.e. a sort of ‘tricolor B-58 Hustler’) and the French bombers that never were

The French bombers that never were: the Mirage IVB and the Minerve In 1957, when… Read More

10 hours ago

Dragon Lady retirement moves forward: USAF retires U-2 Tail 80-1085 as her pilot conducts their 1,085 solo flight

Beale retires U-2 Tail 80-1085 as her pilot conducts their 1,085 solo flight On Apr.… Read More

1 day ago

USAF Avionics Technician explains why Scaled Composites ARES was like a mini A-10 Warthog

The Scaled Composites ARES Agile Responsive Effective Support (ARES) is a full-scale proof-of-concept demonstrator that… Read More

2 days ago

An Omega KDC-10 is the first commercial tanker to refuel USAF B-52, MC-130J over Pacific Ocean

Omega KDC-10 commercial tanker refuels USAF B-52, MC-130J over Pacific Ocean As Pacific Air Forces… Read More

2 days ago