F-4J Phantom (158379) Crash Site in California

Tail section of crashed F-4 Phantom 158379 (Image: Joe Idoni; wreckage of F-4 Phantom 158379)

Out on the remote Coso Range mountains of California, east of the Sierra Nevada, lies the wreckage of two US military warplanes that plunged to earth there almost half a century ago. The McDonnell Douglas F-4 Phantom II jets had been on a routine training mission on June 26, 1972 when they were involved in a mid-air collision. Today, their broken wrecks still haunts the canyons and mountainsides of the Coso Range.

Phantom wing section at the crash site of F-4J 158379 (Image: Joe Idoni)

The US Navy F-4J Phantoms involved in the incident belonged to VFA-154, the “Black Knights”, which today operates the F/A-18F Super Hornet. The aircraft, serial numbers 158364 and 158379, had taken off from Naval Air Station Fallon in Nevada, which is now home to the Naval Fighter Weapons School, famously known as TOPGUN.

Visible serial number of the twisted rear fuselage of F-4 Phantom 158379

The surviving tail section of crashed F-4J Phantom 158379 on the Coso Range in California (Images: Joe Idoni)

Ejection History lists the fateful last flight of the two F-4Js as a simulated airstrike exercise. All four crew members managed to eject from their stricken jets after the mid-air collision but, according to the website, Phantom 158379’s radar intercept officer, LTJG C. Jack Winstead, was killed in the crash.

F-4J Phantoms 158364 and 158379 suffered a mid-air collision over California on June 26, 1972 (Image: Joe Idoni)

Large pieces of Phantoms 158364 and 158379 still lie where they fell to earth 44 years ago. Joe Idoni hiked up to the crash site in 2006 and spotted the unmistakable tail section of 158379, its unit markings and serial number eerily preserved despite decades out on the range. The aircraft’s wing lies across the canyon, while Phantom 158364 came down about a mile away.

Wrecked F-4 tail planes lying on the desert range

(Images: Joe Idoni)

158379 is understood to be the last of 522 F-4J model Phantoms to have been built. The last J was delivered in 1972, which would make Phantom 158379 a brand new aircraft at the time of the crash. In addition to the tail and wing sections, other identifiable components include undercarriage and weapons pylons. The national insignia, unit markings and various stencilling were also found to be remarkably well preserved.

McDonnell Douglas F-4 Phantom II wreckage (Image: Joe Idoni)

Browse more of Joe Idoni’s photos here, and be sure to check out the video by Global URBEX.

If you’re a fan of the mighty F-4, you’ll find more Phantom jet articles in the Urban Ghosts archives.

 
 


 
 
 

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