MILWAUKEE (AP) — It seemed like a normal landing — until a floor-buckling jolt instantly broke a comrade's leg and the smell of fuel filled the air.
That's when Air Force Reserve Staff Sgt. Dean Ackmann knew he and the others on a cargo plane from the Milwaukee-based 440th Airlift Wing were in trouble.
"I was busy staring at the cargo. I thought it was going to break loose. My buddy was looking past me through the porthole and he could see the flames and (debris) going by. It was then I knew we went off the runway," Ackmann said.
In an interview, Ackmann described the harrowing moments of the April 1 landing in the capital of Honduras that ended in a crash and maelstrom of fire.
Three crew members were killed and seven others were injured. Four remain hospitalized.
The cause of the crash of the C-130H Hercules cargo plane remains under investigation.
Ackmann was released from Brooke Army Medical Center in Texas last week with second-degree burns to his upper arms and ears. He spoke from his home in Omro.
When the plane first hit a 4-foot drainage ditch at the end of the runway at Toncontin Airport in Tegucigalpa, Ackmann said he thought the tires on the main landing gear were blowing out.
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"I was told we went airborne after hitting the ditch and then we hit a bridge that knocked off half of the left wing. Then we dove down into a gully and hit cockpit first and slid forward till we stopped," he said.
Master Sgt. Joseph Martynski's leg broke with that first blow. He along with Ackmann and Tech. Sgt. Danny Formanski were at the rear of the aircraft. They knew they had to get out — quick.
"There was fuel burning and puddles of raw fuel and fuel just dumping out of the wings," Ackmann said. "We dragged Joe out and when his leg hit the ground he really yelled and I knew it was broken."
Surrounded by intense heat, they dragged Martynski up a grassy incline.
"I waved for them to come over, but we were still too close to the plane for them. The heat was intense. We started dragging him down the street … and about 10 broke from the crowd and ran over and helped us get out."
Reservists belonging to the U.S. Air Force 440th Airlift Wing in Milwaukee killed in the crash were Senior Master Sgt. Leland Rassmussen, 53, of Greenfield, Staff Sgt. Vicki Clifton, 37, of Oak Creek and Senior Airman Samuel Keene, 25, of Milwaukee.
Those still hospitalized after the crash include Capt. Robert Woodard, 37, of Fishers, Ind.; Martynski, 44, of South Milwaukee; Capt. Ian Kincaid, 34, of Fox River Grove, Ill.; and Formanski, 38, of South Milwaukee. Capt. Michael Butler, 32, of Prairie du Sac and Master Sgt. Steven Hilger, 43, of South Milwaukee, no longer are hospitalized.