Former paratrooper recalls harrowing Green Ramp accident that killed 24
Posted March 21
Fort Bragg, N.C. — What was supposed to be a paratrooper's dream jump quickly turned into a nightmare.
Monday marks the 20th year since a tragic accident claimed the lives of 24 members of the 82nd Airborne Division at Fort Bragg. The paratroopers died when an F-16D Falcon collided with a C-130 Hercules transport plane while both were trying to land at what was then Pope Air Force Base.
The C-130 landed safely, but the fighter jet turned into a molten ball of flame and steel that headed directly for a C-141 airplane parked on the Green Ramp, where troops were preparing for a jump.
Lt. Col. Judson Nelson was one of those soldiers.
"We were doing a daytime jump,” he recalled. “Daytime. No combat equipment. It was a rarity in division to do something like that.
Suddenly, Nelson heard a popping noise.
“I turned around, and behind me I saw the F-16 coming for us,” he said. “The popping noise that I heard was the pilots punching out of the aircraft.”
Nelson was on fire.
“I was conscious of the fact that I was on fire, on the back of my blouse, so I tried to roll it out and ended up having to take that blouse off to get the fire off me,” he said.
Then the situation worsened. The fighter jet’s chain gun had live ammunition, and the heat from the explosion set off the rounds.
“We all started to seek cover,” Nelson said.
The accident, which injured more than 80, is considered the largest loss of life for the division during peacetime since the end of World War II.
Nelson was burned over 45 percent of his body. He proudly wears his scars, because he knows he's one of the lucky ones.
“You hear stories about guys trying to put their buddies out, pour water on them while they're starting to flare up still because they aren't totally out. And guys tackling other guys who are running and they're on fire and trying to put them out,” he said.
He added: “I like to tell people I’m alive because of folks at Womack (Army Medical Center). And every time I see somebody who was there that day, I give them a big hug.”
The division will commemorate the 20th anniversary with a ceremony at 11 a.m. Monday at Pax Shed 2 on Pope Field.