At 10:50 a.m. Dr. Allen Garst, the local veterinarian, was taking blood samples from a horse on a farm near Deveilbliss Road when he heard a roar in the sky -- "a boom, an explosion" -- and the horse started jumping.
"Then," Garst said, "I saw this red and orange ball of fire just hanging in the fog about a half mile to the south. It hung there for 10, 15 seconds. Then it started drifting slightly like a balloon. Then it disappeared like I hadn't seen it at all."
Karen Green was watching TV in the living room of her farmhouse when she heard explosions outside and saw flames shooting up from the field a quarter mile to the north. She jumped in a pickup truck with her husband, Paul, and they beat a path through the waist-high grass to the railroad tracks.
Papers and insulation were falling out of the sky. There was smoke, fire, trees knocked down and debris scattered everywhere from what looked to have been an airplane. They were among the first persons to get to the scene.
By dusk, the field of rye where an Air Force radar jet had crashed and killed 21 crew members was crowded with the attendants of disaster. A wide muddy road had been blazed from Rte. 194 in Walkersville over a hill to the site. Two dozen police cars, fire trucks, crime labs and communication vehicles were parked on the grassy hillside near the wreckage.
Phone lines had been laid out to Rte. 194, half a mile away. Helicopters whirled overhead. Smoldering chunks of the plane had been cordoned off. The remains of crew members had been marked with white rags on the end of wooden sticks and an Air Force brigadier general had arrived to begin an inquiry into the crash.
As teams combed the fields at arms' length still looking for bodies, high school students scavenged pieces of metal, pages from an electrical manual, and expense account forms that had fallen out of the sky. Grade school children rode their bicycles along the farm roads retrieving pieces of yellow insulation and a large traffic jam formed along Rte. 194 where fire volunteers waved traffic past a long line of red flares. Pickup trucks hauled in cases of soda and food to rescue workers.
"I'm just shaking," said Karen Green. "I saw a helmet that was intact. Then I saw a mess lying by the fence row. After I knew they were bodies I stayed put."
When Walkersville firefighters arrived at the site 20 minutes after the crash, fires were burning in several places. There was the smell of jet fuel in the air and plumes of acrid smoke rose out of the field.
After the fireball passed over their heads, a two-car train of the Maryland Midland railroad followed a trail of smoke up the tracks. It stopped at the crossing at Devilbliss Bridge Road less than a mile from the crash to let more rescue vehicles go by. The crew passed a piece of wreckage identified as the tail of the plane and continued until the tracks were blocked by a large piece of debris that apparently was the instrument panel.
Ed Watson hopped out of the train and joined the futile search for survivors. "The plane flew up the tracks southwest to northeast. I found the first body in a filed at the side of the tracks."
Near the tracks, he said, were holes in the ground carved out by a landing gear and an engine.
Frank Harris, a salesman from Emmitsburg, ran to the scene after seeing the last section of the flight before the plane hit the ground, and joined 20 civilians and fire rescue workers in the search for bodies. He said he discovered what was later marked as the flight recorder as well as an airman's wallet.
Air Force personnel arrived shortly after noon and took control of the area, limiting access until they could confirm no classified material was on board the plane.
Maryland State Police -- acting on their own, according to Air Force officials -- confiscated two local news photographers' film. Troopers were stationed at key points around the site guarding the entrance to the railroad, the entrance to the field and other points.
Throughout the afternoon, a plume of white smoke hung 200 feet over the locust and mulberry trees dividing the fields.
At 3:30, searchers began walking at arms' length through the field adjacent to the tracks followed by identification teams with wooden sticks. Some men wore yellow plastic gloves.
"Have you been told how to search?" shouted an officer to 40 workers stretched from a line of trees to the railroad tracks. "All we're looking for is body parts, not aircraft parts. Do not move aircraft parts. When you find a body part, raise your hand and the whole line should stop."
Shortly before 4 p.m., reporters were admitted in groups of eight to the crash site. Walkie-talkies and radios squawked constantly and workers combed areas for missing bodies. Dismembered limbs were marked by white cloths tied to widely scattered stakes.
Inside a circle of burned ground where the main wreckage lay there were twisted hunks of superstructure and empty boots. A jet engine had smashed into the field, half burying itself, and pieces of the jet's fuselage stood like sculpture. A blue airman's cap had been marked with a pole. Half a dozen trees had been bowled over and were charred black. There were yellow pipes and air tanks and mounds of sodden ashes.
At 7 p.m., as darkness was falling, rescue workers began the task of moving the bodies to Bethesda Naval Hospital. Tents were pitched, and under the glare of searchlights the work continued into the night.