Air Force Gen. Jerome F. O'Malley, 53, commander of the Tactical Air Command at Langley Air Force Base in Virginia, was killed last night when an Air Force jet transport crashed and burned after landing at the Scranton-Wilkes-Barre Airport in Avoca, Pa.
Air Force officials said Gen. O'Malley, his wife Diane, and three crew members of the twin-jet T39 were killed in the crash, which occurred about 6 p.m. The plane had taken off about an hour earlier from Langley, near Hampton, Va.
The general, a native of the Scranton area, was scheduled to speak there tonight at a Boy Scout fund-raising banquet honoring Rep. Joseph M. McDade, (R-Pa.).
A spokesman for the Tactical Air Command said last night that it was "not known" whether Gen. O'Malley was at the controls of the plane when it crashed.
The cause of the crash was not immediately know, and the spokesman said only that it would be investigated "by a qualified board of Air Force officers."
A man who watched the plane land told the Associated Press that the plane overshot the runway and exploded.
"It came down smoothly and he was down on the ground. But then there was no reverse thrust, no noise of braking sounds. And he just kept going," said Bob Martin, who was guarding a private plane at the airport's general aviation terminal.
"We watched him go to the end of the runway, and he disappeared," said Martin.
"After about a 10- or 15-second delay, a big mushroom or fireball about 100 feet in the air and about 100 feet wide went up in the air, and it immediately went down, with dense smoke following," he said.
At the end of the runway is an embankment with a sheer drop of more than 100 feet, airport director Robert Kemp said.
The plane's crew members were identified as the pilot, Capt. Harry L. Haugh; the copilot, Lt. Col. Lester F. Newton and the crew chief, T/Sgt. Robert A. Eberflus.
The Tactical Air Command, which Gen. O'Malley had headed since last September, is one of the major components of the Air Force and is responsible for the training and employment of tactical fighter aircraft and tactical air missions. It includes more than 100,000 personnel at more than 30 locations in the United States and abroad.
O'Malley, a former Air Force vice chief of staff and a former commander of the Pacific Air Force, was a command pilot with more than 5,000 flying hours who had flown more than 100 combat missions in Southeast Asia.
A native of Carbondale, Pa., O'Malley attended school there before graduating from the U.S. Military Academy at West Point.
He and his wife had two sons and two daughters.
The last fatal crash involving a high-ranking Air Force general was April 26, 1984, when Lt. Gen. Robert M. Bond, 54, was killed in a secret U.S. test program.