The Thunderbirds are a demonstration squadron based at Nellis Air Force Base, Nevada. They perform aerial acrobatics all over the country, thrilling crowds with their tight formation dives and loops. Their airshow performances have been marred just three times by fatal accidents since the formation of the squadron in 1953. But the worst accident they suffered was not during an airshow. It was during a routine flight over Idaho.
Just at sundown on October 9, 1958, several witnesses saw a cargo plane fly toward the sunset and into the silhouettes of a large flock of geese. The geese scattered, honking their disapproval. The plane’s engines stuttered, raced, then fell silent. The pilot had time to lower the landing gear and was probably looking for a place to put the aircraft down. Instead, it plowed nose first into a brush-covered hillside about six miles southeast of Payette, a ball of flame marking its impact.
The twin-engined Fairchild C123 was on its way from Hill AFB in Utah to McChord AFB in Washington. On board was a flight crew of five along with 14 aircraft maintenance personnel assigned to the Thunderbird squadron. None of the 19 survived. It remains the worst accident ever suffered by the Thunderbird team.
One year after the crash, members of the Payette High School Key Club dedicated a triangle-shaped monument to those who died. It is located in a small park and rest area on State Highway 52 south of Payette. The community has honored the crash victims with an annual ceremony ever since.