Last weekend, I had the pleasure of attending the Umunhum Conservancy Thank You dinner last weekend, held to show appreciation to those who contributed to help save the historic Radar Tower atop Mount Umunhum. It was a wonderful attended by over 170 people! Santa Clara County Supervisors Dave Cortese and Mike Wasserman were also in attendance. The Conservancy worked hard to ensure recognition of the Radar Tower as a historic structure within the County of Santa Clara and, as a result, the Tower will remain. I am very proud of hard work and dedicated spirit of Sam Drake, Basim Jaber, Kitty Monahan, Randee McQueen, Charles Berls and Mike Boulland, who make up the Conservancy.
The keynote speaker was George Burk, a retired captain in the United States Air Force, who was the sole survivor of a horrific Air Force airplane crash in 1970 that took 13 lives, including that of Sgt. Robbie Robinson, Commander of the Almaden Air Force Base atop Mount Umunhum. Mr. Burk is now a motivational speaker and writer.
District 10 Residents, Chris & Susan Monahan talking with Captain George Burk
The crash that claimed the life of Commander Robinson happened on May 4, 1970. Mr. Burk explained that Commander Robinson was supposed to fly the plane that morning to acquire hours for his pilot license, but he was running late, so another man was in the pilot seat. Just as the plane was taxiing down the runaway, it stopped, the pilot jumped out, and Robinson came running and jumped in the control seat. Within five minutes of takeoff, the plane suffered a severe complication that resulted in the plane crashing at Mangles Ranch, Sonoma. By happenstance, the rancher, Mr. Davieau, who owned the property, smelled smoke and thought his neighbors may have been burning trash. He went to investigate and saw the tail of an airplane in the air. At the crash scene, he saw a man on fire and threw dirt on him to extinguish the fire. That man was George Burk.
Mr. Burk suffered burns to 65% of his body. He went on to share about his stay in the hospital, his amazing doctor, and his reunion with the rancher who initially saved his life.
In 2014, a Memorial Bench was dedicated at the plane crash site by the Sonoma Land Trust to those 13 men who lost their lives. The poem Memories, by Louise Baily, was shared.
George Burk and Daryl Robinson, son of the late Robbie Robinson, former Commander of Almaden Airforce Base
As Mr. Burk was sharing his story, District 10 resident Pat Pizzo, who was in the audience, was astonished to hear Mr. Burk’s story. Pat had been the lead-metallurgical investigator of that very plane crash! He was a Captain in the USAF, nearing the end of his four years at McClellan Air Force Base, when the crash occurred. Investigating this crash would be his last assignment before leaving the Air Force.
I found the history and personal stories that were shared during the evening to be very compelling, which is why I am sharing them with you here. To learn more about Mr. Burk’s story, visit his website at: www.georgeburk.com.