Eielson Air Force Base, AK Jet Crashes Into Homes, Nov 1955
DEATH TOLL REACHES 14 AFTER JET CRASHES INTO DWELLINGS AT EIELSON AFB NEAR FAIRBANKS.
PLANE SPEWS FIRE, HORROR AND DEATH THRU SIX RESIDENCES.
Fairbanks (AP) -- An air force jet fighter plane veering like a bird with a crippled wing, spewed death and horror and fire yesterday through half a dozen eight-family housing units at Eielson Air Force Base.
Even today nearly 24 hours after the disaster at the base 26 miles southeast of here on the Alaska highway, there was no exact figure on the casualties.
An air force spokesman announced 14 were known dead. There possibly were two others. Ice-covered debris and wreckage was being combed in the grim hunt.
Many of the victims were women and children home for the lunch hour.
Eight of more were injured severely in the crash or ensuing fire. One was described as critical.
Dozens of others suffered varying defrees of frostbite from their desperate fight against flames that leaped and danced for four hours in 16 below zero cold.
One poignant note in the overall tragedy -- the worst even to hit one of Alaska's big air bases -- was the death of the 11-month-old triplet sons of a sergeant.
Most of the victims were members of the families of military personnel who lived in the new and modern housing units at the base.
The triples were the sons of Sgt. and MRS. WILLIAM FIMPLE, formerly of Ellwood City, Pa.
An officer who lived in one of the houses adjacent to the scene of destruction told of finding FIMPLE kneeling in debris, burned and with his shirt blown off. His arms enfolded his other two small children, and he was shouting, "My other boys! My other boys!"
The mother was standing beside a flaming building with her screams nearly drowned in the roar and the confusion. Both perents were burned seriously.
There were many narrow escapes, too, in the carnage which one officer described as "terrible ... awful." A man told of being blown out a window; another was blown downstairs; a couple escaped injury as fire-splattering plane wreckage stopped a few inches from their apartment wall.
The pilot of the ill-fated F84 jet was LT. ALFRED F. POUNDERS, 28, of Monticello, Miss. He perished.
Witnesses said his plane veered at almost a 90-degree angle as it left the runway. It limped along at low altitude unable to climb, then crashed into the homes about a quarter of a mile away.
One witness, RUDY HAMMER, an electrical engineer who was working in the area, described it graphically:
"The plane bounced on one building, throwing it all into flames. THen it bounced on another and a wing flew off. The it ripped down a high tension power line. From there it smashed right through an apartment house and scattered everywhere."
The tragedy struck shortly after 12:30 p.m. while many children were home from school for the lunch hour. A "thank God" was sounded by many parents that it didn't come five minutes later when even more children would have been in the building.
The apartment house that took the full impact was demolished. The dead triplets were in a front room of that building. The burning gasoline tanks of the plane spewed gasoline over five others and set infernos raging.
Parts of the wreckage were scattered from the buildings.
The flames and confusion were increased, some witnesses said, by bursting oil tanks scattered from the buildings.
MISS PAMELA HARRIS, 21, who lived at the base, said the oil tanks burst like bombs and she saw the flames engluf one group of school children. She said she never learned their fate.
A total of 500 or 600 volunteers were fighting the wildly spreading flames as soon as they could reach the scene. Fire units rushed over the more than 20 miles of ice-covered highway from Ladd Air Force Base, on the outskirts of Fairbanks to join in the fight.
Aircraft set up a shuttle service to take the burned and crippled to the Ladd Hospital.
The scene around the holocaust was a tragic one as air force men who lived in the buildings searched frantically for some trace of wives and children. Some cried out. The faces of others mirrored their fears in stony silence.
LT. R. E. MARSHALL, an army officer, told of being knocked downstairs.
"Our baby was on the bed next to the wall and it was thrown to the floor," he related. "The baby wasn't hurt. My wife was knocked over too."
The MARSHALLS ran out to find the buildings all around them in flames.
FRED A. SORRI, a plumber working at the base, said the impact of the crash "actually knocked four apartments right out of the building." There are bathtubs and plumbing fixtures resting half a block away.
He told of finding a sweing machine 300 feet from where a woman had been sewing on it.
Eielson is one of Alaska's major air force bases. It has 12,000 foot long runways. They were built to handle the nation's biggest bombers. Planes as big as B36s have operated from it. It is the base from which B29s have been flying for several years on over-the-pole weather observation flights. It lies in a vast, almost flat hinterland of the interior, where no mountain rises for 100 miles in any direction.
ANOTHER CRASH VICTIM DIES; BRUCKER VISITS.
MRS. JUANITA M. JONES, one of the injured in Tuesday's crash of a jet fighter plane into housing units as Eielson Air Force Base, died last night at Ladd Air Force Base hospital.
Her name was released by the Army's Yukon Command headquarters, along with those of other Army casualties in the tragedy.
MRS. JONES, from Eubank, Ky., leaves her husband, Sp. 2/c HARRIS A. JONES, and daughter, CONNIE G. JONES, 3, among the injured.
Secretary of the Army Wilber M. Brucker stopped at Eielson AFB yesterday to view the crash scene. In a meeting with a group of men and women who lived in the disaster area, he said:
"I can't understand how you all got out alive. Providence must have spared you."
The secretary had requested this stop be made on his Alaskan tour so that he could see the scene and talk to the families. He also had visited the six injured persons from the disaster at the Ladd AFB Hospital.
After the Eielson stop, Brucker and his party flew on to Fort Greely and to Elmendorf AFB yesterday evening. He is to go on to the Far East by was of the Aleutians on an official inspection.
Col. RAY J. WILL, commanding officer of Eielson AFB, accompanied the secretary and his party on the tour of the crash scene. Then Brucker was taken to the headquarters building of the 450th Anti-Aircraft Artillery Battalion to meet the families. Nine of the dead were men and dependants of the 450th.
Prior to leaving Bruckner told the small group, "Buck up. Better days lie ahead for all of you."
Protestant memorial services were conducted in the Eielson AFB chapel at 11 o'clock this morning. Flags were lowered to half mast during the rites.
Catholic mass was to be celebrated at 4 o'clock this afternoon at the chapel for DONALD, DALE and DAVID FIMPLE, the triplet boys of Sgt. and MRS. WILLIAM J. FIMPLE, who died in the disaster.
The Army casualty list released today follows:
M/Sgt. MARION K. ELLIS.
LYNN M. ELLIS, 4.
DEBRA ELLIS, 2.
CLARK ELLIS, 3.
Sergeant ELLIS was from Rt. 2, Osawatomi, Kas.
SFC WELDON M. RUCKER.
HAZEL E. RUCKER, his wife.
MRS. EMMA B. McBRAYER, his mother-in-law.
Sergeant RUCKER was from Route 2, Lorena, Tex.
BETTY J. WILLIAMS, wife.
NIALA M. WILLIAMS, 2, daughter of,
Sgt. CLIFFORD B. WILLIAMS.
They were from 5885 Hibiscus Road, Orlando, Fla.
JUANITA M. JONES, Eubank, Tex., wife of Sp. 2/c HARRIS A. JONES.
Sp. 2/c HARRIS A. JONES and daughter, CONNIE G. JONES, 2.
The names of the FIMPLE triplets and of the jet pilot, LT. ALFRED M. POUNDERS of Monticello, Miss., previously had been announced.
Daily Sitka Sentinel Alaska 1955-11-30
Researched and Transcribed by Stu Beitler. Thank you, Stu!