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:
Dead
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.
Injured
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

Comments

I was there

I am a 58-year-old woman living in Seattle. I was there when the plane crashed. I had just stepped off the bus bringing me home from kindergarten and was walking across the parking lot towards my mother, who was waiting for me on the porch of our unit. I remember that I became aware that something was wrong up in the sky and heard an explosion and suddenly was very scared. My mother frantically waved at me to hurry up and run to the porch. She quickly took me inside. We lived one building and one parking lot away from the buildings that were hit. If the plane had been flying just slightly to the left, it would have hit our unit and my mother - as I watched.

I remember nothing else except my mother and I going through dresser drawers and picking out clothing to take over to one of the other units where they were collecting clothes for the families who lost everything.

I think my parents hid everything from us except I've always been aware that triplets lost their lives. But I'm sure I played with some of the kids who were lost but was not told anything about it. I have many distinct memories of living there. It's strange that I don't remember the burned up housing and scattered debris. Possibly my brothers and sister and I were kept inside during the cleanup.

Reading the above article was shocking to me. I had no idea it was that bad. And I had no idea I was going to school when it was 16 below zero!

To this day, I am terrified of flying. It's always been a problem and recently I wondered if this plane crash caused my terrible fear.

My family was there also

My Gfather died recently, a retired WW2 / Korean Veteran. My uncle told me of this story as we were assembling prior to the funeral. It was a horrific story he told.

Eielson Air Force Base, AK Jet Crashes Into Homes, Nov 1955

My family had just vacated the unit the triplets lived in about a month earlier. Curious if anyone else in that quad has read this. My Mum and Dad knew the Ellis' as well as the Williams.

crash...

Well, as of today....August 27th, 2009.....at the age of 57..........I had never heard of this crash! I was only 3 when this happened.....and had moved away from Ladd AFB.....where I had been born......in July 52. Wow.....it's truly sad to hear of this. My father never mentioned this to us....although he must have heard of it of course. My father was Major Glenn McKinley Sr.........did anyone know him or our family? Well, ..............I'm living in Las Vegas and still flying for a major airline here in the states. Bye......and God bless! Glenn Jr.

F-84 Crash At Eilson AFB, NOV 1955

My father, MSGT J. E. Dunigan, was working at Base Publications at the time. My mother and brother were on a bus. They witnessed the crash. They were returning to our quarters, near the "new" elementary school, after a visit to the base hospital. My mother described the crash and explosions to my father. My brother described the crash to me. I did'nt witness it. I was in school.

My father was called in to serve on one of the several clean-up details. My dad had seen a lot of bad during WW II, but this accident really disturbed him. The conversations my mother and father had were held away from us kids. I only caught parts of them. I'd ask my dad about it many years later. He would never discuss it with me. Flat refused to.

The next Spring, the F-84 was still laying on it's side up against one of the destroyed apartment buildings. A couple friends and I went through the basements playing kid war-games. I remember everything still smelled of fuel and fire. We managed to dig up some "C" rations out of the debris. I remember that surreal "picnic" vividly. I didn't know much of anything about the loss of life there a few months earlier. I think I was eight.

Looking for more information...

I was wondering if anyone had more information on this crash. Was there a memorial set up on base, or does anyone know which section of housing got hit? I currently live on Eielson and have become fascinated with this since learning of it, but I can find almost no information.

I was there Nov. 1955.

I was in a quanset hut school in first grade. I heard the jet flying low and some stuff fell on the roof. Then a huge boom and everything shook. The kids all jumped up yelling and running around. Mrs. Brady, our teacher, was sort of violent and had a way to get everyone back into their chairs. She continued with the arithmetic lesson while from outside we could hear a lot was going on. My mom picked me up after school because the school bus drivers didn't come. We lived in that housing and I could see fire in the spaces between buildings as we went by. There were a lot of black pieces of something in the yard and everywhere, but I didn't know what it was. RC in Oxnard CA

Eielson AFB Crash

I also witnessed the crash. I was a 9-yr old walking home for lunch with a boy named Bernard (don't remember his last name).
I lived in the 3-building complex adjacent to the one which received the majority of the damage. My family knew the Ruckers and
the Fimples. They possibly knew some of the others, but I don't remember. Parts of the plane slid across the parking lot and
missed hitting Bernard and me by only a few feet. It was a horror that I will never forget. Nightmares stayed with a lot of us for a
long time.

Re: Looking fo more information

The only thing I have been able to find out is that 40 years later the base dedicated its new Child Development Center to the children that were lost. I too currently live on Eielson AFB and I am very sad to have heard about this. I too am curious as to which part of housing the plan crashed at.

1955 Plane crash at Eilson

At the time, I was stationed at Ladd AFB flying F-89-D's for the 449th Fighter Interceptor Squadron. The plane that crashed at Eilson was an F-84-F. It was the new swept-wing version of the venerable straight-wing F-84.

The plane had jettisonable fuel tanks mounted under each wing. What happened was that the forward shackle on one of the tanks failed. This dropped the front end of the tank and this caused the back end of the tank to rise up. When it raised up it hit that wing's aileron, and deflected it fully upward.

This caused the plane to enter a tight, uncontrollable turn immediately after liftoff. The pilot could not do nothing to control the plane, nor could he avoid the crash.

We all viewed it as a horrible tragedy. It was a shock, to say the least.