Wichita, KS KC-135 Stratotanker Crash, Jan 1965
Disaster Strikes Northeast Wichita
A faltering Air Force jet Tanker spewing thousands of gallons of fuel in a death dive slammed into a vacant lot, skidded through a row of homes Saturday and enveloped a city block in an inferno of flame and smoke. Police said at least 29 persons were killed. Officials feared the death toll would go higher. Tens of the bodies taken to two makeshift morgues were children. Police Chief Eugene Pond said the dead included 22 civilians and all seven plane crew members. At least 27 persons were injured, three seriously enough to be hospitalized.Lt. Gen. David Wade commander of the Second Air Force and military officer in charge said the plane radioed "Mayday" - a distress call - seconds before the crash.The plane commanded by Capt. Chester Szmuc of North Royalton Ohio took off at 10:28 EST and crashed three minutes later.
The dead were burned so badly identification was extremely difficult and a civilian casualty list was not available. The 200 block of Pratt Street, a racially mixed residential area near Wichita State University, looked like a battlefield. Huge searchlights lighted the area and about 50 Air Force men hunted late into the night for possible additional victims. There was a strong smell of the kerosene based jet fuel and natural gas. The plane tore a hole five feet deep in the vacant lot and skidded half the lengthy of the block splintering houses in its path and leaving them like burned matches.
As Gov. William Avery flew from Topeka to the scene of the disaster the Red Cross and the Air Force moved to aid the homeless. About 200 Wichita residents offered to open their homes to families burned out. Thirty families were removed from the street and gas and electric power was shut off. Through Air Secretary Eugene M. Zuckert in Washington, the Air Force said it would do all possible to help and it began making immediate subsistence payments to those whose homes were destroyed or damaged. Only black rubble where 11 houses stood. Fifty others were damaged. Trees and cars were charred. The streets ran curb-deep with water and foam sprayed by firemen who battled the intense blaze for two hours in 14-degree temperatures before they could control it.
The $3million tanker, built by Boeing and basically of the same design as the Boeing 707 civilian jetliner, was demolished. Its blackened ribs lay on the street like picked bones. A 707 jet had taken off from Wichita Municipal Airport with 100 passengers aboard just a few minutes before the crash Saturday morning and it was first feared that this was the plane that had crashed. But it was the tanker that had just taken off, presumably fully loaded on a routine mission from McConnell Air Force Base. The plane was seen to bank. The pilot apparently was trying desperately to hold altitude and nose into a vacant field. Suddenly it veered down. Widespread areas of the northeast section of the city were sprayed with the JP4 fuel it carried - a type less explosive than that used by most commercial jetliners.
Watch Plane Dive
For miles around people could see the plane dive, disappear momentarily behind trees and the slope of the ground and then see the huge ball of fire shooting into the sky. The crash site was just three blocks short of the Wichita Institute for Logopedics where children are treated for speech defects. Cause of crash was not immediately learned. The plane hit one house, sheared the top, and apparently rammed into tow more like a deadly scythe. Chunks and pieces and the fuel that sprayed in sheets of flame turned the street of one-story frame houses into an inferno. The injured were taken to St. Francis Hospital and to Wesley Hospital. Eight were released after treatment. Bodies were stretched in rows in the vacant area the pilot was apparently aiming for. Many of the injured suffered burns on their feet as they ran from the blazing neighborhood. Robert Jackson, 12, was severely burned but hospital officials said death was probably averted because his jacket melted to his body and kept the flames from his skin. Police said they believed the pilot was trying to land in a vacant lot about a block from where the plane crashed. The site was later designated as an (see DISASTER Page 2)
7 Crewmen dead.
The seven crew members killed when their KC135 jet transport crashed today into a Wichita residential area were all stationed at Clinton-Sherman Air Force Base, Clinton, OK. A spokesman at McConnell Air Force Base said the seven members of the crew were:
Capt. C. Szmuc, aircraft commander, Royalton Ohio
Capt. J. G. Wedseth, pilot, Minneapolis, MN
Lt. A.W. Sullivan, navigator, Miami FL
Staff Sgt. R. Went, boom operator, Baltimore MD
Staff Sgt. J. W. Jenkens, crew chief, Middlesboro Ky
Airman 1C P.E. Keneski, assistant crew chief, Harrisville RI
Airman 2C J. L. Davidson, assistant crew chief, Philadelphia PA