Mt. Tom, MA Bomber Crashes Into Mount Tom, July 1946
25 DIE AS BOMBER HITS MT. TOM.
ALL ABOARD LOST WHEN BIG CRAFT IS BLOWN APART.
Holyoke, July 10 (AP) -- Twenty-five army, navy and coast guard men -- the entire crew and passenger list of a converted Flying Fortress carrying the homeward-bound servicemen from Gander, Newfoundland -- were killed last night when the plane crashed against 1200-foot Mount Tom.
Salvage crews summoned to the scene of New England's worst air disaster, labored today on the mist-shrouded hill that rises abrupt and alone, above the Connecticut valley not far from Westover field in nearby Chicopee, where the plane was to have landed at 8:27 (eastern standard time) last night.
The broken bodies of the occupants, whose names were withheld pending notification of next of kin were scattered among the plane's wreckage along a 400-foot swath shorn by the crashing B-17 through dense woods 200 feet from the hilltop.
Find 20 Bodies.
Army rescue forces who struggled up a steep, cobblestoned road, reported that by daybreak they had recovered about 20 bodies and had taken them to Holyoke funeral homes.
Five bodies were believed still in the smoking charred wreckage that was spread in small pieces over the quarter mile square area.
During the morning, many hours after the crash, the woods still were smoking and occasional bursts of flame kept army guards busy with portable extinguishers. Molten engine nocelles still gave off an intense heat.
Army officers speculated that the pilot, possibly unfamiliar with the terrain, did not observe the mountain until it was too late.
Typical GI momentos of a happy homecoming -- that became a grim tragedy -- dotted the charred ground.
There were personal snapshots, obviously of parents, wives and sweethearts. A gold wrist watch, that somehow withstood the shattereding crash, glittered among the ashes, its hands stopped at 10:20, the approximate time of the crash.
Music records of the V-disc type distributed to armed service centers were strewn among the wreckage. Charred and torn parachutes, unopened, lay in piles.
There also were navy pea jackets, burned shoes, wallets, blankets and several letters.
Army officials said the letters were destined for the United States from the overseas servicemen.
Westover airfield officials said identification of the dead would be impossible for an indefinite period.
Most of the bodies were badly dismembered by the impact of the crash that hewed down trees a foot in diameter.
Holyoke police, gathering reports from witnesses, many of whom saw the crash from Mountain park, amusement area at the base of the mountain, presented varied stories.
One spectator said he thought he heard the plane circling the area for more than an hour before it streaked into the mountain and exploded in flames. Other spectators said the plane flew low over the city and directly into the mountains without circling.
The Holyoke fire department said a heavy downpour of rain that immediately followed the accident probably prevented a serious forest fire.
A Westover field army investigating board was due at the scene later in the day.
The bomber exploded upon impact and a second blast apparently blew the big craft apart. The explosions set fire to trees in the area, but rain averted a forest fire, the officer reported.
The plane was overdue at Westover when it crashed. The public relations office said it would be impossible to determine immediately what caused the craft to hit the mountain.
Westover reported that the plane radioed 10 minutes before it hit that everything was "fine" and that it would be in within 10 minutes. Nothing was heard from it again until the army received word of the crash.
Army officials said the four-engined was a "stripped" B17, the armament having been removed. Regular passenger seats, however, had not been installed.
Aided by crews from Westover, police and firemen labored through the night to extricate bodies. A mile long walk up the steep rise from the nearest point accessible by vehicles doubled the task of reaching the scene.
The army placed a cordon around the approaches when more than 700 persons lined the section. Many of them had seen the craft explode from an amusement park near the base of the mountain.
ROBERT HODASH, Northampton correspondent for the Springfield, Mass. Republican and an Associated Press representative in that area, was one of the first to reach the scene.
He described it as "a gruesome spectacle" with some of the bodies "horribly mangled," trees knocked down across a wide strip, others singed by fire, and wreckage scattered over hundreds of yards.
He said the army succeeded in getting one ambulance near the spot about 2:30 a.m. (eastern daylight time) and began the task of bringing bodies to the base where a medical examiner was waiting.
HODASH was at the amusement park when the crash occurred. He made the steep climb over the bed of an abandoned cable railway.
He said the ship hit about 10:30 p.m. (EDT) last night, a short distance from the ruins of an old mountain house, about 200 yards below the summit of the elevation.
Holyoke police reported that the craft was "still burning fiercely" when the first policeman reached the spot. Their operations were delayed for some time by the intense heat.
They found the parachutes but did not report immediately whether any were open. They also discovered near scattered debris a jacket bearing the words "MR. ROBERTS."
Reports of eye witnesses that the plane was afire before it hit brought a denial from Westover field officials. They said that the craft first brushed the tops of trees, tearing off an engine and gasoline containers which ignited, and then struck a bare, rocky space further up the elevation.
They said the ship was in radio contact with the field shortly before the crash and reported no fire aboard. It was raining at the time, they added, and radio contact was shut off suddenly. They reported that the plane was due at Westover at 9:27 p.m. (EDT).
Officials speculated that the pilot, possible unfamiliar with the territory, had not observed the looming elevation in the light rain. The craft first brushed trees at the tip of the mountain and then plunged into the elevation.
Eyewitnesses said that approximately an acre of trees appeared to have been signed near the mountain top.
Officers said there was a possibility that some of the victims were coastguardsmen. They were checking Goose Bay in an effort to obtain a complete passenger list.
Westover officials said they doubted reports that the ship had been circling in the area of the field and the mountain section for more than two hours. Their radio contact with the craft indicated otherwise, they added.
Firemen, unable to get close to the brush fire touched off by the craft, frought the blaze with booster pumps until a heavy downpour made firefighting unnecessary.
The first men to reach the scene, JAMES MALOPNEY, a former army lieutenant and JOHN COOK, both of Holyoke, said that the heat was so intense they wre unable to get within 100 yards of the ship.
4000 In Park.
Holyoke police said the crash could have had even more tragic consequences if the plane had plummeted into Mountain park, a large amusement area, at the foot of the elevation, almost directly below the scene of the tragedy.
The police said that an estimated 4000 persons were in the park at the time attending a summer theater, a dance hall, and vaious amusement rides.
The crash scene was on the south (Holyoke) side of the steep side of Mount Tom.
MALONEY told police he heard a "blast like thunder" while he was dancing and rushed from the hall to discover flames on the mountainside. COOK and he then ran a mile and a half up an abandoned cable car road.
"The flames were terrible," MALONEY said. "They drove me back. I could see a mail bag, and a shiny part of the plane. There were no outcries. They all must have died instantly."
Patrolman FRANK O'CONNELL, on duty at the amusement park, said that a beacon light atop Mount Tom was lighted just prior to the crash.
Two 15-year-old Holyoke boys were credited by army rescue workers with doing the most to recover the 20 bodies first found. They were ROBERT MURRAY and WILLIAM QUIRK. An army officer said the boys guided rescue crews to the spot where the plane crashed and helped workers for the remainder of the night and morning.
The boys said that they knew the terrain well because they made frequent trips to the hill in search of snakes.
At 6 a.m. MURRAY pleaded with army authorities to send word to his home, telling his parents, "Don't be afraid of my absence. I have work to do."
The Fitchburg Sentinel Massachusetts 1946-07-10