Fort Wayne, IN Office Building Explosion, Aug 1966



Fort Wayne, Ind. (AP) -- A third body was recovered today from an explosion-shattered office building and two others were believed still in the rubble.
The lastest confirmed victim was MRS. EVERETT JACKSON, 60, Fort Wayne, a payroll clerk.
Heavy earth-moving machines continued to tear at the debris from the multi-million-dollar blast which injured 38, in addition to the three known dead and two missing.
"There is no doubt it was a gas explosion," said District Fire Chief Charles Lancaster, "but it may be days before we know what triggered it."
Beside the shattered two-story brick building was an open trench where workmen had been replacing a gas supply line from the main plant of Phelps-Dodge Copper Products Corp.
Three of the injured remained in critical condition today.
Most of the building's 90 employes had left for lunch shortly before the explosion tore into the midsection of the two-story structure.
EARL SMITH, 45, manager of the firm's organic research laboratory, was believed mounting the stairs to attend an executive luncheon when the explosion killed him.
He was described as one of the pioneers in the company's principal product, Magnawire, which is used in many electrical devices.
Eight other executives scheduled to attend the 12:15 p.m. luncheon had not gathered in the upstairs dining room.
The victims recovered were identified as MARGARET SLEESMAN, 24, a secretary, and VIRGINIA BECHER, 44, a telephone operator, both of Fort Wayne.
Also presumed dead was another telephone operator, RUTH DeYOUNG, 38, of Fort Wayne.
Some employes had complained in the morning of a gas odor and two women became nauseated, authorities reported.
Harley Jensen, division manager for Northern Indiana Public Service Co., said the utility had received no complaints of leaking gas at the Phelps-Dodge plant.
Walter S. Ainsworth, vice-president for sales, said the demolished building housed payroll records and computers for the firm's 1,300 employes.
Authorities estimated as many as 60 employes might have died if the explosion occurred 30 minutes earlier.
District Fire Chief Charles Lancaster, first on the scene, said:
"There were people running around and some were draped over the hedge or lying in the evergreens. It was quiet, though. I didn't hear any moans or screams. I guess most of the injured were in shock."
Ainsworth, 38, was in his office with Robert Warren, 36, assistant to the president. They were conferring in advance of the executive luncheon when Ainsworth said he heard "a long, rolling blast like an artillery barrage."
Both ducked behind the desk as debris crashed around them. Later, they were helped down a ladder of IRW employes.
Most of the building's brick walls were blown out.
All available emergency units and ambulances were rushed to the area which is located amid a factory complex on the city's East Side.
The injured were shuttled to Lutheran and Parkview hospitals in 15 ambulances.
One was owned by PAUL KLEBER, 46, a Fort Wayne television repairman who used an ambulance as a repair truck, and called himself a TV doctor. He volunteered to help the injured and suffered a fatal heart attach an hour later.
NORRIS W. WORDEN, 53, Fort Wayne, operator of a wrecker truck who was helping in the cleanup, died of a heart attack early today.

Kokomo Tribune Indiana 1966-08-24