Chicopee, MA Air Force Jet Plane Explodes, June 1958




Westover Air Force Base, June 27 (AP) -- A jet tanker plane attempting a transatlantic speed record crashed and exploded seconds after takeoff early today, killing all 15 aboard.
Observers said the giant KC135 jet tanker hit high tension wires about a mile and a half from its takeoff runway.
The explosion disintegrated the plane into hundreds of pieces, the largest of which was described as no bigger than a chair.
Among the victims were six newsmen who were to cover the flight of four air force planes attempting to break records for aircraft speed in crossing the Atlantic in both directions.
Commander Aboard.
Also on board was Brig. Gen. DONALD W. SAUNDERS, Athens, N. Y., airborne commander in charge of the operation.
The plane was the third of the four-plane flight to take off. The first two got off on schedule and headed directly for London.
The fourth plane was on the runway ready to take off at the time of the crash. That flight was canceled.
With the first light of dawn, rescue workers found 14 bodies scattered over a wide area. The 15th body was jammed in the wreckage.
Parts of the flaming wreckage set fire to trees and brush hundreds of yards away.
The crashing plane gouged out a big section of the Massachusetts Turnpike and a 10-mile stretch was closed because of the damage.
Heard Crash.
KAZIMIERZ MARHOWSKI, 45, on whose property the plane crashed said: "I heard the plane taking off as I was lying in bed. In a very little while, I heard a terrific explosion. I ran outside and it was brighter than daylight from the burning plane. The heat from the wreckage was so terrific it wasn't possible to get near it. Wreckage was all over the countryside. Nobody could have lived in that crash."
Normal Takeoff.
Westover air force officials said the plane had made a normal takeoff and was airborne. They added that it broke ground at the exact point of prediction on the runway and appeared to be flying normally.
It skidded across the Massachusetts Turnpike -- one of the state's busiest highways -- before blowing up with a roar on the MACHOWSKI property.
Wreckage was strewn for an estimated three quarters of a mile.
Patrolman RICHARD HASLAM, 34, Chicopee, was one of the first on the scene.
"I radioed headquarters," he said, "that there was no need for any ambulances. Nobody on board had a chance."
The civilians killed in the crash were:
DANIEL J. COUGHLIN, 31, Boston, Associated Press newsman.
NORMAN MONTELLIER, 37, New York City, United Press International newsman.
GLENN A. WILLIAMS, 41, Bethesda, Md., associate editor of U. S. News and World Report.
ROBERT A. GINSBURGH, 63, aslo associate editor of U. S. News and World Report, who joined the magazine in Washington, D. C., after retiring as an Air Force brigadier general and aide to four secretaries of defense.
JAMES L. McCONAUGHY, JR., chief of the Washington bureau of Time and Life magazine.
ROBERT SIBLEY, 57, Belmont, Mass., aviation editor of the Boston Traveler.
WILLIAM COCHRAN, representing the National Aeronautical Assn.
WILLIAM ENYART, also representing the National Aeronautical Assn.
The military men killed, in addition to Gen. SAUNDERS, were:
Lt. Col. GEORGE BROUTSAS, Brattleboro, Vt., commander of the KC135.
Lt. JOSEPH C. SWEET, Chandler, Ariz.
Capt. JAMES SHIPMAN, Kansas City, Kan.
Capt. JOHN B. GORDON, Raleigh, N. C.
M/Sgt. DONALD H. GABBARD, Los Gatos, Calif.
T/Sgt. JOSEPH G. HUTTER, Miami, Fla.
The four planes were to have attempted record speed flights between New York, London and return.

Chicopee, June 27 (AP) -- The plane crash KAZIMIERZ MACHOWSKI, 45, long had feared happened shortly after midnight.
"We were always scared," said MACHOWSKI who lives with his wife, ANNA, and their four children a mile from Westover air force base.
He was upset when he retired last night. He knew four planes were scheduled to take off at midnight in an attempt to shatter the record for a transatlantic flight.
"I wasn't asleep yet," he said, "I heard the planes taking off and then next ... I heard a terrific boom."
He realized immediately what had happened. A big jet had come down in the family garden where the first hoots of corn and potatoes were poking through the fertile farmland.
"I jumped out of bed and ran downstairs," MACHOWSKI said. "It was brighter than daylight, many times brighter. I grabbed the telephone, I thought, 'Maybe somebody can be saved.'"
"I told the operator, 'Get me emergency. Any kind of emergency.'"
"She asked 'What kind of emergency is it ?'"
"I said, 'A plane crash from Westover.'"
MACHOWSKI then ran into the yard.
"The heat from the wreckage was unbearable," he said. "It drove me back inside."
Then he knew no one could possibly have survived.
MACHOWSKI said his entire family was "terrified by the crash and the brilliant light."
He seemed very tired. He shook his had sadly and said:
"We've always been scared living here."

The Fitchburg Sentinel Massachusetts 1958-06-27


KC-135 Crash

My father was the co-pilot on the 135. Growing up we knew some of the detail but not all. Thank you for the nice article.

My sister and I visited Westover AFB last October what a beautiful base.

Relatives in Crash

I was interested in reading this article, and your comments, because my grandfather was on this plane, Daniel J. Coughlin Jr. Since yesterday was the 58 year anniversary of this I felt like doing some digging and see what was out there about it news wise and stuff. :)

Kc135 Crash

My family lived just off the base on Granby Road. We were all awaken that night by the large number of emergency vehicles the night of the crash. The next day we were told about the accident and read about it in the Holyoke Transript. Of course it was the main issue of the day at dinner that next day and my father stated that he had gone over the plane from stem to stern and it was in perfect running oeder an d that the accident MUST have be caused by pilot error.
My best friend and I used to ruide our bikes down fuller road to get to Cooley Brook. Of course it was some time later that we drove down Fuller road and O noticed that a tall dead pine tree that was about 10 or 15 taller than the existing forest by Cooley Br5ook was gone. I told my father about it and he said not to go around telling people about it and only recently started telling people about it. The palne probably hit the treeTHEN hit the power lines.
Aircraft are not very high when taking off around there ny buddy and I used to wave at B52 Pjiilots and they used to do a small wing wave there. One of these days I'm going to try and get back there again.

I knew Bob Sibley

I got interested in aviation back in the 40's and started reading Bob Sibley's column; he always had a picture of an airplane as the header. I started cutting them out, I think, in the early fifties and had a scrap book full of them. I'm 76 now so my memory of that time is fading but I met him on my own traveling on the T ( the MTA, not MBTA, back then) to the Boston Traveler and went up to meet him, no appointment. I do remember him being gracious but no memory of the conversation. His name only came up today because in between calls I have to make, his name popped into my head. I was in the Air Force in 1958 in Libya when the plane crash took his life. I was saddened to finally read about it today.

This is interesting, as my

This is interesting, as my father was a pilot on one of the other planes in this failed speed record attempt. I've heard the story from his perspective, of course. Thanks for the little article.

I was 16 years old and

I was 16 years old and watched the planes cross the Mass. Turnpike as they took off. I was in the attic looking out a window of the 3rd floor of 417 Elm St. Holyoke ( Elmwood). I was aware of the speed test as we had Airmen renting from us. I could not see the run way but I could see the giant birds as they lifted over the trees and dipped a bit. The wires could be seen as road traffic and other lighted object provided a nice glow to the sky and I believe the Base lights also added enough to see the planes. The roar of the jet engines could be heard the 13 miles when several were running at once. The third KC135-A dipped and didn't rise again. I can't recall all the details any more. It seems however the one female witness thought it was the end of the world and required admittance into the State Hospital.

Does anyone have anything

Does anyone have anything about a crash on take off at Westover February 6, 1958


I am curious to contact the the 3rd gen survivors of this tragic event as well and discuss childhood cause and effect. Its been on my mind... I do have a story to tell myself, having my mother and her sister in the 50's witness this this and would like to write a book. Please contact me :)

We woke up

We were little at the time, and lived on Fuller Road. I remember being woken up by a huge roar, the house shook like an earthquake. We all went down there, and i remember the wheels of the aircraft had almost reached the road, and lots of fire. It was very scary. Also, a fighter from Westover came so low over our house once that it clipped the TV antenna, almost.

Thank You

You are very welcome ... Thank you so much for writing and your comments ..
Stu Beitler