Biggs Air Force Base, TX Tanker Crashes, Mar 1961



Air Force investigators today examined bits of charred wreckage in an effort to find what caused a big tanker plane to crash in the desert near El Paso last night, killing nine fliers.
The crash occurred at 7:55 p.m. nine miles northeast of Biggs Air Force Base and six miles north of the Carlsbad highway.
The KB-50 refueling plane, returning from Wake Island in the Pacific, was approaching the main runway at Biggs from the east for a landing.
The plane had been picked up by the Biggs tower radio as it flew over Columbus, N.M., about 100 miles west. There the pilot was cleared for V.F.R. (visual flight rules), meaning he would not make an instrument landing.
The pilot indicated he had "a minimum of fuel," but expressed no concern or indicated an emergency.
The plane slammed into the desert as if for a belly landing. It skidded along through grease-wood and mesquite for more than 300 yards. Then it hit a sand dune and exploded in a terrific burst of red and orange flame.
All aboard were killed. Charred parts of bodies were scattered over the area. Pieces of wreckage continued to burn for an hour and a half.
Two El Paso County sheriff's deputies, Fred Duvall and Tom Walker, were riding on U.S. Highway 62 when the plane crashed. They saw the flames notified their dispatcher who alerted Biggs, and later directed a helicopter and a convoy of fire trucks, ambulances and other vehicles to the site.
"We had seen a plane coming in with its landing lights on," Deputy Duvall said. "It seemed rather low, but we didn't give it much thought, though I commented on it."
"A little later I happened to look over in the desert and saw a small fire on the ground. I said 'Hey, there's a fire!' Thirty seconds later the plane exploded and a tremendous flame bright orange, shot up 250 feet in the air. It was like a mushroom cloud."
A board of officers at Biggs was making a preliminary investigation. Another board from the Tactical Air Command at Langley Air Force Base, Va., was due in late today.
Rescuers found parts of the plane all along the skid path through the desert. Arms, legs and torsos were scattered over the barren terrain. Largest piece of the plane left intact was the tall tail section.
The ill-fated aircraft was one of six refueling planes attached to the 431st Refueling Squadron at Biggs. They had been on temporary duty in the Pacific since Feb. 13.
Although the official boards may require months to complete their investigation, observers at the scene speculated as to possible causes of the tragedy.
The fuel shortage was cited as one possible cause. But the pilot, communicating with the base tower, expressed no concern. Evidently he felt he had enough fuel to cover the landing. If he had run short of fuel and was trying to make a belly landing, one observer theorized, he would have picked a more level area of the desert nearby.
There was confusion over whether the aircraft exploded in the air or after it hit the ground. One witness said he saw a bright glow in the sky. But evidence at the scene indicated the explodion came after the plane hit a sand dune.
Civilian officers who made a tortuous trip through the desert to reach the flaming wreckage said it was a scene of horror. "There wasn't much left," an officer said. "Bits here and there."
The KB-50 was powered by four conventional and two jet engines. These were found along the skid path.
The plane, returning from Wake Island, had made stops at Hawaii and McClellan Air Force Base near San Francisco.
It was the fifth crash of an Air Force plane near El Paso in recent years. A B-24 bomber crashed into Mt. Franklin in 1944, killing eight crewmen. In 1953 a giant B-36 slammed into Mr. Franklin in a snowstorm, killing nine. Two were killed in 1956 when a B-57 crashed on the military reservation. A B-47 crash in 1958 took one life.

Biggs Air Force Base officials today released the names of the nine military fliers killed in the crash of a KB-50 refueling plane last night near El Paso.
Seven were crewmen and two were Air Force men riding as passengers.
The dead:
Maj. FRED G. PADELFORD, 46, of 7209 Ramey circle, El Paso, aircraft commander. His home town was Spokane. He is survived by his widow and four children.
Capt. BRUCE E. CHRISTIAN, 31, co-pilot, son of Mr. and Mrs. John F. Christian of Reading, Pa.
Maj. WAYNE W. HOLT, 46, navigator, of 3408 Dornoch street, El Paso, home town Albion, Ind. Survived by his widow.
T/Sgt. CHARLES C. TIMMSEN, 32, flight engineer, of Kellogg, Minn. Survived by his widow.
S/Sgt. BERNARD F. RIVERS, 32, flight engineer, of 5109 Alps drive in El Paso, home town Rochdale, Mass. Survived by widow and two children.
S/Sgt. HAROLD B. MECUSEN, 27, refueling operator, of Spokane, Wash. Survived by his widow.
A/1C CLIFTON C. TABOR, 27, refueling operator, son of Mr. and Mrs. Carroll S. Tabor of Albany, Texas.
S/Sgt. CLAUDE L. EARLY, 28, maintenance crew chief, a passenger, of Hardin, Mo.
A/2C JOSEPH T. ROTHSCHOPF, 23, assistant crew chief, a passenger, son of Joseph Rothschopf, Sr., of Parker, Colo.
Funeral arrangements were pending.

El Paso Herald Post Texas 1961-03-06


My Dad was the flight Engineer on the #3 aircraft

Hi Scott,

I just happen to see this posting and wanted to respond. My dad certainly would have know your dad well., as they were both flight engineers. The other flight engineer on the aircraft with your dad was an alternate. He flew over on my dad's aircraft. There was speculation about the cause of the crash and my dad doesn't recall the official determination. He did mention that the investigation revealed the props were positioned in a manner consistent with normal air speed up to the point of impact. Blessings to you, Ray

KB 50 J tanker crash near BIggs Field

My father was the pilot of another plane in that flight. He passed away in 2005, but a couple of years before that I happen to ask him what was the cause of the crash.

He said that the pilot had allowed the co-pilot to take the controls to make the approach and landing. The barometric altimeter had not been reset for Biggs and as a result the altimeter showed an incorrect altitude and they flew into the ground.

He seemed pretty upset at the memory as he was a good friend of Major Padelford so I didn't ask him more about the accident.

I cannot say that this was the official finding of the accident board, it's just what my dad told me.

From an online search you might check out -- "Air Force Accident Reports dating after 1956 are in the custody of the Air Force Inspection and Safety Center (AFSA-IMR), 9700 Avenue G, SE., Suite 325A, Kirtland Air Force Base, NM 87117-5670."

My condolences; I hope this may lead you to the official answer to your question.

my dad was killed in that plane

did they ever find the cause of the accident?.

B-57 Crawsh at Biggs 1956

I was stationed at Biggs from 1956 through most of 1958. I was assigned to the 810th Supply Squadron which later became the 35th Aviation Depot Squadron. My duty site was far removed form the base; on the way to White Sands Proving Grounds.

My primary AFSC was 33150; nuclear weapons fusing and firing systems technician. As such, I were placed in an area quite remote from the base.

Our security clearances were very high and so precious that none could be given to personnel that would ordinarily accomplish routine tasks such as heavy equipment operation (tugs, straddle carriers, fork lifts). On the day of the B-57 crash I apparently gotten onto my first sergeants "bad boy list". I cant remember just what I had done, but the infraction caused him to send me to the motor pool at the close of the day to wash our Clark tug, serial number 3210.

Actually, it was a fun job and relieved me from the daily stress of caring for the super bombs in our arsenal. It was about a half hour drive to the motor pool and I felt lucky to be out in the desert on my own away from supervision. I got to the motor pool, finished cleaning the tug and then for a few minutes, shot the bull with the motor pool guys. Normally, I might have spent a longer time drinking coffee with them, but as I recall, I was looking forward to being able to go to Juarez that night with my buddies in the squadron. So I hopped right back on the tug and returned to our desert compound.

Getting into the area was a lengthy process. There were three high cyclone fences topped with razor wire and electrified. In addition there were trigger happy Air Base Defense personnel stationed with us for security. They patrolled the nuclear weapons with their half-tracks and twin 50 cal machine guns. You really didn't want to act or look suspicious.

As I went through he gates I saw a crowd of people at the door of our building. When I began to park the tug, they rushed over to me. My sergeant grabbed me and gave me a big hug and exclaimed "Thank God. You're alive."

As you can imagine, I was really stupefied about their behavior. Then, one of the other airmen told me about the crash. I turned around and saw the huge cloud of billowing black smoke coming from the motor pool and the petroleum storage areas. The B-57 had crashed directly onto the wash rack in the very spot where I had been cleaning old 3210. I remember being fascinated but only 18 years old, the imminent danger I had been in didn't seem to phase me. The biggest weird feeling I got was when Sergeant Garrison hugged me. He was like Sergeant Snorkel the me' and I was Beetle Bailey...always in trouble with him. It revealed a soft spot in him that I had never recognized.

I went back to the crash site in about two days. It had been closed off for investigation and clean up. It was true. The plane had dropped in, right wing first right, into the stall I had used to clean the tug.

As the days rolled by, the story of the crash came out. Apparently, a controller had direct a B-47 to land from the North just as the B-57 had been given clearance to land from the south. Being the smaller of the two, the B-57 was told to make an "immediate right turn". The pilot of the 57 had previously been flying B-26's for tow target missions for the army at Fort Bliss. He was used to the instant power of the reciprocating engines. When he got the immediate turn instruction, be banked the B-57 to the right and firewalled the throttles on the JE turbines.

Tragically, the turbines took a few milliseconds to spin up to speed and power. He lost airspeed and fell directly into the motor pool and the POL areas. Remarkably, no one on the ground was killed. Both, the pilot and the co-pilot of the B-57 were the only casualties.

I and my tug also survived !

My father was there

My father was one of the deputy officers that was on the scene. He never mentioned this to me. It must have been horrible for him. God bless the families that lost their loved ones on this day. I cannot even imagine what they went through.

i was there

I and another young airman were out rabbit hunting in the dessert and saw this aircraft crash, was a huge ball of flames, we were told later that night he had run out of fuel