Fairchild Air Force Base, WA B52 Bomber Crashes, Dec 1957


Spokane, Wash. (AP) -- A giant B52 jet bomber crashed shortly after takeoff from Fairchild Air Force Base about 15 miles west of here Thursday afternoon, sending up a mushroom-shaped cloud of smoke that could be seen for miles.
Eight crewmen were reported killed and the tail gunner, T. Sgt. GENE I. GRAYE, 25, Augusta, Kan., miraculously survived a low level ejection from the plane.
S. Sgt. Elmer E. Clark of Dallas, Tex., a member of the emergency crash crew, said that fivemen, apparently jumped from the plane, but only one survived. The other four died in the weckage, he said.
Clark said the huge mushroom cloud was caused by exploding jet fuel.
The Air Force has said that some of its bombers carry nuclear weapons on training flights but that there is no chance they could accidentally explode. Officials would not say if the B52 that crashed was carrying a nuclear weapon.
Wreckage from the 9 million dollar bomber was strewn over several hundred yards of the stubble field where it came down just off a Fairchild runway.
Clark said that after the 8-jet bomber had left the runway, its nose went up and then it tilted over on its right wing and fell to the earth. It exploded after hitting.
A state patrolman said the plane appeared on fire when headed toward the ground.
The Air Force said the plane was on a routine training flight. It took off about 4 p.m. and crashed about 4:02 p.m.
The tremendous cloud of smoke was an awesome sight. It broadened out at the top and finally began drifting away from the stem.
The Boeing built B52, a prime nuclear bomb carrier of the Strategic Air Command, replaced the B36 bomber at Fairchild earlier this year.
Clark said the tail gunner was the only crewman who was able to get his parachute open in time. He was not injured.
Col. CLARENCE A. NEELY, commander of the 92nd Bomb Wing at Fairchild, was one of the victims. Ironically, it was Col. NEELEY who flew the first B52 to Fairchild in March of this year.

Montana Standard Butte 1957-12-13

List of Casualties:
Major RALPH ROMAINE ALWORTH, age 38, Oilton, Oklahoma.
Captain DOUGLAS EARL GRAY, age 33, Guthrie, Kentucky.
First Lieutenant JAMES DENNIS MANN, age 33, Mountain View, California.
Colonel CLARENCE ARTHUR NEELY, age 42, Rockford, Illinois.
Captain THOMAS N. PEEBLES, age 33, Carson, Virginia.
Captain DOUGLAS FRANKLIN SCHWARTZ, age 37, Minneapolis, Minnesota.
Captain HERBERT HENRY SPILLER, JR., age 32, Lowell, Arkansas.
First Lieutenant JACK JOSEPH VAINISI, age 26, Oakhill, Illinois.
Technical Sergeant GENE I. GRAYE, age 25, Augusta, Kansas.


My father was stationed at

My father was stationed at Fairchild at the time of both of the crashes. I remember them, including hearing about the mis-wiring of the one B-52. As I recall, there was a survivor of the crash of the 2 bombers, a Capt. Birdsell.

Witness to this crash

As a child, I lived in the enlisted housing section. We were flying kites when this happened. The plane took off, climbed rapidly, to the point it was standing on its' tail, and I can remember seeing blue flames from all of the engines as they were maxed out for power. The plane then stalled, and crashed down the street in a field near the base hospital. My dad was on crash detail for the base, and related to me later that the cause of the crash was miswiring in the attitude trim wheel: the tech had wired it backwards so that the pilots' efforts to turn the trim to make the nose lower actually made it climb. Colonel Neely was a nice guy, and he would bring his daughter to our house for Girl Scout meetings that my mom hosted.

We also witnessed the collision of the two B52s over Airway Heights: we were in the back yard at the time, and I remember my dad simply saying "I've got to go" when he saw them crash.

Back then crashes were common, and planes and crews were taxed with lots of flying hours.