Kirtland Air Force Base, NM Bomber Crash B-47, Mar 1952


Kirtland AFB, New Mexico -- An investigation was under way at Kirtland AF Base today to learn the cause of yesterday afternoon's B-47 crash which took the lives of four Albuquerque airmen.
At the same time base officials praised the heroic but futile efforts of Peter Sheyka, assistant base fire chief, to save the men.
Three of the fliers died in the wreckage after the trim, swept-wing jet bomber burned just off the east-west runway. The fourth died about two hours later at Sandia Base Hospital.
The medium bomber, a $2 million dollar, 185,000-pound craft designed to deliver the atom bomb, was about 200 feet off the ground when it faltered, tipped and fell, shearing a wing which spewed burning fuel over the wreckage.
The airmen were:
The pilot, Capt. ARTHUR A. ZALK, 30, of 2305 San Pablo. He is survived by his widow and two small children.
The co-pilot, Capt. FRANCIS E. EARLY, 34, of 5308 E. Helen Road. A former American Airlines pilot, Capt. EARLY is survived by his widow and a son.
The observer, 1st Lt. CHESTER F. THEW, 40, 1504 S. Hermosa. He was one of the men pulled from the plane by Sheyka, but died later at the hospital.
The Engineer, M/Sgt. ALLEN W. WITT, 29, 1433 N. LaFayette. Sgt. WITT is survived by his widow, a son, six, a daughter, four, and another daughter, 11 months.
A base spokesman said Sheyka was the first to reach the scene. Although he didn't have time to put on an asbestos fire suit, he pulled two of the men from the plane.
"I jumped out of my jeep and just ran," he said. "The fire was heading right for the cockpit and I knew they wouldn't have a chance if it got to them -- they were both unconscious, maybe worse."
Sheyka's name is well known to residents of Albuquerque. A former star football player for the University Lobos, he was a member of the only Lobo team ever to beat Texas Tech. As a fullback, he helped the Lobos measure the Red Raiders here 19 to 14 in 1940.
Funerals and burial for two of the men have been arranged by Strong-Thorne. For Lt. THEW last rites will be at Santa Rosa, Calif. For Sgt. WITT they will be at Atlanta, Texas.
Arrangements for the others are pending.

Albuquerque Tribune New Mexico 1952-03-27