Schuylkill Haven, PA Propane Truck Explosion, June 1959



Schuylkill Haven, Pa. (AP) -- A propane gas truck exploded on a heavily traveled eastern Pennsylvania highway today killing at least 11 persons. Some of the victims were as far as 100 yards from the blast.
"The tanker let loose and flames swept along the road like a ball of fire, killing people milling about a trooper directing traffic," State Police Sgt. Melvin Clouser reported.
Police said a tractor trailer rammed the rear of the gas truck, setting it afire. It was half an hour after the crash, while firemen fought the flames that the truck exploded.
Motorists who climbed out of their cars to see what was holding up the early morning traffic, and just the idle curious, were watching at distances of from 100 to 300 feet up the highway. Some of them and a number of the firefighters were killed. At least 15 others were injured, 5 seriously.
Frank Toohey, Pottsville Republican reporter, said parts of bodies were strewn over the highway. His partner, photographer Vince Ney, said the sight was as sickening as anything he had seen in military service.
State Trooper Earl Klinger, as a truck funneled the flaming gas out eyewitness, said "the tank of the the front of the tank. The flames shot along the highway with the speed of a jet, carrying debris and parts of the truck, striking spectators and cutting them down like shrapnel."
Another eyewitness was Chief Burgess H. B. Shoener of nearby Orwigsburg, who said he was on a hill overlooking the highway -- a busily traveled route 100 miles northeast of Philadelphia.
"The flames shot 150 feet in the air from the gas truck and there was a terrific explosion," Shoener said.
"Parts of a stone wall outside an historic church were blown forward. Groups of spectators about 200 to 250 feet away from the fire were mowed down. The tank of the truck landed in a field 220 yards away."
Several school buses were on the highway near the scene just before the explosion at about 8:45 a.m. The highway was jammed with people headed for work.
Klinger said a school bus was stopped to pick up children when the propane gas truck pulled up in back of it. A tractor trailer gasoline tanker then hit the rear of the gas truck. The school bus pulled away.
Klinger said firemen battled the flames for about half an hour before the terrific explosion.
Klinger said that when he heard the roar he ducked down behind his police car. He was showered with pieces of rock when a boulder smashed through the windshield and out through the rear window of the car.
Sungas Products Co. of Pennsylvania, Inc., owners of the gas truck, identified the driver as JOE WHARTON, 48, of Peckville, near Scranton in the anthracite country. He was hospitalized. The gas truck contained a trailer cylinder of 7,000 gallons of propane under pressure.

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