Biggs Air Force Base, TX Tanker Crashes, Mar 1961
PLANE CRACKUP CAUSE SOUGHT; NINE KILLED.
BIGGS TANKER PLANE GOES DOWN WITHIN SIGHT OF BASE.
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.
LIST OF DEAD IN PLANE CRASH.
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.
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