It was Thursday, June 27th 1958 and after finishing a 4-12 shift I returned home in Willimansett Village, Willmansett (off base) and turned in for the night with my 8 month pregnant wife beside me. The eyes were closing and the body was relaxing when our bedroom, isolated from the base by 7 1/2 miles, lit up like it was 8am with the sun screaming in on a cloudless day. I looked out the window only to see brilliant oranges and reds as they filled the total sky. My mind went searching for a reason. The immediate thoughts were as ugly as they could be as I remembered the rumors of the past few hours. That could only be the reason for this abrupt end to a nightsd sleep.
The rumor that was circulating was about a group of KC-135 tankers were going to try to break a speed record between New York and England. I had no idea how this was going to affect me directly that day.
Early in the morning I got a phone call telling me to report to the base immediately as there had been an aircraft accident that needed security. My thoughts of that night were correct. A KC-135 tanker with 15 people aboard had crashed across the Massachusetts Turnpike and ended up in a farmer’s back yard. The fuel tanks were ripped open spilling thousands of gallons of JP-4 fuel onto the ground and igniting in a horrendous ball of heat, flame and smoke. All 15 persons aboard were gone. There was no doubt in anybodies mind.
As I reported that morning I was assigned to the crash site. As I, along with others from the Base Police and I think from Base Security (Flight line) approached the site, I was taken back with the scene that spread out before me.
There were Air Force personnel all over the site. The most noticeable at that time were the personnel in white, the medical people, looking for the bodies, body parts and anything that resembled the body. The crash victims were not highly visible as they were badly burned beyond recognition and torn apart. It was a gruesome sight. There were General Officers, Officers and Airman of various departments, Boeing Aircraft people, Police Officers of the local communities, Massachusetts State Police, Turnpike authorities and an assortment of others all walking the field of debris looking and looking. The Turnpike had been shutdown between the exits on either side of the crash site as there was debris all over the turnpike where the aircraft skidded across.
The farmers’ house was in direct line of the skidding aircraft, fortunately the KC-135 did not reach it as the farmer and family had been sleeping. They were safe. The house did receive damage but if was only from the searing heat that severely scorched the rear of the two story farm house.
For the next ten or twelve days the security worked in 12 hours shifts. Twelve hours on duty and twelve hours off duty were the norm. All leaves and days off were cancelled until further notice.
The Boeing personnel located all four jet engines and had them removed from the sight within 1 day. They were shipped to the manufacturer for inspection to see if they were the cause for the crash. The whole site had been blocked off in a grid pattern of what appeared to be about three foot squares. Teams loaded with Boeing manuals would go through each block locating parts of the aircraft and tried to determine what the part was through part numbers marked on the parts and mark the grid where it was found. This lasted for a number of days.
When the identification process was finished, all the pieces, whether they were big or small, were picked up and transported back to a hanger for reassembly, if possible, and further identification. After everything was removed the site and the site cleaned up, all personnel were returned to normal duty.
It was now about July 8th and everything was once was again back on to a normal schedule. Normal duty hours and were normal days off. But the sights and thoughts of that night lingered for years and years.
Oh….to finish the story….on August 12 1958, a son was born…Kenneth William Stringer about three weeks late from the original due date.
*Newespaper clippings are from the “Springfield Daily News” dated Friday Evening June 27, 1958.*
Member 4050 APS & 814th APS 1955 - 1958.
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