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Convair B-36 Crash Reports and Wreck Sites

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B-36 Accident Reports:

Here are synopses of Air Force accident reports about some major B-36 crashes.

B-36B, 44-92079, Lake Worth, Texas, September 15, 1949

B-36B 44-92075, British Columbia, Canada, February 13, 1950

B-36B 44-92035, South of Carswell AFB, Texas, November 22, 1950

B-36D 49-2658, Near Perkins, Oklahoma, April 27, 1951

B-36D 44-92050, Fairchild Air Force Base, Washington April 15, 1952

B-36D 49-2661, Ocean off Mission Beach, California, August 5, 1952

B-36H 51-5719, Nethermore Woods, Great Britain, February 7, 1953

B-36H 51-5729, Labrador, Canada, February 12, 1953

RB-36H 51-13721, Newfoundland, Canada, March 18, 1953

SB-29 44-69982, Newfoundland, Canada, March 18, 1953

RB-36H 51-13722, 2 Miles from Ellsworth AFB, August 27, 1954


B-36B, 44-92079, Lake Worth, Texas, September 15, 1949

B-36B, 44-92079, crashed into Lake Worth on the night of September 15, 1949. The pilot claimed that the propellors switched to reverse thrust on take-off, but he was not believed. Later another Peacemaker had a propellor on each wing switch to reverse thrust on approach to landing at Carswell AFB, which corroborated the story of the pilot whose B-36 had ended up in Lake Worth.

The accident was covered by the Fort Worth Star-Telegram. Rumor has it that the wreckage is still there. Even if the majority of the wreck was recovered by the Air Force, one of the tenets of wreck-chasing is that there is always something left after the recovery operation. This might be an opportunity for a little underwater wreck-chasing.

B-36B 44-92075, British Columbia, Canada, February 13, 1950

On February 13, 1950, the crew of B-36B, serial 44-92075 was forced to abandon the Peacemaker in icing conditions after flame was seen coming from three engines, which were then shut down. They jettisoned an unarmed Mk 4 nuclear bomb off the coast of British Columbia before the crew bailed out.

Colonel Richard S. George of the 7th Bomb Wing B-36 Association has provided some information about the events surrounding the crash:

The aircraft was returning from Alaska when it crashed in British Columbia, Canada. The aircraft was taking part in cold weather maneuvers and was returning to home base. The aircrew abandoned the aircraft when severe icing plus an engine fire endangered the crew. Five out of 17 that parachuted lost their lives. This was the second recorded B-36 crash in the history of the 7th Bomb Group.

There is an interview of the co-pilot of 44-92075 on Don Pyeatt's B-36 web site. Click on the number-one propellor and then follow the "Notable Mishaps" link.

Unexpectedly, the B-36 continued to fly for over two hundred miles and crashed in the mountains of British Columbia. The wreck was not discovered until 1953. The U. S. Air Force visited the site the following year and removed sensitive equipment. They then demolished what wreckage was not buried by snow with explosives.

After the Air Force demolished it, the wreck was found by surveyors but then forgotten. It lay buried under snow for the next forty years. In 1997, the site was revisited by a US researcher and also the Canadian Department of National Defence, who planned to conduct an environmental analysis of the site. they were apparently the first to set foot there since the 1950's. Doug Davidge of Environment Canada was among those present. He provided photographs and reported on the condition of the wreckage:

B-36 engine wreckage About 40' of aft fuselage and several engines survived demolition (it was probably covered with snow and ice at the time). I would say about 20% of the aircraft is still visible; all of which is pretty much collapsed or in relatively poor shape. The remainder either burned on impact or was destroyed by demolition (and is strewn about in tiny little pieces - some 500 meters away from the crash site). The exceptions are some of the turrets and possibly some of the engines, which appear to be in good shape. Photo courtesy Doug Davidge.

B-36 wreckage in British Columbia The aircraft did not have an atomic bomb aboard when it crashed. The official documents report the bomb payload (11,000 lbs worth) was dropped over the pacific and detonated at about 1000' prior to the crew bailing out. Whether or not it was a real device or a "dumb" bomb for training is still a mystery. We did find four spare detonators and the "suitcase" for a Mark IV device in the wreckage suggesting there may have been an actual nuclear device on board minus the plutonium warhead. There are three engines still in pretty good shape - whether they and the guns are worth salvaging I couldn't say. That is up to the experts in aircraft re-building to decide. Photo courtesy Doug Davidge.

A more complete description of the survey of the wreckage is available at Don Pyeatt's B-36 web site. Click on the number-one propellor and then follow the "Notable Mishaps" link.

A helicopter pilot that works in the area and has visited the site provided the following information:

The wreck was found last year only 20 miles from the camp where I work every summer. The wreck is located in an area that is helicopter access only, and was basically destroyed by impact with the side of a mountain. However, one wing, an engine, and part of the fuselage are in very good shape considering the crash appears to have happened in the 1950's. Personal items from the crew (shaving kits, jackets, pens etc.) can all be found inside the fuselage, along with several intact 20mm cannons, and many other items including live ammunition scattered everywhere.

B-36B 44-92035, South of Carswell AFB, Texas, November 22, 1950

Vibration from gunnery practice disabled the electronic engine conrols of B-36B, 44-92035 over the Matagorda iasland gunnery range on November 22, 1950. Engine conditions deteriorated on the flight back to Carswell Air Force Base. 20 miles south of Carswell, the crew bailed out. Fourteen survived. Two were killed.

Synopsis of Air Force Accident Report (added August 13, 2003)

Aircraft Commander 1st Lt. Oliver Hildebrandt, Pilot 1st Lt. Walter Ross, and Co-pilot Captain Wilbur Evans, and a crew of thirteen took off from Carswell AFB in B-36B, 44-92035 of the 26th Bomb Squadron of the 7th Bomb Wing at 5:05 A.M. on November 22,1950. The planned 30-hour training mission consisted of air-to-air gunnery, bombing, simulated radar bombing, and navigational training.

Immediately after take-off, the #4 alternator would not stay in parallel with the other three alternators, so it was taken off-line and de-excited three minutes into the flight.

About one minute after the #4 alternator was shut down, flames 8 to 12 feet long erupted from around the air plug of the number-one engine. The left scanner reported the flames to the pilot. Six minutes after take-off, the flight engineer shut down the number-one engine, feathered its propeller, and expended one of its Methyl bromide fire extinguishing bottles. The mission continued on the power of the remaining five engines.

44-92035 cruised to the gunnery range on Matagorda Island at an altitude of 5,000 feet. It arrived at 7:00 A.M. and the gunners began practicing.

Radar Observer S/Sgt. Ray Earl manned the tail turret. The charger for the right gun burned out, so he expended just half of his ammunition. Then the APG-3 radar for the tail turret started acting up, so S/Sgt. Earl secured the set.

Aircraft Commander 1st Lt. Oliver Hildebrandt noted that the vibration from firing the 20mm cannons increased significantly during the fourth gunnery pass. Immediately afterward, radar operator Captain James Yeingst notified Hildebrandt that the APQ-24 radar set blew up and was smoking. Vibration from the firing of the guns was causing shorting between the internal components of the radar. Then the liaison transmitter failed as well.

The cannons in the left forward upper turret and the left rear upper turret stopped firing. The gunners attempted to retract the gun turrets, but the failed turrets would not retract. Gunner S/Sgt. Fred Boyd entered the turret bay, but other problems began to take precedence over the stuck turrets. Boyd was called out of the bay before he could manually crank the turret down.

At 7:31 A.M. the number-three engine suffered an internal failure. The torque pressure fell to zero. The manifold pressure dropped to atmospheric pressure. The fuel flow dropped off, and the flight engineer could not stabilize the engine speed.

The pilot shut down the number-three engine and feathered its propeller. The B-36B had only one operating engine on the left wing, so the pilot aborted the remainder of the training mission and set course for Kelly Air Force Base.

Flight engineer Captain Samuel Baker retarded the spark, set the mixture controls to "normal", and set the engine RPMs to 2,500 to increase the power from the remaining engines. Unknown to Captain Baker, the vibration from the guns had disabled the electrical systems controlling the spark settings and fuel mixture. He immediately discovered that the turbo control knobs no longer affected the manifold pressure.

The B-36B could not maintain its airspeed on the power of the four remaining engines. It descended about 1,000 feet and its airspeed bled off to 135 miles per hour. The pilot called for more power. The flight engineer attempted to increase engine speed to 2,650 RPM and enrich the fuel mixture, but got no response from the engines except for severe backfiring. The fuel mixture indicators for all of the engines indicated lean.

The second flight engineer, M/Sgt. Edward Farcas, checked the electrical fuse panel. Although the fuses appeared to be intact, he replaced the master turbo fuse and all of the individual turbo fuses. He noticed that the turbo-amplifiers and mixture amplifiers were all cooler than normal. He climbed into the bomb bay to check the aircraft power panels and fuses, but could not find any problem there.

Kelly Air Force Base had a cloud overcast at just 300 feet and the visibility was restricted to two miles. The weather at Bergstrom Air Force Base not as bad, with scattered clouds at 1,000 feet, broken clouds at 2,000 feet and 10 miles visibility. Carswell Air Force Base was clear with 10 miles visibility, but it was 155 miles farther away than Bergstrom.

Air traffic control cleared all airspace below 4,000 feet aead of the crippled B-36B. Aircraft Commander Hildebrandt was flying on instruments in thick clouds.

The poor weather at Kelly Air Force Base convinced Hildebrandt to change course from Kelly to Carswell Air Force Base, passing by Bergstrom Air Force Base on the way in case the airplane could not make it to Carswell.

Bombardier Captain Robert Nelson made two attempts to salvo the 1,500 pounds of practice bombs in the rear bomb bay, but the bomb bay doors would not open by automatic or manual control, or emergency procedure.

There was no way to dump fuel to reduce the weight of the B-36B.

The flight engineers resorted to holding down the switches used to prime the fuel system in an attempt to increase fuel flow to the engines. M/Sgt. Edward Farcas held down the prime switches for the number-two and number-four engines while Captain Baker held down the prime switch for the number-five engine and operated the flight engineer's panel. The configuration of the switches did not allow them to prime the number-five engine and the number-six engine at the same time.

The high power demand coupled with the lean fuel mixture made the cylinder head temperatures of the engines climb to 295 degrees C. Flight engineer Baker jockeyed the throttles, decreasing the throttle setting of the engine with the highest cylinder head temperature until another engine grew even hotter. The high temperature caused the gasoline/air mixture in the cylinders to detonate before the pistons reached top dead center, diminishing power and damaging the engines.

Despite the critical situation with the engines, Aircraft Commander Hildebrandt decided to continue past Bergstrom Air Force Base to Carswell. Bergstrom was overcast and its runway was only 6,000 feet long. Carswell offered a much longer runway.

By the time the B-36B reached Cleburne, the backfiring on all engines increased in violence. The number-2, number-5, and number-6 engines were running at 70% power and the number-4 engine was producing only 20% power. The airspeed had dropped off to 130 miles per hour.

Aircraft Commander Hildebrandt attempted to restart the number-one engine, the one that had spouted flames on take-off, but fuel was not getting to its induction system. He tried to restart the number-three engine, but could not unfeather the propeller on that engine.

As the bomber passed to the west of Cleburne, the right scanner reported dense white smoke, oil, and metal particles coming from the number-five engine. After a short while the number-five engine lost power, and Aircraft Commander Hildebrandt feathered the propeller on that engine while still twenty-one miles from Carswell Air Force Base.

The B-36B could not stay airborne on the power of the three remaining failing engines. It was flying at just 125 miles per hour, seven miles per hour above the stall speed, losing both altitude and airspeed.

Howard McCullough and W. Boeten were flying Civil Aeronautics Authority DC-3 N342 near Cleburne. They were notified by Meacham Tower to be on the lookout for 44-92035. They spotted it about five miles south of Cleburne. They observed that the number-one and number-three propellers were feathered and the number-five engine was on fire. They turned to follow the descending bomber.

Aircraft Commander Hildebrandt ordered the crew to bail out of the stricken bomber.

Bombardier Captain Robert Nelson had bailed out of airplanes on two previous occasions. He had crash landed twice and ditched once. He was the first man to bail out from the forward crew compartment. He suffered contusions of his lower spine when he landed.

Radar Operator Captain James Yeingst responded to stress with laughter and jokes. He was a bit giddy before the bailout. He was the second man to exit from the forward crew compartment. His parachute streamed after he pulled the rip cord. He passed Captain Nelson going down. Captain Yeingst's parachute mushroomed open just before he hit the ground, but he suffered fatal injuries.

Co-pilot Captain Wilbur Evans was the third man to exit from the forward crew compartment. He had bailed out of airplanes twice before and crash landed several times during WW-II. This time he broke both bones in his lower right leg when he landed.

Navigator Captain Horace Stewart had previously tried to get off flying status because he felt that the B-36 was too dangerous. It is reported that during the hour before bailout, he was tense, nervous, and chain-smoking. He was the fourth man to bail out from the forward crew compartment. He pulled his rip cord right as he exited the forward escape hatch on the left side of the fuselage. His parachute opened and pulled him toward the number three propeller. His head hit the downward pointing blade of the propeller, killing him instantly.

Radio Operator Cpl. Paul Myers followed Captain Stewart out the escape hatch. Myers landed with minor injuries.

Flight Engineer M/Sgt. Edward Farcas jumped head first through the exit hatch of the forward crew compartment right after Cpl. Myers. His parachute did not open when he pulled the rip cord. He pulled the parachute out of its pack with his hands and landed with only minor injuries.

Radar Mechanic Robert Gianerakis and Flight Engineer Captain Samuel Baker were the next to escape from the forward compartment. Both landed with only minor injuries.

Radio Operator Sgt. Armando Villareal bailed out after Captain Baker. Villareal did not trust his parachute to open, so he pulled the rip cord while he was still in the forward crew compartment. He held his parachute in his arms as he jumped feet first through the escape hatch. Despite his unorthodox method of escape, he landed with only minor injuries.

Pilot 1st Lt. Walter Ross was the next to last to leave the forward compartment. He landed with only minor injuries.

Gunner S/Sgt. Andrew Byrne and Radar Observer S/Sgt. Ray Earl were the first two crew members to bail out of the rear crew compartment. Both landed with only minor injuries.

Gunner Cpl. Calvin Martin was the third man to exit the rear crew compartment. He was swinging under his parachute as he hit the ground. He broke his right ankle as he landed. He fell backward onto a rock, fracturing his third lumbar vertebra and compressing his tailbone.

Gunner S/Sgt. Ronald Williams followed Cpl. Martin out the rear escape hatch. He landed with only minor injuries.

Gunner S/Sgt. Fred Boyd was the last man to exit the rear crew compartment. He called to Aircraft Commander Hildebrandt over the intercom to let him know that everyone had escaped from the aft compartment. When he turned back to the exit hatch, it had fallen shut. He had to open the hatch again to make his escape. He broke the fibula of his left leg when he landed farther to the north than the other crew members.

After S/Sgt. Boyd reported that all other crew members had bailed out of the rear compartment, Aircraft Commander Hildebrandt set the autopilot and jumped clear when the bomber was less than 1,000 feet above the ground. He and nine other crew members escaped from the B-36B with only minor injuries.

When McCullough and Boeten in DC-3, N342 saw the parachutes of the escaping crew members, they announced the bail-out on the emergency frequency of 121.25 megacycles.

Each Report of Emergency Parachute Jump indicates that the incident occurred 20 miles south southeast of Carswell Air Force Base.

The descent of the B-36B was witnessed by Mr. Buck Bell and his wife, who lived about 5 to 7 miles southwest of Crowley, Texas. Mr. Bell saw the crew members parachuting from the bomber, but did not see it hit the ground about one mile north of his house.

Mr. James Bandy and his wife were on the road to Cleburne about 4 miles from their house on Route 1 near Joshua when they spotted the B-36B trailing smoke, flying in a nose-high attitude. They saw it hit the ground in a level attitude, raising a cloud of dust.

The B-36B descended straight ahead in a nose-high attitude for a mile after Aircraft Commander Hildebrandt bailed out. It stalled, pitched nose down, and impacted in a terraced field on Less Armstrong's Dairy, 14 miles south of Carswell Air Force Base, 2 miles west of the South leg FTW range, and six miles west of Crowley at 9:50 in the morning. The forward crew compartment separated and folded underneath the rest of the fuselage. The tail section broke off, and the rear crew compartment came away from the mid-fuselage as the wreckage slid 850 feet along the ground and twisted to the right. The rear sections of the airplane remained largely intact. The elevation at the crash site was approximately 700 feet.

Mr. W. Doggett witnessed the bail-out and crash from his home on Route 1 near Joshua. The B-36B impacted about 2-1/2 miles north of his house. He drove to the crash site in his pickup truck and helped the surviving crew members to regroup.

Four minute after the crash, McCullough and Boeten in DC-3, N342 reported that two Navy aircraft were circling the wreckage.

The wreckage smoldered for about eight minutes before a fire broke out in the number-six engine. The 15,000 gallons of remaining fuel consumed the forward fuselage and wings. The civilians and crew members were driven away from the crash site by exploding ammunition and the knowledge of the presence of 1,500 pounds of bombs aboard the airplane.

Three helicopters arrived at the scene within an hour and twenty minutes of the crash.

Aerial view of the smoldering wreckage of B-36B, 44-92035 Aerial view of the smoldering wreckage of B-36B, 44-92035

Aerial view of the smoldering wreckage of B-36B, 44-92035 The wings were destroyed by fire, but the rear fuselage sections remained largely intact.

Aerial view of the smoldering wreckage of B-36B, 44-92035 The upper left rear turret is still extended.

Aerial view of the smoldering wreckage of B-36B, 44-92035 Aerial view looking from the front toward the rear of the wreck.

Rear fuselage sections of B-36B, 44-92035 Left side of rear crew compartment looking forward. The upper left turret is still extended.

Rear fuselage sections of B-36B, 44-92035 Smoke billows over the rear fuselage sections of B-36B, 44-92035. It had the bright red tail of the GEMS modified B-36B.

Mr. W. Doggett witnessed the bail-out and crash from his home on Route 1 near Joshua. The B-36B impacted about 2-1/2 miles north of his house. He drove to the crash site in his pickup truck and helped the surviving crew members to regroup.

Four minute after the crash, McCullough and Boeten in DC-3, N342 reported that two Navy aircraft were circling the wreckage.

The wreckage smoldered for about eight minutes before a fire broke out in the number-six engine. The 15,000 gallons of remaining fuel consumed the forward fuselage and wings. The civilians and crew members were driven away from the crash site by exploding ammunition and the knowledge of the presence of 1,500 pounds of bombs aboard the airplane.

Three helicopters arrived at the scene within an hour and twenty minutes of the crash.

Directions to the crash site were telephoned to the tower at Carswell. "Go down highway 81 (the Waco highway) until you come to a sign that says turn right six miles to Crowley. Follow this road about six miles to the crash."

It was felt that a conventional cable-driven, back-up mixture control system would have prevented this accident.

B-36D 49-2658, Near Perkins, Oklahoma, April 27, 1951

North Ameican P-51D Mustang, 44-84973 collided with B-36D, 49-2658 while conducting gunnery training passes near the town of Perkins, Oklahoma on April 27, 1951.

Synopsis of Air Force Accident Report (added July 28, 2003)

Aircraft Commander Major Charles Crecelius, Pilot Major William Apgar, and Co-pilot Captain Harold Barry, a crew of thirteen, and a civilian observer took off from Carswell AFB in B-36D, 49-2658 of the 436th Bomb Squadron of the 7th Bomb Wing at 8:00 A.M. on April 27, 1951. 49-2658 was an element in a flight of three B-36Ds. Their mission included bombing practice at the Midland, Texas bombing range followed by gunner training with a simulated air attack by North American F-51D Mustangs near Oklahoma City.

Four Mustangs from the 185th Tactical Reconnaissance Squadron took off from Will Rogers Field in Oklahoma City at 1:20 in the afternoon. They climbed to 20,000 feet altitude to intercept the bombers. They made a series of passes by the bombers to give their gunners practice tracking real airplanes. Training began with a series of high side passes. Then the B-36D reversed course for a series of high frontal passes.

Major Crecelius flew the B-36D straight and level at 20,000 feet altitude. One of the regular gunners was back at Carswell AFB occupied by other duties, so Crew Chief MSgt. William Blair was invited back to the rear compartment to man the lower left gunner station.

Each Mustang flew past the B-36D, headed the same direction as the bomber, and then made a 180 degree turn to approach it from the front. The gunners aboard the B-36D tracked the F-51Ds with their General Electric manufactured gun sighting mechanisms, shooting pictures instead of bullets.

A flight of two Mustangs piloted by Captain Robinson Risner and 1st Lt. Fred Black made a high frontal pass on the bomber. The gunners estimated that Captain Risner's Mustang passed less than 100 feet below the wing of the B-36D. Radio Operator TSgt. Albert Wolf commented over the intercom, "Man, he nearly hit the props". In the rear compartment, Crew Chief MSgt. William Blair exclaimed, "He went between the props, didn't he?"

As Lt. Black approached in his F-51D, Wolf asked, "What's this guy going to do?"

The gunners in the rear compartment never saw Lt. Black's Mustang, but they felt the collisoin. The F-51D hit the fuselage of the B-36D on the top left about nine feet back from the nose. The Mustang broke into two big pieces and lots of small chunks and burst into flames.

The three surviving Mustang pilots saw two flaming objects tumble away from the B-36D. The B-36D porpoised for several seconds and pitched up into a steep climb. Then it fell off to the left into a spiral dive.

Flight Engineer 1st Lt. Elroy Melberg manned the lower left gunner's station in the rear compartment. His first attempt to head for the exit hatch was thwarted by the web safety straps that connected his parachute harness to the floor. Precious seconds passed as he struggled to unclip his parachute harnesses from the safety straps. He had to use both hands to unfasten the clips as the pitching of the B-36D kept throwing him off balance.

Gunner TSgt. Milton Hewitt was in the lower right gunner's station across from 1st Lt Melberg. TSgt. Hewitt refused to wear his parachute pack and had ridiculed crew members who wore them. His first impulse was to get to the bunk where he had left his parachute pack.

Crew Chief MSgt. William Blair was giving Gunner TSgt. Milton Hewitt a replacement gun film canister when the collision occurred. MSgt. Blair injured his left leg as he was thrown against the bunks by the impact. He grabbed the exit hatch, but it would not open against the compartment pressurization.

MSgt. Blair called to TSgt. Hewitt to open the emergency pressure dump valve, but Hewitt was trying to get to his bunk to retrieve his parachute pack. They ran into each other as Blair reached for the pressure dump valve.

Gunner TSgt. Dick Thrasher occupied the upper left gunner's station. He had been aboard B-36B, 44-92075 when the crew was forced to bail out over Vancouver Island on February 13, 1950. Gunner TSgt. Ellis Maxon sat across from TSgt. Thrasher in the upper right gunner's station. They climbed down the ladders to the exit hatch as the gyrations of the crippled bomber flung them about.

MSgt. Blair dumped the pressure in the compartment and TSgt. Thrasher pulled open the exit hatch. TSgt. Thrasher lay down on his left side next to the exit hatch, grabbed the edge of the hatch and rolled himself headfirst out through the narrow opening. Having never bailed out of an airplane before, MSgt. Blair paid careful attention to TSgt. Thrasher's method of egress, intending to copy his moves.

MSgt. Blair assisted 1st Lt. Melberg to release his parachute harness from the safety straps. He found the exit hatch blocked by the seven-foot long wooden dip stick that was used to measure the amount of fuel in the tanks. He moved the dip stick out of the way, but it fell across the hatch again. He injured the fingers of his right hand in the effort to get out the hatch. He crawled under the dipstick and stuck his head out the hatch.

At that moment, the tail section of the B-36D ripped away from the rest of the fuselage from the bottom to the top at the forward bulkhead of the rear crew compartment. TSgt. Maxon, 1st Lt. Melberg, and MSgt. Blair were thrown from the rear crew compartment as it ripped open. TSgt. Hewitt was last seen trying to get his parachute pack from his bunk, but he did not survive the crash.

The air around the survivors was filled with falling metal debris. One of the turret bay doors struck the shroud lines of MSgt. Blair and the tail section tumbled past him on the way down.

1st Lt. Melberg's parachute shroud lines struck him in the throat as his parachute opened. His disorientation and the nausea from the pain caused him to vomit repeatedly during the descent.

The chest strap and quick release button of TSgt. Maxon's parachute hit him in the face and throat as his parachute opened, but he was too relieved to have escaped from the airplane to notice any pain.

None of the twelve men in the forward compartment were able to escape from the falling bomber as it spun to the ground:

Aircraft Commander Major Charles Crecelius

Pilot Major William Apgar

Co-pilot Captain Harold Barry

Navigator Major Aurther Burmeister

Radar Observer Major Robert Renner

Radar Observer Captain William Walsh

Radar Observer Captain William Zurivitza

Flight Engineer Ernest Cox, Jr.

Radio Operator TSgt. Nathan Fetters

Radio Operator TSgt. Albert Wolf

Radar Mechanic TSgt. Edward Ennis

Civilian Observer Benedict O'Conner

Wreckage from the B-36D fell across 3-1/2 miles of Oklahoma pasture land, ten miles south of the town of Perkins, Oklahoma and 37 miles north northeast of Tinker AFB at 1:41 P.M. CST. The F-51D impacted 12 miles south of Stillwater with 1st Lt. Fred Black still in the cockpit.

Tail section of B-36D 49-2658 Wings of B-36D 49-2658

Forward fuselage of B-36D 49-2658 Forward fuselage of B-36D 49-2658

Wings of B-36D 49-2658 Wings of B-36D 49-2658

Wings of B-36D 49-2658

The four survivors saw several other empty parachutes descending with them. They were unable to control the oscillation of their parachutes. Each of them hit the ground in an uncontrolled fashion. TSgt. Maxon landed in a 3-foot deep ditch and injured the medial meniscus of both knees. As he was dragged a short distance by his parachute, he suffered abrasions to his right knee, contusions to his left thumb and the left side of his neck, and a laceration to his scalp. MSgt. Blair's parachute dragged him a few feet after landing, and he suffered additional abrasions on his leg, abdomen, and lower left eyelid. TSgt. Thrasher and 1st Lt. Melberg also suffered rough landings.

MSgt. Blair landed just 100 yards from the home of a civilian oil company employee. The civilian got his company car and drove Blair to the place where TSgt. Maxon and 1st Lt. Melberg had come down. Melberg looked pretty beat up, so the civilian took him and Blair to the doctor in Perkins, Oklahoma. TSgt. Thrasher and TSgt. Maxon were picked up by officers of the Oklahoma Highway Patrol and were also transported to the doctor in Perkins.

The fuel tanks in the wings of the B-36D ruptured when it hit the ground. The gasoline erupted in flames, but a large portion of the fuel drained down the hill away from the crash. The resulting grass fire burned about 8 acres. It burned itself out before emergency vehicles from Tinker AFB arrived at the crash site approximately two hours after the crash.

The parachute and billfold of one of the deceased crew members on the B-36D were found 40 miles northeast of the main crash site.

B-36D 44-92050, Fairchild Air Force Base, Washington April 15, 1952

Major Don Hinton provided this summary of the crash of B-36D 44-92050 of the 92d Bomb Wing (H), 326th Bomb Sq at Fairchild AFB on 15 Apr 52 (added August 8, 2003):

During maximum weight, night take off on Runway 23, the crew discovered the the trim was incorrectly set, and the decision was made to compete the take off, confident the trim could be corrected during the take off roll.  Right seat pilot attempts to re-trim, left seat pilot remains on controls.  Left seat pilot anticipates crash, retards recips, instructs engineer to prepare for crash.  A decrease in elevator control forces due to change in trim and change in thrust and drag moments (nose-up thrust from the jet engines and windmilling drag of the props) causes the aircraft to become airborne, reaching 30-50 feet altitude.  Engineer closes fuel manifold valves, cuts ignition.  Right seat pilot diverts attention from trim to flying the A/C, advances throttles, but engines are dead because of no fuel, jet engines continue to run using residual fuel in manifold system, starts gear retraction.  Aircraft continued on the ground 520 feet past the end of the runway before becoming airborne.  Aircraft impacts ground 3714 feet past the end of the overrun and the debris field extends an additional 1000 feet.  Initial impact was 75 feet to the right of the Runway 23 centerline, 3714 feet from the end of the runway (this is on base).  The aircraft tore through the airfield perimeter fence, coming to rest 450 feet from the perimiter fence, off base (this is where most all of the wreckage came to rest).  Fifteen of the 17 crewmembers died.  A/C weight was 357,800 pounds. The aircraft was to conduct seven practice bomb drops and was loaded with bombs (doesn't state bomb weight/type, practice/inert or live bombs).  

B-36D 49-2661, Ocean off Mission Beach, California, August 5, 1952

The number-4 engine of B-36D, 49-2661 caught fire for an undetermined reason and fell from the wing off the coast of San Diego on August 5, 1952. The fire spread to the rest of the wing. Six of the eight crew members successfully escaped from the disintegrating bomber. Link to a survivor's account of this accident.

Retired Marine Corps 2nd Lt.Ed Middleton was an eyewitness to the crash of B-36D, 49-2661. He has provided this account (added August 16, 2003):

I was a Marine MSgt. flying a AD3W, radar guppy and I had two radar men in my rear radar operating area. I was flying out of El Toro and I was on a training mission for an new member of our Early Warning Unit from MCAS El Toro, a Warrant Officer who was a radar jamming specialist and his associate who was an early warning specialist TSgt. My aircraft had a door on the right side which had a bubble window in it so the 2 guys in the back could see out at least one side anyway. I was flying almost directly south toward San Diego only about 3 or four miles inland from Point Loma.

Using the intercom I told my two crew member to look out the right window and they could see a B-36 making an approach to Lindbergh Field. The plane was so big, it seemed that I was right next to it, but I was probably 4 or 5 miles away.

Suddenly I saw a flame above the far wing of the aircraft and something fell off that far wing on fire and smoking, then I saw parachutes starting to blossom. I switched to the Emergency Frequency and called the Coast Guard reporting the crash and I counted the number of parachute that I saw. I counted one, two, three, four, five, six, seven on the emergency channel to the Coast Guard, as I watched the plane plummet into the drink and disappear, meantime I was turning toward the falling plane and did not see any wreckage on top of the water because it dove in almost nose first.

The next day I read in the L. A. Times, I believe it was, that 6 men were rescued and 2 men were not recovered. I know that I had counted one more parachute than the number of men rescued. After about 2 weeks, the accident board found out who I was and I was called down to Consolidated as a witness to the accident. In my early warning unit we only had three aircraft and three pilots, a Major (Officer in Charge), a Captain, and me a Master Sergeant, Naval Aviation Pilot. Our OIC told me to take one of the AD's and go testify in San Diego, so I took our AD-4W (our newest updated guppy) and flew down to testify before the board.

I have forgotten now but I do remember a lot of Generals and Consolidated VIP's and when I said what I thought it was that fell off of the aircraft they acted like I didn't see what I said I thought I saw fall, but anyway of course I felt intimidated by them but I did guarantee that I saw one more parachute blossom that the number of crew member that were rescued. That I am absolutely sure of. In those days the only recorders we had in our aircraft were wire recorders so I don't know if the Coast Guard has or had and recording of my voice when I counted out the number of parachute that I saw blossom before they hit the water.

B-36H 51-5719, Nethermore Woods, Great Britain, February 7, 1953

On February 7, 1953, after two missed approaches to RAF Fairford, a B-36H Peacemaker ran short of fuel, and its crew was forced to bail out. The Peacemaker crashed in rural England after flying an additional thirty miles. The story of the Nethermore Woods crash is available at Don Pyeatt's B-36 web site. Click on the number-one propellor and then follow the "Notable Mishaps" link.

B-36H 51-5729, Labrador, Canada, February 12, 1953

On February 12, 1953, B-36H 51-5729 from the 7th Bomb Wing, Carswell AFB, Texas crashed on a hill near Goose Bay, Labrador, Canada. Two crewmembers in the rear compartment were killed in the crash.

Updated December 17, 2013: Alex Saunders was an eyewitness to the crash of B-36H 51-5729.

"I am 84, a former RCAF navigator. In Feb 1953 I was on an operation flying as navigatro on a Lancaster bomber doing recce in the arctic. We were in Goose Bay and witnessed the crash of a B-36 bomver, seeing it hit a hill top and then disapear from site. My curiosity drove me to search for mention of the crash on the internet. The aircraft must have been B-36 51-5729. At the time I was standing with crew mates looking out the window of the Officers' Mess watching the B-36 on what appeared to be the downwind leg in the circuit he hit the ground and bounced and went out of sight. Just thought I would pass that along. Suprisingly, if my memory is still functioning, there did not seem to be any kind of explosion... it just bounced the one time and disappeared into the ground. If memory serves me correctly I think he was on an easterly (downwind) heading when he struck the ground."

Zoltan Szabo has supplied some photographs of the crash site taken on September 26, 2006:

B-36H, 51-5729 wreckage in Labrador Photo courtesy Zoltan Szabo.

B-36H, 51-5729 wreckage in Labrador Photo courtesy Zoltan Szabo.

B-36H, 51-5729 wreckage in Labrador Photo courtesy Zoltan Szabo.

Blair Rendall provided these photos that were taken in 1978 and a report of the wreckage:

B-36 Wreckage in Labrador

I visited it in 1978 and at that time there was 5000 rounds on ammo still on it!! It was removed the following year due to the danger aspect. I crawled in the tail and there were two boxes there on the fuselage, either side, with printing: 600 rounds 20mm each. The ammo was still neatly stacked in the boxes as it was 20 years before. There was turret removed the following year as well, The rest of the guns were gone. Photo courtesy Blair Rendall

It still has the 8th AF symbol on the tail as well as the registration number (1-5729). It is in 2 pieces but you could spend a week there going through the wreckage. He ran out of fuel while holding for traffic at the SAC base in Goose bay, Labrador. Photo courtesy Blair Rendall

Sean O'Brien visited the site of the crash site by helicopter in the summer of 2002. He has provided these aerial photos of the wreckage. Updated October 22, 2004: Air Force Captain Dave Muralt, of NORAD Public Affairs has identified the airplane in Sean's photos as a North American RB-45C Tornado.

The two photos of the wreck in the trees are of the remains of a USAF North American RB-45C, which crashed on the hill across the river from the old radar site on Dome Mountain on August 14, 1951. This wreck is within the airfield's traffic pattern and is routinely visible from aircraft landing at Goose. The B-36 wreck is about ten miles off the approach end of runway 08 (08/26 is the 12,000 foot runway).

5 Wing Goose Bay maintains a crash list of almost 200 wrecked aircraft dating from as far in the past as the Second World War, and it has been said there are so many airplanes crashed in the neighbourhood that you can almost walk from one end of Labrador to the other on aluminium. :

Wreckage of B-36H, 51-5729 in Labrador The area that was cleared of trees by the crash is now filled with younger trees that are a lighter shade of yellow green than the surrounding old growth. Photo courtesy Sean O'Brien.

Wreckage of B-36H, 51-5729 in Labrador The tail section. Photo courtesy Sean O'Brien.

RB-36H 51-13721, Newfoundland, Canada, March 18, 1953

On March 18, 1953, RB-36H-25, 51-13721, got off course in bad weather and crashed near Burgoynes Cove, Newfoundland, Canada. Brigadier General Richard Ellsworth was among the twenty-three airmen killed in the crash. A Boeing SB-29 Superfortress search and rescue plane failed to return from the search for the RB-36H crash site. None of the ten airmen aboard was ever found.

Synopsis of Air Force Aircraft Accident Report (added July 7, 2003):

Capt. Jacob Pruett Jr., Capt Orion Clark, Brigadier General Richard Ellsworth, Major Frank Wright and a crew of nineteen took off in RB-36H, 51-13721 of the 28th Strategic Reconnaissance Wing (Heavy) from Lajes Airdrome in the Azores at 0000 Zulu (11:00 PM Azores time) on March 18, 1953. Their destination was their home base of Rapid City Air Force Base, South Dakota. Their flight path took them across the Atlantic Ocean and over Newfoundland. The flight was expected to take 25 hours.

The pre-flight weather briefing indicated that their flight path would take them to the south of a low pressure zone. The counter-clockwise rotation of the low would produce headwinds that were forecast to average 17 knots from 300 degrees.

General Ellsworth and Major Wright were not current in take-offs and landings, so Capt. Jacob Pruett Jr. and Capt Orion Clark were probably at the controls during the take-off. Major Wright then moved into the pilot's seat on the left and General Ellsworth got into the co-pilot's seat on the right.

Major Wright and General Ellsworth flew the overwater portion of the flight about 1,000 feet off the water for best range performance. They monitored their altitude above the water with the radar altimeter as they flew through the darkness.

The navigator intended to turn on the mapping radar an hour before the time that he expected the RB-36H to reach land. The pilots planned to climb to an altitude that would carry the RB-36H safely over the mountains of Newfoundland while they were still 20 miles from land.

Most of the flight was flown in overcast conditions that prevented the navigator from using the sextant for a celestial observation to determine the true position of the airplane.

The low pressure zone moved south of its predicted position before the RB-36H reached its vicinity. The airplane passed to the north of the low. Instead of the anticipated headwinds, the airplane encountered tailwinds that averaged 12 knots from 197 degrees.

Ocean station delta received a position update from the RB-36H at 0645Z. The navigator reported that the ground speed of the airplane was 130 knots. The position was in error by 138 nautical miles, and the true ground speed was closer to 185 knots.

The RB-36H reached Newfoundland about 1-1/2 hours earlier than expected. The crew made no attempt to contact air defense when they were fifty miles off shore. The navigator did not turn on the radar. The pilots continued to fly at low altitude. In the last twenty minutes of the flight, the ground speed averaged 202 knots. The visibility was less than 1/8-mile as the airplane flew straight and level through sleet, freezing drizzle, and fog.

At 0740Z (4:10 AM Newfoundland time), thirty miles after crossing the coastline the RB-36H struck an 896-foot tall ridge at an elevation of 800 feet. The six whirling propellers chopped the tops off numerous pine trees before the left wing struck the ground. The left wing ripped off of the airplane, and spilled fuel ignited a huge fireball. The fuselage and right wing impacted 1,000 feet beyond the left wing. The entire crew was killed on impact. Wreckage was strewn for 3/4-mile across the hillside.

U. S. Air Force 1st Lt Dick Richardson heard the RB-36H approaching his cabin at Nut Cove. The sound of the engines stopped suddenly, to be replaced by a loud explosion. Richardson reported that, "Everything lit up real bright". He could see a fire buring on the hillside above. He woke up the other men on the hill. They boiled up the kettle and sent a search party up to the crash site through deep snow. They found no survivors.

RB-36H, 51-13721 Air Force accident report photo Photo from Air Force accident report for RB-36H, 51-13721

Another RB-36H on a similar mission narrowly escaped a similar fate that night. Although still an hour from the estimated time of landfall, the pilot spotted land below the airplane through breaks in the clouds. He immediately initiated a climb to a safe altitude. It was determined that the airplane was 90 miles north of its intended flight path. Although the radar was operating, it was not properly tuned, so it failed to indicate the imminent landfall.

Also killed in the crash were:

Capt Stuart Fauhl

Capt Harold Smith

Capt William Maher

1st Lt Edwin Meader

1st Lt James Pace

Major John Murray

1st Lt James Powell Jr.

A/2C Robert Nall

1st Lt Clifford Bransdor

M Sgt Jack Winegardner

A/2C Morris Rogers

T Sgt Walter Plnski

A/1C Burse Vaughn

S Sgt Ira Beard

S Sgt Robert Ullom

A/2C Phillip Mancos Jr.

A/2C Keith Hoppons

A/1C Theodore Kuzik

T Sgt Jack Maltsberger.

The accident investigation board recommended that a forward looking radar should be developed to provide warning of high terrain ahead of an airplane. Navigators were instructed to scan for land with the radar every six minutes and pilots were instructed to climb to a safe altitude whenever the estimated position of the airplane was within 200 miles of land.

Crash Site Photos taken August 23, 2002 (added August 27, 2003)

John Howley, a Resource Planner from the Lands Branch, Land Management Division, Dept. of Gov't. Services and Lands, Gov't. of Newfoundland and Labrador visited the crash site on August 23, 2002 and took these photographs.

RB-36H-25, 51-13721 piston engine R-4360 Piston engine

RB-36H-25, 51-13721 propeller blade memorial Propeller blade memorial

RB-36H-25, 51-13721 propeller blade memorial

RB-36H-25, 51-13721 tail The tail section is remarkably intact.

RB-36H-25, 51-13721 wreckage You can have a picnic at the site.

RB-36H-25, 51-13721 wreckage

RB-36H-25, 51-13721 wreckage

Crash Site Survey, August 2002

Neville Webb sent an update on the condition of the RB-36H crash site as of August 2002:

This particular aircraft wreck site is unique because of the size of the aircraft and the fact that most parts of the aircraft's major structure are still in place. The wreck may be reached by driving east from Clarenville to Burgoyne's Cove. A gravel road from Burgoyne's Cove to a slate quarry further along the shore of Smith Sound, allows access to the trail to the site at Nut Cove. Until recently the only access to the site was by "walk-in" from Burgoyne's Cove.

A new sign has been placed by the 515 Air Cadet Squadron, Atlantic Region, at the beginning of the trail. The trail climbs steeply through spruce woods and benches have been placed at intervals. The climb takes about half-an-hour and emerges onto the rock shoulder below the top of the ridge. A framed plaque has ben placed at the front bulkhead of the tail structure. This plaque shows a profile of the B-36H and gives reasons for the cause of the crash. Also a memorial consisting of a propellor blade from the aircraft and a stone memorial and bronze plaque are placed at the highest point of the ridge.

In general, the explanation states that two B-36H aircraft were on a secret mission. The mission was to fly from the Azores across the Atlantic at 500 feet altitude until reaching the Maine coast, then to climb to 44,000 feet and begin the actual mission. Navigation was hinderd by fog and no fixes were made enroute. A low pressure area that was expected to move north in the Atlantic, and give winds to carry the aircraft south, did not move as predicted. Additionally, the aircraft steered a few degress north to counter the expected southward trend. In fact, the winds around the low carried the both aircraft some 400 miles to the north, the second aircraft having a lucky escape from a similar fate.

The aircraft structure and engines are spread across the site on both sides of 650 to 700 foot ridge running approximately SW-NE. The site of the wreck is 481120N-533943W. The ridge at the wreck site is crossed by a steep side narrow valley which contains wreckage.

One purpose of this visit was to identify aircraft parts and provide a name for each area of the site where parts were found.

1. EAST AREA --- where the trail emerges on to the shoulder, eastand below the top of the ridge.

2. CENTRE AREA - the area beside a small pond.

3. VALLEY EAST - the begining of the step sided valley that cutsthrough the ridge.

4. VALLEY WEST - where the valley opens to the lower ridges on thewest of the ridge.

5. LOWER WEST RIDGES - ridges below the west side of the ridgeline.

THE FOLLOWING IS A LISTING OF SOME OF THE PARTS FOUND IN EACH AREA.

EAST AREA (to the left of where trai exits woods). This area consists of rocky gullies that run parallel to the main ridge and is about 80 foot below the ridge line.1. Propellor spinner.2. Engine cowling.3. Jet engine pylon cowling.4. Aircraft stucture.5. Fractured Compressor disc - probably from one of the portpaired jet engines.6. Fractured wheel rim.7. Wing structure.8. Partial flap structure.

EAST AREA UP TO RIDGE.1. Outer Wing structure: large section of wing structure. withsome possible evidence of tree impact at leading edge.2. Jet engine.3. Piston Engine: embedded cylinders forward.4. Piston Engine.

CENTRE AREA.1. Assorted aircraft debris.2. Nose wheel strut c/w steering gear.3. fracture wheel rim (one). 4. Engine gear case.5. Carburettor mounting and intake.6. Engine supercharger impeller.7. Propellor blade (tip damage).8. Propellor balde (near small pond - severe balde bendingrotation axis).

VALLEY EAST (East to West)This is where the largest piece of the aircraft structure is found, namely the rear stabilizer, rear fuselage including gun turret and rudder.1. Rear fuselage, fin, rudder (top of fin and rudder have brokenoff and lie beside structure.2. Main Wing structure.3. Propellor hub.4. Propellor blade (drawing no. 1 129-17C6-24, serial no. 426128).5. Gun turret structure.6. Aircraft debris.

VALLEY WEST.This is where the where the forward fuselage structure is found including fire damage.1. Foselage structure including circular opening.(two fuselage rectangular box section beam at each side).2. Cockpit framing. 3. Gun turret. 4. Twin main wheel and bogie. 5. Twin main wheel. 6. Crew seat. 7. Front fuselage skin with "-- US AIR FO ---" 8. Front fuselage skin with " -- 72 ---" 9. Fuselage skin with circular access pannel and pannel. 10. Aircraft debris, wiring, small components. 11. Piston engine and associated local structure, cylindersfacing forward (top left side of valley).

LOWER WEST RIDGES.This is area is to the west of and 100 feet below the ridge top. 1. Fuselage structure including circular opening.(one fuselage rectangular box section beam at top). 2. Wing section (peeled back and open) 3. Pistion engine: impact evidence shows complete and somesheering of lower two pistons in cylinder each bank. 4. Engine cowling. 5. Wing section: top of section (actually the underside, showsUSAF Star).

HYPOTHESIS OF ACCIDENT EVENTS. The terrain on both sides of Smith Sound (including Random Island) rises in places steeply from sea level. Terrain heights in this area range from 250 ft, 350 ft and up to 700 ft. Any aircrft flying at 500 ft in bad weather and approaching the coast at this part of Newfoundland would be fortunate to avoid flying into high ground.

1.The wreckge pattern suggests the B-36H first struck a sloping rocky edge to the east and about 70 ft below the SW-NE ridge. Finding a pylon structure at the EAST AREA, together with a jet engine and a single fractured compressor disc, together with a propellor spinner and cowling and a wing structure suggest an impact line at the level underside of the main wing surface.

2. The nosewheel strut and a fractured wheel rim in the debris at the CENTRE AREA suggests this unit free to move and fall just further on from the intial imapact point.

3. The separation and direction of the tail unit suggests aircraft break-up, as the long fuselage, travelled up and along the rising ground toward the valley and ridge top. The tail section may have separated at the first impact with outer rocky edge and flipped.

4. The position of two piston engines on the east side of the ridge (at the left of the valley) show complete separation from the engine mount structure and tumbling slightly upwards and forward. These may have been the two outer piston engines of the port wing.

5. A third piston engine, on the top left side small valley, still has its local structure attached and rests with the pistons facing forward.

6. The question raised is whether the crew saw rising ground in the last few seconds before impact and attempted to climb through a small break or valley in the ridge line. In this resect, the front fuselage section went through the valley and most of the wing sections lie at the east end of the valley at the east side of the ridge.

7. Separation of the inner wing structure allowed two main wheel struts to follow the fuselage section through the small valley; these lie closely with the front crew area. One main wheel strut may have impacted through the crew canopy.

8. A partial fuselage section, an opened wing structure, a piston engine and outer wing sectionlie below the west side of the ridge suggest aircraft break up at or on the EAST AREA and the VALLEY EAST areas. The speed and momentum of the aircraft at impact may have allowed the wing section to lift and "fly" over the ridge.

SUMMARY

While the cause of the crash of B-36H 51-13721 was flying into high ground, the question remains whether the flight crew had any last second chance to climb and avoid the ridge. Clearly any warning to avoid impact came too late. However, there is a very slight suggestion from the layout of the wreckage and the fact that the tail section separated (fracturing upwards) and tumbled that the aircraft might have been in a climbing attitude before striking a rocky edge at the east side of the ridge. Fifty years have passed since this crash and only structure remains. Any evidence on-site as to power settings and controls is long gone or only to be found in crash reports. A visit to the wreck site is an interesting experience and worth the effort to climb the ridge and also see the memorial atop the ridge.}

Crash Site Survey, August 2001

Neville Webb of Newfoundland previously visited the RB-36H crash site on August 18, 2001 and provided a description and photos of the wreckage:

A propeller at the top of the ridge forms the memorial with crew names. Photo courtesy: Neville Webb

There is a steep climb 40 minute to the top of the ridge via a trail, accessed from the gravel road to the Slate Quarry at Nut Cove. The main wreck lies at the lower west end of a small steep sided valley that cuts across the top of ridge. The front fuselage section is burned out, with the ground covered in aluminum ash and related debris. This area has what is left of front cockpit window frames, pilot seat, turret, nose wheels and (RH) main bogy.

The tail section lies at the top of the small valley: of interest is the dead tree stump that has pieced the RH stabilizer. Of further interest is the fact that the tail section has turned 180 degrees to the line of the fuselage debris. Other wreckage may have gone over the ridge. Saw six engines and one jet engine. Photo courtesy: Neville Webb

Crash Site Survey Summer 2000

Sean O' Brien visited the site in the summer of 2000 and reported:

It isn't quite as remote as it may have been back in the fifties. In fact, after one parks one's car, it is only about a kilometre hike on a well-groomed trail - with several rest areas along the way!

The plane had very nearly cleared the top of the six-hundred foot hill overlooking Smith Sound. The view from the hill is so beautiful, in contrast with the wreckage. The tail section is intact and perfectly upright. I counted seven engines in the area. There are large sections of wing scattered everywhere. Oddly, there is remarkably little fuselage evident. But maybe some of that was salvaged by local people. Certainly, most of the armament was. I saw an electrically-operated cannon mounted on the workshop wall of a local youth, who had only dragged the gun home from the scene some five years ago. And locals tell me that there are truckloads of bits and pieces of her sitting in cellars in all the nearby towns.

There are currently plans to improve and promote the trail leading to the wreckage as a tourist attraction.

Rapid City Air Force Base, South Dakota was renamed Ellsworth Air Force Base in honor of General Ellsworth.

Personal Account of the Loss of SB-29 Search Plane

Gene was assigned to the the 52nd air rescue squadron in Newfoundland at the time of the crash. He has provided a report of the loss of a Boeing SB-29 Superfortress, 44-69982 and its crew returning from the search for the RB-36H crash site:

I was on a flight crew of a Boeing SB-29 search and rescue Superfortress in the 52nd air rescue squadron (6th Air Rescue Group based at Harmon Air Force Base) at the time of that crash. That part of the world has some of the worst flying there is. We were scrambled many times in pretty bad weather to intercept aircraft that were having a problem of some kind.

We had slung under our belly a 40 ft.aluminum boat which was dropped by parachute. It had a 4-cylinder engine and rations for a number of days. It also had an inflatable shelter at each end. You could zip a piece in place to completely cover any occupants. The procedure for dropping the boat was similar to making a bomb run. Bomb sight was used to place boat slightly up wind but close enough for survivors to get to it.

There were two planes scambled that day from the 52nd to start a search. I was on second aircraft to get airborne. We were about half-hour behind the first plane. We were airborne probably an hour or maybe two, not sure, but in any case we were ordered back because Canadian air rescue found it and jumped paramedics in.

Being last off naturally we got back first. We got down pulled our post flight and put baby to sleep. Since we missed normal chow call, we had the privledge of a special feeding. The only requirement was all crews come together. So we hung around haveing snowball fight in front of hangar, when it suddenly occured our other crew hadn't got down yet.

We fooled around a few more minutes when we heard that unmistakeable sound of B-29 overhead. In fact I personally saw it pass directly overhead. I was trained as B-29 engine specialist, and when engines are running good exhaust is a transparent blue. Well all four engines were looking good and sounded right.

Thinking they would touch down at any minute we waited. Well to shorten this story a bit, she never made it. She went down in St Georges Bay a few miles off the end of the runway. No survivors.

We had a small H-5 helicopter not equipped for night flying, but when word got out chopper pilot took it out in not too good weather with a volunteer to search with a Aldis lamp. My crew took one of the lifeboats we carried beneath the SB-29, towed to the water, and spent the night cruising the bay in fog so thick you could cut it with a knife.

Nothing was ever found. Two weeks later a mae west washed up covered with blood, and eventually oil slick appeared. Water is 200 feet + at that point. Eleven men were aboard. Normally we had crew of ten but extra man was helicopter medic getting his four hours in in order to get his flight pay for the month, which for all of us was 42.00 bucks extra a month hazardous duty pay. Not bad back then, bought quite a few extra scotch and sodas. Theres one oher ironic note. One of the crew members had been relieved of duty and was waiting for orders to rotate back to states but he took the flight for another that paid maybe twenty because he had something he wanted to do.

Synopsis of Air Force accident report for the loss of SB-29 Search Plane:

Captain Francis Quinn and 1st Lt Robert Errico and a crew of eight took off in SB-29-70BW, 44-69982 from Ernest Harmon Air Force Base, Newfoundland at 12:10 on the morning of March 18, 1953 to search for Convair RB-36H-25, 51-13721. 44-69982 was assigned to the 52nd Air Rescue Squadron of the 6th Air Rescue Group. 

The SB-29 was modified for the search and rescue role. It carried a 40 ft.aluminum boat under the bomb bay. The boat could be dropped by parachute. It had a 4-cylinder engine and rations for a number of days. It had an inflatable shelter at each end, and a tarpaulin could be zipped into place between the shelters to completely cover any occupants. A search radar was installed in place of the lower forward gun turret.

The SB-29 scouted the location of the RB-36H crash and determined that there were no survivors. It returned to Harmon AFB at 7:45 P.M.  There were broken clouds at 2,700 feet and and a solid overcast at 5,000 feet.

Harmon tower advised Captain Quinn to turn to a heading of 180 degrees and handed him over to GCA. T Sgt. Robert Burgoon was the GCA operator on duty that evening. Captain Quinn reported that he was reading the GCA radio "five-by-five". T Sgt. Burgoon instructed him to descend from 4,000 feet to 3,000 feet and maintain a heading of 180 degrees.

T Sgt. Burgoon read off the emergency procedure and current weather to Captain Quinn. Quinn acknowledged those transmissions, but when Burgoon read off the standard rate of turn, a different SB-29 crewmember responded over the radio.

When the SB-29 appeared on the GCA radar scope about seven miles from Harmon AFB, it was flying on a heading of 220 degrees. T Sgt. Burgoon instructed Captain Quinn to turn right to a heading of 30 degrees to avoid losing the Superfortress' radar return in the ground clutter during a left-hand turn. Quinn read back the heading as 300 degrees. Burgoon repeated that the proper heading was 30 degrees. Quinn read back something that Burgoon was not able to understand, so he reiterated his command to turn right to a heading of 30 degrees yet again. Quinn stated that he was initiating a left turn to 30 degrees, and Burgoon repeated that the turn was to be made to the right. Captain Quinn started his right turn and the SB-29 disappeared into the blind spot of the GCA radar.

When the Superfortress appeared on radar again about 11 miles from the base, it was inbound on the proper heading of 30 degrees. T Sgt. Burgoon read off the runway condition, landing runway, and braking action to Captain Quinn, but received no reply. He requested acknowledgement of his transmission twice with no response from Quinn. Burgoon commanded Quinn to turn to a heading of 300 degrees to determine whether he was still receiving the GCA transmissions. Burgoon repeated the command twice but received no response from the Superfortress, and it continued on a heading of 30 degrees.

The SB-29 was over St. George's Bay about ten miles from the base on a bearing of 240 degrees when it disappeared from the radar scope at 7:51 P.M. It did not get lost in ground clutter. It just disappeared from a location where it should have continued to be visible. On one pass the blip was there, on the next pass it was gone.

T Sgt. Burgoon made several calls to the SB-29 in the blind, but no further transmissions were received from it. Pilot Captain Francis Quinn, Co-pilot 1st Lt Robert Errico, Navigator Captain William Roy, Navigator 1st Lt Rodger Null, A/3c James Coggins, A/3c Sammy Jones, A/2c Michael Kerr, S/Sgt David Kimbrough, A/1c David Rash, A/1c Robert Montgomery were lost in the crash.

At 8:15, an Air Force rescue vessel was dispatched to the area where the radar return had disappeared. DeHavilland of Canada L-20 Beaver, 51-16490 took off at 8:44 to search for any signs of survivors at the crash site. Sikorsky H-5G Dragonfly helicopter, 48-553 took off to conduct a search at 8:46. It was going on midnight when three more vessels joined the search.

An oxygen tank from the SB-29 was spotted floating in St. George's Bay at 5:09 the next morning. Search teams found fuel cells, the radio operator's table, air scoop dust covers, hydraulic fluid, an oxygen tank, the navigator's brief case, a partially inflated six-man life raft, and other small debris from the SB-29. The few pieces of structure that were recovered showed evidence that the SB-29 had suffered major damage when it impacted the water. A total of fifty-three pieces of debris were recovered during the first day of searching. A bouy was placed at the oil slick where the debris was found.

Two L-20 Beavers searched the bay all day on March 19th.

The local countryside was scoured for witnesses. The H-5 Dragonfly was used to visit residences along the shoreline of the bay that were otherwise inaccessible. Civilian John Walters of Kings Head reported that he heard a loud explosion and saw a bright flash, "kinda like a red flame" about two to three miles offshore about 7:45 that evening. His was considered to be the most reliable eyewitness account.

The Dragonfly was flown to the location where the SB-29 had disappeared from radar. It made a series of descents and ascents. It was noted that it disappeared from the radar as it descended through about 800 feet.

Dragging and diving operations began on March 20. Forty square miles of ocean floor were dragged. Divers made sixty-one dives with negative results. The divers and dragging gear were unable to search below a depth of 200 feet.

The U.S.S. Salvager was dispatched from Norfolk, Virginia to search the bay with SONAR equipment. It arrived at the station on March 27, but it did not have suitable gear for locating the wreckage. UOL equipment and personnel arrived on April 5 and started searching for the SB-29 wreck on April 6. The UOL equipment was disabled by contact with rocks on the bottom of the bay on April 9.

The main wreckage of SB-29, 44-69982 and the bodies of her crew were never found.

RB-36H 51-13722, 2 Miles from Ellsworth AFB, August 27, 1954

RB-36H, 51-13722 landed short of runway 12 at Ellsworth AFB on August 27, 1954.

Synopsis of Air Force Accident Report (added July 30, 2003)

Aircraft Commander Lt Col Wray Cotterill, Pilot 1st Lt Roger Bumps, Co-pilot Captain Neal Williams and a crew of twenty-four took off in RB-36H, 51-13722 of the 77th Strategic Reconnaissance Squadron of the 28th Strategic Reconnaissance Wing from Ellsworth AFB at 4:15 in the morning on August 27, 1954. The crew had just returned from a thirty day leave. Captain Williams had finished a 20-hour mission just 32 hours earlier.

Their flight took them to Kansas City, Missouri; Little Rock, Arkansas; Dallas, Texas; and back to Little Rock for radar bombing practice. They flew to Kansas City again and then returned to Ellsworth AFB after flying 3,594 air miles.

At 9:00 in the evening the pilots began to practice Planned Position Indicator Ground Control Approaches (GCA PPI) using Air Surveillance Radar. They entered the pattern for Runway 12. GCA PPI was not as precise as GCA precision approach. The minimum altitude for GCA approach was 3,864 feet.

The approaches were flown at 145 miles per hour. The landing gear remained retracted. The flaps were lowered to 20 degrees and the landing lights were extended. The night was clear and visibility exceeded 15 miles.

During the first four approaches, Lt Bumps flew from the right seat and Captain Williams observed from the left seat.

A pair of North American F-86D Sabre Dogs took off from Runway 30 at 9:30. Their pilots noticed that the red obstruction lights on a low range of hills1-3/4 miles northwest of the runway were not working. The lead pilot notified the Ellsworth tower that the obstruction lights were out. It was not known at the time that they had been disabled by a lightning strike the night before.

The civilian Senior Electrician of Air Installations was called shortly before 10:00 P.M. and notified that the obstruction lights needed to be repaired. He assembled a crew at the AIO electrical shop and prepared to drive out to the lights.

On the fourth approach, ground control advised Lt Bumps that the obstruction lights northwest of the field were not working.

After the fourth pass over the airfield, Col Cotterill moved into the left hand seat to fly the next approach. Col Cotterill flew the approach higher than the glide path specified by the GCA operator.

Before the sixth approach, Captain Williams replaced Lt Bumps in the right hand seat. It is believed that Col Cotterill flew the next approach.

The RB-36H was flying at 145 miles per hour on a heading of 147 degrees (true), descending at 750 feet per minute when the left wing struck one of the inoperative obstruction lights. Seventy feet beyond the obstruction light the lower fuselage struck the ground 8,777 feet short and 225 feet right of the centerline of Runway 12 at 10:11 P.M. Mountain Standard Time. The impact point was at an elevation of 3,394 feet, 148 feet higher than the runway.

The tail section broke away from the fuselage and came to rest 275 feet from the first point of impact.

Tail section of RB-36H, 51-13722 Aerial view of wreckage of RB-36H, 51-13722 Aerial view of wreckage of RB-36H, 51-13722 Tail section of RB-36H, 51-13722 Tail section of RB-36H, 51-13722 Tail section of RB-36H, 51-13722

Aerial veiw of wings and forward fuselage of RB-36H, 51-13722 The forward fuselage ended up 1,000 feet from the impact.

Left wing tip of RB-36H, 51-13722 The left wing stopped 200 feet farther along.

Debris was scattered for 1,500 feet.

Debris trail of RB-36H, 51-13722 Debris trail of RB-36H, 51-13722 Debris trail of RB-36H, 51-13722 Debris trail of RB-36H, 51-13722

A fire broke out in the wreckage. The center section of the RB-36H, including the camera compartment, was consumed by flames. Two acres of pasture on private property were burned.

Twenty four crew members died in the crash. The destruction of the airplane was so complete that it was not possible to determine which compartment many of them had occupied at the time of the crash. Killed in the crash were:

Aircraft Commander Lt Col Wray Cotterill

Co-pilot Captain Neal Williams

Navigator Major Martin Margolin

Photo-Navigator Major Harold Chambers

Radar-Navigator Captain James MacDaniel

Engineer Captain Roy Wegner

Engineer MSgt William Ratagick

E.C.M. A/1C Glenn Kerri

E.C.M. TSgt Charles Briggs

Radio Operator MSgt Carl Boyd

Radio Operator A/1C James Swanson

Photo A/1C Russell Wilson

Photo A/2C Allen Jenkins

Gunner MSgt Dean McKever

Gunner A/1C John Baker

Gunner A/1C George Gross

Gunner SSgt Dennis Murphy

Gunner A/2C George Hertnecky

Radio Operator A/2C William Lynch

Navigator 2nd Lt Richard Crittenden

Engineer 2nd Lt Joseph Mullan

Photo A/2C Marcel Herbert

Photo A/2C Billy Campbell

Gunner A/2C Donald Wolf

E.C.M. Captain Philip Toups, 1st Lt Roger Bumps, and E.C.M. A/1C John Harvey were rescued from the wreckage.

Captain Toups suffered multiple broken ribs on both sides, a compond fracture of his left arm, broken left femur, crushed right ankle, punctured lung, and other internal injuries. He died five days after the crash.

A/1C Harvey suffered a crushed sternum, multiple broken ribs, fractured pelvis, compound fractures of his left arm and left leg, deformed fracture of his lower right leg, and lacerations of his scalp, arms and left leg. He was given a half litre of type O+ blood (not cross-matched). He was comatose much of the time. Hemoglobinuric nephrosis (red blood cell fragments clogging the kidneys) set in, probably as a result of "generalized crush syndrome". A/1C Harvey succumbed to his injuries after six days.

1st Lt Roger Bumps survived with a lacerated scalp, broken skull, concussion, broken right clavicle, and a deeply bruised left arm.

Fire fighters responding to the crash were faced with exploding fuel tanks, tires, landing gear struts, and ammunition. The magnesium skin of the airplane proved impossible to extinguish. Eventually the crash crews were ordered to pull back and let the wreckage burn.

Several factors contributed to the crash. The altimeter error for the RB-36H was estimated at -160 feet to +270 feet. An additional local terrain effect introduced an additional error of -70 feet to +70 feet.

The Rapid City GCA radar was miscalibrated. The range value shown on the radar at the point of impact was off by 1/2 mile. Since the GCA radar indicated that the airplane was 1/2 mile closer than it actually was, it placed the glide slope 150 feet low. In the months preceding and following the crash, at least six pilots reported that GCA instructions might have caused them to land short or that GCA had reported them over the end of the runway before they actually reached it.



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