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February 9, 2017

1962 May 15 - Whiteman Air Force Base Four Heroic Fireman Killed and Two Others Perish in a B-47 Explosion

This view was taken after the area had been evacuated by personnel. Flames are visible below the wings. Shortly after this picture was taken the landing gear collapsed and like a giant bird, the six-engine bomber slumped to the ground, exploding fuel tanks engulfed 24 firemen in flames after they apparently had the fire out.
CLOUDS OF BLACK SMOKE BILLOWED BEHIND THE B - 47 jet bomber which exploded yesterday at Whiteman Air Force base at 3:50pm. 
Four firemen were killed (2 others died later) and 18 fire fighters and crewmen were injured when an explosion ignited 10,000 gallons of jet fuel (Air Force photograph)

Crew Was Conducting a Pre-Flight Check. Quick to Smother Flames. 
(By The Star's Own Service.) 
Whiteman Air Force Base, Mo., May 15. 
Four firemen, including the base fire chief, were killed and 18 fire fighters and crewmen were injured when a B - 47 jet bomber caught fire and exploded on the flight line here this afternoon. Among the injured is Reginald L. McHenry, 24, of 2619 South Twenty-eighth street, Kansas City, Kansas. His condition was listed as critical. A 3-man crew was conducting pre-flight check on the 6-jet craft before taking it out on a training mission when the fire broke out. (Air Force spokesmen said there were three or four explosions. After one explosion all personnel were pulled back 1500 feet from the burning plane and other bombers on the flight line were pulled 200 to 300 yards away. The plane burned for more than three hours and was a total loss.) Names of the Victims. 

The dead: Paul E. Ralls, 34, the fire chief. Jacob Lang, 18, airman third class, Chicago. Wayne A. Hower, 19, airman third class, Allentown, Pa. Name of fourth man withheld. The injured: Paul C. Jasper, 28. staff sergeant, Bradenton, Fla.; Capt. Richard Bauer, 29, Knob Noster; Capt. Robert S. Celmer, 30, Knob Noster; U. John T. Dowd, 24, West Orange, N. J.; James A. Prosser, 27, airman first class, Albany, Ga.; Freeman Ford, 30, airman first class, Sedalia, Mo.; Albert T. Richmond, 19, airman third class, Knob Noster; Walter J. Phillips, 21, airman third class, Exton, Pa.; James R. Strike - leather, 18, airman third class, Charlotte, N. C. - Charles R.: Lennox, 27, airman first class, La Monte, Mo.; Richard E. East, 34, technical sergeant, Whiteman Air Base; Jacob S. Hassler, 18, airman third class, Warrensburg, Mo.; Otis Duren, 25, airman second class, Crockett, Tex.; Gustaf H. L. Hermanson, 22, airman second class, Washington. Reginald L. McHenry, 24, airman first class, Kansas City, Kansas; Percy Smith, jr., 19, airman third class, St. Louis; Chester J. Taylor, 24, airman second class, Erwin, N. C, and Lt. Charles McComas, 25, Sedalia. The plane was parked near the base fire station, and firemen were able to cover the craft with foam and water within seconds after the alarm was sounded. Firemen used foam to put out the sewer fire and were flushing out the sewers with water.
B-47 on Assisted Takeoff with JATO rockets

An Order on Water. 
All persons on the base were ordered to use water for drinking purposes only so the pressure and reserve could be maintained to fight the fires. After the first explosion, firemen were forced away from the plane by the intense heat, the fire was almost under control and firemen were working under the bomb-bays when an explosion occurred. The blast used 10,000 gallons of highly volatile jet fuel, danger of further explosions.
The fire burned out of control more than two hours before they could move back in and fight it. 
Help From Cities. - The towns of Sedalia, 20 miles away; Warrensburg, 12 miles, and Knob Noster, just outside the base, each sent a fire truck. The highway patrol stopped all traffic trying to enter the base, for fear a cigarette would start a fire in the sewers. The flight line was cleared of all personnel but those fighting the fire. No other planes were damaged.
B-47 Stratojet on Youtube
Another account
On May 15, 1962 a B-47 Stratojet Fire and explosion killed Base Fire Chief P.E. Ralls, Airman Second Class Joseph Palagonia, Airman Third Class Jacob Lang and Airman Third class Wayne Hower and injured 18 others, 2 others later died also. A fuel spill triggered a fire of the 340th Bomb Wing. After the fire was thought to be contained, the fire chief and his fire fighters inched their way toward the foam-covered aircraft to determine the case of the fire. The jet blew up, killing all four. More than 50 bombers were strung down the flight line at this time and the B-47 was practically in the middle of them.

Flight line at Whiteman Would have been similar on 15 May 1962 with 50 B-47s
Aircraft maintenance people braved the danger zone, clambered into cockpits of nearby jets and maneuvered them out of danger. Some of the people had never handled the controls of a jet and acted out of sheer courage and necessity.

B-47 Stratojets on a flightline.
During refuelling at Whiteman AFB, Missouri, Boeing B-47E-135-BW Stratojet, 53-6230, of 340th Bomb Wing catches fire, 10,000 gallons of fuel ignite. Four firemen are killed (and 2 Airman later died) and 18 others injured when a fireball engulfs all within 100 feet of burning aircraft. The flight crew was able to egress the aircraft.
Flight Crew of  53-6230  Boeing b-47E-135-BW Stratojet, 340th Bomb Wing that exploded.
Flight crew were Capt. Robert S. Celmer AC, 1st Lt. Charles A. McComas, Jr. Co-pilot injured, Capt. Richard Bauer Navigator, A1/C James A. Underwood acting crew chief and A2/John Carroll asst. crew chief injured. Whiteman AFB.
B-47 Stratojet


SAC Board Begins Inquiry Into B-47 Blaze at Whiteman. (By The Star's Own Service.) 

Whiteman Air Force Base, Mo., May 16.—An Air Force investigating board from the Strategic Air command probed through the ruins of a B -47 jet bomber and took statements from witnesses here today. The board has been appointed to determine the cause of the fire on the flight line yesterday that killed four men, injured 18, and destroyed the plane. Three of the injured released from the base hospital today: Otis Duren, 25. airman second class, Crockell. Tex.; James A. Prosser. 27, airman first class, Albany. Ga., and Waller J. Phillips, 21, airman third class, Exton, Pa. The condition of three severely injured men was reported unchanged tonight at the Brooke Medical center, San Antonio, Tex. One of the three is Reginald McHenry, 24, airman first class, of 2619 South Twenty-eighth street, Kansas City, Kansas.

Fireman Larry Madden -It was May 15, 1962, and Fireman Larry Madden was looking forward to his day off. It had been a hard work week. He had only been at Whiteman Air Force Base for a few months working hard at learning the ins and outs of being a fireman for the base fire department. The day was unseasonably warm for May - in the mid-80s. He had just driven off of the base when he saw, felt and heard the plane explode on the tarmac. It was a memory he says will be forever in his mind.
Larry was born in Mount Carmel, Illinois, a middle child in a military family. His dad served in the Army during WWII and Korea. He had an uncle who served in the Navy during WWII. His brother served in the Army during Vietnam.
When the Air Force came to Larry's high school and told him and his friends about a new buddy program for enlistment, he knew he wanted to join. Many of his friends were also interested and together they decided to go into the new buddy program. Boot camp was at Lackland Air Force Base in San Antonio, Texas. From there, Larry was shipped out to Keesler Air Force Base in Biloxi, Mississippi, for radar training. This wasn't a good fit for him.
He was given another choice and he picked Whiteman Air Force Base in Knob Noster, Missouri, for firefighter training. Firefighter training, at that time, was almost all done on the job. The veteran firefighters would teach and test the new recruits. On May 15, 1962, the whole department was tested.
A B-47 Stratojet medium bomber was having a routine maintenance on the tarmac, when a problem developed. As they opened up the co-pilot's air refueling valve, the crew on the ground reported that fuel was spilling out from around the nose of the aircraft. The crew immediately evacuated the aircraft. A fire started and spread underneath the aircraft. The fire department was called in and responded quickly. They were able to put out the visible fire from around the exterior of the plane. The fire chief and three other firemen began the process of moving slowly around the plane to investigate any possible hot spots.
Larry Madden had seen the explosion as he was driving off of the base. He had tried to get back onto the base to help, but he had left his fire department ID on his bunk and the guards would not allow him back on the base to help. He watched helplessly from the side of the road outside a perimeter fence, praying for his co-workers and wishing he could do more to help.
Fire Chief P.E. Ralls approached the plane slowly with Airman 2nd Class Joseph Palagonia, Airman 3rd Class Jacob Lang and Wayne Hower to investigate the cause of the fire and find other hot spots. As they approached, one of the plane's engines unexpectedly blew up and all four men were killed instantly. Debris from the explosion flew everywhere, flames shot out from the plane which set off a chain reaction with other planes down the flight line. By the time the fires had been extinguished 18 other firefighters were injured. Two of those men injured, ultimately died from their injuries.

Other WAFB B-47 Accidents
Crash Story Link 1956
Crash story link 1957

Oct. 14, 1960  SIMILAR TO CRASHED PLANE — This B-47 six-engine bomber taking off from the Whiteman runway is similar to the one that crashed Thursday night southwest of the base seriously injuring one crewmember. B-47 Crashes, Burns Near Whiteman AFB Crewmembers Escape Just Before Fire One Man Injured; Fire Destroys Big Six-engine Jet A B-47 Stratojet bomber belly-landed in an open field about three miles southwest of the Whiteman AFB, shortly after 10 o’clock Thursday night during a thunderstorm. The bomber carried a crew of four and three members rescued Lt Clements, carrying this seriously injured crewmember a safe distance from the bomber. A few minutes later the jet plane burst into flames. There was no explosion. Air base ambulances were also rushed to the scene and took Lt. Clements back to the hospital. According to reports on the accident, the big plane had made its pattern and was on approach to the runway when the control tower was reported to have lost contact with the plane. According to early reports the plane was making a ground control approach on the glide path and a few seconds later struck the ground. It was also reported there was no evidence the plane was in any trouble just prior to the crash, although it was said it was raining hard at the time. The craft belly-landed in a field on the farm of Lee Williams, whose tenant is A. J. Kirkpatrick Immediately after the crash the three uninjured men found the co-pilot 1st Lt. L. O Clements, whom suffered a fractured left leg, several fractured ribs, injuries to his back and was in shock. He was reported in fair condition at the Whiteman AFB Hospital early this morning. Clements was scheduled to be moved to the Veterans Administration Hospital in Kansas City sometime this afternoon for further specialized treatment according to Whiteman Hospital officials. Those who escaped with no apparent injuries were Major Harold J. Shea, aircraft commander, from Holyoke, Mass., Capt. Ralph L. Fickling, navigator, Washington, D.C., and 2nd Lt. Fred J. Schilke. The three officers were also taken to the hospital, examined and released. The craft was from the 486th Bomb Squadron of the 340th Bombardment Wing. Col. George Newton Jr., commander of the 340th, has appointed a board of senior officers to conduct an investigation of the accident. Air Police were dispatched to the scene and immediately established guards in the area to prohibit curious sightseers from going close to the scene which was about three city blocks off a country road. Considerable wreckage was scattered over a wide area. Upon impact, officials said the bomber skidded three-fourths of a mile.

Crash of a B-47 S/N 52-726 (1958)

SEDALIA, MO, Sept. 7, 1943 The 11 victims of an army plane crash Sunday night 12 miles south of Sedalia were identified Tuesday by Lt. John W. Duffy, public relations officer at the Sedalia army airfield. The plane, a C-53 troop carrier, disintegrated after an explosion high above the Bahner neighborhood. It was from the Sedalia field. Those killed included: 1st Lt. Alvin Y. Tillman, Jr., pilot, Menard, Texas 1st Lt. Donald F. Parks, Akron, Ohio, wife residing temporarily in Austin, Texas Tech. Sgt. Orville H. Clayton, Bandera, Texas Corp. Emmett W. Reynolds, Handley, Texas Elwood Brooks, Henrietta, Texas, apprentice seaman Walter Theodore Wingigated, Clifton, Texas, apprentice seaman
B-47 Stratojet Association Link

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