Billings, MT Transport Plane Crashes On Take Off, Dec 1945


Of 21 overseas veterans bound for discharge or reassignment at a west-coast base, only four were alive Saturday night after their plane, an army C-47 transport, crashed and burned one mile west of Billings.
Two Northwest Airlines pilots, GEORGE D. MILLER, captain, and VERNON W. PFANNKUCK, first officer, died at a local hospital, where they had been taken shortly after the crash at 2:10 a.m. Saturday. The bodies will be taken Sunday to Minneapolis, where the two resided.
Six army men were taken from the wreckage in a field near the Billings Polytechnic Institute to a hospital. One died late Saturday afternoon of third-degree burns, while another succumbed earlier in the day to severe burns, fractures and possible internal injuries, bringing to 19 the death toll in the accident.
Private First Class RAYMOND PARKINS of Coeur d'Alene, Idaho, who is the least seriously injured of the four in the hospital, said Saturday night that "a lot of the fellows were asleep when the plane was approaching Billings."
The 23-year-old blond private, suffering fractures and shock, said he didn't "remember much" about the accident.
"I don't know what happened," he said slowly, grimacing with pain as he turned in his bed in the hospital ward where the other three are being treated.
One of the critically injured, Corporal MILFORD A. BARNES of Harrisburg, Ore., was put under an oxygen tent Saturday night as his condition became more serious. Among the square-jawed, black-haired corporal's injuries is a skull fracture.
The army personnel aboard the transport were being taken from Newark, N. J., to Seattle when the plane, attempting to land here during a heavy snowstorm, caught a wing in trees bordering the Poly drive and nose-dived into the field.
MRS. J. E. VOGEL, 940 Poly drive, who, with her husband, was among the first to arrive at the scene, said that she was awakened about 2 a.m. by the roaring of a plane's motors, which was followed a few seconds later by silence.
MRS. VOGEL said that she saw flames from a field across the Poly drive and that her husband notified the police department. They then went to the accident, and, with others who arrived shortly afterward, gave help to the men thrown clear of the plane when it crashed.
F. H. THAYER, who resides between Poly drive and Rimrock road near the scene of the crash, ran to the plane after hearing it strike the ground. He extinguished the fire in one man's clothing and dragged two other victims from under a wing of the plane.
He and MRS. THAYER reported hearing the pilot "gun" the motors of the plane just before the crash. The plane's landing lights shone directly into a window of their home, MRS. THAYER said.
Bodies, charred beyond recognition, were extricated from the smouldering, twisted wreckage by city and county officers, highway patrolmen and army and Northwest Airlines representatives.
An investigation of circumstances surrounding the crash will be made immediately upon the arrival here of a group of air corps officers from
Cincinnati, Ohio, headquarters of an army ferrying division, Major C. V. PROSSER, the division's contract carrier supervisor, said.
Major PROSSER and Major DONALD R. FROHLICH, the Cincinnati division's maintenance inspector, who arrived in Billings Friday night en route to Seattle, were called to the scene of the accident.
According to information from officials at the Great Falls army air base, an investigating board will fly to Billings as soon as weather conditions here permit.
According to DICK LOGAN, airport manager, the plane had stopped at Fargo, N. D., before arriving here. The plane approached the field here from the east, circled the city and then, being too high to make a landing, made a right turn and came back for another try, LOGAN said.
On the second approach, the pilot battling poor visibility resulting from the snowstorm, was told by the field's control tower that he was too low, LOGAN said. The plane then swung south andits landing lights went out of sight of the observers in the tower, the airport manager said. One of the observers then climbed to the roof of the tower and saw the crashed ship burning on the field below the rims.
Police Officer GEORGE CUNNINGHAM, who with Officers CLIFFORD MORRIS, DONALD CAMPBELL and RANDALL WILSON, helped extricate bodies from the flaming wreckage, said that when he arrived flames shooting skyward from the plane lighted the entire field, outlining three bodies, apparently thrown from the ship as it crashed, and part of a wing which was found in a field immediately south of scene of the crash. The wing, officials said, apparently was torn off when the plane caught in the trees.
Screams of the dying and injured could be heard as the police officers approached the field, where in the glare of the burning plane were six army men and one of the pilots. The other pilot was under the ship's motor, which had been torn loose in the crash, CUNNINGHAM said.
The blaze was extinguished by city firemen, and while smoke still curled from the twisted mass city and county officers and County Coroner HOWARD C. SMITH began extricating bodies from the wreckage.
Twelve smouldering black and red charred forms, some with their arms and legs still in sitting positions, were carried out and placed in metal boxes for removal to local funeral homes.
The accident, according to LOGAN, is the fourth to occur near the airport since 1928 and brings the total deaths from crashes to 21.
The C-47 crash is the first to occur south of the rimrocks, LOGAN said.
At the Minneapolis home of Captain MILLER, a telegram from the navy department offering him the rank of commander if he would return to the navy was received a few hours after he was killed, an Associated Press dispatch said.
MILLER, a lieutenant commander when he was released from duty with the naval air transport service October 15, flew navy transport ships in the Atlantic service during the war.
Victims Identified.
Great Falls, Dec. 8. -- (AP) -- Names of all but seven of the army personnel killed in the crash of a transport plane at Billings early Saturday morning were released Saturday night by Major C. D. FAIRLESS of the Great Falls army air base. Other victims, whose next of kin live in rural areas and could not be reached Saturday for notification, will be identified Sunday, the major said.
The dead:
Major RAY K. CRAFT, Raymond, Wash.
First Lieutenant ANTHONY W. ALANSKY, Medford, Ore.
Staff Sergeant THOMAS A. THENSOM, Walla Walla, Wash.
Sergeant CHARLES E. ENNE, Manchester, Wash.
Technician Fourth Grade VIRGIL E. KLANE, Coeur d'Alene, Idaho.
Technician Fourth Grade FRED CHAPMAN, Vancouver, Wash.
Technical Sergeant GLENN C. MARR, Wenatchee, Wash.
Corporal LORELL C. CASSELL, Forks, Wash.
Technician Fifth Grade JOHN M. MARSHALL, Portland, Ore.
Private First Class MACEO M. HOBBS, Los Angeles, Cal.
Critically Injured were:
Corporal MILFORD A. BARNES, Harrisburg, Ore.
Technician Fifth Grade RAYMOND E. EMERSON, Newport, Ore.
Technician Fifth Grade EMIL A. HASCH, Yakima, Wash.
Private First Class RAYMOND PARKINS, Coeur d'Alane, Idaho.

Billings Gazette Montana 1945-12-09