Kirtland Air Force Base, NM Bomber Crash, Jan 1947



Kirtland Air Force Base, N. M. -- Eleven army fliers, most of them combat veterans, died in the blazing wreckage of a B-29 which crashed in an arroyo a quarter mile south of Kirtland Field Monday afternoon at 1:27.
Another member of the crew, dragged from the flames by two enlisted men who risked their lives and disregarded orders of their commanding officer to dash into the inferno, was in critical condition in Veteran's Hospital with "a 50-50 chance to live."
Two other crew members were alive because, they were not on hand when the plane left.
The big ship, carrying restricted experimental equipment, had just taken off from the field on a routine training mission, Col. Perry M. Hoisington, base commander said.
Those who were first to reach the plane, and who helped in the grim task of removing the dead, said most of the bodies were found with arms thrust up as though to guard their faces from the intense heat, indicating that they were alive despite the violence of the crash, but were trapped in the flames.
The Victims.
Kirtland Field authorities gave the names of six of the eleven men killed as:
Col. WILLIAM A. HATCHER, JR., 36, whose wife and two small children live at Kirtland Field. His home address is Cleveland.
Capt. ROBERT F. BLEDSOE, 27, whose wife and small son live in El Paso.
M'Sgt. FREMONT R. ALFORD, 42, with 23 years and eight months in the service, whose wife and two children live at the field.
M'Sgt. ARNOLD J. GUNTER, 33, with seven years and four months in the service whose wife, Mrs. Lola Gunter, and two children live at 120 North Main Street, Belen, N.M.
M'Sgt. G. B. THACKER, 31, a former prisoner of the Japanese, with six and a half years service whose wife and child live at the field. His home address is Galesburg, Ill.
Cpl. GEORGE W. RUFF, 21, with 28 months service, whose mother, Mrs. Laura Wheeler lives in Flint, Mich.
Names of the one survivor and the five others who were killed were not to be made public until today, after relatives had been notified.
Trouble In Takeoff.
Trouble apparently developed on the take-off and the ship nosed downward, struck a small knoll, and crashed in the arroyo, spreading crumpled masses of wreckage for more than 600 feet.
The ship burst into flames immediately, and it was smoke from the blaze which brought out crash wagons and fire trucks from the field.
The huge B-29 was hardly recognizable as an airplane after the crash.
Bits of metal from the fuselage were scattered about the crest of the knoll where the ship first struck. It apparently bounced about 50 feet, and struck again, shedding a portion of a wing. About 200 feet farther on, a section of the fuselage, split wide open, and three of the big motors, the propeller blades twisted skyward, lay smoldering. The bodies of five of the crew were removed from this section.
Bodies Seared.
Bodies of several others, including the two men who were dragged from the wreckage, were thrown clear, but the intense heat from blazing gasoline seared the bodies, even at a distance.
Nearly 250 feet farther on, was the second crumpled wing, and the fourth engine, partly buried in the ground.
Scattered along the course of the wreckage were partially burned parachutes, ripped from their cases by the force of the crash -- safety devices the twelve men aboard had no chance to use.

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