Kerrville, TX Transport Plane Crashes, Feb 1959


Kerrville, Tex. (UPI) -- A chartered C47 transport with 28 men on board, 18 inches of ice on its wings, its landing gear frozen tight and one engine out, crashed and burned Sunday night while trying to make a belly landing.
Twenty-five of the men escaped, but three were killed and the fire almost consumed the bodies. The victims were W. O. EPPS, 42, Portland, Ore., first pilot; HARVEY HITT, 36, Oswego, Ore., second pilot, and Idaho Air National Guardsman ROBERT C. GRIFFITH, 19, Ola, Idaho.
Twenty-five of the 28 men on board were members of the Air National Guard from Idaho and adjacent states. Three were crew members; third officer BILL WITTLIFF, 42, Eugene, Ore., escaped with head, jaw and chest injuries.
General Airways, a Portland, Ore., charter line, owned the plane. It was taking the Air guardsmen to Lackland Air Force Base, San Antonio, for basic training.
None of the survivors was burned. Their injuries were cuts, bruises and broken bones. Basic Airman DEROIN S. SPRATT of Boise, Idaho, was held in a Kerrville hospital.
Low Fuel Supply.
The others were released to the Air Force, which will take them to hospitals at Lackland Air Force Base at San Antonnio, 60 miles from Kerrville. None was in critical condition.
"It was a miracle that any got out alive," said Sheriff JOE S. PRICE.
WITTLIFF said the main trouble was ice on the wings and a low fuel supply. He explained that EPPS couldn't see the lights on the runway because of ice on the windshield as he tried to make an emergency belly landing at Schreiner Field, Kerrville.
He overshot and was swinging about for a second approach when one of his two engines failed and the plane went down in a cedar forest.
WITTLIFF said that when he saw a crash was inevitable, he got on the floor of the cockpit behind EPPS and braced himself.
Something tore a gap in the side of the plane and he escaped through it, he said, but "Someone gave me a heave or I don't think I would have been out."
Burst Into Flames.
Basic AIrman ROBERT B. FISK, Boise, Idaho, said he heard the engine conk out and his friend, Basic Airman RODERICK HELLER, also of Boise, turned to him.
"All he had time to say was, 'Duck, BOB'," FISK said. "I was under a pile of steel and I couldn't get that damned safety belt off. When I did, I got out. There was not time to think about anything else."
Airman 3C SAMUEL R. SYKES of Boise said the crash knocked him unconscious for a moment. He regained his senses, forced open a door and escaped just before fire swept over the wreckage.
The plane was about 10 minutes from Kerrville -- about 60 miles from San Antonio -- when the pilot first reported trouble.
The plane went down in the cedars plowed about 100 yards through them and burst into flames. Sheriff PRICE said many of the survivors were thrown from the wreckage but FISK and HELLER said they doubted this.
In any case, the survivors still in the wreckage had time to get away before the fire started.
Firemen from Kerrville, Comfort, Fredericksburg and Boorne, Tex., fought the fire for more than an hour before they finally put it out at 12:55 a. m. The plane crashed at 11:40 p.m., 56 minutes after it first reported trouble.
Basic Airman SHERMAN ANDERSON, 19, Ontario, Ore., said the plane broke open as it ripped through the trees and he and his companions scrambled out "the best way we could."
"The pilot told us to fasten our safety belts and to hold our heads down," he said.
ANDERSON'S ankle was sprained.

The Brownsville Herald Texas 1959-02-02