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Narrative:On November 19, 1963, three days before President John F. Kennedy was assassinated in Dallas,Texas, B-52E serial number 56-0655, while hangared at Walker AFB was destroyed by a deadly catastrophic main fuel tank explosion and fire.
|Date:||Tuesday 19 November 1963|
Boeing B-52E-90-BO Stratofortress
|Owner/operator:||6th BOMB WING, SAC, USAF|
|Fatalities:||Fatalities: 3 / Occupants: 1|
|Aircraft damage:|| Written off (damaged beyond repair)|
|Location:||Roswell-Walker AFB, New Mexico -
United States of America
|Departure airport:||Walker AFB, Roswell, NM|
The timing of this horrific event occurred during an unannounced SAC Organizational Reddiness Inspection, better known as an ORI conducted by SAC Headquarters. The bomber was hangared awaiting repairs to a leak in the main fuel tank.
The powerful blast separated the bomber's huge left wing from the fuselage causing the wing to crash on the concrete hangar floor where the inboard engine pod holding two of the eight bomber engines pinned at least one sheet metal airmen investigating the leak to the concrete hangar floor. The engine fire engulfed the lower half of the body of the airman and was a searing white hot envelope from the magnesium in the skin. Hell was visible that day at that time and no one should be a victim or witness to this means of dying.
The entire hangar was engulfed in horrific flames fed by the JP-4 jet fuel from the ruptured main tank.
A flight line fire truck was on the scene in less than a minute due to it patrolling the flight line during the ORI.
One of the fireman on the first fire truck said he saw two airmen pinned under the inboard engines. That would account for the two sheet metal shop workers dispatched to look for the leak.
A1C James F. King, a 6th A&E Jamming Equipment Repairman was being transported from his squadron to his bomber in a blue transport van with a war status jamming transmitter system to be installed for an ORI mission and was onboard when the driver picked up two sheet metal workers, one of which was Staff Sergeant Harold Richard Morrison of the 96th Field Maintenance Squadron out of Dyess AFB, Abilene, Texas was on temporary duty, TDY, at Walker AFB and volunteered to work an extra shift that day for another sergeant in his unit.
Morrison and his partner were dropped off at the hangar where 56-05-655 was located.
King and his partner were then driven to their B-52 some 100 yards out in direct sight of the 56-0655’s tail protruding from the hangar. The equipment was unloaded at the rear of the bomber where King’s partner went to the line shack to check in with the crew chief.
King proceeded to the rear hatch and jumped up to grab and pull himself into the bomber when the explosion occurred. The concussion moved King as he dropped to the ground turned to see the massive fire burning the inside of 56-0655’s hangar.
King immediately believed the two men he had just witnessed go into the hangar must have been killed. Almost immediately within a minute of the explosion a massive aviation fire truck appeared immediately putting retardant on the flames at the entrance of the hangar.
With the ORI in progress the fire truck had been patrolling the flight line and drove straight to the now massive fire and black smoke plume. The fire truck was in contact with the Air Police and apparently told to get anyone immediately to the hangar next to the explosion to get it out of the hangar to prevent it from being destroyed too!
As King gathered the transmitter system components snd tool bag his partner met him where upon an Air Police blue pickup truck raced to where we were, stopped and a lieutenant jumped out and ordered us into the bed of the truck. King shouted unable I have classified jamming equipment with us. The lieutenant proceeded to draw his sidearm and shout, “Get in!” We complied leaving everything on the tarmac. The driver departed at high speed directly to the rear of the bomber incredibly close at 25 yards, stop the truck long enough to see an airman under the inboard engine pod. King saw one airman burning to death and screaming! No one could get to him. One fireman said he saw two men pinned under the wing.
King believed he recognized Morrison as the airman he saw under the engine pod as one of the two men from the van. The name of Sergeant Harold Richard Morrison’s deceased partner that fateful day is unknown.
After the brief stop the truck drove past the fire truck and the lieutenant ordered us into the hangar to get the bomber off aircraft jacks that had the bomber elevated high enough to do landing gear tests.
After King entered the hangar additional explosions forced the fire truck to back up a short distance of maybe 30 feet to a safer secondary position protecting the fire truck and now also the adjacent hangar where another bomber inside on jacks for landing gear retraction inspection.
Jet fuel flowed into the hangar presenting the possibility of losing a second B-52E bomber and more lives in the jet fuel should it ignite. The fire truck fought the massive flames at the corner of the hangar while airmen splashing in jet fuel worked unsuccessfully to get the bomber off the jacks. King thought he was going to die! The smoke, toxic fumes, burning magnesium, B-52 tires which had exploded, many different strong odors overcame King with no safety breathing equipment.
King and his partner continued to work on lowering one jack unsuccessfully. Other unknown airmen were likewise having the same difficulty when n airman entered the tug connecting the bomber cranked the tug and pushed the tug backwards off the jacks slamming the bomber to the concrete floor missing King and his partner who had no idea what was happening. The bomber was pushed backwards out of the hangar to safety.
A1C King toxic exposure left him not knowing how he got out of the hangar and back to his barracks. The next several days is a blur to him. He was never contacted for a statement. The Air Force made to public statements as to the cause of the explosion. The Cold War was being fought and Walker AFB had a safety record problem. King believes their were other airmen that were exposed to the inferno and toxic aftermath.
In the end there were 3 fatalities with 4 others allegedly treated at the hospital. Several airmen involved in the dangerous task of extricating the helpless bomber from the hangar were exposed to toxic fumes, smoke and jet fuel that soaked their clothing from the jet fuel flow from the ruptured bomber fuel tank as well as AFFF foam that floated into the 2nd hanger on the airmen. Used starting in 1960 AFFF retardant was recently determined ta be a dangerous foam for exposure to airmen.
This tragedy should never have happened! A bottle of oxygen was mistaken for a bottle of nitrogen used to purge the fumes from a fuel tank. Pumping the oxygen into the tank caused the explosion.
http://web.archive.org/web/20171101061754/http://www.ejection-history.org.uk:80/aircraft_by_type/b52_stratofortress.htm http://www.joebaugher.com/usaf_serials/1956.html www.strategic-air-command.com/gallery/downloads/sac305.doc
Netherlands national archive: press photo of the accident scene: http://proxy.handle.net/10648/fe57a128-f0c7-a2f3-2b1d-5cc1f7b085f5
Amarillo Globe Times, Nov 20, 1963 Pg. 55
6th A & E Barracks on Mathis Street at Walker AFB. Photo of actual smoke plume and fireball wir=thin.
||Dr. John Smith
||Updated [Location, Source, Narrative]|
||Updated [Location, Departure airport, Narrative]|
||Updated [Total fatalities, Narrative]|
||Updated [Operator, Operator]|
||Updated [Total fatalities, Source, Narrative]|
||Updated [Time, Operator, Total occupants, Other fatalities, Departure airport, Narrative, Photo]|