B-52 Bomber Crashes in Davidson County – March 30, 1961

Found this while researching some other topics: the crash of a B-52 bomber near Denton, NC, in Davidson County on March 30, 1961. No nuclear weapons were aboard, but six of the eight crew members were killed. No one on the ground was injured.

The crash followed the January 24, 1961, crash of a B-52 bomber near Goldsboro. That’s the better-known incident from that year, as two nuclear warheads were aboard. See this blog posting from 2011 for that story.

This High Point Enterprise story was published on March 31, 1961, and appears on this GenDisasters page. Google finds a few more sources about the incident, including this page of Denton history.

JET BOMBER CRASHES NEAR DENTON.

TWO KNOWN SURVIVORS OUT OF CREW OF EIGHT.

Denton — A B52G jet, the Air Force’s giant atomic bomber, exploded and crashed near here at 9:15 last night, sending a ball of fire into the air which was seen 50 miles away. There were no atomic warheads aboard.

Two men are known to have survived out of a crew of eight. Near noon today rescue workers and Air Force personnel had found only two bodies.

One, discovered dangling from a tree a mile away, was identified as Capt. WILLIAM D. McMULLEN, 36, commander/pilot, of Bad Axe, Mich. He is survived by his wife and three children.

The second body, found a mile and a half from the gaping hole gouged out of solid stone by the crash, was not identified. Officials said it consisted only of a head and shoulders. Capt. McMULLEN was found shortly after the crash last night. The second victim was found at 8:30 a.m. today.

A foot and a portion of skull were also found in the vicinity, but it was not known whether they belonged with the two bodies or to another victim.

The casualties were:

Capt. WILLIAM D. McMULLEN, 36, commander/pilot, Bad Axe, Mich.

Capt. WILLIAM W. FARMER, 29, co-pilot, Wilson, N.C.

Capt. ROBERT M. MORGENROTH, 31, radar navigator, Christiana, Penn.

Capt. GEORGE W. BEALE, 34, competition observer, Bowling Green, Virginia.

Sgt. JAMES H. FULTS, 29, instructor gunner, Tracy City, Tenn.

Airman First Class ROBERT N. GASKEY, 28, Providence, R.I.

The survivors were:

Major WILBUR F. MINNICH, 40, Des Plaines, Illinois.

First Lt. GLEN C. FARNHAM, 25, electronics warfare officer, Loveland, Texas.

The survivors bailed out at 50,000 feet and landed six to seven miles away from the crash site. Major MINNICH, the navigator, suffered a dislocated arm when he bailed out. Lt. FARNHAM complained of back pains but was apparently unhurt.

The two stated that the plane, an eight-engined jet, was on a routine mission from Dow Air Force Base in Maine. Its destination was not revealed.

Minutes before the explosion the plane had attempted to make contact with a KC-135 jet tanker to be refuled in flight.

Col. Oscar V. Jones, commander of the 4241st Strategic Air Command Wing at Seymore Johnson Field, Goldsboro, stated that the bomber was in “the observation position 100 to 200 feet behind and below the tanker just before the explosion, but never made contact.”

Col. Jones arrived at the site before dawn today to take charge of operations. The B52 bomber which crashed near Goldsboro several weeks ago was in his command.

MINNICH and FARNHAM came to earth within several miles of each other and were given aid by people in the area. They were both taken to the Denton Clinic, where they were treated for injuries.

The exploson brightened the skies and shook the ground for miles around. Great stones were thrown high into the air and wreckage was scattered over a ten-mile area, setting fires in woods and fields.

Fire departments and rescue squads from Thomasville, Forsyth County, Randolph County, Davidson County and Guilford County rushed to the scene.

Their access to the area, located on the John Frank Farm four miles west of Denton and two miles south of Silver Hill mine, was hindered by literally thousands of people who flocked to the scene as if it were a college football game.

Automobiles lined both sides of the Old Mining Road from its intersection with Highway 8 to a point more than a mile from the dirt road leading to the crash site.

People brought their children and mothers carried little babies in their arms to the site of the crash.

The spectators began to arrive immediately after the explosion and continued in an increasing stream until they blocked the highways and had to be driven out by officers.

At 2:30 a.m. the heavy spectator traffic had subsided, but here and there through the woods one could see stragglers coming and going. Even then there were women with little children.

“I thought Judgement Day had come,” said John Frank, who, with his wife and two grown children, farm the rocky land where the plane fell.

“I heard this airplane and then it came, the explosion, and I thought it had fallen on the house and set it on fire,” said Mrs. Frank. “Rocks were coming down in showers.”

“It just paralized me,” said Frank.

The plane landed several hundred yards from the Frank home on the border between Frank’s farm and a farm owned by N. L. Lookabill.

The area was heavily wooded and the plane crashed in what appeared to be solid rock.

Trees were ripped up by the roots for hundreds of feet about the massive crater gouged out by the jet plane.

The crater measured roughly 150 feet in length, 50 feet across at its widest point and about 25 to 40 feet deep.

When reporters from The Enterprise reached the scene shortly after the crash, the entire area was ablaze from fragments of the plane.

As one approached the crater from the Frank home, the ground became more and more heavily littered with fragme

nts of metal, twisted grotesquely, none of large size.

Five hundred feet from the flickering, crackling hole, dust from pulverized rock, large stones and metal covered the ground.

Trees, many of them 10 or 12 inches in diameter, tood awry, their limbs broken and twisted, fragments of aluminum and othe debris hanging from the upper branches.

One hundred feet away the trees were bare of limbs and many were uprooted.

One eight-inch tree was hurled from the crash site, stripped of branches and jabbed into the ground 400 feet away, with its roots high in the air.

The crater itself was a sight which almost defies description. The odor of burning gasoline and charred flesh rose from a hundred little fires both inside and on the rim of the hole.

It was pitch dark, but within the rumbling hole flames of green, red and blue flickered and sputtered. At intervals a pocket of fuel would explode, sending spectators scrambling back into the charred woods.

Smoke rose heavily and sifted through the woods. At the site the ground was charred and stumps of trees burned slowly.

The largest portion of the plane visible in the vicinity was what appeared to be a wing section measuring about half the length of an automobile long and about six feet wide.

Portions of the eight jet engines lay smashed on the edge of the crater. A parachute, its red and white nylon fused together, was glued by the heat to the roots of a tree on the crater edge. It had never been opened.

Shortly after the crash Davidson County sheriff’s deputies located the body of an Air Force captain handing in a tree by his chute a half mile from the site.

Coroner Milton Block from Lexington said the man had been identified, but that his name would not be released until his family could be notified.

His head was crushed, said Block, and one leg was found at the crash scene lying near his ejection seat.

The crash and explosion startled people all over this section of the Piedmont. High Point residents saw the flash nd heard the rumble like thunder when the plane exploded.

Asheboro residents told reporters that streets there shook when the plane crashed.

Windows were blasted out of homes nearby.

Personnel in the control tower at Smith Reynolds Airport in Winston-Salem saw the flash.

Lt. FARNHAM, the first to bail out of the doomed plane, landed at the home of M. and Mrs. Aaron Crouse of Rt. 2, Lexington. “The first thing he asked for was a glass of water,” said Mrs. Crouse.

Major MINNICH, the navigator, landed in the highway near the home of Mr. and Mrs. Roy Arnold.

Mrs. Arnold said she was sitting on the porch sewing when the light from a flashlight shone through the shrubbery.

MINNICH called for help, identified himself, and was taken to Denton for aid.

At the Crouse home FARNHAM reached officals at Seymour Johnson AFB in Goldsboro. His call was thought to have been the first information Air Force authorities had of the crash.

Near midnight helicopters from as far away as Elizabeth City began to arrive to search the surrounding countryside hovering over the treetops shining giant floodlights on the ground in a vain effort to locate a parachute.

Reports of someone landing in a neck of High Rock Lake which bisects Highway 8 several miles from the scene proved false.

In the early hours today the area was roped off to prevent souvenir hunters from carrying off parts of the plane.

As dawn broke more helicopters and four truckloads of troops arrived to police the area.

Radio contact with the outside was maintained by the Thomasville Radio Club whose members were on the scene almost immediately after the crash with its mobile unit.

Officials of the radio club said that a “hot line” was being kept open between Seymour Johnson Field and the home of Bob Reed in Thomasville to provide direct communications between the base and the crash site.

Reed’s radio is in constant contact with the Radio club unit at the scene.

The $8 million jet, attached to the 341st bombardment squadron at Dow AFB, Maine, was the second B52G to crash in North Carolina this year.

The bomber which crashed Jan. 24 near Goldsboro was carrying two unarme nuclear devices, but the Air Force said the ship which crashed last night did not have any aboard. Three of the crew of eight were killed in the January crash.

The huge ships are considered the United State’s first retalitery striking force.

Brig. Gen. Perry Holsiniton, commander of the 820th Air Division at Plattsburg AFB, N.Y. arrived here today to lead the investigation.

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  1. I remember the event. I was a girl of 11, living in Winston-Salem. My mom, brother and I were standing in the front yard that night when we saw a bright flash behind a distant line of trees and we wondered what it could be. We found out next day that it was the crash of the B52 described here.

    Thanks for the article. It reveals details we didn’t find out at the time.

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