by Carole Scrivner Bearden
I was 11 years old, walking home from 5th grade at Jane Long Elementary with some classmates. I wish I could remember who was in our group, but it may have been some nearby neighbors like Sherry Traylor, Jo Beth Barkley or Sue Ann Yeargain. The date was October 24, 1956, a comfortable autumn afternoon, when we heard a huge crash and looked up. Two planes had collided in the air above the Permian Estates.
Suddenly airplane parts and body parts began to fall around us! I dashed home, across Thomason Drive, up Howard Drive, yelling to my sister that their had been an explosion and I was going to look around. No policemen or fire trucks had arrived yet, but groups of children wondered around the 7 block area.
Later we would learn the military jet, containing an instructor and student pilot, were on a training mission from Webb Air Force Base in Big Spring. The Cessna carried a father, mother, infant, and parents of the mother. All 7 passengers died.
There were hunks of metal, insulation, plane seats, luggage, clothes, toys – all sorts of debris on the side walks, drive ways, streets and vacant lots. Rumors abounded: some said one of the pilots went through a power line which severed his head, the head still hanging here with the helmet still attached. I didn’t see that, but I saw the body of the infant which landed in shrubs, not so badly damaged. I looked through the wall of the house where the engine of the Cessna landed in the kitchen. But the most horrendous thing I saw (and will never forget!) was a house where a woman had gone through the roof and landed squarely in the bathtub. I pictured a giant having vomited and couldn’t quite figure it out till a fellow spectator pointed out her head. It was then that I realized I probably shouldn’t be there.
The next day at school several students brought things to show. The tail of the Cessna landed squarely in someone’s backyard. Another backyard (very near my house) received the ejection seat from the jet. There were pieces from the instrument panels. Miraculously, the only fire was on Apache St., where the largest piece of the jet landed on the garage; that house burned up. The other miracle is that not one person on the ground was injured.
My husband Bill remembers hearing about it on the radio, and of course there was multi-page coverage in the Reporter Telegram, but the news story died quickly. Since this was the 50’s and the Cold War was at its peak, perhaps that was a factor since a military jet was involved. Or perhaps it was just West Texas stoicism, wherein folks don’t get overly excited about something that’s none of their business!