Little Rock Look Back: Airplane explosion shatters Hillcrest calm

An LRPD officer talks to bystanders next to a piece of debris

An LRPD officer talks to bystanders next to a piece of debris

An LRPD officer talks to bystanders next to a piece of debrisThe peaceful morning of March 31, 1960, was interrupted by a horrendous noise over Hillcrest around 6:00am.  A six-engine B47 from the Little Rock Air Force Base exploded mid-air.

Flaming debris fell from Allsopp Park all the way to the State Capitol grounds and stretched from Cantrell to 12th Street.  Other debris was found as far away as the Country Club of Little Rock.  The next day the Arkansas Gazette ran a map which showed the extent of the damage.

Three airmen died in the explosion.  The only survivor from the crew, 1st Lieutenant Thomas Smoak, was found dangling from a tree in his parachute at Kavanaugh and Martin.  He was treated by a nurse, Jimmye Lee Holeman, in whose yard he had landed.

Two civilians on the ground were killed by falling debris.  Many vehicles and homes were damaged, some were destroyed by debris.  The damage estimate was put around $4 million.

Police and fire crews were quickly on the scene to secure impacted areas, fight fires and rescue injured persons.

Those who perished were Captain Herbert Aldridge, Lieutenant Colonel Reynolds Watson, Staff-Sergeant Kenneth Brose, and civilians Alta Lois Clark and James Hollabaugh.

Today, a portion of the crash site is part of the Arkansas Children’s Hospital campus.  Other sites were removed by the I-630 construction.  Other houses were rebuilt or removed.

While there may not be visible reminders of that fateful morning, to those who lost loved ones, there is still a sense of grief over their loss.  It is a reminder that History is not just places, names, and dates: but events that happened to actual people.

B47 Wreck Map

Arkansas Gazette map of debris and damage

Little Rock Look Back: B-47 Explodes over Little Rock in 1960

An LRPD officer talks to bystanders next to a piece of debris
An LRPD officer talks to bystanders next to a piece of debris

The peaceful morning of March 31, 1960, was interrupted by a horrendous noise over Hillcrest around 6:00am.  A six-engine B47 from the Little Rock Air Force Base exploded mid-air.

Flaming debris fell from Allsopp Park all the way to the State Capitol grounds and stretched from Cantrell to 12th Street.  Other debris was found as far away as the Country Club of Little Rock.  The next day the Arkansas Gazette ran a map which showed the extent of the damage.

Three airmen died in the explosion and two civilians were killed when debris fell on their homes.  The only survivor from the crew, 1st Lieutenant Thomas Smoak, was found dangling from a tree in his parachute at Kavanaugh and Martin.  He was treated by a nurse, Jimmye Lee Holeman, in whose yard he had landed.

Two civilians on the ground were killed by falling debris.  Many vehicles and homes were damaged, some were destroyed by debris.  The damage estimate was put around $4 million.

Police and fire crews were quickly on the scene to secure impacted areas, fight fires and rescue injured persons.

Those who perished were Captain Herbert Aldridge, Lieutenant Colonel Reynolds Watson, Staff-Sergeant Kenneth Brose, and civilians Alta Lois Clark and James Hollabaugh.

Today, part of the crash site is part of the Arkansas Children’s Hospital campus.  Other sites were removed by the I-630 construction.  Other houses were rebuilt or removed.  Fifty-eight years on, there are no visible scars to Little Rock’s landscape caused by the damage.

B47 Wreck Map

Arkansas Gazette map of debris and damage

Little Rock Look Back: B47 Bomber explodes over Little Rock

An LRPD officer talks to bystanders next to a piece of debris

An LRPD officer talks to bystanders next to a piece of debris

The peaceful morning of March 31, 1960, was interrupted by a horrendous noise over Hillcrest around 6:00am.  A six-engine B47 from the Little Rock Air Force Base exploded mid-air.

Flaming debris fell from Allsopp Park all the way to the State Capitol grounds and stretched from Cantrell to 12th Street.  Other debris was found as far away as the Country Club of Little Rock.  The next day the Arkansas Gazette ran a map which showed the extent of the damage.

Three airmen died in the explosion and two civilians were killed when debris fell on their homes.  The only survivor from the crew, 1st Lieutenant Thomas Smoak, was found dangling from a tree in his parachute at Kavanaugh and Martin.  He was treated by a nurse, Jimmye Lee Holeman, in whose yard he had landed.

Many vehicles and homes were damaged, some were destroyed by debris.  The damage estimate was put around $4 million.

Police and fire crews were quickly on the scene to secure impacted areas, fight fires and rescue injured persons.

The Strategic Air Command’s edited account of the incident noted:

A B-47 was climbing after takeoff in day VFR weather.  At about 15,000 feet, the copilot suddenly realized that the aircraft was in a very steep left bank, that the nose was well below the horizon, and that the airspeed was excessive.  He pulled the throttles to idle, punched the interphone button and shouted at the aircraft commander.

Almost immediately, the nose came up, the wings leveled, and the aircraft disintegrated.  In the cockpit section, which had separated intact from the rest of the aircraft, the copilot tried to eject, but the clamshell initiator pin had not been removed.  The copilot then unfastened his seat belt.  The canopy blew off at about 10,000 feet.  The unconscious copilot was thrown out at 4,000 feet and his parachute opened automatically.

The aircraft commander ejected at 2,000 feet, but his parachute had been fused by fire and he died upon impact.  The fourth man was found near the wreckage and did not survive.  The navigator was killed in his position.  The falling wreckage killed two civilians and caused serious damage to property.”

Those who perished were Captain Herbert Aldridge, Lieutenant Colonel Reynolds Watson, Staff-Sergeant Kenneth Brose, and civilians Alta Lois Clark and James Hollabaugh.

Arkansas Gazette map of debris and damage

Arkansas Gazette map of debris and damage