Unit: 492nd. Bomb Sq., 7th. Bombardment Wing
Date: Saturday, February 7th., 1953.
Location of crash: Nethermore Woods, near Chippenham Wilts. 51°25'00"N, 2°04'30"W.
On February 2nd., 1953, eighteen Convair B-36 bombers of the United States Air Force (USAF) deployed to RAF Fairford, Glos. as part of a unit simulated combat mission codenamed "Operation Styleshow". The bombers came from the 7th. Bombardment Wing, based at Carswell AFB in Texas, with six aircraft from the 9th. Bomb Squadron (BS), six from the 436th. BS, and six from the 492nd. BS.
On 2nd. and 3rd. of February, 1953, the aircraft flew from Carswell to the staging base at Goose Bay, Labrador. On February 6th. the aircraft then took off from Canada, with one machine returning to Carswell, while the remaining 17 set course for the UK. However, as the formation approached Fairford in the morning of February 7th., the weather had worsened. This did not make things easy for the Wing as they brought the B-36's in to land.
One particular aircraft, B-36H 51-5719 of the 492nd. BS, commanded by Lieutenant Colonel Herman Gerick, experienced two missed GCA approaches to land and, following a long period of holding while the other B-36's landed, was suffering from fuel starvation. Thus Gerick decided to abandon his aircraft. Other causes of the crash were seen as under-manning of the aircraft and inexperienced GCA personnel. Rather than risk the lives of people on the ground, Gerick aimed the B-36 to crash in open country. All of the 14-man crew bailed out successfully, but one suffered a broken leg upon reaching the ground. The B-36 had other ideas though.
Instead of crashing near Fairford it somehow managed to remain airborne for some time and traveled a further 30 miles before breaking up and falling to earth. The wreckage fell near Lacock, Wiltshire. No one on the ground was injured. Following the crash USAF crews carried out a thorough cleanup of the area and local civilians spoke of 'hush-hush' operations being carried out to recover items of sensitive equipment from the wreckage. Inevitably there was a certain amount of public outcry, but in the days following the crash the local Wiltshire Times newspaper carried no news stories of the accident except for one mention in its letters page from Mr. W.A. Whittock of 18 Heathcote Rd, Melksham, in the 14th. February edition:
I wish to express my horror, and I am sure that many hundreds of other people living in
Chippenham, Melksham and the villages of Lacock and Sandy Lane at the crashing of one of
the World's largest atom bombers.
"The machine flew for 30 miles or more over countryside with no one in it. We can be thankful that it did not carry any atom bombs, and we can also be thankful for a little place called Nethernore (sic) Wood, Lacock, where it came down without causing any loss of life. Let us just try and think what would have happened if the machine had crashed in the middle of one of our towns and villages, which it quite easily could have done.
"I wonder what the pilot and crew were thinking when they bailed out over Oxfordshire - or was it Berkshire? Was it - to hell with everyone else - I'm all right?
wonder whether any of our British boys would have done such a thing? Somehow, I don't
think so. I am quite sure that Mr. Pegg, the test pilot of the Brabazon, would not have
left his machine quite like this if he had been in trouble in the air. I also wonder what
the people would say if I or any of their fellow workmates in the cause of our duty as
public servants, were to jump from the cab of one of our buses with a full load of
passengers on a skiddy road.
"I sincerely hope that no secrets were taken from the plane before the American Air Force arrived, as we are told some of the plane's equipment is on the secret list.
"However, all's well that ends well, with no thanks to the American crew."
It should be pointed out that this point of view was by far in the minority.
Other members of the crew included: William Minelli, Bill Plumb, George Morford (copilot), Royal Freeman, Edwin House and Doug Minor. All except Minelli and Plumb were killed (along with Herman Gerick) in another B-36 crash near El Paso on 11th. December, 1953.
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