Peel Plane From Crash Victims
All photos by Alice Puster, Anchorage Times
Fire Apparatus Engineer Steve Berger was working behind Station 7 in unseasonably warm 40-degree temperature when a large airplane, flying erratically with its engines screaming unnaturally, burst through a fog bank, slipped past a nearby apartment house and disappeared in houses less than a block away.
Berger ran into the station to report the crash, but Captain Bob Parks, himself a pilot, had heard the plane and had already started his crew for Engine 7. Parks responded around the corner, reporting the crash to the Anchorage dispatcher en route. A scene of total destruction met them.
This unusual beginning started a complex and dangerous rescue operation that tested the skill and training of the Anchorage Fire Department.
Plane crashes into house
The aircraft involved was a Chase YC122 freighter. The plane, roughly the size of a DC-3, was thought to have been one of the last of the flyable mid40s vintage aircraft. It was owned by the Avi-Truck Leasing Company and was chartered to the Bureau of Indian Affairs to deliver a load of school furniture to a bush village near Nome.
Upon arrival, Parks reported a large aircraft down into a house with no fire at time of arrival. In addition to Engine 7, a full first-alarm assignment was sent along with two paramedic ambulances. An immediate problem was that the dwelling’s gas main had been sheared by the airplane, but that was quickly plugged. Engine 7 laid lines to a hydrant and large lines were placed around the crash as the life-rescue survey was made.
Parks requested that Rescue 1, from downtown Station 1 respond, and Battalion Chief Howard Patterson requested a crash truck from Anchorage Inter International Airport.
Two crewmen alive
Disregarding spilled gasoline around the crash scene, crews from Engines 7 and 5 and Truck 5 tunneled through debris to reach the front of the aircraft. They found the pilot and copilot trapped in the wreckage of the cockpit, both still alive, and a third man behind the cockpit who was obviously dead.
The entire crash area was covered with aqueous film-forming foam (AFFF) from the crash units, which moved into position to cover the aircraft in case of fire. Large hand lines were stretched to the front and rear of the home, while foam hand lines moved in to protect the rescue workers. The tragic Van Nuys, Calif., crash and the fire that occurred during rescue efforts were recalled by those at the scene, and every effort was made to protect the scene from fire.
The rescue effort divided into two parties, one working from above and entering the cockpit from the top right side and the second working directly into the nose of the aircraft.
The pilot was so totally confined that the only part visible was his left hand, which protruded through the windshield opening. Paramedic Pat Chase managed to get an IV started into this hand, and it is felt that this IV, which was maintained throughout the rescue, was responsible for keeping this man alive as his loss of blood was considerable.
Peel plane from victims
The rescue adage of “removing the vehicle from the victim, rather than the victim from the vehicle” certainly prevailed in this rescue. Using a combination of a Hurst Tool, an air chisel, a multitude of hand tools, a cable winch from the rescue truck, and a boom hoist from a nearby construction site, the process of removing the front of the aircraft from the victims began.
Removal of the outer skin and overhead framing allowed a closer examination of the predicaments of the trapped pilots. This aircraft was originally built as a wartime glider. Therefore, the front of the plane was greatly reinforced, which probably prevented the nose from totally collapsing into the pilots, but it also presented a difficult removal problem.
It was determined that the copilot, who was less severely injured and less tightly confined, would be removed first. This would also create easier access to the pilot.
It was necessary to cut away the control panel, the control wheel, the total front and lower framing, and ultimately the pedals before the copilot, Dell Dillon, 27, could be removed. Dillon was taken out of the debris approximately two hours after the crash and transported to a hospital. He was listed in satisfactory condition.
After the copilot was removed, the next step was to remove the rest of the cockpit to free the pilot, 30-year-old Dick Clawson. After approximately another hour of difficult extrication work under worse than impossible conditions, Clawson was removed. When this was written, he was listed in critical condition at an Anchorage hospital.
After the two injured pilots were removed, efforts were begun to remove the body of the third person, who was identified as Bob Coward, the loadmaster and a co-owner of the aircraft. Because Coward was trapped between the cargo and the cockpit bulkhead, it took another hour to remove his body.
As the rescue efforts were going on in the aircraft, the Alaska state troopers were inquiring into the whereabouts of the occupants of the home. After a couple of quick checks by neighbors, the family was located. The man and his wife were both at work, and their twoyear-old son was at a baby-sitter’s home. A small poodle was killed in the home, however.
Only unoccupied house
The houses on both sides of the crash, as well as those behind and across the street from it were all occupied. The house that was demolished was the only vacant one in the area. The tail of the aircraft struck a small A-frame home across the street as it was coming down and tore large holes in the roof. (Anchorage Fire Captain David Fridley lived next door to this house, less than 20 feet away, but his house was not damaged.)
The aircraft then pancaked into the middle of Elderberry Street and slid into the house. The cockpit, covered with the remains of the home, came to rest in the rear yard. Pieces of the aircraft and the destroyed home were scattered throughout the block.
There seems to be no explanation why there was no fire. Power was on in the house, the natural gas line was ruptured, and the plane was loaded with approximately 1200 gallons of aviation gasoline, which was dumped into the wreckage. Immediate ignition would have destroyed at least three homes and killed all three crew members. Later ignition undoubtedly would have also killed or injured a score of rescue workers.