Seven Killed in Jet Plant Blaze
A shattering explosion blasted the super-secret section of the huge General Motors Allison p_____ant in Speedway City, suburb of Indianapolis, on July 12, last, killing seven employees and critically injuring another.
The Air Force immediately clamped tight restrictions on all news, but it was claimed that sabotage had nothing to do with the tragedy. “It was purely an industrial accident asserted Major H. E. Wilber, A. F. officer assigned to the plant. He said a fuel similar to kerosene, used to power jet engines, leaked from a tank in a super-secret test cell of the plant and was ignited in some manner.
Fuel oozing over the floor of the cell, where seven employees were working overtime to complete the test, was noticed at 3:40 A.M. and reported to the plant protection office. Harry Welborn, plant fireman, one of those killed, who was making his rounds not far from the scene, was ordered to investigate. He reported the leak dangerous. Fire department aid was summoned, but four minutes from the time the leak was discovered the entire area blew into the sky, rocking residents in their beds over a five mile area.
Two policemen, more than a mile away, saw the brilliant flash of light and felt the concussion. They radioed Indianapolis police headquarters and sped to the plant.
Flames reportedly rose several hundred feet in the air as firemen from Indianapolis and Speedway responded. Fire Chief Roscoe A. McKinney of Indianapolis, learning that a large tank of propane was threatened by the blaze, pulled back his men to avoid further casualties until a shut-off valve could be located and the danger averted.
Firemen who finally fought their way into the cell found the first body outside the experimental room battered beyond recognition. The other bodies, when finally recovered were all unrecognizable.
The blast occurred in the vast windowless building, about three stories high, half a block long and 200 feet wide, which housed some 80 “cells” like the one in which the disaster took place. The other cells were not operating at the time. Each of the cells is 20 by 50 feet in size and accommodates one jet engine anchored to a concrete block. Plant officials said if the explosion had occurred during the day, 100 workers would have been endangered.
A 300-foot stretch of heavy wire fence enclosing the plant was flattened by the blast, steel posts twisted like hairpins. Although the interior of the experimental building was demolished, its 18-inch thick concrete walls remained standing. Chunks of concrete from the cell were blown hundreds of feet by the burst. Delicate machinery in distant parts of the plant was knocked out of adjustment.
An erroneous report that a number of firemen had been trapped brought Indianapolis city officials rushing to the scene. None was injured however. Their efforts and those of other rescue workers to locate and remove the victims did not interfere with the plant’s operation, the 5000 employes of the day shift reporting for work at 7:30 A.M. as usual.