B-25 Bomber Crash of 1947

During a period of about three months in the winter of 1947 and 1948, Arkansas was the site of the crash of two military planes on routine flights. On November 17, 1947, a B-25 crashed into Mount Magazine in Logan County, and on February 6, 1948, a B-25 crashed into Round Top Mountain near Jasper (Newton County). A total of eleven people died in the two crashes, with six dying in the 1947 crash.

On November 17, 1947, a B-25 lifted off from Chicago, Illinois, at 4:32 p.m. on a routine return flight to Barksdale Field in Shreveport, Louisiana. The plane, with a crew of six, circled over Franklin County around 7:00 p.m. and dropped four flares about forty miles from Mount Magazine, the state’s tallest peak at 2,753 feet above sea level. Minutes later, Lee Apple of Havana (Yell County) reported that the plane “circled over his home…as if the pilot was lost.” Another area resident, Wayne McBride, observed that the plane was “flying rather low.” Arkansas State Police troopers confirmed the low-flying plane. About six minutes after the flares had been dropped, Apple further stated that the plane “plowed into the south side of Goat Bluff,” about 200 feet from the peak of Mount Magazine. The time was approximately 7:13 p.m. According to official reports, the flight had been on course and on time to arrive at Shreveport at 8:12 p.m.

Shortly after the crash, Yell County sheriff Earl Ladd notified the Arkansas State Police and headed to the scene. Other than searching for survivors, little could be done until the fires died down. Area residents who came to offer their assistance were placed as guards to prevent spectators from entering the crash site and to secure the site until military officials could arrive to take control.

By the time Major R. N. Johnson arrived from Barksdale Field on the morning of November 18 to take charge of the crash site, the search for the six crew members was well under way. By midday, the bodies of all crew members had been located among the debris. Two had apparently been thrown clear and showed little signs of having been burned. Still, it was reported that “all the bodies were terribly mangled.”

The remains of the six crew members were taken down from the mountain and delivered to Cornwell Funeral Home in Dardanelle (Yell County). Shortly afterward the names of the crew were made public. They were pilot Captain William Wilson, a World War II ace, of Strong City, Kansas; Captain Albert Frese Jr. of Brunswick, Georgia; Lieutenant Robert Pabst of Milwaukee, Wisconsin; Second Lieutenant Ed Ward of Chicago, Illinois; Private First Class James Miersma of Grand Rapids, Michigan; and Private First Class William Wesley of Muskegon, Michigan. It was quickly announced that a board of military officers would investigate the cause of the crash.

By November 21, an official report was made public in local newspapers. The investigators concluded that the plane was likely pushed off course by strong winds and while flying visually under overcast skies crashed into the mountain. Upon contact, the plane continued to move up the side of the mountain, shearing down large trees before exploding and bursting into flames. The crash left a debris field of seventy-five to 100 yards. Though some reports stated that the crash occurred during a driving rainstorm, the official report stated that the weather was clear with the exception of it being overcast. The time of the crash, 7:13 p.m., was determined by the stoppage of some of the crew’s wristwatches at the moment of impact.

There is no indication that the wreckage was ever removed from Mount Magazine.

On February 6, 1948, another B-25 crashed into Round Top Mountain near Jasper, killing five people.

For additional information:
“Crashed Bomber Far off Course, Board Reports.” Shreveport Journal, November 21, 1947, p. 17.

“Five [sic] Dead as Plane Strikes Mt. Magazine.” Arkansas Gazette, November 18, 1947, p. 1.

“Names of Fliers Killed in Air Crash Listed.” Northwest Arkansas Times, November 19, 1947, p. 1.

“Six Bodies Taken from Mt. Magazine.” Arkansas Gazette, November 19, 1947, p. 2.

“Six Killed as Bomber Hits Mt. Magazine.” Arkansas Democrat, November 18, 1947, p. 1.

“Victims of Plane Crash Identified.” Shreveport Journal, November 19, 1947, p. 17.

Mike Polston
CALS Encyclopedia of Arkansas


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