By Ben Welter
On Tuesday, June 5, 1956, an Air Force F89 Scorpion fighter jet carrying 104 live rockets crashed into a car on a road adjacent to what is now known as Minneapolis-St. Paul International Airport. A 38-year-old Minneapolis woman and her 5-year-old daughter were killed. Her husband and son escaped from the car before it burst into flames; their housekeeper was seriously injured. The family had been out for a “pleasure ride” to see the new stadium in Bloomington.Just four days later, an F9F4 jet crashed into a row of homes north of the airport. At the request of a Yesterday’s News reader who lived close to the crash site, here are excerpts from two A1 stories published in the Minneapolis Star on the day of the accident. For more on the crash, see my colleague Dick Parker’s Retro item, published 50 years later.
Jet Hits House, At Least 6 Dead
A navy jet plane crashed into a house and set fire to five others at the north edge of Wold-Chamberlain field at 9:30 a.m. today, killing at least six persons and injuring nine others.
The plane left a military formation to make an emergency landing and hit the street in front of 5804 and 5808 Forty-Sixth avenue S., near the main gate of the navy base.
The plane then bounced into the home of Donald and Jane Garles, 5820 Forty-sixth, and shattered with a terrific explosion and flash which scattered the plane and its fuel over the neighborhood.
Firefighters rushed to extinguish a fire in one of the houses hit by debris. (Minneapolis Star photo)
Some 20 or more children were at play in that block when the plane crashed. Some of them were littered with debris and flaming fuel.
Five of them, taken to Veterans hospital, were reported in “very critical” condition with burns. One other child was taken to the same hospital with less severe injuries.
Two were taken to General hospital and three to the navy infirmary at the airport.
The pilot of the plane, Major George Armstrong, 33, 5808 Pearson drive, Edina, was killed. The second body identified was that of Debora De Wolfe, 7, 5816 Forty-sixth avenue S.
The child’s body was found on a couch in her home. Alongside the couch was the landing gear of the plane.
The other dead were not identified immediately.
Glen Gould, chief of the veterans administration fire department, said six bodies had been recovered.
“We made a pretty close check of the burned homes and I don’t believe there are any more,” he said.
At a press conference at navy headquarters, Col. Frank F. Gill, commanding officer of the naval air station, explained that Armstrong and two other pilots had taken off on a tactical training mission.
The other two were Maj. O.J. Miller, Isanti, Minn., and Maj. Harold Slay, Somerset, Wis. The three are navy reservists.
Miller, according to Gill, said Armstrong reported he was having some trouble with the plane and was breaking formation to head back to the airport.
“He didn’t explain what the trouble was, but he didn’t seem to be alarmed,” Gill said. “Miller followed him toward the airport.
“Miller said Armstrong appeared to have made the airport and that he, Miller, then turned away from the airport before the crash.” …
Residents of the south Minneapolis neighborhood gathered to watch firefighters work the crash scene. (Minneapolis Star photo)
Children Playing When
Jet Hits ‘Like a Bomb’
South Minneapolis residents who had been working in their yards, supervising their children at play or going about normal household tasks were shaken at 9:32 a.m. today by an explosion that some described as a “huge bomb blast.”
It was the crash of a F9F navy jet fighter plane into a row of houses in the 5800 block on Forty-sixth avenue S. Here are the words of some of the first to reach the scene:
Elmer Gustafson, 5841 Forty-fifth avenue S., was in his back yard when he saw the plane come in low and crash with a “terrific explosion and flash.”
“There were lots of youngsters playing in yards just before the crash,” he said. “I took my own youngsters a safe distance, then went to the scene of the burning homes. I saw people carrying injured children.
“It was so confusing, I don’t know whether the children had been in the houses or in the yard. There was a terrible concussion that could have knocked them over.”
Gustafson said he tried to get into one house, but flames drove him back.
Frank Trybulec, Villa Park, Ill., and his wife had just arrived to visit the Albin Andersons at 5759 Forty-fourth avenue S.
“I heard a terrific explosion and I ran to the burning house where the plane had hit,” Trybulec said. They were carrying out children. One child had her clothing burned off.”
Mrs. Otto Mueller, 5854 Forty-sixth avenue S., who lives at far end of block, spend a frantic minute following the “terrible bang” searching for her children, John, 5½, and Joan , 8, who were playing down the block toward the crash scene.
The two youngsters came rushing into the hosue. John was scratched by a piece of flying debris, but otherwise unhurt.
“Don’t come out, Annabelle,” Mrs. Mueller telephoned a friend across town as thousands jammed streets, alleys and lawns within minutes after the disaster.
“There was a ‘poof’ and then a real smell of smoke and I saw fire in my living and bedroom.”
Mrs. Doris Kieffer, 30, sat in Veterans’ administration hospital after treatment for cuts and described the impact of the jet plane crash that wiped out six houses today.
“I had just gone into the bathroom to comb my hair,” she said.
“It is on the west side of the house and the plane hit on the east side.
“I heard the plane and you know jets whistle. But this time it was just a poof and I realized the smell of smoke.
“I saw fire in the living room and bedroom and there is a hall separating it from the bathroom. I started down the hall and realized I couldn’t make it.’
“I shut the door of the bathroom and broke the bathroom window to get out.
“I saw my two little girls – Jennie, 2½, and Cassie, 5. I got Jennie.
“My husband was painting the back fence and he picked up Cassie.
“We ran across the alley to my neighbor because I knew she was a nurse.
“I said, ‘help me, please.’
“Then I saw an ambulance and we took them to it. They were crying. I don’t remember much after that.”
Mrs. Kieffer had stitches taken in her right forearm and first aid for other less serious cuts and bruises on her legs.
The Kieffers moved into their homes four years ago. She said they had never worried about aircraft activity. “It is just one of those things you never think happens,” she said.
“After all, the landing strip is over the hill and not really by us.
“You don’t worry to the point where you ever think that it would hit you.”
Before the 1960s, numbers and arrows were sometimes added to photos to help explain what happened. Here’s the original caption from this Minneapolis Star photo: Jet plane struck the ground (1), bounced and struck again (2), then crashed into house (3).