B-52 Crash Site Memorial

Written by Noel Allard

It was a warm, dark September evening in 1958. August Kahl and his fifteen year old son, Loren were loading tomatoes into their farm truck so they could get an early start to the market in South St. Paul the next morning.

The sound of a jet overhead was nothing new to the Kahls. They had heard the sound before. Sometimes they were the new jet airliners landing at Wold-Chamberlain Airport fifteen miles away, and occasionally they were Air Force bombers on training missions. But tonight the sound seemed unusual. Loren Kahl followed the path of the sound as it circled around him; it was getting louder and louder. All at once there was a heavy "booom" from an area on the other side of the barn. For an instant the farm lights blinked out, then the Kahls were enveloped in a fireball that swirled around both sides of the barn. They began to run towards the farmhouse a hundred yards away.......but the fireball seemed to surround them. The ground was on fire and a noisy wind was blasting at their unprotected skin. Loren could feel the skin on his face tighten from the heat. August Kahl tripped on something and fell headlong into the roaring ground fire, but he regained his footing and found his way to the house.

Inside the house, six other members of August's family were struggling to understand what had happened. The house was an inferno. Part of the stairway had been blown away, and Grandpa Kahl needed help to get to the bottom. They managed to find their way out of the house, and then staggered some distance away from the heat to look back and catch their breath. Most of them were in shock and aghast at the scene.

Only scant minutes before that, the cause of the massive explosion and fire, an Air Force B-52D Stratofortress, had been maneuvering at 36,400 feet overhead. On a Cold War training mission to simulate a nuclear strike on the Twin Cities, the plane had been home to six flight crewmembers and two instructors. The plane from the 69th Bomb Squadron 42nd Bomb Wing of SAC, had departed Loring Air Force Base, Limestone, Maine earlier in the day. It had made ECM (electronic countermeasure) runs at Bath, Maine, Albany, New York, Williamsport, PA, Youngstown, Ohio, and Bellefonte, Ohio. The flight had continued to Richmond, Indiana, where a GPI (glide path indicator) Nav-bomb run was started, and which was to terminate at Minneapolis. There it would be scored for accuracy from the Air Force Radar Bombing site at Wold-Chamberlain.

Four times the big plane crossed the target, with "bombs away" being the fourth run at 8:30 PM CST, Minneapolis. As it rolled off that last run something went wrong. An elevator trim "excursion" began to send tremors through the ship. Exactly what happened will never be known, but at this point the tail broke off the airplane, and it began a high speed plunge straight for the ground. There was no cockpit voice recorder and no black box to record the last moments. From 36,400 feet, the ship dove towards earth, and in no more than 108 seconds it had crossed through 8.000 feet. Moments later, control tower personnel at Wold-Chamberlain witnessed an explosion in the direction of Inver Grove Heights. The plane's main structure had impacted on the August Kahl farm a few miles south of South St. Paul Airport.

Though the crew had remained silent, they had, nevertheless, taken action. Four crewmembers had ejection seats and fired themselves out into the night almost immediately. The other four crew members, including the two instructors, had no ejection seats. They're only choice was to find an open hatch and leap to safety. Perhaps the centrifugal force kept them pinned to their crew positions, for they were unable to exit, and they rode the plane to the ground, being consumed in the explosion and fire.

Of the four that ejected and were subjected to a 600 mile per hour jetstream from outside the ship, flailing arms and legs, and contact with the aircraft structure, produced fatal injuries to three. They were found long after searchers and investigators had arrived, still strapped in their useless seats, their parachutes ripped to shreds by air blasts. The co-pilot was the singular survivor. He had landed in a tree on a farm adjoining the Kahl property. Neighbors helped him walk to a waiting ambulance some time after the crash.

Air photos taken the next morning showed that the plane came in at a flat angle, clipping off the top of a billboard alongside state highway 52, just fifty yards from the impact spot. Five craters marked the positions the fuselage and each pod of two engines. One of the engines had bulleted through the Kahl farmhouse, smashing off the lower staircase. Pieces large and small littered the entire farm and spread across neighboring farms. The tail of the aircraft was found three miles to the west.

Though the event was traumatic and was front page news in local newspapers for the next two days, apart from convincing local citizens that the plane was not carrying nuclear weapons, the accident was soon hushed up. Recovered pieces of the aircraft were taken to the big Air Force Reserve hanger at Wold-Chamberlain where they were laid out for the Air Force Accident Investigation team. No further news was given to the public.

As a result of the investigation, numerous changes were adopted in both the ejection procedure, and in the design of the ejection seats themselves.

For the Kahl Family, with August and Loren badly burned, and the other family members burned and traumatized, they were able to recover enough compensation to pay for their hospitalization, and to build a new farmhouse on a different spot of ground than where the former house had stood. In the fall of 1995 when the Kahl farm was purchased by the city of Inver Grove Heights, these buildings were burned.

The accident happened on September 16, 1958. Thirty-eight years later, on September 14, 1996, a stone memorial was dedicated on the spot where the bomber had crashed. Under the sponsorship of the Minnesota Aviation Hall of Fame, all of the major aviation museums in the Twin City area lent their support, both financially and physically, to provide, at long last, a marker to honor these Cold War Veterans who had given their lives for their country. Today the stone, with a fine etched tablet, reminds all passersby of the sacrifice of these men. The location of the memorial is at the intersection of Broderick Blvd and Brooks Blvd near the Inver Hills Community College, alongside Highway 52 in Inver Grove Heights.

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