Photo illustration by Harland Eastwood
This photo illustration shows an artist's conception of a DC-4 airplane just before it crashed into a neighborhood on a snowy night in November, 1955, killing 28 of the 74 passengers aboard. The original photo was taken by Merrill Kleinmann, who also lived near the site.
Boulevard Park plane crash in 1955 is recalled
Editor’s note: Harland Eastwood substitutes for Jerry Robinson this week.
By Harland Eastwood
SPECIAL TO THE HIGHLINE TIMES
During the afternoon of November 17, 1955, a heavy, wet snow started to fall all over the Seattle area. The snow continued throughout the evening and ended around 11 p.m. During that time perhaps 5 or 6 inches of snow had accumulated, making driving difficult.
I do not recall just when I became aware of the plane crash and resulting fire, but it was very shortly after the accident had occurred. I do remember hearing lots of sirens on police cars and ambulances that were going by our house shortly after midnight. My dad had heard them too, and was up and looking out our front room window.
The next thing I remember was seeing a very large truck-like vehicle going by our house. My recollection is that it was too big for one lane and it was going down the middle of the road. I am sure that the thick blanket of snow covering the roads may have contributed to their driving down the middle of the road, too. I was sure I had never seen a vehicle like this and was about to ask dad what it was, but he had anticipated my question and announced that it was a “Crash Truck” from the Seattle-Tacoma Airport.
That was all he had to see. He was sure that a plane had crashed nearby and put on his heavy work coat, said goodbye, and followed the steady stream of police cars and other emergency vehicles that continued by our house.
About this time, Mom and I looked out our back door to see if we could see anything. Sure enough, we couldn’t miss the huge red flames that filled the cold night sky. It was impossible to tell just how far away the fire was, but my first thought was that it was much closer than it turned out to be. Mom and I said very little during this anxious time, but I am sure we both wondered if dad would be OK.
I have very little concept of how much time had passed since dad left to help in whatever way he could, but my recollection is that it was a very short time, perhaps twenty minutes or less. I was surprised and relieved when he returned, but my relief was short lived when I found out that he was in a tremendous hurry to return. As he barked out orders to my mom about needing the big coffee pots in the basement, he continued a non-stop dialog about what had happened.
Yes, a large plane had crashed at Boulevard Park, and there were many men injured and/or killed. He told about he and another volunteer finding a man on fire. Together the two volunteers got the man to roll in the snow, which put the flames out. Dad related that the man was a soldier and was badly burned. When they helped the victim to his feet, dad noticed that all of the man’s hair had come off in his hand.
This vivid account was very terrifying to me, as I had never heard these things discussed before. As soon as mom returned from the basement with the two antique coffee pots, Dad was off again. Many hours passed before my dad returned from the scene of the crash. My recollection is that it may have been around 4:30 a.m. or later.
Neither mom nor I had slept a wink as we continued watching the flames from the back door and wondered what was happening. In my mind I can still see the huge orange-white flames rising high in the sky. To me, I could not see how anyone could have survived and I continued to fear that I would never see my dad again.
The night was indeed a long one. When dad finally returned, he was totally exhausted—both mentally and physically. After changing into some dry clothes he sank slowly into his favorite chair. As tired as he was, his mind continued to race as he continued recounting the night’s grizzly work. He told of the badly burned men wandering around in a daze and helping guide them safely to a house close by where they could wait in safety for the first available ambulance.
While I was anxious to hear all of the details, they were so grizzly that I was traumatized even more than I had been earlier. I remember trying to get to sleep as the pale gray light of the following day was starting to come through my bedroom window. Since our house was right on the flight path of the Seattle-Tacoma Airport, I could hear the planes as they were taking off or landing.
I cannot forget thinking they were going to crash into our house and we would all be burned up. This terror was to stay with me for many months afterwards. I am thinking it may have been close to a year. All during that time I had trouble sleeping and wondered if I would ever get over the fear that one of the many planes was going to crash into our house and we would all die in an uncontrollable fiery inferno.
Don’t miss the exciting conclusion of our story, including the official cause of the crash, in the next issue.
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