There were photographs of wreckage and model mock-ups, but there were no photographs of the victims released, which I found to be respectful.
|Lockheed T-33 Shooting Star|
Their mission was to perform ILS (Instrument Landing System) approaches at Midland’s airport, known today as Midland International Air and Space Port. ILS allows pilots to land in conditions that restrict visibility, such as darkness or fog. To effectively train for ILS, the student pilot wears a hood or helmet attachment that prevents them from seeing anything but their cockpit instruments in order to simulate a real-world experience. This requires a second pilot to keep watch for other aircraft or hazards. For this flight, the student flew under the hood in the rear seat, with the instructor pilot in the forward seat.
The T-33 was in radio contact with the Midland tower throughout their flight, and successfully performed a touch-and-go on Runway 043 around 14:50pm. As they departed, they were granted permission for a second approach. Runway 043 runs east and west, alongside Business Loop 20 (Old Highway 80).
|Firefighters at T-33 Wreckage, USAF Report Photo|
A transcript of the control tower conversations shows that the tower lost contact with the T-33 shortly after their touch-and-go, then smoke was seen rising over Permian Estates. The airplanes had collided 6.25 nautical miles from the runway at 1000-1200 feet above the ground.
|Cessna Wreckage, USAF Report Photo|
The T-33’s tail separated and fell into a back yard, and the Cessna fell in at least five major pieces. The engine of the Cessna fell through the roof of a home that was unoccupied at the time. Parts fell on homes, in yards, and vacant lots. The main wreckage of the T-33 struck the driveway and a garage of a home and burned. It was the only fire reported throughout the incident.
The Air Force lists several factors that caused the crash:
1. “The primary cause of this accident is supervisory error on the part of the Instructor Pilot in that he did not see the other aircraft in time to avoid the collision.” Since the student was wearing a hood to restrict his vision, the instructor pilot in the front seat was responsible for keeping watch for traffic. The downward angle of the jet’s impact could indicate the possibility of a last-second attempt to miss the Cessna.
2. “A contributing cause factor is that current CAA regulations do not require light aircraft to be controlled under VFR conditions in control zones; Midland Tower was not aware of the Cessna’s presence.” Control zones were much smaller in 1956 than today, and the Cessna stayed out of Midland’s zone throughout the entire flight and probably wasn’t monitoring Midland’s radio traffic. The Cessna pilot was operating his aircraft in accordance with regulations and practices of the time, and was probably over Midland in order to follow Interstate 20 for part of his flight. Control zones and traffic procedures have changed drastically, and this sort of incident would be impossible today if procedures are followed. The Civil Aeronautics Administration (CAA) became the Federal Aviation Administration (FAA) in 1958.
3. “Installation of the stand-by compass… precludes unobstructed vision forward.” A significant piece of the T-33 forward pilot’s view was obstructed by instrumentation.
Although the report had the names of the civilian victims redacted, newspaper sources listed them as Winfred Clement (27 years of age at the time of the accident), his wife Elizabeth (25), and their infant daughter, Cathy. Elizabeth’s parents were also on board, Roy E. Howard (63) and Ethel Howard (57). The aircraft was registered to Winfred Clement. The family was buried in Bowie, TX.
Lt. Lowell was buried in Decatur, Illinois. Capt. Roberts was buried in Trinity Memorial Park, Big Spring, TX.
Ector County Airport became Schlemeyer Field sometime in the 1970’s, and features a T-33 on static display.
The Air Force report included a map that plots 13 locations of wreckage. In respect of the crash victims and current property owners, I will only show a modern map of the wreckage area and will not release the specific points. The crash area was published as "the 3500 block of Apache Drive."
I teamed up with local videographers Tim Kreitz and Michael Montalvo with the intention of filming a documentary about the crash, but we were not able to locate witnesses willing to be interviewed. There just wasn’t enough material for a video production without them, and we completely understood their reluctance. Many thanks to Tim and Mike for helping me assemble all the data on this crash.
This incident is an important piece of Midland's history of military aviation. As far back as World War II, Midland has served an important role in our nation's air power preparedness, and many lives have been lost. This is the only local military aircraft incident I've found with civilian casualties.
Should anyone have photos or witness accounts they wish to share, please contact me at firstname.lastname@example.org. I won't publish anything without the contributor's permission.
|Cessna 170 Tail, USAF Report Photo|
|Ejection Seat, USAF Report Photo|
|T-33 Tail, USAF Report Photo|
|Wreckage Area, Present Day|