News Stories & Columns
Jet Trainer Crashes Near Cliffside
T-33 Jet Trainer Crashes Near Cliffside; Pilot Safe
by Jim Allen
Editor, The Shelby Star
May 18, 1964
CLIFFSIDE—Residents of a rural area one mile east of here brushed elbows with tragedy Saturday afternoon but emerged from the experience with nothing more serious than a few frayed nerve ends and a fire blackened hole in the earth.
The tranquility of a peaceful, warm spring afternoon was shattered in the vicinity of the Harvey Harrill home when a crewless Air Force T-33 jet trainer screamed from the pale blue sky and crashed into a sparsely wooded area, within 60 feet of the Harrill modest frame building.
The shattered craft immediately burst in flames. Alert volunteer firemen and rescue squad personnel had the flames under control within minutes of the crash.
The T-33’s two man crew—Brig. Gen. Russie E. Dougherty and Col. Robert A. Weir—parachuted to safety within seconds and residents of the area had their attention attracted to the sky by two muffled explosions.
Two puffs of black smoke shot from the craft before shocked residents of the area saw General. Dougherty and Colonel Weir ejected from the crippled plane.
Both men were rushed to Rutherford County Hospital in Rutherfordton., where their injuries were described as painful but not serious. An air Force C-131 from Andrews Air Force Base at Washington, D.C. flew the two injured officers from Spartanburg Memorial airport to Washington Sunday afternoon.
Air Force officials at Warner Robins, Ga. reported late Saturday that the two officers were based at Andrews Air Force Base, had refueled at Robins and were en route to Washington when the plane caught fire.
An Air Force team from Shaw Air Force Base at Sumter, S.C. was flown to Cliffside by helicopter late Saturday to inspect the crash site.
The most graphic, first-hand account of what occurred between the two airborne explosions and crash near Harrill’s home was supplied by Bobby Joe Hamrick of route 1, Mooresboro.
Hamrick was the first man to reach the injured Colonel Weir and was covered with blood as he told his story.
Hamrick was fishing at Mt. Pleasant lake when the two explosions attracted his attention and he looked up to see the two officers ejecting.
He said he watched their descent for a moment before scooping up his fishing gear and running toward the area where the men eventually landed.
Hamrick reached Colonel Weir first and found him dangling in a tree only inches away from a Duke Power Co. power line.
“Just as I ran up,” Harrrick told the reporter at the crash scene, “the man in the tree said, ‘Thank God I missed that power line.’” With that said, the airman, who was bleeding profusely around his arms and shoulders, released himself from the parachute harness and dropped to the ground.
One of the first things he did, according to Hamrick, was to ask assistance in stopping the flow of blood. Rescue squad personnel arrived about that time and Hamrick said while they were assisting the injured man toward an ambulance, he paled and supplied his name, rank and home base for use “just in case I pass out.”
The other officer was found on the ground in a sparsely wooded area about a quarter of a mile away.
Harrill still visibly shaken several hours after the crash, explained that he and his family were inside their home when, “We heard this noise like something frying on the stove. Right behind that he heard what sounded like two crates of dynamite exploding.”
Harrill says he rushed to the front of the house and looked out to see “the biggest fire I have ever seen.”
Reprinted with permission from The Shelby Star. Copyright owned by The Shelby Star. Clipping provided by Sam Davis.