News Stories & Columns
T-33 Jet Trainer Crashes Near Cliffside; pilot safe
The Rutherford County News, May 20, 1964
A T-33 Jet Trainer narrowly missed crashing into the home of Mr. and Mrs. Harvey Harrill on Beason Road in Cliffside Saturday afternoon. The Harrill’s were at home and fled moments before the plane hit in a grove of trees within 100 feet of their home.
The two crewmen. Brig. Gen. Russie E. Dougherty and Col. Robert A. Weir, had parachuted from the crippled plane just before the crash. They landed in a wooded area about two miles from the scene of the burning wreckage.
The plane was apparently disabled according to reports of witnesses because there was no noise. Their attention was attracted by the muffled sounds of the crewmen ejecting from the plane. Upon looking up they saw their open parachutes and the plane go into a spiral dive, crashing at the base of some trees, explode and burst into high flames.
The plane had refuled at Robbins Air Force Base in Warner-Robbins, Ga., and was enroute to Andrews Air Force Base near Washington, D. C.
The crewmen were injured but were not critical. They were treated at Rutherford Hospital and transferred Sunday to Washington from Spartanburg Memorial Airport.
Eyewitnesses Give Details
It had been a peaceful Saturday afternoon in the Cliffside area. A jet plane was approaching overhead, but no one gave it any thought at the time.
The Little League baseball team was warming up. Parents and friends were in the bleachers. Boys were playing tennis on a near-by court and other small children were just out playing in the afternoon sunshine.
Jimmie Padgett, 12, daughter of Mr. and Mrs. Oren K. Padgett, was talking to a friend on the telephone when her two smaller sisters, Jackie and Jeri, came running into the house screaming “Jimmie, Jimmie, there’s a plane a’fallin.”
“I thought it was just some of their jabbering and told them to hush. But I stepped out on the porch to see what they were trying to explain just in time to see the plane hit and explode. Flames shot up over the trees.”
Jackie told her sisters that the plane was going “round and around and coming straight down to the ground, and that some men were floating in the trees.”
At the ball field Mrs. James Cromer had settled back in a lounge chair to watch the game.
“I heard what sounded like a jet breaking the sound barrier and looked up. At that moment I saw the parachutes open and told my husband they must be doing practice jumps.”
“Jumps nothing,” he yelled, “that thing is falling.” And then he started hollering for everyone to get off the field and scatter out.
Mrs. Cromer said, “I was running wild and screaming, trying to find my child because it looked like it would hit right in that field. I found them later, my son was in a gully and my daughter at home nearby.”
Two Boys Find Injured Colonel
Buster Brown Willis, son of Mr. and Mrs. Brown Willis, and a junior at Chase High School, gave his account of the crash and his finding Colonel Robert Weir.
“I was playing tennis and heard the women at the ball field screaming. When I looked up I saw the plane in a tailspin and the parachutes floating over the woods. The plane exploded and sent flames high into the air.
“When I got to the top of the hill 50 to 75 people were already getting to the plane to see if anyone got out. That’s where I met Roger Shirley. I told Roger that I didn’t see anything we could do there and why not go see if we could help find the men who jumped! We started off in that direction.
“When we got there the General was being carried out by rescuers and as he was being lifted into the ambulance I heard him shout to ‘hurry and find Colonel Weir.’
“Roger and I decided to tag along. When the men went over a hill, we chose to take another direction. We didn’t think he was that way and we were going to make a wide circle back to the car.
“After walking a while we heard a man calling to us, and there he was, leaning against a tree with his arm hanging limp at his side. It was bleeding some and his face was scratched and cut.
“He said, ‘Boys, I think my back is broken,’ and asked for a stretcher. We called out, but we couldn’t make anyone hear us. We were too far away from the others.
“He asked me to remove his glove and coat and I did. We could tell he was in terrific pain. Then we asked him if he wanted to move out of the woods to the clearing where we could be seen. He agreed. We moved one step at a time, Roger on one side and me on the other. His parachute was still hanging in the trees. He had broken loose from the ‘chute and landed on the ground.
“While we were waiting, we couldn’t leave him because he couldn’t sit down or lay down, we asked him what happened. The Colonel said something like ‘the fuselage started to fly apart and we had to bail out because the parts were hitting us.’ All this time he kept asking about the General and we told him over and over he (the General) was all right.
“A small boy came from somewhere then and we asked him where the others were. He told us and Roger and I helped the Colonel to a fence. Roger held him up against the fence while I ran to get help. I got to the top of a hill and called to the men in the valley. They came running.
“I went back to the colonel to wait for the stretcher and he asked rie to cut the sleeve off his shirt. His arm was cut to the bone just below the elbow and other places on the arm were swollen twice the ordinary size.”
Willis also said that “Colonel Weir sure is a fine man. He was real nice to us and although he was in terrible pain he wasn’t cross or impatient. He was concerned about the General. When they got to him with the stretcher he still couldn’t lay down. It was a hip injury I learned later.
“As they put him into the ambulance I handed him his glove and coat. He said ‘thank you’ and they drove away. I didn’t see him anymore, but I wonder how he’s getting along.”
Clipping provided by Phillip White.
Ed. Note: Red Humphries tells the story that years after the crash, in the 1970s, a Forest City man, an Air Force reservist, was in Colorado Springs for annual training. A high ranking officer addressing a group of the reservists asked each man the name of his hometown. When his time came, our Rutherford County man said, “Forest City, North Carolina.” The officer did a double take, and said, “Isn’t that near Cliffside? I crashed a plane in that town one time!” Small world.