When fate mans the helm.

In May of 1955 I was a young T Sgt, assigned to the 6th Bomb Wing at Walker AF Base in Roswell, New Mexico. Because of my job I was assigned to flight status and with a B-36 being able to fly for very long hours we were often away from home.

To earn our flight pay, we were required to fly each month. I had signed on to fly with B-36 number 52-2818A which was assigned to the 24th Bomb Squadron. We had two little kids at our house and I wanted to be sure to get my flight time in before the end of the month because the extra pay helped a lot.

I had talked to Capt. Basinger and asked permission to fly as crew-chief with his crew on a local 16 hour training flight and we expected to be gone overnight. I explained to my wife that I’d get enough sleep during the flight, since these huge aircraft had plenty of bunk space, and I would be rested and ready for my regular work shift the next afternoon. As usual, I intended to call her when back on the ground so that she’d know I was safe.

Shortly before engine start time a crew chief from another unit came up to me and asked if I would let him take my place on the flight because he had to go on leave in a couple of days and didn’t want to lose a months flying pay. We asked Capt. Basinger if that would be alright and when he agreed with the proposal I left my flight gear with this crew chief and he rushed around getting to Base Operations to be placed on the flight manifest. I felt that I could find another local flight before the end of May.
I assisted the ground crew in getting this big ten engine bird through preflight. We got the engines cranked and saw her taxi out to the end of the runway. After taking the paperwork back to Base Operations and tying up all the loose ends, I headed for our little house in Roswell. My wife was surprised to see me because she already had the babies in bed, and we treasured any little bit of time we could spend together.

The next morning I drove out to the Airbase and when I presented my ID Badge at the flight line gate, one of the officers stared at me and said “how the hell did you get here?” My response was to be confused until I was told that aircraft number 818 (which meant 52-2818) had crashed overnight somewhere near Sterling City, Texas. The aircraft broke up in flight during a violent windstorm and all on board were dead. As you might imagine, my knees felt like water.

The crew chief who replaced me was named “Billy” and his last name eludes me. There is no way to explain how I feel when realizing how close I had come to being onboard that flight. Sometimes we do not understand why things happen, but my wife and I are forever thankful that I was allowed to be by her side for all the years since then to help raise our family. We celebrate 55 years of marriage in November this year.

Bruce L Salisbury
© 8 January 2007

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