1969 Rokeby Plane Wreck Revisited by Matt Steinhausen
"Plane Goes Down at Rokeby; Three Men 'Chute Safely, B58 Supersonic Bomber Spins to Earth"
was the headline in the April 3, 1969, Lincoln Evening Journal. In April of 1969 a B58 "Hustler" from Grissom AFB near Peru, Indiana wrecked in a wheat field on the Donald Foreman farm only 3/4 mile east of Rokeby, just northwest of the intersection of South First Street and Rokeby Road. The Lincoln Evening Journal reported there were three men on board, all of whom parachuted safely, with the exception of a few scrapes and scratches. The plane was flying a training mission as a part of the 305th Bomb Wing at Grissom AFB in Indiana (in the original 1969 article the Lincoln Journal misspelled it as "Gresham AFB" instead of "Grissom AFB").
The plane was not carrying any weapons. There were numerous witnesses to the crash. My father Gene Steinhausen said he watched the plane fall from the sky from the barn at his family farm at SW 12 St. and Rokeby Road. Loren Wendelin told the Journal that the plane "went into a complete stall and appeared to free fall. Numerous people heard the plane explode when it hit the ground including Glenn and Lela Peterson, and Mrs. Donald Foreman, on whose property the plane crashed. Lela Peterson was at the Trinity Chapel Church when the plane wrecked, Glenn was at their home in Rokeby.
Glenn Peterson told the Journal that the impact and explosion "jarred my house". I recently talked to Dan Evasco who was attending Rokeby Elementary School at the time of the wreck. He remembered the big, black, bellowing plume of smoke to the east of the school, and another fire to the south of the school. The fire to the south started spreading across the dry spring stubble. Evasco said he most remembers the tears of fellow student Rick Foreman, who was probably horrified upon seeing the huge clouds of black smoke rise over his family's farm. News accounts implied that there was some confusion over the cause of the wreck and/or the number of planes involved. According to Evasco, one of the wings landed south of the school, about 1/2 mile from where the plane hit east of the school.
Some witnesses may have seen the two separate objects plunging to the ground, and assumed the wing was another plane, which might explain the initial confusion. Once outside of the school Evasco said he could see three parachutes from the plane floating down to earth. The crew landed their parachutes safely on or near the Knolls Country Club, near Old Cheney Road between] 4th and 27th Streets. The southwest spring winds blew the parachuting crew over four miles from where their plane wrecked. The same wind was spreading a prairie fire started from the wing that landed south of the school, but Evasco said he didn't think they were in danger. Fire personnel and other emergency responders were at the scene to put out the fires. The students had to wait at the school until parents could come to pick them up.
Evasco recalled that his teacher at the time was a woman from South Africa who seemed to handle the situation well. I have not researched the wreck enough to determine what caused the wing to separate from the plane. At the time of the wreck, the Journal suggested that it was possible that what appeared to be a wing was actually a jettisoned wing fuel tank or external fuel "pod". Some folks say that debris occasionally surfaces in the fields where the plane wrecked. I have been out to search the field after tilling, but to-date I haven't found any souvenirs. Evasco also said he remembered that the substantial excavation of debris from the wing that landed to the south of the school left a large indentation in the earth that would sometimes hold water, like a small pond.
About the B58 Hustler : The Hustler had a poor safety record. Flight test program and early operational career accidents had been numerous and spectacular, and because of this there was more than a slight residual dislike for the aircraft among SAC and AF hierarchy. On October 27, 1969, Secretary of Defense, Melvin Laird's, stated cutbacks in military spending would force reduction of operations at 307 military bases in the US and overseas, including Little Rock AFB and Grissom AFB. The aircraft would. in fact, be removed from the inventory by January 31, 1970, and be scrapped. Information from. Convair B- 58 Hustler. The World's First Supersonic Bomber by Jay Miller The B58 'Hustler' had a 57' wingspan, was over 96' long and could achieve 1321 mph (over twice the speed of sound).
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