Above and Beyond: Fire and Ice
- By Leonard R. Scotty
- Air & Space magazine, November 2010
Courtesy Leonard R. Scotty
(Page 2 of 3)
I headed for the front of the aircraft. On the way, I could see that the lower deck was engulfed in flame, and there was a crack in the floor on the left side, through which I also saw fire. In the meantime, Rusk had gotten his window open and was trying to get out it. Rudd and the ground crewman were following. I didn’t think I had time to wait for them. I went back to my seat, grabbed the end of the escape rope, and pushed the hatch up but not off so it would shield me from the flames. As I went out and let the hatch fall closed, it caught my pants leg. I hung upside down for a moment, and realized that I hadn’t thrown the rope out to slide down on—I still had the end. I made a choice comment and began kicking free of the hatch.
Meanwhile, Orrs had jettisoned the tail turret and took off running, still wearing his parachute. The footprints in the snow went from the turret to the fence and picked up again on the other side; the gate guards caught up to him about a half-mile down the line.
I got loose, and the weight of the hatch dragging on the rope allowed me to slide down without injuring my legs. I was not wearing gloves, so my hands got burned, but at the time I didn’t realize it.
I don’t know how much fuel was left in the wing tanks, but the forward body tank behind my seat had 12,000 pounds of fuel as ballast. It seemed to take the fire crews forever to get to us. I remember crying, and screaming for them to get Kaeppler and O’Connell out. I didn’t know at the time that Kaeppler had been killed when the nose smashed into the railway cut and that O’Connell had died in the flames. Three men doing maintenance work in the building struck by the engine pod had also died.
Rusk managed to get out his window, and Rudd followed head-first and landed on Rusk’s back. The ground crewman could not get his parachute off, and broke either the chest strap or the buckle to get free. He too went out the right window, his parachute dangling behind him by the leg straps.
A medic got me into an ambulance and began to treat my hands. Rusk and I were taken to the hospital; Rusk was kept overnight for observation. I was sedated while each finger was bandaged. It looked like I was wearing very thick gloves.
Three days after the accident, Kenneth Kaeppler was buried at a national cemetery north of Rapid City. I had someone bring me a uniform from my apartment. The shirt sleeves had to be cut from bottom to top so I could get my bandaged hands through. The coat was draped around my shoulders, and my overcoat went over that. It was another bitterly cold day, near 20 below zero. The only thing I remember about the burial was crying when the volleys were fired. My squadron commander, Lieutenant Colonel Charles Kammer, put his arm around my shoulders and held me tight.
On Saturday, when my bandages were changed, the surgeon tried to bend my fingers. He decided that if I was ever to have a chance to use my fingers, they must be fully bent under the bandages: my left thumb was tucked in and the fingers wrapped around it. Then the hand was bandaged. My right hand was also bandaged in a fist, but the thumb was mostly exposed.