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Remembering Wurtsmith Air Force Base

Wurtsmith Plane Crash

September 17, 1946

Bomber Crashes on Cold Mountain, 5 Die

Haywood is scene of latest air tragedy -- B-25 wrecked Friday -- Bodies located after intensive hunt Sunday.

Five Army men, including Major General Paul B. Wurtsmith, temporary commander of the Eighth Air Force, were instantly killed when a B-25 Bomber on the way from Detroit to Tampa crashed into the side of Cold Mountain, near Pisgah, shortly after noon Friday.

No one heard or saw the crash, and the wreckage was sighted when a large group of planes went out to search for it Saturday and Sunday. Fifty planes joined the flight to locate the plane, and it was 7:10 Sunday morning when Captain James M. Poole and Lieutenant O.S. Long of McDill Field, Tampa, flying an AT-11 first saw the remains of the large bomber.

W. M. Huber, forestry warded in the Posgah National Forest, was notified of the location, and identified it as Cold Mountain, which lies in Haywood County, near the Translyvania line. He immediately organized a ground search party, which was joined by a large number of Army personnel from the Greenville, S. C. air base and they set out to find the B-25.

Mr. Huber related to the Mountaineer that he and the men working with him were equipped with walkie-talkie radios that allowed contact with liaison planes flying over the wreck. They went up the road following Crowford's Creek for three miles, then followed a trail that reached Lenoir Creek. The wreck was found there, between 2 and 3 P. M. Sunday.

Bodies of the occupants were badly broken up. The Army personnel, who were led by Lt. Col. Edmund Freeman of McDill Field, and Major T. J. Hieatt of the Greenville base (who last week led the search in the Maggie area for another lost Army plane) took the victims to a Greenville funeral home Sunday night and removed part of the wrecked plane.

Other than Maj. Gen. Wurtsmith, those who lost their lives were Lt. Col. F. L. Trickey of Tampa, Lt. Col. P. R. Okerbloom of Tampa, Master Sergeant Hosey W. Merritt of Geneva, Alabama, and Staff Sergeant Hoyt W. Crump of Tampa.

During the flight, Friday, the 13th of September, the B-25, at 11:57 A. M., reported its position as 10 miles west of the Kingsport, Bristol, and Johnson City Airport, and the pilot said he was going to lower altitude because of bad weather. It was flying at about 230 miles per hour, and evidently was coming in too low, and the fog and rain made it difficult to see the mountains.

Three men, two Brevard photographers, and one of the Army personnel were lost on the mountain during the search. However, Warded Huber reports that they were found Sunday night and early Monday by men from the Forest Service.

Maj. Gen. Wurtsmith had a distinguished combat record in the pacific area, and had risen to important peacetime commands in the reorganization of the Army Air Corps.

(Contributed by: Richard Clark, Kernersville, NC)