The tail section of a Boeing 707 sits on a sandbar in the North Fork Stillaguamish River on Oct. 19, 1959, after the plane crashed and broke apart. Four of eight people on the plane were killed. (Ron Palmer)

The tail section of a Boeing 707 sits on a sandbar in the North Fork Stillaguamish River on Oct. 19, 1959, after the plane crashed and broke apart. Four of eight people on the plane were killed. (Ron Palmer)

Oso was site of Boeing’s only commercial-jet crash in state

By Steven Powell

Marysville Globe

The Boeing Co. turned 100 today. Throughout the year, The Daily Herald is covering the people, airplanes and moments that define The Boeing Century. More about this series

OSO — With all the flights Boeing has had over the years, only one commercial jet has crashed in Washington — at Oso in 1959.

In late October of that year, a $5 million Boeing 707 was taking a test flight with four representatives from Braniff Airways aboard.

The plane was flown by Boeing test pilot Russell H. Baum and Braniff pilot Capt. John A. Berke, according to the accident report released by Civil Aeronautics Board in June 1960. Baum was instructing Berke, who was making his first training flight, CAB investigators wrote.

During the flight, investigators wrote, maneuvers by the pilots pushed the aircraft beyond its limits, and three of the four engines were torn off by the force. Witnesses on the ground said “they saw three objects fall out of the overcast,” the report said. Later, “these objects were located and proved to be engines Nos. 1, 2, and 4.”

Passengers on the plane and witnesses on the ground said a serious fire was burning where the No. 2 engine had been, investigators wrote.

As Baum worked to control the plane and circled in search of a place to land, four of the men aboard retreated to ditching positions in the tail of the 707: William Allsop, 41, a Boeing test pilot; William Huebner, a Federal Aviation Administration inspector; Fred Symmank, a Braniff technical instructor; and Al Krause, a Braniff flight engineer.

The plane descended toward an open field that “had undoubtedly been selected by Baum for the crash landing,” investigators wrote. But the plane struck treetops along the North Fork Stillaguamish River, which cut off a portion of its left wingtip.

The plane crashed in the riverbed about half a mile from the field, investigators wrote. The front section of the plane was largely destroyed by the impact and a subsequent fire. The tail, where Allsop, Huebner, Symmank and Krause had ridden out the crash, broke off and veered into the river, where it came to rest on a sandbank, badly damaged but intact, the report said.

Four people aboard the plane were killed: Baum, 32, of Bellevue; Berke, 49; George C. Hagen, 28, of Renton, a Boeing flight engineer; and Capt. Frank Staley, 43, a Braniff pilot. The four men in the tail survived.

According to a Marysville Globe newspaper account, the survivors crawled through an escape hatch, waded through waist-deep water, climbed the riverbank and walked to a nearby farm, where they called Boeing. The four men, all injured, were taken to the hospital.

According to the Globe account, Anton Ostler, who owned 20 acres of property where the jet crashed, said he heard rumbling and thunderous noises as the plane came down, shaking the ground. Numerous smaller explosions were reported after the crash. Debris was spread over a wide area, and a few trees were burning in the dense woods.

Those involved in the rescue and investigation were: then-Snohomish County Coroner Ken Baker; then-Sheriff Bob Twitchell with a rescue unit; Al Williams of Stanwood and his Civil Defense unit; Washington State Patrol Sgt. J. Harvey and Lt. Webb Slone; and a fire crew from the naval station at Jim Creek.

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