Remembering a tragic day 50 years ago

A mid-air collision over the skies of Misawa Air Base June 13, 1949, killed two pilots and destroyed at least eleven F-80s and four F-51s and damaged countless others.

AF File Image

MISAWA AIR BASE, Japan -- As the 35th Fighter Wing Historian, one of my favorite resources in my office is the collection of Misawa Air Base newspapers dating back to 1948. While browsing the newspapers recently, I discovered that, fifty years ago today, the air above Misawa AB was the location of a horrific mid-air collision between two F-51 Mustangs. On June 13, 1949, two F-51s were flying a Combat Air Patrol drill with a squadron of F-51s that had flown up from Tokyo when one F-51 came too close to his wingman's aircraft. The aircraft collided in mid-air and then plummeted to the earth, crashing on the ramp, destroying a squadron of F-80 Shooting Star aircraft and F-51s. Both pilots involved in the mid-air collision perished in the crash. The subsequent explosions and fires destroyed at least eleven F-80s and four F-51s and damaged countless others. In 1964, on the 15th anniversary of the tragic event, Misawa base newspaper printed an anonymous letter from an eyewitness to that horrendous tragedy.

Dear Sir,
Just by chance I happened to see a letter written by you on 6 May (1964) regarding a certain accident that occurred at Misawa 15 years ago.

In the days of the "spin-crash-and-burn" (the standard drink at the club in those days) I was at Misawa to observe the Operational Readiness Test (ORT) scheduled to start on 14 June 1949. On the 13th, Monday, about noon, two Combat Air Patrol (CAP) F-51s were making passes on a F-51 squadron from the Tokyo area. The CAP leader came in too close and the wingman hit the squadron lead's left wingman and then proceeded into the parking ramp in front of the hangars. I think the squadron's leader's wingman attempted to bail out of his F-51: the canopy dished and incapacitated him and he went down with the plane. (I am writing all this from memory.) All the groups' planes were lined up neatly in front of the hangars: first a squadron of F-80s, next a squadron of F-51s, and then another squadron of F-80s.

The crashing F-51 struck a prop on the front row of the F-51s and there was a terrific explosion and shrapnel effect that went right through the entire squadron of F-80s. It was a miracle that most of the squadron maintenance personnel and pilots happened to be elsewhere, perhaps out to lunch, and maybe the pilots could have been in the airplanes. At any rate, the only fatalities were the two F-51 pilots. I believe there were some burns inflicted to the crew fighting the fires. I think there were some 11 F-80s and 4 F-51s destroyed and several of each type damaged. (I was pushing a real bucket of bolts around - an F-51 and it didn't get a scratch.)

That same day the fog moved in and it lasted for 10 days. General Stratemeyer came to talk to the Group personnel soon after the accident; the weather lifted just enough for him to get in and get out. He came to give the Group a pep talk, however Group morale was plenty high and they dug right in and when the ORT finally came off, the Group made a fine showing.

Lt Col (retired)

Let us take a moment from our busy lives and hectic schedules and remember those two airmen whose lives ended all too soon in the skies above Misawa, fifty years ago.