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Vivid memories of 1962 plane crash

January 24, 2012
By Jon B. Bombard

I was very interested in your Enterprise story about the airplane crash 50 years ago. I was stationed at Plattsburgh Air Force Base back then and knew all four of the crew members. Ken Jensen and I were both avionics maintenance men and hit it off from day one and became good friends.

The crew chief (Tech. Sgt. Roden) was supposed to fly that night. It was raining cats and dogs, and about 3 inches of water covered the tarmac. Roden was nearly ready to climb aboard after completing all of his ground duties when he fell flat on his back and was soaked. He was not injured, however. He went to the nearest truck and hollered, "Does anybody need their air time for this month? 'Cause I'm going home." Ken Jensen did need his air time and spoke up. He went and got his flight suit, and Roden gave him his helmet.

The plane got lost in flight and was supposed to make a low-level bomb run to Watertown. Back then, a pilot did not admit he was lost or all Hades would break loose, so theory has it that he kept trying to find out where he was. This was a young, inexperienced crew, so it was not unusual for the newer crews to get lost occasionally, but it did not normally turn out the way it did.

Article Photos

A bronze plaque, seen here in summer 2011, marks the spot on Wright Peak where an Air Force B-47 crashed into the mountain on Jan. 16, 1962, and names the four crew members, all of whom died: 1st Lt. Rodney D. Bloomgren, 1st Lt. Melvin Spencer, 1st Lt. Albert W. Kandet(z)ki and Airman 1st Class Kenneth R. Jensen. The plaque, placed by the Air Force, says the four men died “on a mission preserving the peace of our nation.”
(Enterprise file photo — Mike Lynch)

The first thing I did the next morning was to call the local Presbyterian minister, as I knew that was his church. I told him that Jensen's family would need lots of help. The family had already been notified of the past-due plane by then. Jensen's wife was very upset because he had a tear in his flight suit and she hadn't mended it before he left. All she could think about was how cold and wet he must be with that hole. She refused to cash his paycheck because that would admit that he was dead. Finally, Air Force officials convinced her to cash it.

A week or so later, it was decided a group would snowshoe up Wright's Peak, as the wreckage had been spotted. That was canceled at the last minute. I and a few others from the avionics Squadron were selected and then canceled at the last minute. It was then decided to do a low-level air search. Again, I, with a few others, was selected. We flew about eight hours and looked so long, so hard and so intensely that when we took our heads out of the window for a minutes, everything in the plane seemed to move in circles. As luck would have it, Wright's Peak was in the grid our plane searched. We looked so long and so hard for the plane and our buddies. We saw deer, we saw shacks way back in the woods, we saw glints of sunlight reflecting off something and circled and investigated that. We saw large, unexplainable holes in the middle of lakes way back in the woods.

Ken Jensen was one of those people who was described at his funeral as one who liked everyone and everyone liked him. This could have been said way before the crash. He was just a nice guy! I debriefed aircraft missions and had known the other three quite well. They were all nice guys.

I had always planned on climbing Wright's Peak and planting some wildflowers there in memory of the crew. I never got around to it, and I am now 73 and doubt that I will ever get there. That does not mean that I have forgotten these guys at all. I do think about them from time to time. Life is so short and unpredictable. Let us not forget the returnees (the veterans) of recent wars ... some still ongoing.

Rest in peace, buddies. I still miss you, and we will have a great reunion one day!

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Jon B. Bombard lives in Saranac Lake.

 
 

 

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