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June 29, 2012

Oroville Mercury October 7, 1954
Mercury Staffers First Newsmen to Reach Scene of Plane Wreckage Near Willows

(Bill Talbitzer and Floyd Tucker of the Oroville Mercury staff were the first newspapermen to reach the scene of last night’s plane crash near Willows. The following is Talbitzer’s account of how he and Tucker got the story and pictures of the crash.)
By Bill Talbitzer
I was at the Oroville Mercury office, catching up on a little work at 7:20 last night when Captain Tom Evans, of the Butte county sheriffs office, called and told me that an Air Force plane had crashed in a field south of Willows. Captain Evans had received a flash over the radio that the plane was afire and that there were some survivors. I called Floyd Tucker right away and we picked up the camera and took off for Willows. It wasn’t hard to find the scene of the crash. When we got within a mile and a half of it, we began to run into long lines of automobiles filled with residents from all over the Willows area who had seen the flames from the burning plane shooting high into the air. Glenn County was manning road blocks and controlling traffic, and, actually, that’s just about the true situation.

Props Resemble Pretzels
Our press cards got us through the police lines and we sped toward the O’Brien Ranch. We pulled into an alfalfa field behind the home of Mr. and Mrs. A. B. Chittenden and there we came upon one of the worst messes I’ve ever seen. Scattered over an acre of ground was the wreckage of the airplane. The engines, with their battered propellers twisted like pretzels, lay in scattered parts of the field. The tail section, a good 100 yards from the nearest engine, poked into the sky like the finger of fate that had written the final word in the book of the dead who lay helter-skelter through the wreckage. The rest of the plane was in pieces that ranged from a foot in diameter to not more than two or three feet square. My first thought was: “How could a thing like this, large enough to carry so many men, be broken into such tiny pieces in so short a time?”

Deputies Probe Wreck
We talked to James Shine, 24 of Willows, who was one of the first men to reach the scene. He had found two of the victims both of whom had apparently attempted to leap from the plane just before it struck the ground. He was looking for more bodies in the charred and battered wreckage but it was easy to see he had no stomach for the job. Flier Crawls From Wreck James Shine said “I ran over to the wreck and when I got there I saw a man crawl out of the tail of the plane. He seemed to have a back injury and the other fliers who had parachuted to the ground helped him away from the plane. By then the first ambulance had arrived and we sent the men to the hospital.”

(This was just part of Bill’s story-Stu)

Stu’s Notes: The 4th of July is coming. There will be fire works up on Lake Oroville. Food will be served on the Dam, (One of a few dam’s I built). I started up there an apprentice Ironworker Oct 7, 1960. I just received my 50 year pin two weeks ago from the Ironworker Local 118 Business Manager, Rick Davis. I worked with Rick on a U.S. Air Force Radar Station in Tule Lake, California, 23 years ago. He was just a “Punk” then (an Iron worker apprentice). Rick has come a long way in those years. He is a good man. And how does this tie in as Dick Fry would say, well Rick has a cousin from Oroville that served our Country in WWII and Rick wants to donate his Uniform to an Oroville Museum. Also that Radar Station we built way out in nowhere land south east of Tule Lake was never put in to service by our Air Force, says Rick, as think, in 1989 the Cold War ended. 1946 to 1989 was a long war. Well yes maybe the Cold War ended but we soon were into another long war 1991, January, I think. I did write a big sign thanking our Veterans on the 18th floor of a high rise building on J street in Sacramento. But that’s another story. The best man in the news back then was B.T. Collins when some in Sacramento at the time City officials included were protesting what our Men and Women were doing kicking the Sadam our of Kuwait. BT came on the news and told a Soldiers story about the men going into war that would make you cry and also be so proud of those fighting men who went in. Sadly our leadership at the time let Sadam go and here we are so many years later still over there. Sadly B. T. died a young man but a hero. I can still hear his words, so awe inspiring. I think he had been seriously wounded in Vietnam. Anybody remember him, let me know.
On July 3rd and 4th, there will be a most awe inspiring concert at the State Theater. My favorite part of the performance of Patriotic songs is when they play the service songs and the men and women of each service stand up. You can’t be anything but proud of them at that point. This is a must see performance.

Yes I know I did this plane crash last week but both men worked hard to get this story. Bill Talbitzer has written many stories of the Oroville area. I read he had Twins yesterday.