1/Lt McCorkle, Robert D. Pilot 576th 2/Lt Beaton, William O. Copilot 576th 2/Lt Abruzzo, Thomas S. Navigator 576th 2/Lt Medley, Alton C. Bombardier 576th T/Sgt Hoffman, Paul W. Engineer 576th T/Sgt Gish, Jr. Robert W. Radio Operator 576th S/Sgt Stephenson, Joseph W. Gunner 576th S/Sgt Beaird, Ocie L. Gunner 576th S/Sgt Russell E. Clark Gunner 576th S/Sgt Kenneth Q. Bean Gunner 576th
At Topeka, the 576th Sqdn has just received its new H-version B-24s. The McCorkle crew was giving theirs a full load test as they were scheduled to depart for England in a few days. The plane, B-24H #42-7473, was brand new with only 16 hours of air time.
When the landing gear came up after their lift-off at 1537 hours, S/Sgt Beaird spotted gasoline leaking around the left wheel. He called the copilot and asked him to feather the No. 1 engine to keep it from catching fire. This was done. "By then, "Beard reported later, "the gasoline was leaking all along the left wing from the No. 1 engine to the fuselage. I told the co-pilot to feather No. 2 engine but he didn't feather it because we were too low. I told him that we had better come back in because the plane was liable to catch on fire or that the wing would blow up."
McCorkle notified the tower that he was coming in on the nearest runway and made an approach to land downwind on Runway 31. The ship landed about halfway down the runway and all switches were cut. As the aircraft neared the end of the runway, T/Sgt Hoffman opened the bomb bay doors by means of the emergency release on the copilot's pedestal. As the airplane began to stop, about 900 feet past the end of the runway, the crew cleared the plane on the right side and (in the words of gunner S/Sgt Kenneth Q. Bean) "ran like hell." Almost simultaneously, the left outer wing panel was blown apart by an explosion from fuel fumes within the wing. 2/Lt Abruzzo was about 10 feet from the plane when it exploded and was slightly injured by metal fragments. The fire continued to burn within the inner wing section around the main fuel cells for approximately 30 minutes before it was extinguished.
Copilot 2/Lt Beaton later wrote this account of the events: "We lined up just off the end of the runway, did our engine run-ups and, once all checked out, moved out onto the runway for take off. We broke ground and I tended the time-honored route of--throttle back, break the wheels, get the gear up, and was just starting to milk the flaps up--when, over the intercom from one of the waist gunners, came an excited message that gas was pouring out all over #1 engine. He asked us to shut it down immediately. McCorkle said 'Do it!' and I proceeded to shut it down while Mac told the tower we were making an immediate emergency landing.
"The way the runways were at Topeka we would have had to fly an almost complete pattern if we turned to the right. A left turn, on the other hand, was almost like turning on the approach. One problem we had, however, was the never, never thing about turning into a dead engine. But as time was important Mac elected to do it as desperate times require desperate measures.
"We hit far down the runway and it was obvious we were going off into the grass when the runway ran out. About the time the nose wheel hit the ground there was an explosion which destroyed the integrity of the left wing. This was followed by another minor explosion in the bomb bay but, as the plane came to a halt, we pulled the emergency bomb bay opener and all scurried out through a mini-bomb bay fire and away from the plane, leaving the process of securing the plane from further damage to the base fire department.
"Sometime later we were told that the manifold lines which connected the tanks had pulled apart as the wing gained lift and started to deflect under the bending."