Another perspective about 1959 airplane crash

Photo by JESSIE SALISBURY On Aug. 15, 1959, an Air Force F-100 jet crashed in this area of North Lyndeborough. The pilot, Capt. James Howard, ejected safely and was found by residents.

Some stories stay unfinished. The details are disputed, or discrepancies remain in recollections. Although I recall the incident – I lived on the other side of town and only heard about it – and have talked with people who were there, I’ve spent the last several years looking for documentation. Many of us on our side of town assumed it had some connection with the bombing range in New Boston which was still being used.

All sources agree that on Aug. 15, 1959, an Air Force jet en route from England Air Force Base in Louisiana to Westover Air Force Base in Chicopee, Mass., crashed on a mountainside in a remote section of North Lyndeborough.

The pilot, Capt. James Howard, ejected safely, was found by residents, and given a ride to what was then Grenier Field in Manchester.

A second plane, piloted by Capt. Russell Nelson of Big Spring, Texas, crashed a few miles away in New Boston, but he did not survive. A newspaper account said his parachute failed to open.

According to an item in the Nashua Telegraph, the planes were likely F-100s since they were in use at the time by the 31st Tactical Fighter Wing of which both pilots were members. Both were based at George AFB in California.

The pilots, both trainees, somehow got lost or disoriented and ran out of fuel.

Resident Helen vanHam, who did not take part in the search, said Capt. Howard was found by her husband Ernest, “or more accurately by the dog, Lyndie,” she said. “He was walking out of the woods.”

But, according to an Associated Press article about the fatal crash in New Boston, which appeared in the former Goffstown News, “the plane, downed on Lyndeborough Mountain, burned immediately after crashing.”

Not so, Sally Curran said recently while pointing out the area where the plane crashed on property then owned by her parents. The plane did shatter on impact and spread debris over a wide area, she said.

“When it went over our house it was really low.” It crashed about a half mile away.

The Air Force sent several airmen to the site to guard the wreckage until a road was made so the remains could be hauled away on a flatbed truck. She and I walked over that road recently while she recalled the event.

Curran, a teenager at the time, said she and a friend spoke several times with the young men guarding the plane. “We discovered one of them was from Hobokon and we gave them these stories of bears and black panthers, really scared them,” she said.

While many onlookers picked up pieces of the plane before the guards arrived, only a couple still live in the area and they no longer have the bits of metal.

“We found some (years later) with a metal detector,” Curran said, “but it got thrown out.”

The plane landed near the edge of a beaver pond. It had recently been logged, she said, but has now grown back.

A brief mention of the incident in the Milford Cabinet says the plane landed on property owned by Charles Proctor and that he and Arthur Merrill “of Milford” found the pilot.

Proctor owned land in the area but Curran said the Merrills lived on the Francestown Turnpike.

That error is attributed to the fact that the newspaper’s correspondent lived on the other side of the mountain, did not usually cover North Lyndeborough, and was in the habit of accepting reports from neighbors.

In fact, all of North Lyndeborough is “remote” and no paper covered it. They still don’t.

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