Cannon pilot crashes, avoids farmhouse

By Don McAlavy: Local Columnist

First Lt. Thomas W. Seuffert of Dayton, Ohio, “took extraordinary measures and increasing that hazard to himself in guiding his disabled aircraft from an inhabited farmhouse.

“The 25-year-old Korean War veteran was killed at 9:30 a.m. on Tuesday, June 22, 1954, when he attempted to get his F-86 Sabrejet airborne for a routine training mission,” said Cannon Air Force Base Commander Col. James F. Whisenand. The base runway running diagonally southeast to northwest, with the pilot taking off northwest into the wind, was the runway used.

A preliminary investigation of the accident indicated that Seuffert took extraordinary measures knowing the disabled plane could have hit the farmhouse.

The inhabited farmhouse, and a meat-packing plant, owned by Marion Matthew “Bub” Snell, stood near the end of the runway. The sharp last-minute turn to avoid hitting the farmhouse cause a partial ground-loop of the plane and greatly increased the normal hazard of a crash landing.

The plane crashed and broke into flames about 1,500 feet beyond the end of the runway and only 50 feet from the Snell farmhouse. Snell and several working at the meat-packing plant tried to reach the pilot, but the flames broke out as they approached the plane. Snell said the plane stopped about halfway between his house and the meat-packing plant.

Three minutes later the crash crew had the fire out. Officials said the pilot died as a result of the crash, not from the flames. The fire broke out in the engine section and only a small burned spot on the fuselage was visible.

Snell’s daughter, Donna Sue, 15, was standing on the front porch of the house when the plane approached, barely skimming the ground. Snell, Mrs. Snell, their son Dick, Claude Gillian and Johnny Tatum were in the packing plant. Snell said that a crash into the plant would probably have brought death to all of them.

Lt. Seuffert was the son of Mr. and Mrs. William W. Seuffert of Dayton, Ohio. He was not married. The pilot, with several victories in Korea to his credit, entered the Air Force in September 1952, and reported for duty at Cannon AFB in January 1954.
His parents were notified immediately following the crash, and his body was taken to the Wolf-Roberts Funeral home in Clovis. Arrangements were made to send his body to his home in Dayton for funeral services and interment.

This crash was the first fatal plane accident at Cannon AFB since the base was reactivated in September 1951.

Bub Snell had purchased that land in 1938 and at that time there was no indication that a military base was to be located there across the road from him.

In 1960 Snell and his wife, Bertha, sold their business and 11 acres to the United States for military use and moved one-half mile north on the same section of land. From 1960 to 1970 they developed this section into one of the finest irrigated farms in Curry County.

Snell suffered a serious heart attack in 1960, but was fortunate enough to live until August 1970. He died at 57.

First Lt. Thomas W. Seuffert did take extraordinary measures and increased that hazard to himself in guiding his disabled aircraft from an inhabited farm house.