By: Bill Schock
Fifty years ago this coming Saturday night, August 6th, a burning Braniff International jet airliner, Flight 250, with 42 people aboard plunged from the sky and crashed into Tony Schawang’s soybean field, 12 miles northeast of Falls City.
There were no survivors.
It was the worst commercial air crash in Nebraska history.
On Saturday, the 50th Anniversary of the tragedy, a gathering of approximately 100 family members of the crash victims and others will be held at the Richardson County Historical Museum. It will begin at 9:30 a.m. and the visit to the crash site will follow at 10:30. Then a lunch will be held at the museum.
The ill-fated airliner was flying from Kansas City to Omaha with 38 passengers and 4 crew members.
The pilot and co-pilot had been briefed in Kansas City that a severe thunderstorm was raging in southeast Nebraska. Their flight plan was filed with a course taking them south of the storm.
As the airliner was skirting the storm, the lengthy Civil Aeronautics Board investigation in Omaha determined, a weather phenomenon, “wind shear,” struck it, causing the airliner to explode and to be engulfed in flames.
A number of persons witnessed the sudden ball of fire in the sky. The airliner began its fiery plunge from around 5,000 feet and slammed into the bean field. It continued to burn itself out about 300 feet east of the Tony Schawang farmstead, now the home of the Kenneth Schawangs.
Just before crashing, the fireball passed over or was adjacent to the Tony Schawang car as the family was returning from the Shubert area. The horrific scene that developed was too much for Vernell Schawang, and the family later moved to a farm in Shubert to get away from it.
Falls City Rural firemen were at the site early on and were followed by the Falls City Volunteer Firemen and Company B National Guard Troops. By dawn newspaper and TV reporters and photographers had arrived.
The firemen, the National Guardsmen and local undertakers began the horrific job of recovering the charred bodies of the crash victims. Body bags arrived from Fort Riley, Kansas and remains were taken by National Guard truck to Prichard Auditorium, later to be removed to refrigerated trucks brought to the auditorium.
Identification of a number of the victims was made through dental records, personal items and by the expert FBI team, which was rushed to Falls City.
Around mid-morning the Civil Aeronautics Board air crash investigation team arrived from Washington and took over the site. Daily press briefings were held at Hotel Stephenson.
Falls City Municipal Airport personnel were kept busy Sunday as airplanes landed with airlines’ personnel and newsmen hurrying to the crash scene.
The women of the Falls City Firemen’s Auxiliary cam e to the crash scene with food and drinks for the men in the midst of their horrendous work.
Later at the auditorium, members of local organizations came to be of help to family members of the victims. They were much appreciated.
The crash investigation at the site went on for several days and by week’s end the scene had been cleared and what was left of the airplane was loaded on a flat bed semi headed for Kansas City.
Braniff International was so impressed by the assistance, cooperation, and acts of kindness from the community that it sent $5,000 to the city in appreciation. The money was used to build a shelter house formerly in City Park and now in the baseball/softball complex.
The story of the Braniff crash appeared in all major newspapers and TV stations in the US and worldwide.
An excellent feature story dealing with the crash written by Peter Salter appeared in this Sundays Lincoln Journal-Star.
In this writer’s opinion it was the biggest event in Falls City history.