The accident on Jan. 13, 1964, is memorialized by stone markers in tiny Grantsville, about 140 miles west of Baltimore, and at the spots where three of the five crew members died. Payne succumbed to exposure in the Savage River State Forest after ejecting from the crippled B-52. Bombardier Maj. Robert Townley’s remains were found in the wreckage on adjacent private land. The tail gunner, Tech Sgt. Melvin F. Wooten, bailed out and died from exposure and injuries near Salisbury, Pa., nearly 15 miles north of the crash site.
The pilot, Maj. Thomas W. McCormick, and co-pilot Capt. Parker C. “Mack” Peedin ejected and survived. Neither is still living.
The Maryland accident, after nearly three crash-free years, underscored the folly of trying to keep nuclear bombers aloft at all times, regardless of the weather, Grant said.
“It was probably the worst crash with nuclear weapons on American soil, and it was truly an accident — a weather-caused aircraft accident,” she said. “I think it pointed out that the risks were awful high, really too high.”
Coincidentally, Grant grew up in Garrett County, where the plane crashed, often hearing her uncles talk about the accident.
It took the Air Force days to recover the bombs from the remote crash site, using equipment supplied by a local quarry operator, said Gerald Beachy of the Grantsville Community Museum, which has amassed a collection of crash memorabilia and wreckage pieces.