A B-29 of the 40th Bomb Group crashed and was destroyed while attempting to take off at Chakulia, India on the group's first combat mission. The date was June 5, 1945, and the target was Bangkok, Thailand. Major John B. Keller and 10 other crew members lifted off a dirt runway in an early model B-29 and their plane seemed to falter as it cleared trees near the end of the strip. The plane crashed a few hundred yards beyond the field boundary. Ten crew members perished in a catastrophic explosion of bombs and fuel. Copilot Lt. Burt Elsner was critically injured, and spent the next ten months in different hospitals before recovering sufficiently to be discharged from military service. He returned to his home in Colorado.

Unfortunately, Lt. Elsner was not able to assist the Accident Investigation Board during its inquiry of the accident. Witnesses said Major Keller made a nose-high takeoff, which is to say, he used an improper technique that caused the accident. For awhile, a persistent rumor seemed to place the blame on Major Keller even though personnel who had flown with him pointed out his extensive flying experience and reputation as a careful and able Pilot.

The Accident Investigation Board's final report did not include a definite reason for the crash. In defense of the Board, the bomb explosions left no tangible evidence of a clear nature that indicated the cause of the accident. The entire matter was soon eclipsed by other combat losses of lives and airplanes.

As implausible as it may appear, most of the 40th Bomb Group personnel were not aware that Lt. Elsner recovered from his injuries and settled in his hometown in Colorado. In May 1988, Carter McGregor and John Nordhagen who had been 40th Bomb Group Pilots, flew the Confederate Air Force's B-29 FIFI to Colorado Springs, Colorado where it was placed on public display. Carter and John were pleasantly surprised when a spectator approached them, introduced himself as Burt Elsner, and offered this version of his memory of the June 5, 1994, accident.

Just before lift off, I noticed #2 manifold pressure needle fall back to 15 inches. John Keller, the Pilot, had the wheel over to the right as far as it would go. The next thing and the last thing I remember was seeing the ground coming up at a very steep angle. I was told later they found me where the plane first hit the ground. I was still strapped in my seat. I was the only survivor.

The Accident Investigation Board's report should have been: Cause of the accident was internal failure of the #2 engine.

* From Ira V. Matthews' Eighty-one War Stories. *