“Plane crashes near Comfrey,” “Ground search continues for fourth member of crashed B-47 jet bomber crew...,” “Body found in tangled parachute.”
Those were the front-page headlines in the Feb. 21, 1963, edition of The Mankato Free Press.
Douglas Wall told a reporter the day of the horrific plane crash near Comfrey that it looked as if an atomic bomb had been dropped.
All four members of the B-47’s crew died.
Wall saw the plane crash to the ground about three miles northeast of Comfrey. He had been traveling east on a county road near the Carl Renburg farm when he saw from a distance of less than a mile an engine fall off and a huge plume of smoke. Wall remembered particles of ash were everywhere — one struck an eye. (Wall died in December at age 85.)
Investigators found debris more than a mile from the 50-foot crater the crash created in a meadow on the Renburg farmsite.
Lt. Col. Lamar Ledbetter, Capt. Donald Livingstone, 1st Lt. Thomas Hallgarth and Lt. Michael Rebmann died in the crash. The bomber crew was on its way to a site near Heron Lake during a low-level training mission, according to the Minnesota Wing of the Civil Air Patrol’s records.
Two crewmen had attempted to parachute to the ground after its engine mount failed — the remaining two were unable to escape the plane.
Three of the men were expectant fathers the day of the crash.
Lt. Hallgarth’s wife was seven months pregnant. In an online tribute, Tammy Josephine Maher described an old suitcase that was filled with mementos of the father she’d never met. “USF wings, hats, pins and buttons ... many notes of condolences including letters from President Kennedy and the mayor of Comfrey.”
Mayor Arthur J. Lilla addressed his letter to the family of Hallgarth. “...We, the people of the village of Comfrey, and also the nearby farming area, feel that these men so guided their plane until the last moment to avoid crashing into the village, because of this effort, their bravery saved many lives.”