At the risk of completely over-remembering the Feb. 16, 1956, crash of a B-52 bomber, I feel moved to report a phone call I received in recent days. It provided an account by an eyeball witness to one phase of the crash.
On the other end of the phone call was Albert Bogetti (the father, not the son of the same name), a Tracy High classmate of mine and longtime friend. He said he read the previous week’s column about the bomber crash and thought he could add something about the question of which Tracy farmer reached the plane’s tailgunner after he had parachuted onto an alfalfa field southeast of town.
“I’m sure it was me,” Al told me.
He went on to relate how and he and his brother, George, were planting sugar beets on the Blewett Ranch near Vernalis when he happened to look up in the sky and saw a puff of smoke from a plane to the northwest, followed several seconds later by a second puff.
“I told George what I saw, and we decided to head in that direction to see what it was all about,” he said. “We stopped for some gas at George’s Service on Highway 33 and then drove to Linne Road and north on Banta Road. Oil or gas, which we figured must have been from the plane, covered the windshield of our pickup.”
As they approached the Western Pacific tracks that cross Banta Road, they saw to the east a parachutist at about 100 feet off the ground, coming down in an alfalfa field on the east side of Banta Road.
“After he landed in the field, we stopped, and I went over to see if he was injured. He looked like he was shook up a bit, but he said he was all right,” Al said. “I took off my jacket and put it around him, and he thanked me. I asked if we could take him some place to get medical care. ‘Oh no, they’ll come and get me,’ he responded.”
Al and George stayed with the parachutist — who is believed to have been Williard “Bud” Lucy, the B-52’s tailgunner — awhile as other people arrived on the scene. Lucy told them he had a hard time getting out of his flight jacket before exited the B-52, and at first he didn’t know if he was going up or down. It was probably the result of being dowsed by jet fuel escaping from a punctured fuel tank, as he told me 30 years later.
After a while, the Bogetti brothers decided to drive north on Banta Road to see where the smoke was coming from.
They looked off to the west toward Chrisman Road and saw what appeared to be the crumpled midsection of a plane’s fuselage with a growing crowd of people surrounding it.
Whether former B-17 pilot Ted Baskette did in fact go to the same parachute landing as Al Bogetti that afternoon of Feb. 16, 1956, is unknown, but Al’s firsthand account indicates Ted was not the first at the same crash site off Banta Road to assist the downed parachutist.
But there were four crew members who parachuted to safety in a 12-mile area starting on RobertsIsland extending south to the Tracy area. Ted was described in Press reports of the crash as finding one parachutist in a field off Linne Road. It is possible that he and Albert were involved in two separate parachutist landings.
Anyway, the crash of the B-52 bomber 64 years ago was a major episode in Tracy history, one that for those alive at that time was long remembered. Of course, many of the witnesses are no longer alive, but fortunately Albert Bogetti is still with us to provide a firsthand account of one of the more positive aspects of the bomber crash — a surviving crew member parachuting to a safe landing.