June 24, 2017

1949. Tragic Accidents in Prüm and the Airlift

Explosion in Prüm as Airlift Sees More Casualties
A crashed Douglas C-54 Skymaster during the Berlin airlift
Bill Downs

CBS Berlin

July 16, 1949

A tragic explosion and the crash of another airlift plane mar the news from Germany this morning.

In the German city of Prüm, in the French zone, an estimated 15 persons were killed, 60 injured, and one quarter of the town destroyed last night when an ammunition depot blew up. Casualties are still being counted as rescue workers search the wreckage. The tragic thing about this incident is that the casualty list need not have been so high.

A fire broke out in the depot yesterday evening. The townspeople were warned to leave, but few of them did. At 9:30 PM, between 500 and 600 tons of old German ammunition stored in a Siegfried Line bunker went up. The Prüm hospital and post office were destroyed. Fires broke out in the town. All telephone and telegraph communications were cut. Prüm was badly damaged in the war, but today the townspeople are saying that this explosion was worse than anything experienced during the fighting.

Here in Berlin, five Royal Air Force airlift fliers were killed at 9:00 AM this morning when their Hastings aircraft crashed and burned at Tegel airport. The plane was taking off for the northern corridor out of Berlin when its engines failed at about 50 feet and plunged into the ground. This is the second fatal airlift accident this week. Last Tuesday an American Air Force C-54 crashed in the Russian zone, killing its crew of three. These fatalities bring the Operation Vittles death toll to 59 killed.

The Berlin Communist organization on the other side of town has become a kind of ideological catch-all for reports and rumors of what is going on behind Russia's Iron Curtain. The other day I heard this detailed report that I am passing along only as the sort of dialectical gossip now circulating among comrades.

This rumor says that Romania's foremost woman Communist, Foreign Minister Ana Pauker, is about to lose her high place in the party and possibly her job in the Romanian government. She is charged with opposing the Kremlin policy of forcing exclusive trade with Russia, thus banning all commercial contracts with the West. Also, Ana Pauker is accused of having a large bank account in Switzerland, but thus far it is all rumors.

My informant says that no action on the Pauker case is expected for another three months. It's interesting to note that these rumors started to spread shortly after an unofficial "Little Cominform" meeting held when Europe's Communist bigwigs met during the funeral in Sofia of Georgi Dimitrov.

This is Bill Downs in Berlin. Now back to CBS in New York.