May 30, 1947
El Paso and Juarez were rocked Thursday night when a runaway German V-2 rocket fired from the White Sands Proving Ground in New Mexico crashed and exploded on top of a rocky knoll three and a half miles south of the Juarez business district.
The giant missile burst in a desolate area of jagged hill, gullies and bondock.
No one was injured.
Lt. Col. Harold R. Turner, White Sands commanding officer, said failure of the rocket’s German-made gyroscope caused it to swerve from its set northerly course.
He said there was an error in judgment on the part of the safety control department in not shutting off the rocket motors as soon as it was determined the missile had swerved off course.
The violent blast, which shook virtually every building in both El Paso and Juarez, startled citizens of the two cities, who swamped newspaper offices, police headquarters and radio stations with anxious telephone inquiries.
The missile, of the type which terrorized wartime England, landed about a half-mile south of Tepeyac Cemetery.
CRATER 50 FEET
WIDE, 24 FEET DEEP
The terrific impact of the rocket, which contained only telemetering equipment, scooped out a perfectly rounded crater, about 50 feet in diameter and 24 feet deep. Only a few scraps of metal were around the crater when nearby residents reached the scene.
Army authorities form White Sands and Fort Bliss rushed to the spot as soon as they learned of the rocket’s fall and expressed to Mexican officials their regret at the rocket falling on Mexican soil.
Colonel Turner said the missile was fired at 7:30 p.m. Thursday. He said the rocket reached an altitude of 40 miles and was in flight five minutes.
He said the V-2 was being used to test certain component parts in American-made rockets.
Colonel Turner explained that the explosion actually was concussion caused by the force of the four and a half ton V-2 ramming the earth at 12 miles per minute.
The alcohol and liquid oxygen with which the rocket is fueled would only burn and would not explode, the colonel explained.
Mexican soldiers were ordered in the rater to mount guard. They were stationed on the rim, aiding American Military policemen to keep sight-seers and souvenir hunters from the area.
The site is half a mile from Buena Vista airport, where 13 planes were shaken by the blast, and a mile and a half from an oil plant. Many Juarez citizens at first believed the oil plant had exploded.
Wild rumors circulated in El Paso before cause of the blast was ascertained. One man said a “box car full of dynamite” had exploded in South El Paso, devastating the section, while another was certain “an underground gasoline storage dump” had blown up.
Many El Pasoans spotted the rocket’s vapor trail after the missile was fired at White Sands, about 500 airline miles north of El Paso, and a few minutes later heard a terrific explosion and smoke rising in the direction of Juarez.
Lt. Col. John Carroll, former R.O.T.C. commander of El Paso schools was just leaving Fort Bliss when he saw both the vapor trail and the blast.
SAW ROCKET FLIGHT,
Morris J. Boretz, who was en route to Southwestern General Hospital to visit his daughter, said he was at Brown street and Rim Road when he saw the rocket leaving White Sands and saw the crash south of the Rio Grand, looking like a miniature atomic bomb explosion.
Others who saw the spectacle were R.E. Nelson, 5801 Auburn street; Frank Moltans of the Times circulation staff; Wencis Tovar, 3703 Pera Street; Mrs. S.C. Cox, 3660 Douglas Street.
Lt. Col. George F. Pindar, commanding officer, First Guided Missile Battalion, White Sands, made the first official investigation into the rocket crash. He sped to the scene at about 8 p.m.under orders of Major Gen. John L. Homer, Fort Bliss commander.
Colonel Pindar was in El Paso at the time of the firing. He said he watched the rocket rise with a long tail of flame. Then the rocket appeared to hesitate and almost fade from view. Colonel Pindar looked away for a moment and when he next looked at the rocket it was moving overhead at a high rate of speed, traveling south toward El Paso. A moment later he heard the explosion that rocked the city.
Meanwhile Thursday night an emergency squad of eight Fort Bliss soldiers were searching the western slope of Mount Franklin for evidence of a second explosion reported seen by General Homer.
He told Colonel Pindar that he Saw a smaller explosion just prior to the Juarez blast several miles over the crest of Mount Franklin on the west side. Colonel Pindar said it was possible that a portion of the rocket had sheared off and dropped on Mont Franklin.
SHOCK FELT IN ANTHONY, FABENS
Detective W.D. White of El Paso Police Department, another eyewitness to the explosion, was at the corner of Mesa Avenue and Ninth Street looking in the direction of Juarez when the rocket landed.
“Flames shot into the air like a mushroom,” White said. “It looked just like a haystack on fire.”
Victor Robinson, 3907 Fort Boulevard said, “I saw the rocket go right over our house. It looked like it was going to land in the middle of town.”
Three windows were broken in Fire Chief Joe Boone’s office by the concussion. An electric clock in the Sheriff’s was stopped at exactly 7:32 p.m. by the shock.
Sheriff’s Deputy William Stoddard reported that the shock was felt as far west as Anthon, N.M. and south to Fabens.