C-47 Military Transport Crash at Billings, MT, December, 1945
April 19, 2021
In December of 1945, as America was celebrating the end of the most destructive conflict in the world, Billings, Montana was the site of a tragic accident that still looms large in the memory of the community.
A C-47 military transport full of servicemen returning from the war was attempting to land at the airfield in Billings (then called Billings Municipal Aiport). While the crew was from Minnesota, most of the men on board were returning to homes in Oregon, Washington, or Idaho. The transport was a charter operated by Northwest Airlines on behalf of the Army, and had 23 souls on board, including the crew.
Due to adverse weather conditions, missed the runway, approaching too high to land. They then made another attempt, but this time they were too low. They would be unable to make another approach; they hit the ground somewhere between Poly Drive and Rimrock Road, almost in the present-day location of the Rocky Mountain College. The crash was only discovered when the control tower, noting that the plane had disappeared from view and was no longer answering calls, climbed to the top of a higher vantage and saw the flaming wreckage.
Only four people survived: two of the passengers and two of the crew. One of the survivors reported that, in the moments before the crash, the plane "lurched" sickeningly.
This photo of the wreckage was taken at night, and the blizzard is still raging, as can be seen from the falling snow caught in the flash of the camera.
Today there is a marker in Veteran's Park which honors the victims and memorializes the event.
Billings has never forgotten the crash - the worst air disaster in the history of the city. We hope it stays that way. And we salute the poor soldiers that fought for their country and the world only to lose their lives in such an unfortunate freak accident. Theirs is a sacrifice we hope no one else ever has to make.