September 14, 2018 11:36 AM
Loren Kahl's memories of Sept. 16, 1958, remain frightening, even 60 years later.
But in the moment, the then-15-year-old didn't have enough time to be afraid.
One minute, he was helping his father in the yard of their farmhouse in what is now Inver Grove Heights. And in the next, he'd been engulfed by a fireball as the farm went up in flames around him.
A B52 bomber on a flight originating in Limestone, Maine, crashed into the Kahl's farm, killing seven of the eight crew members aboard and setting the surrounding area ablaze.
"8:17 p.m.," remembers Kahl, now 75. "I can still recall the exact time."
He continued, "Where we lived was sort of the flyway into what was then Wold-Chamberlain Field (now better known as Minneapolis-St. Paul International Airport). I was out in the yard with my Dad and I could hear the jet getting louder and louder. All of a sudden, the yard light went out and I heard this huge boom."
He added, "I remember my Dad telling me to get to the house. I turned around and tried to run toward it. It was a calm night with no breeze, and we had an old boxelder tree in the yard. I caught a glimpse of it, then I saw this fireball coming straight at me. It knocked me right off my feet."
Miraculously, though there were injuries, all eight members of the Kahl family residing on the farm, located south of Highway 218 and east of Highway 55 in what was then Inver Township, survived.
"My Dad suffered the worst burns," Kahl said. "He was in the hospital for six weeks. I was in the hospital for three. My grandfather, who was 81 at the time, was probably hurt third-worst. He was in the hospital for about a week afterward."
"My Mom and my four sisters had some cuts and burns, but they were OK," he said.
Kahl's mother Anna, his sisters and his grandfather were all inside the house at the time of the crash.
"I was sitting by a window, then I heard something like a jet," Anna Kahl told KSTP afterward. "Then I saw the glass start to fall and plaster, so I told the rest of the children to get down on the floor.
"Then some more came so I went out (of the house). I got out the door and the rest followed me. When I got outside, everything was fire."
Emagene Merkle, one of the family's daughters, remembers the chaos inside the house.
"I was sitting at the kitchen table doing my homework and it was dark outside," she said. "All of a sudden, I saw a flash of light. I thought it was lightning."
"Then the refrigerator fell over," she said. "The stove fell over. My Dad came in the house hollering at us all to get out, and he went upstairs to get my grandfather. It all happened really quickly."
A neighbor soon arrived to load up the family in a pickup truck and take them to a hospital in West St. Paul. Loren Kahl said the horses were in the pasture at the time, but 12 to 14 cows could not make it out of the barn and had to be shot by authorities arriving on the scene.
"The only reason any of us are alive is that it was September and the barn was full of hay," he said. "That absorbed parts of the plane. All the buildings were gone - the house, the barn, a garage, a milk house and a storage shed. We ended up just rebuilding the house and garage and that was it."
It was the height of the Cold War, and Kahl said the flight was making navigational runs over several cities, including the Twin Cities, getting scored on radar.
The lone survivor - co-pilot Capt. Jack D. Craft - parachuted to safety. Strangely, the crash occurred just one day before a part from another military jet fell from the sky to hit a child in Minneapolis.
"I can't recall the events which led up to the accident, or just what happened," Craft told the Minneapolis Tribune days later. "I was in the co-pilot's position, copying down information. Then suddenly, I was suspended in the air in a parachute."
Kahl said his father went on to live until just shy of his 90th birthday. His mother died at the age of 102 in 2015.
All four of his sisters are still alive today.
"I certainly feel awfully fortunate," he said. "I was only 15 at the time. But looking back on it, we were extremely lucky. Had that barn not been full of hay, none of us would probably be here to tell the tale. That's really what saved us."
Yet the memories of that night linger, even all these years later.
"I live in Topeka (Kansas) now, and there's a field nearby where they train with jet fighters," Merkle said. "Every time I hear them flying low, I still cringe. You don't shake memories of something like that."
Updated: September 14, 2018 11:36 AM
Created: September 13, 2018 11:36 AM
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