TWIN FALLS • Mrs. Clarence Smith knew the airplane was in trouble when she saw it, so she kept her eyes on its lights until it passed overhead.
That night in 1955, the Smith family was on its way from their home in Twin Falls to a Christmas party in Jerome. As they crossed the Perrine Memorial Bridge in their Chevrolet station wagon, they spotted the lights of a plane coming at them, barely 500 feet off the ground.
Above them, U.S. Air Force Lt. Clyde Seller was preparing to make an emergency landing on Highway 93.
Seller was flying a T33 Air Force jet from Williams Air Force Base in Arizona to Mountain Home when his instruments failed at 40,000 feet. Unable to see lights at the Twin Falls Municipal Airport, Seller looked for another place to land.
He circled his jet three times over Highway 93 north of Twin Falls before deciding to bring it down on the highway. The Smith family spotted the plane southbound on its third pass.
Seller turned and made a northbound landing on the two-lane highway north of the bridge. According to news reports, Seller flew the jet under high-powered electric lines before touching the ground.
The 100-mph landing would have been perfect, if it hadn’t been for the 40-mph station wagon in the road.
Mrs. Smith knew almost immediately what had hit them.
“There was a flash of light, an explosion like a bomb,” Mrs. Smith told the Times-News after the wreck. ”The car rocked violently but while things made by man were demolished, things made by God remained
Sellers tried to brake the plane. Smith — unaware of the aircraft behind him — wasn’t in a big hurry.
When a crash was imminent, Seller tried to get airborne again, but he clipped the top of the car with a wing as he took off. The car lost its roof and rear left door, and the plane lost a wing tank.
No one in the wreck suffered serious injuries.
The photos that accompany this story were taken by KLIX-TV (Channel 11) film director Vic Graybeal a few months after the station went on the air. The new television station — a sister station to KLIX radio — was the first in Twin Falls. The KLIX stations were split in 1957, when Utah businessman Abe Glasmann bought the pair, then sold off the radio station. The television station then became KMVT — for Magic Valley Television.
Mychel Matthews reports on agriculture and health care for the Times-News. The Hidden History feature runs every Thursday on magicvalley.com. If you have a question about something that may have historical significance, email Matthews at mmatthews@ magicvalley.com.