The Spokane Indians Bus Crash in 1946

While looking for some Seattle news coverage of the June 23, 1946, earthquake, magnitude 7.3, that happened in the Strait of Georgia, I happened by the story of the Spokane Indians bus crash on June 24, 1946, 2.9 miles west of Snoqualmie Pass on the east-west Highway 10 that preceded I-90. The team was headed to Bremerton to play seven games with the Bremerton Bluejackets starting on the 25th, but the crash killed eight players and manager Mel Cole. Six others were injured, including driver Glenn Berg (as he’s identified in the news account: apparently his name was actually Gus Berg).

The Seattle Times said “the bus crashed through a guard rail at about 7:30 o’clock, rolled 300 feet down a rocky embankment and burned. The fire did not burn out until after midnight. . . . The big bus sheared off heavy concrete guardrail posts strung with heavy cable for a distance of more than 100 feet before it rolled over the hill. . . . Dawn was breaking and a cold rain was falling as the first body was hauled up the trolley way [rigged up by patrolmen from the highway to convey casualties up to the highway.]

“The bus fire burned for about five hours, casting a flickering light on still forms strewn about on the ground. Only a huge boulder, a stump and a small area of flat ground kept the vehicle from plunging another 180 feet through a wooded area into the [Snoqualmie] River.”

Here are some quotes from the survivors. Levi McCormack, a 33-year-old Spokane outfielder, said: “I saw the headlight coming toward us on the wrong side as we curved downhill. The road was slippery. Our driver applied his brakes. We swerve across the road into the guard rail. We went through. We went down. I’ve never heard such hell. I don’t know why we didn’t smash the other driver. It might have been better.”

Ben Geraghty, 31, a second baseman, said: “I saw the lights coming. The car was on the wrong side. We either tried to miss it or skidded. I don’t know. I went out a window too quick to tell.” He added: “It doesn’t seem real to wake up in a hospital. It isn’t clear to me yet what happened. Everything went so fast.

“You know those aluminum frames around bus widows? I shot out as we rolled downhill and when I stopped rolling I was wearing a frame on my neck. I looked down at the bus, a hundred feet below. It was burning. I felt like hell.”

Peter Barisoff, a 20-year-old pitcher from Los Angeles, said: “I was lucky. So was Irv. I got him [Irvin Konopka] out. If I’d been hurt as bad as he was we both would have cooked in the fire.

“I was asleep in back of the bus when it happened. A lurch woke me up. I blinked at the lights scattering all over the highway. Then the bottom fell out from under us. I heard the damndest screaming and yelling. We were sinking miles an hour. It was like jumping off a 10-story building.

“I think we rolled as we fell, the other guys flew out the windows. I must have passed out going down because I came to hearing a small voice growing bigger. It was Konopka yelling.

“He cried, ‘Get me!  I’m in back of the bus! My back’s busted! Get me!’

“I shook my dizzy head and wormed back through the wreck for Irv. He’s terrible heavy, 225 or so. I dragged him out and pulled him another 25 yards and put him behind a rock to keep him safe. I expected the gas tank to explode.”

Some picture of the front page, players killed or surviving the crash, and the bus itself:

If you want to learn more, this post about the wreck is repetitious and not always clear, but it’s certainly thorough, as the man essentially went into microfilm archives and transcribed the full text of a handful of news stories about the wreck in its immediate aftermath. Or, read this look back on the wreck in 2006, from the Stockton Record.

Also, in the world beyond baseball, the Seattle Times front page for June 25, 1946 featured three different stories about the Office of Price Administration, the price-setting U.S. agency instituted during World War Two; the War Assets Administration sold a steel plant in Pennsylvania to U.S. Steel for $65 million; preparation were being made for a trial of accused Russian spy Nicolai G. Redin; and Australia proposed an “atomic-energy control” plan to the U.N.

Published in: on December 11, 2009 at 2:52 pm  Comments (3)  
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3 CommentsLeave a comment

  1. Interesting information. Some of these quotes are new to me. I did write a novel on the accident, fictionalizing the story, called “Until the End of the Ninth.” Thanks for putting together a summary. It was a great team. Eight of the nine who died had served in World War II in some capacity. So tragic. They had this way of winning in the ninth inning… part of the reason for the title of the book. Beth

  2. No comments or data regarding the other drive, the one who actually was at fault?

  3. I don’t think so; perhaps he didn’t even know he caused the crash, at least not until reading about it.

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