Heroic survival efforts earned Oklahoma City man the Airman's Medal

Thomas D. Smith III was one of 10 people on a C47 transport plane returning from assignment in Turkey when the plane broke apart flying over Greece.
by Ed Godfrey Published: July 7, 2013

Thomas D. Smith III was awarded the Airman's Medal for extraordinary heroism after a 1966 airplane explosion.

Smith was one of 10 people on a C47 transport plane returning from assignment in Turkey when the plane broke apart flying over Greece.

“I was sitting in the midsection of the plane and the next thing I knew I was looking at a mountain through my feet,” Smith said.

Then Capt. Smith was blown from the plane still attached to his seat. He kicked free of the seat and began tumbling.

He survived the 5,000 feet free fall by landing in a deep snow bank. Unconscious for two hours, when Smith awoke, he could see the plane wreckage a quarter of a mile away.

With a broken back, Smith crawled back to the plane and pulled survivors into the tail section for shelter. Smith found a bundle of parachutes on the plane and used them as blankets to try and keep the survivors warm.

“It took about four parachutes to fluff them up for each one,” Smith said. “I spent basically the next three days fluffing parachutes.”

Dense fog kept rescue planes from finding the wreckage. It became obvious to Smith that they were not going to be seen from the air at their present location with the plane covered in snow.

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by Ed Godfrey
Reporter Sr.
Ed Godfrey was born in Muskogee and raised in Stigler. He has worked at The Oklahoman for 25 years. During that time, he has worked a myriad of beats for The Oklahoman including both the federal and county courthouse in Oklahoma City for more...
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