Lebanon Reporter

State News

November 2, 2013

1963 coliseum blast still shapes survivor's life

(Continued)

Janie sat between her parents. The seats were great, too. Sixth row — sixth row! When her mother and father sprung for something, they made sure to do it right.

But these sixth-row seats happened to be on the coliseum's southeastern corner. And on Halloween night in 1963, toward the end of the Holiday On Ice show, that was just about the worst place you could possibly be.

In a storage pit underneath their seats, a propane tank hissed like a tire swiftly losing air. A mist or maybe smoke rose from it.

Several coliseum employees were there. A manager realized something was wrong. He kicked the latched door open, and cried out a warning to his colleagues.

They shuffled out with him, except for one who wanted to see if he could shut off the tank's valve. He got maybe within 40 feet of it, the fog enveloping him.

With the Holiday On Ice finale set to begin, Janie turned and thanked her parents for bringing her.

Boom!

The force of the first blast pushed upward and outward, catapulting people, seats, concrete and steel into the air. It jarred loose a supporting wall. Part of the flooring caved, forming a crater 50 feet wide down to the storage pit area.

Many of the 4,327 spectators were now casualties. Some had been launched, landing on the ice or in the crater. Some had been crushed or struck by debris, mostly near the blast site but also as far away as the other side of the rink.

And some rushed in to help.

Boom!

A second blast, minutes later, created a fireball that rose as tall as the rafters.

Many of the unscathed filed out quickly, perhaps fearing there was more to come. Emergency personnel swarmed the arena, scrambling to keep pace with the scale of the task.

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