On this day in 1946, tragedy came to the minor league Spokane Indians. The team bus crashed, killing nine players and coaches as they traveled to Bremerton, Washington.
Travelling a winding mountain road at night can be a treacherous experience even in the best of weather. With sharp turns, the threat of a steep drop on the side of the road, and the wildlife that could run across the pass, those roads can be a dangerous place. Add in misty weather at dusk, and the worst could happen.
On this day in 1946, those were the weather conditions as the minor league Spokane Indians attempted to make their way to Bremerton, Washington. As the team bus was heading down the steep road, it began to slide. One tire went over the edge, and the bus ended up going over the cable guardrail. It rolled 350 feet down the incline, bursting into flames as the gas tank exploded.
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Eventually, the bus came to a stop. While several of the 15 members of the Indians were able to escape the bus, others were not so fortunate. Six players and coaches died at the scene, with three others succumbing to their injuries in the following days.
The tragedy shook the city of Spokane. The Indians were an important part of the town, to the point where the locals knew almost everything the team was doing. The accident changed the city, becoming a part of the identity. The accident is remembered to this day, with the Indians continuing to pay tribute to their fallen teammates.
The tragedy could have been worse but for one fateful call. During the final stop before the accident, Jack Lohrke was notified that he had been called up to San Diego. He left his former teammates behind as he eating, and was set to hitchhike back to Spokane. The accident happened a mere 15 minutes after he departed the bus, earning Lohrke the nickname “Lucky.”
That was not the only near death experience that Lohrke had in his life. During World War Two, he was drafted into the Army, seeing combat during the Battle of the Bulge. Twice during the ten days of fighting, his comrades on either side of him were killed. When he was discharged, Lohrke was bumped from his flight by a colonel. The airplane crashed seconds after refueling, killing all 20 people aboard.
On this day in 1946, the Spokane Indians were dealt a terrible blow, victims of a horrible tragedy when their team bus was involved in a fiery crash. Even today, that tragedy is still felt by the city of Spokane and the Indians franchise.