"Beware of Flash Floods - 5 Killed in 1978"
With the monsoon
rains firing up again during the past week (July 20-26, 1997), people
associated with White Sands Missile Range are reminded of an August
night in 1978 when five people died in a huge flash flood. The lesson
learned was to beware of the power of flowing water.
On Saturday, Aug. 19, 1978, a huge thunderstorm cell formed over and
around the Organ Mtns. Over a period of four to five hours this stormed
dumped a record 10 inches of rain on the area.
Water flowing off the slopes of the Organ Mtns. flooded all the
drainages on the east side. On the access road from U.S. Highway 70 to
the main post water quickly rose to flood the bridge in the arroyo
bottom just north of the main gate.
Air Force Capt. James Maret, Jr., his wife Gale, and their two young
children were returning to the post during the storm. When they tried
to drive over the bridge their car stalled.
Seeing that their car was beginning to float away, Private First Class
Marvin Owen, a military policeman, drove his pickup truck onto the
bridge to assist. Just as he got there a wall of water, described as
being about 10 feet high, washed over the bridge and swept both
vehicles down the arroyo.
All five people were killed in the flood. Owen's vehicle was found
nearly two miles down the arroyo.
In ceremonies held in 1979, the access road was renamed "Owen Road" and
a memorial plaque was erected on the bridge where the tragedy occurred.
In addition, Owen was posthumously awarded the Soldiers Medal, the
military's highest award for valor in peacetime.