Off Block Island, Rhode Island
February 3, 1945
On February 3, 1945, a flight of five F6F-5N Hellcat navy fighter aircraft took off from Charlestown Auxiliary Naval Air Station in Charlestown, Rhode Island, for a night gunnery training mission. All aircraft were assigned to Night Fighter Squadron 52, (VFN-52), then based at Charlestown, R.I. Such training was necessary to prepare pilots for overseas duty in the Pacific Theatre of Operations.
Once airborne, the flight flew on a heading of 170 degrees until it reached a point over the Atlantic Ocean about five miles south of Block Island. The weather was clear but the night was very dark.
At 8:36 p.m., Ensign Jack Ragan Gross, piloting aircraft #71537, left formation and descended towards the water with the intention of dropping a flare that would serve as a target for the pilots to strafe with machinegun fire. Once the flair was dropped each pilot would take turns making “runs” at the “target”. However, as Ensign Gross was descending to drop the flare something went wrong and he crashed into the ocean. The flight leader saw the flare in the water, indicating it had been dropped successfully, but flames were seen on the water a few hundred feet away indicating that Ensign Gross had crashed. Several unsuccessful attempts were made to raise Ensign Gross by radio. A search and rescue operation was instituted but nothing was found.
Source: Norfolk Records – Card Index Files – AAR-0021, via Larry Webster, Aviation Historian, Quonset Air Museum.
This wasn’t the only loss suffered by the Gross family during World War II. On April 4, 1945, 2nd Lt. Robert Gustave Gross was lost on a training flight over the southern United States.