The Disappearance Of Captain Mansell R. James

The Disappearance of Captain Mansell R. James

By Jim Ignasher

     One of New England’s most intriguing aviation mysteries relates to the unexplained disappearance of 25-year-old Royal Air Force Captain Mansell R. James, who vanished without a trace in the spring of 1919. James was a native of Ontario, Canada, who’d served overseas with the R.A. F. during World War I downing eleven enemy aircraft. He’d come to the United States to enter a contest sponsored by the Boston Globe newspaper for the fastest flight-time between Atlantic City, New Jersey, and Boston, Massachusetts. To the winner would go a trophy and cash prize of one-thousand dollars.

     On May 28, 1919, James made a flight from Atlantic City to Boston in a Sopwith Camel biplane, the same type of aircraft he’d flown in combat during the war. He landed in Boston having flown at an average speed of 115 miles per hour, successfully eclipsing the fastest speed to date of 90 miles per hour. To this, the Boston Globe reported in part, “This is one of the fastest flights ever made in this country and will in all probability capture the Globe Trophy and cash prize of $1,000.” 

     When it came time to leave Boston, James reportedly flew to nearby Saugus, Massachusetts, to have the air ballast tank on his airplane refilled.  Prior to leaving Saugus it was discovered that the compass of his aircraft wasn’t working properly, but James was an experienced airman, and intended to navigate by following the railroad tracks of the New York, New Haven & Hartford Railroad towards Atlantic City.      

     He left Saugus about 6:00 p.m., but while passing over Boston he inadvertently began following tracks belonging to the Boston & Albany Railroad.  These tracks led him in the wrong direction, leading him across central and western Massachusetts.  At about 7:30 p.m.  he landed in the small town of Tyringham, Massachusetts.  There he spent the night with the intention of resuming his trip in the morning.

     Newspaper accounts of what happened next vary slightly, but the basic facts are this; on the morning of May 29, 1919, Captain James took off from Tyringham, Massachusetts, bound for Mitchell Field on Long Island, New York, where he intended to refuel.  (Some news reports state he left from the town of Lee, Massachusetts, a town that borders Tyringham.) From Mitchell Field James was expected to continue on to Atlantic City.

    In leaving Tyringham, James reportedly stated he intended to follow the Housatonic River, which flows southward through Massachusetts and Connecticut all the way to Long Island Sound.  From there he intended to cross the Sound to Long Island. (Other reports say he intended to follow railroad tracks.) When he failed to appear at Mitchell Filed it was initially assumed that he’d changed his plans and flew to Toronto, Canada, instead.  However, inquiries from Mitchell Field officials proved this not to be the case.

     A search was begun, but it was like looking for the proverbial needle in a haystack. It was almost June, and the trees were in full foliage thus making it difficult if not impossible to spot a downed airplane. Furthermore, the New England countryside in 1919 was very rural, with literally thousands of square miles of forests, rivers, and lakes, capable of easily swallowing a small airplane.

     At least five military aircraft from Mitchell Field were brought in for the search, and in some areas ground volunteers probed the woodlands, but it was all mostly guesswork, for there were many possibilities. Captain James could have gotten lost or disoriented in low level clouds, and with an inoperable compass flown miles off his intended course. He could have gone down in the Housatonic River, flown into a thickly wooded hillside, or even fallen into Long Island Sound.    

     With no immediate leads, authorities appealed to the public for information, and possible sightings of James’s plane began to trickle in. One early report had James over the town of Winchester, Connecticut.  Another report held that an airplane, possibly in distress, had been heard over West Cornwall, Connecticut. Still others came forth with sightings that ranged from the Mt. Riga area of Salisbury, to Windham, to Stratford, as well as the town of Millerton, in upstate New York. Unfortunately the reports lacked confirmation that it was actually James’s airplane that had been sighted, and investigators had to keep in mind that Captain James’s airplane wasn’t the only one in the sky at the time of his disappearance.

   On June 7th it was reported that one of the military aircraft taking part in the search suffered engine failure and crash-landed in the town of Newburgh, New York. By this point James had been missing six days and since he wasn’t known to have taken any food or water with him, hopes that he may still be alive, but injured, began to fade. It was assumed that if or when James was found, it would likely be by accident.        

     There were no significant developments in the case until two months later when a hiker from Lakeville, Connecticut, reported that he may have discovered the wreck of James’s airplane in a valley between Mt. Riga and Bear and Monument mountains. The man reported that on July 31st he’d been berry picking on Mt. Riga about three miles in from the nearest road, when he came upon a foul odor wafting in the air. From a rocky ledge, he looked down and saw what may or may not have been the remains of an airplane; he couldn’t be sure due to the distance involved.  

     The man returned to the area the following day with his nephew, but they were unable to locate the place from which he’d made his observation. Further expeditions were carried out, and in one instance a reporter from the Hartford Courant newspaper went along, but no sign of the missing aircraft was found.

     On October 2, 1919, a small but intriguing news item appeared in the Norwich Bulletin, a now defunct Connecticut newspaper that read as follows: “A badly mutilated body was washed ashore in Hempstead Bay, L.I. A wrist watch thought to be that of Capt. Mansell R. James, a lost British aviator, was the only clew to identification.” (The word “clew” was their spelling.)

Norwich Bulletin, October 2, 1919

     Could this have been the body of Mansell James four months after his disappearance, or that of some other unfortunate person who happened to wear a similar watch?  Unfortunately contemporary research revealed that there doesn’t appear to be any further information available concerning this incident.

     Several Long Island libraries with historic newspaper microfilm collections were contacted via telephone, but none were able to locate any articles in local papers about this incident.  However, it should be noted that some collections were incomplete.

    Furthermore, the Norwich Bulletin didn’t name the town where the body allegedly washed ashore.  Hempstead Bay is a large body of water located on the north shore of Long Island and faces out to Long Island Sound.  It’s bordered by four separate municipalities along its shoreline: Sands Point, North Hempstead, Glen Cove, and Oyster Bay.  Contacting town halls revealed that none of these municipalities seem to have any vital statistic record of an unidentified body being recovered from the water during the time frame of late September to early October of 1919.  However, it should be noted that one stated their death records only go back as far as 1920.

    Therefore, as of this writing, the mention of the body adds yet another page to this unsolved mystery. 

   In the spring of 1921, some fishing boats began snagging their nets on “something” lying on the bed of the Hudson River about three miles north of Poughkeepsie, New York. In mid-June a group of fishermen got together with their boats and attempted to raise whatever it was and remove if from the river. Unfortunately the attempt was unsuccessful, for the ropes reportedly broke just as the object was coming to the surface. However, those who were able to get a brief glimpse of the object claimed it was an airplane. On June 22ed, the New York Tribune reported in part, “A vain attempt of the fishermen to raise it resulted in a partial view of the object and the report was that it is an airplane.” Some of the ropes that had been attached to the object reportedly had green paint coloring on them, and it was noted that James’s plane had been painted green on its underside.

     On June 25th a second attempt to raise the object was undertaken, and this time it was successfully brought to the surface. Instead of an airplane, the object was positively identified as a huge log. The alleged green paint was attributed to algae on the log.

     Four-and-a-half-years later interest in the disappearance was renewed when in December of 1925 a hunter reported finding a wrecked airplane in the woods of Tyringham, Massachusetts, the area from which Captain James began his ill fated trip. Unfortunately the hunter was from New York, and unfamiliar with the area, and was unable to lead searchers back to his discovery.  

   Then on May 19, 1927, the U.S. Coast Guard boat 290 was involved in a search for the missing French aircraft, White Bird, when the crew recovered an aircraft wing found floating in Fort Pond Bay near Montauk Point on the southern tip of Long Island. The wing bore no markings and had evidently been in the water for a long time. After examination, authorities didn’t believe it to be related to the missing French airplane, but some raised the possibility of it being connected with Capt. James’s disappearance, however this was never established.

     The disappearance of Captain James eventually faded into obscurity, but the mystery of what happened to him still remains.  

Sources:

Boston Daily Globe, “Capt. James Loses Way Lands In Tryingham”, May 29, 1919, page 1

Boston Daily Globe, “Briton Makes Remarkable Flight For Globe Trophy”, May 29, 1919.

New York Times, “Seek British Ace Missing In Flight”, June 2, 1919

New York Times, “Air Search For James”, June 3, 1919

The Barre Daily Times, (Vermont), “Missing Airman Being Sought”, June 3, 1919

Hartford Courant, (Conn.), “To Search West Cornwall Woods For Lost Airman”, June 3, 1919

Hartford Courant, “Airman Here Seeking Missing Canadian Ace, Believes He Is Dead”, June 4, 1919

Hartford Courant, “No Trace Yet Of Missing Aviator”, June 4, 1919

New York Times, “Five Army Planes Hunt Lost Aviator”, June 4, 1919

Hartford Courant, “Find No Trace Of Missing Ace”, June 5, 1919

The Bennington Evening Banner, (Vermont), “Hope Of Finding Captain James”, June 5, 1919

New York Times, “Seek Missing Airman In Wooded Wilderness”, June 5, 1919

Hartford Courant, “Believe James Fell Into Sound”, June 6, 1919

Harrisburg Telegraph, (Penn.), “Stunt Aviator To Hunt James”, June 6, 1919

The Washington Herald, (Washington D.C.), “Fliers Abandon Hunt For Lost Brisitsh Ace”, June 6, 1919

The Bridgeport Times And Evening Farmer, (Conn.), no headline – news item of W. C. Magune sighting James’s plane over Stratford, Conn.

Hartford Courant, “James Traced Close To Sound”, June 7, 1919

Norwich Bulletin, (Conn.), “Tracing Course Of Missing Aviator James”, June 7, 1919

The Evening World, (N.Y.), “Pulitzer Trophy Draws Crowds”, June 10, 1919

Hartford Courant, “Believe British Ace Gone Two Months Lies Dead In Mt. Riga Gully”, August 6, 1919

The Sun (New York),”Thinks He Saw Aero Of Lost Capt. James”, August 6, 1919

The Bennington Evening Farmer, (Vermont), “Saw Wrecked Airplane”, August 7, 1919

Hartford Courant, (Conn.) “No Hope Held Out Of Finding Aviator’s Body”, August 9, 1919

New York Tribune, “Obstruction In Hudson May Be British Plane”, June 22, 1921

New York Times, “Wreckage In Hudson May Be Lost Plane”, June 22, 1921

New York Tribune, “Captain James’s Plane Believed Found In River”, June 23, 1921

Norwich Bulletin, (Conn.) “Fishermen Unable To Raise Hudson Obstruction”, June 23, 1921

Hartford Courant, (Conn.) “Sunken Object In Hudson River Is Not Airplane”, June 26, 1921

Ottawa Citizen,(Canada), “Search Tyringham Woods For Plane”, December 17, 1925, page 5

Buffalo Courier, (N.Y.), “Find No Trace Of Airplane Reported Wrecked In Woods”, December 18, 1925

The Meriden Daily Journal, (Conn.), “Missing Plane Wing Claimed”, June 7, 1927, page 3

Canadian War Project, www.canadianwarproject.com

 

 

Atlantic Ocean – December 23, 1943

Atlantic Ocean – December 23, 1943

 

F6F Hellcat
U.S. Navy Photo

     On December 23, 1943, Ensign Curtis L. Johnson was piloting an F6F-3 Hellcat aircraft, (#65933), off the coast of Westerly, Rhode Island, on a night training flight when his airplane developed engine trouble.  After reporting his situation, he was ordered to return to shore, and was following another aircraft in that direction when he evidently crashed into the sea and was killed.   The crash was not observed by the pilot of the other plane, but according to the navy accident report, a “civilian reported seeing a plane crash into (the) water but wreckage (was) never found.”  

     According to the navy accident report, Ensign Johnson was assigned to VF-51. 

     Source:

     U.S. Navy Accident Report #44-10170

 

Off Block Island, R.I. – December 30, 1943

Off Block Island, Rhode Island – December 30, 1943

 

U.S. Navy F6F Hellcat
U.S. Navy photo

     On the night of December 30, 1943, a flight of F6F-3 Hellcat aircraft assigned to VF(n)-76, took off from Quonset Point Naval Air Station for a night training flight.  The night was clear, but there was no moon.

     One of the aircraft, (Bu. No. 65930), piloted by Ensign Waldo E. Neuburg, was assigned to orbit the northern end of Block Island, which lies three miles off shore from Rhode Island.  About thirty minutes into the flight, Neuburg’s aircraft began having engine trouble.  He notified the flight leader, who advised him to return to Quonset Point.  Neuburg  put the plane into a climb and headed for shore, but a short time later radioed that he wasn’t going to make it and that he was bailing out.  Fifteen seconds later his aircraft disappeared from the Jamestown (R.I.) radar station’s tracking scope somewhere NNE of Block Island.   A search and rescue operation was instituted, but no trace of Ensign Neuburg or his airplane was ever found. 

     Source:

      U.S. Navy Accident report #44-10567

Mystery Aircraft Over New England – 1917

Mystery Aircraft Over New England – 1917

     The following newspaper articles relate to some unidentified aircraft (Airplanes) reportedly seen at night by residents of Maine, Vermont, and New Hampshire during March and April of 1917, a time when World War I was being waged in Europe, and foreign submarines were known to be prowling the waters off New England.  It’s unknown if the pilot(s) of these airplanes were ever identified.    

    It was initially assumed that the reported sightings were a mistake, for navigating an airplane at night between the hills, mountains, and valleys of northern New England was considered difficult if not impossible for even the best of pilots.  Besides dealing with unpredictable air currents, there was always the chance of blindly flying into the side of a mountain.

     The following newspaper story appeared in The Brattleboro Daily Reformer, (Brattleboro, VT), on March 24, 1917.  The initial sighting of the aircraft that reportedly passed over West Dummerston, Vermont, occurred two days earlier on Thursday, March 22.   At the time the article was written, the United States had not yet entered the war. 

MYSTERY STILL LACKS SOLUTION

Sound Thought To Have Been Made By Airplane Also heard Here

Mentioned To Wife By Esteyville Man

     George Houghton was in woodshed when something that sounded like airplane passed overhead – not likely that it was such a machine.

     Whatever it was that disturbed residents of West Dummerston Thursday night and gave them the idea that one or more airplanes were circling about the town was heard by George Houghton, a resident of Estyville, who reported to his wife as he entered the house from the woodshed that he had heard in the air what he believed was the noise of an airplane engine.  He saw no light and said nothing about the matter publicly until after the reports from West Dummerston were published in The Reformer yesterday.

     In spite of the insistence of those who were attracted by the strange noise and who saw the moving lights that they must have been airplanes, the probabilities are very strongly to the contrary.

     A. G. Thurber of West Dummerston said that one light which he watched for some time resembled an arc light and that it moved up rapidly and then appeared to maintain a level.  he said that it was apparently a long distance away, but was moving rapidly, he judged.  The other two lights were smaller and at different points of the compass and were red.  He heard no noise, but was indoors all the time.

     Airplanes, to maintain themselves in the air, require a speed of from 30 to 40 miles an hour and to mount higher the pilot finds it necessary to describe great circles.  While, according to Mr. Thurber, one of the lights might have been making the required speed, there seems to be no one who considered that the light was moving in great circles as it rose higher and higher.

     If it were to be conceded that one or more airplanes were in flight in this locality Thursday night there are men in the United States who are better airmen than the government experts ever suspected.  Since the European war developed, almost overnight wonderful improvements have been made in the construction of heavier-than-air machines, and since hundreds of pilots now drive machines on long raids at night there are very few, if any, who are able to manipulate machines at night low in the treacherous air currents to be found among the hills and valleys of Vermont.

     An airplane requires considerable ground from which to get started in its flight.  The pilot also requires a fair sized space , reasonably level and free from obstructions, upon which to alight and it is essential that he see where he is going when making a landing.  Pilots who make night flights in airplanes are guided to their landing places by a system of illumination prepared in advance and understood by the pilot.

     The probability of such a landing place being located anywhere within flying range of West Dummerston or Brattleboro is very remote.  If there is such, there is no need for the Vermont Aero Club to seek a landing place in the neighborhood of Brattleboro.  It has been proposed by the club, in the interests of aviation, to select numerous landing places throughout the state and have them designated so that pilots of the future would know where they might land.

     Meanwhile the mysterious noise in the air and the lights seen by several are mysteries still.  if not airplanes, what?  If airplanes, by whom operated, where from, and what for? 

*********

     The United States officially entered World War I on April 6, 1917. 

     On April 13, an unidentified airplane was sighted over the Portsmouth, New Hampshire, area, and fired upon by national guardsmen.  Portsmouth is about 100 miles to the east of West Dummerston, Vermont.  It is unknown if the West Dummerston and Portsmouth sightings were related.    

     The following newspaper article appeared in The Brattleboro Daily Reformer on April 13, 1917.  

MYSTERY ABOUT THIS AIRPLANE

Flew Close To Portsmouth Navy Yard And Was Fired At By National Guardsmen.

     Portsmouth, N.H., April 13 – National guardsmen stationed on the bridge between this city and Kittery, Me., early today fired several shots at an airplane which came in from the harbor and flew across the bridge.

     The airplane, evidently not hit, proceeded up the Piscataqua River and disappeared.  Officials at the navy yard were notified.  They said that no airplane had left the yard or any naval vessel stationed there. 

*********

     The following newspaper story appeared in The Barre Daily Times, (Barre, VT.), on April 18, 1917.  It referred to another sighting over the Piscataqua River which occurred on Monday, April 15th.  

NAVY CAPTAIN HUNTS STRANGE AEROPLANE

Mysterious Aircraft Seen Near Portsmouth Navy Yard – Sought In Mountains.

     Boston, April 18 – A Mysterious aeroplane was sighted over the Boston & Maine railroad bridge across the Piscataqua by Massachusetts National Guardsmen Monday night.   Capt. W. L. Howard, Commandant of the Portsmouth Navy Yard, sent a telephone message to Capt. William R. Bush , commandant of the Charlestown Navy Yard, yesterday, and the latter issued the following statement on the report:  

     “Commanding officer of the 6th Massachusetts National Guard , detailed to watch the Boston & Maine railroad bridge over the Piscataqua River, reports that the sentry on watch at 11:20 p.m. last night distinctly saw an aeroplane coming, to which he called the attention to the other sentries on the bridge, and the four of them watched the aeroplane for five minutes, circling to the northward of the bridge.  It made no attempt to come over the bridge, but the four men are positive that they saw the aeroplane in the manner mentioned.

     The commandant thinks that there is something in this aeroplane business and thinks it must have a base in the mountains to the north of Portsmouth.

     The sheriff of Rochester, N. H., has sworn in a squad of men and they are circling the mountains in the district.  The commandant has taken it up with the press associations and asked their co-operation in getting information.” 

     *********    

     The following newspaper article appeared in The Brattleboro Daily Reformer, April 19, 1917. 

ANOTHER FLIGHT OVER PORTSMOUTH

Naval Authorities Renewing Search Today For Mysterious Airplane

May Have Base In White Mountains

Commandant Of The Navy Yard Has Called On The Civil Authorities To Co-operate In Effort To Locate The Aviator

     Portsmouth, N.H., April 19 – Naval authorities renewed the search today for a mysterious airplane whose night prowling over many parts of new Hampshire has been reported recently by citizens and soldiers, in view of the reports that another flight was made over this city last night.

     Messages stating an aviator had sailed over York Beach, Me., and Hampton, reached the navy yard shortly after telephone calls were received from persons here who asserted that they distinctly observed the craft in the vicinity of the yard.

      No government airplane of any description has been operated hereabouts according to naval officers, who frankly admitted that they could not account for the positive statement by members of the National Guard that they had fired on a machine over the city. 

     Capt. William Howard, commandant of the yard, has requested the civil authorities to co-operate with the government in its effort to locate the aviator and learn something regarding reports that he had been operating from a secret base in the White Mountains.

*********    

 

Four P-47 Thunderbolts Lost February 11, 1943

Four P-47 Thunderbolts Lost February 11, 1943

Cranston, R.I., Narragansett Bay, & Atlantic Ocean

        

P-47B Thunderbolt
U.S. Air Force Photo

     On the morning of February 11, 1943, a flight of four P-47B Thunderbolts took off from Hillsgrove Army Air Field in Warwick, Rhode Island, for what was to be a routine half-hour flight to Trumbull Field in Groton, Connecticut. None of them ever arrived at their destination.

     Conditions were foggy that morning, with a cloud ceiling of only 900 feet. Once airborne the pilots would have to rely on their instruments to get them where they were going.

     The flight leader was 1st Lieutenant Gene F. Drake. The other three pilots, all second lieutenants, were Raymond D. Burke, Robert F. Meyer, and John Pavlovic. All were assigned to the 21st Fighter Squadron of the 352nd Fighter Group. The 352nd was a newly formed unit then based at Trumbull Field.

   The flight took off at 10:15 a.m. with Lieutenant Drake flying aircraft #41-5922, Lieutenant Burke, #41-5943, Lieutenant Mayer, #41-5940, and Lieutenant Pavlovic, #41-5944.

     Witnesses later reported that the formation circled the airfield three times, but by the third pass one of the planes had disappeared. The remaining three P-47s were last seen headed in a southerly direction.   

“X” marks the approximate location in Cranston, R.I., where Lt. Meyer crashed Feb. 11, 1943

     The missing plane was piloted by Lieutenant Mayer. How he became separated for the group is unclear, but just minutes after take-off he crashed on some railroad tracks in the city of Cranston, Rhode Island, which borders Warwick to the north. Witnesses stated the right wing of Lt. Mayer’s aircraft struck a boxcar parked on a siding which caused it to crash and burn. Lt. Mayer was likely killed instantly. The site of the crash was located just south of Park Avenue, about four miles from Hillsgrove Field.

     Meanwhile, the other three P-47 pilots were heading southeast in zero visibility towards Jamestown and Newport instead of southwest towards Connecticut.  Shortly before 11:00 a.m. Lieutenant Raymond Burke crashed in the waters of Narragansett Bay between Jamestown and Newport on the eastern side of the island.  (For those unaware, the town of Jamestown is located on Conanicut Island, situated in the middle of Narragansett Bay.)  A short time later, one of the other P-47s crashed on the western side of the island, just off shore from Fort Getty, where the 243rd Coast Artillery was stationed.

     One serviceman who was stationed at Fort Getty was 2nd Lieutenant Roland D. Appleton who reported hearing a low flying aircraft pass over his duty station and then a loud crash out over the water a short distance from shore. Several enlisted men also reported hearing the same, but due to heavy fog nothing had been observed. However, within a few minutes the scent of gasoline wafted to shore confirming what they all suspected.

     In his official statement to investigators, Lieutenant Appleton later wrote, “I immediately called for a boat from the Fort Getty dock to go out searching. I called the Fort Wetherill dock to send a boat out and was informed that the USAMP Hunt would be sent at once to the area. In addition a Coast Guard boat was sent to assist in the search. Seaward Defense Station and the Adjutant, 243d Coast Artillery (HD), were notified.”

     By this point, the military was dealing with two downed aircraft, one on either side of the island.  

     Lieutenant Appleton’s statement continued, “Within 10 or 15 minutes the fog lifted and I searched the area with field glasses but did not discover any signs of the plane. A report was received that an oil or gas slick was sighted about 500 yards off shore and that the gas odor was still strong. The shore patrol continued searching.

     It is believed by the undersigned that the plane crashed and sank within a very few minutes. Approximately an hour and a half after the crash a black canvas bag about 15 inches long filled with cotton was picked up on shore. The center of the cotton was dry which indicated to me that it had been in the water but a short time. Other articles picked up on shore included a piece of leather possibly from an earphone, four rubber pieces of peculiar design, a handkerchief with numbers on it.

     The circumstances of the crash and the sounds heard at the time would indicate that the plane exploded just prior to or at the instant of crash.”

     Unfortunately, the numbers on the handkerchief were not recorded in the investigation report.  

     One of the officers in charge of the search detail along the shoreline at Fort Getty was Captain Stanley W. Smith. In his official statement to investigators he wrote; “At 1700 I went down to the beach again to investigate a stick-like object projecting out of the water approximately 50 yards off-shore. The visibility was poor. It was projecting about two feet above the surface of the water and appeared to be a stick.   It was impossible to distinguish any color on it or to tell just what it was without going out in a boat to see the object.”  

     Another officer who assisted in the Fort Getty search was Captain George E. Blicker. In his official statement he wrote, “Captain Smith immediately contacted me and together with a corporal and six men went down to investigate the accident. There was a dense fog that was beginning to lift about this time. Visibility was poor, but noticeable about 500 yards off shore was a slick approximately 50 yards in diameter with vapor fumes rising. The slick spread quickly and then disintegrated, giving off a strong gas odor in the air.”

     The following day, February 12th, The Newport Daily News reported that the body of Lieutenant Raymond Burke had been recovered from the bay between Jamestown and Newport by a navy picket boat and taken to Newport Hospital.

     On February 13th, a small news item appeared in The Woonsocket Call concerning the other plane that had crashed off Fort Getty. It reported that the unidentified P-47 had been located in 58 feet of water, but that the pilot was still unaccounted for.  

      The unidentified plane was marked with a buoy and a salvage boat was sent to attempt a recovery, however, bad weather and floating ice prevented this from happening. Unfortunately, the aircraft and its pilot were never identified in either newspaper accounts, or the official investigation report, nor does it appear that the pilot or the aircraft were ever recovered. Therefore, it has never been determined if this aircraft was the one flown by Lt. Pavlovic, or Lt. Burke.

   The fate of the fourth P-47 of this flight has never been determined, for the pilot and his aircraft were never seen or head from again. Presumably, the pilot continued on a southeasterly course and flew out to sea.

     1st Lieutenant Gene Frederick Drake, (Ser. # O-430925), was from Wilmette, Illinois,  born August 3, 1920.  He enlisted in the Air Corps in March 17, 1941, (Some sources state February, 1941), about ten months before the United States entered World War II. 

     From January to November of 1942, he served in Australia flying combat missions against the Japanese.  On his 22nd birthday, (Aug. 3, 1942), he was  flying a patrol mission when he and his fellow fighter pilots spotted 27 enemy bombers flying in formation approximately 2,00o feet below.  

      One newspaper described what took place in Lt. Drakes own words. “We flew into them and I shot up the first bomber.  I saw him stagger, burst into flames, and then go down.  I headed for another bomber but heard bullets going through my own crate.  Suddenly a solid sheet of oil came over my windshield and the cockpit was full of fumes.  I saw two little zeroes (Japanese fighting planes) sitting on my tail and it looked like time for me to leave.”   

     Lt. Drake was forced to bail but he landed safely. 

     Lt. drake was credited with shooting down the enemy bomber, as well as two more Japanese aircraft later that same month.  For his outstanding service he was awarded the Oak Leaf Cluster for gallantry in action under heavy fire, the Purple Heart, and the Silver Star.

     In late 1942 he returned to the states and became a flight instructor, training new pilots for overseas duty.  

     He was survived by his wife Shirley, and his son, Gene Jr..   

     He was officially declared dead on January 31, 1944.  

     Lt. Drake also had a brother serving in the Marine Corps, 1st Lt. Stafford W. Drake Jr.    

    2nd Lieutenant Robert Frederick Meyer was born January 29, 1920, in Shepherd, Michigan, making him just barely 23 at the time of his death. He was survived by his parents, and is buried in Deepdale Memorial Park, Lansing, Michigan.

     2nd Lieutenant Raymond D. Burke was just 15 days shy of his 22nd birthday when he died. He was born in Wilton, New Hampshire, February 26, 1921, the son of James R. and Margaret E. Burke. He’s buried in Mt. Calvary Cemetery in Wilton.

    2nd Lieutenant John Pavlovic, (Ser. # O-732341), was from the town of River Forrest, Illinois, and was 23-years-old at the time of his death.   He entered the Air Corps in March, 1942, and was commissioned a 2nd Lieutenant in October of 1942 at Luke Field in Arizona.  He was officially declared dead one year after his disappearance.    

     Sources

    United States Army Air Force crash investigation reports for all four aircraft, Report numbers:

     43-2-11-3, dated March 29, 1943

     43-2-11-4, dated March 29, 1943

     43-2-11-5, dated March 25, 1943

     43-2-11-6, dated March 25, 1943

     Death Certificates obtained from the Rhode Island State Archives for Lt. Robert F. Meyer & Lt. Raymond D. Burke

     The Providence Journal, “Two Army Pilots Lose Lives In Crashes In R.I., Two Other Planes In Unit Believed Lost”, February 12, 1943, page 1

     The Newport Daily News, “Body of Army Pilot Recovered From Bay”,February 12, 1943

     The Woonsocket Call, “Searchers Locate Airplane In Bay”, February 13, 1943, page 1

     University of Illinois Veterans Memorial Project

     Chicago Sunday Tribune, “Wilmette Flyer Gets 2nd Award In Pacific Fight”, November 15, 1942, part 1, page 13 

     www.cieldegloire.com – 49th Fighter group – USAAF – Ciel de Gloire

     Wilmette Life, (Wilmette, Il.),”Flier Celebrates Birthday”, August 13, 1942

     Wilmette Life, (Wilmette, Il.),”Lieut. Gene Drake Reported Missing On Airplane Flight”, February 18, 1943

     Falling Leaves, (Oak Park, Il. newspaper), “River Forest Teacher Leaves For Navy,; Service Men’s News”, September 24, 1942  

     Falling Leaves, (Oak Park, Il. newspaper), “Lost Flyer Is Assumed Dead”, February 22, 1944 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Missing Aircraft – February 10, 1943

Missing Aircraft – February 10, 1943

Updated June 30, 2017

     On the afternoon of February 10, 1943, a U.S. Army O-47B observation plane, (ser. #39-72) with two men aboard left Bradley Field in Windsor Locks, Connecticut, bound for Mitchel Field on Long Island, New York, and disappeared en-route.  Searchers flying the intended route of the plane failed to locate anything.  It’s possible that the plane went down in Long Island Sound.

     The pilot was Flight Officer Talmadge J. Simpson, 23, of Atlanta, Georgia, and his observer was Corporal Louis T. Vogt Jr., 25, of Brooklyn, New York.     

     Update: This aircraft was located in October of 1976 in 50 feet of water near the Long Island Lighting Company loading platform in Northport, Long Island, New York, when a fishing boat snagged it nets on the wreckage.  

     Sources:

      New York Times, (No headline – press release from Westover Field, Massachusetts, from the Eastern Defense Command.), February, 14, 1943  

     Newsday, (long island, N.Y.), “A 33-Year-Old Mystery In The Sound”, October 24, 1976 

Long Island Sound – June 22, 1971

Long Island Sound – June 22, 1971

Between Fisher’s Island, N.Y., and New London, Ct.

     At approximately 6:30 A.M. on the morning of June 22, 1971, a red and white Cessna 172E, (#N 3831S), with four men aboard, took off from Windham Airport in Windham Connecticut bound for Fisher’s Island, New York.   

     The men were identified as:

     Dr. Harry Fox, 58, of Back Rd., Windham, Ct.

     Peter A. Tambornini, Sr., (Age unk.) of Main St. Willamantic, Ct.

     Charles V. Miale, 46, of Atwoodville Rd., Mansfield Center, Ct.

     Walter A. Card, 51, of Lover’s Lane Rd., Windham, Ct.     

     The purpose of the trip was reportedly to participate in a golf tournament.  The plane arrived safely at Fisher’s Island, but when it came time to return to Connecticut later in the day heavy fog had settled in over the area.  The return trip was expected to take 30 minutes and would require a flight path over Long Island Sound.  Shortly after take off, what was described as an explosion over the Sound was heard, but due to the fog nothing was sighted.  The Coast Guard initiated a search and rescue operation but nothing was found, and according to the NTSB report-brief, no wreckage was ever recovered.       

     Sources:

     National Transportation Safety Board report #NTSB  NYC71AN126

     Hartford Courant, (Conn.) “Four Feared dead In Crash Of Light Plane In Sound”, June 24, 1971

Off Nantucket – December 10, 1944

Off Nantucket – December 10, 1944

    

U.S. Navy F6F Hellcat U.S. Navy photo

U.S. Navy F6F Hellcat
U.S. Navy photo

     On the night of December 10, 1944, a flight of eleven U.S. Navy planes were engaged in practicing night carrier breakups and rendezvous near Nantucket Island.  One of those aircraft, was an F6F-5 Hellcat, (#58277),piloted by Ensign John Daniel Cassidy, 20, of Fighter Squadron 88, (VF-88).  Ensign Cassidy was second section wingman in Lt. John Ignatius Drew’s squadron.  Lt. Drew was also piloting an F6F-5, (#58164). 

     At some point Cassidy and Drew became separated from the group, but their absence wasn’t noted until Cassidy called the flight leader asking for their position.   The position was given, and no further communications from Cassidy or Drew were received.  Neither of the two pilot’s or their aircraft were ever seen again. 

     The night was very dark, but clear, with scattered clouds at 2,000 feet. The pilots were familiar with the area, and investigators determined that the likelihood of them becoming lost was small, and theorized that they may have been involved in a mid-air collision of suffered the effects of vertigo and crashed into the sea.   

     A memorial marker to Ensign Cassidy was erected in Rose Hill Cemetery in Macon, Georgia.  It states he was “lost at sea”.    

     Sources:

     U.S. Navy Crash Briefs for each aircraft/pilot dated December 10, 1944

     www.findargave.com, Memorial# 30180216

Missing British Airmen of WWII

Missing British Airmen Of WWII

     Unfortunately no further details are available as of this posting. 

     On October 8, 1943, it was announced by the U.S. naval commander of the Squantum Naval Air Station in Quincy, Massachusetts, that units of the fleet arm of the British Royal Navy would be engaged in operational training at Squantum.   

     On December 7, 1943, three British naval fliers disappeared and were presumably killed when their plane went down in the water while on a training flight off Plymouth, Massachusetts.  The Coast Guard was unable to locate any trace of the missing plane, which carried two officers and one enlisted man.  The identities of the airmen and the type of aircraft were not released. 

     On March 14, 1944, a similar disappearance occurred while another British aircraft was “some distance at sea” while on a training flight out of Squantum.  That aircraft also carried two officers and one enlisted man, and their identities, and type of aircraft, were not released.

     Sources:

     Nashua Telegraph, “British Naval Airmen Train At Squantum”, October 8, 1943

     Schenectady Gazette, “Three Missing In Squantum Crash”, December 8, 1943

     Lewiston Daily Sun, “British Plane Missing From Base At Squantum”, March 16, 1944

UPDATE – March 6, 2017

     More information has been learned about the December 7, 1943 incident.  The three men aboard the missing plane were:

     Sub-Lieutenant Henry H. Lilley, son of Hugh Lilley of 12 Council House, Wisbech Road, Thornley, Peterborough, Northants, England. 

     Sub-Lieutenant Geoffrey J. Walters, son of William Waters of 103 Green Dragon Lane, Winchmore Hill, London, England.

     Leading Airman Donald Afford, son of Mrs. F. E. Afford, 273 Belgrace Road, Balasll Heath, Birmingham, England.

     All were members of the Royal Navy Volunteer Reserve, (RNVR)

     Source:

     Patriot Ledger, “Reveal Identity Of Squantum Fliers Lost In recent Accident”, December 8, 1943    

     Those airmen lost in the March 14, 1944 incident have been identified as:

     Sub-Lieutenant Kenneth L. Leapman

     Sub-Lieutenant John R. Purton

     Leading Airman Henry T. Seddon

     The men were flying the British version of the U.S. Navy Grumman Avenger, (Bu. No. JZ-496) when they were lost on an anti-submarine training mission.

     Sources:

     RNVR Officers 1939-1945,  www.unithistories.com

     Royal Navy Casualties, Killed and Died, March 1944,  www.naval-history.net   

 

 

The Mystery of Gerhard Finkenbeiner – 1999

The Mystery of Gerhard Finkenbeiner

 

     On the afternoon of May 6, 1999, Gerhard Finkenbeiner, 69, took off in a single-engine Piper Arrow, (Reg. N8235Z), from Wiggins Airport in Norwood, Massachusetts, and neither he or his airplane have been seen since.  

     His intended destination was unknown for he didn’t file a flight plan. 

     The weather was relatively clear with 7 to 10 miles good visibility.

     Once he was reported “missing”, authorities began an intensive search. 

     The Massachusetts Wing of the Civil Air Patrol obtained radar data from the Federal Aviation Administration.  This data was included in the National Transportation Safety Board, (NTSB), report narrative, which reads in part: “Air traffic control radar began tracking a target squawking 1200 in the Norwood area, about the same time the missing airplane was suspected of departing.  The target tracked southbound to a point 5 miles south of Taunton Airport, then turned eastward at 1506:02.  At that time, the altitude of the target was 1,100 feet.  At 1506:14, at 41 degrees, 49 minutes, 83 seconds, north latitude, and 70 degrees, 49 minutes, 22 seconds west longitude, radar contact was lost.  At 1518:14, a target was observed at 41 degrees, 50 minutes, 32 seconds, north latitude, 70 degrees, 46 minutes, west longitude, at an altitude of 500 feet.  There were no further contacts.”

     Assuming that the radar contact was Mr. Finkenbeiner’s aircraft, the search was initially centered in the area of Carver, Massachusetts.  However, it was also speculated that Mr. Finkenbeiner may have attempted to fly to Jaffrey, New Hampshire, where he owned another home.   Another area of interest to searchers centered around the Danielson, Connecticut, area where witnesses reported seeing a plane circling that may have been in trouble.   Despite repeated searches, nothing was found.  

     Mr. Finkenbeiner was a well known manufacturer of glass armonica’s; an instrument introduced in the 1700s by Ben Franklin.  The business is still in operation today. See www.finkenbeiner.com  

     What happened to Mr. Finkenbeiner and his aircraft is open to speculation, and to this day there are those still hoping to bring the matter to a close. 

    One website dedicated to solving the mystery can be found at The Search For Gerhard Finkenbeiner – Rick’s Home Page, iroc305.tripod.com/id53.htm 

 

     Sources:

     National Transportation Safety Board report, #NYC99FAMS3

     Boston Globe, “Glass Armonica Maker vanishes”, May 9, 1999, Pg. B01

     Lewiston Sun Journal, “Authorities Perplexed By Missing Pilot”, May 10, 1999

     Providence Sunday Journal, “Conn. Police To resume Search For Missing Plane”, November 14, 1999

     Providence Journal, “Missing Plane Remains A Mystery”, November 22, 1999

    

   

 

 

    

    

    

 

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