Atlantic Ocean – June 6, 1983

Atlantic Ocean – June 6, 1983

 

Lockheed XF-104
U.S. Air Force Photo

      At 11:00 a.m. on June 6, 1983, a flight of three F-104 jet fighters took off from Otis Air Force Base in Falmouth, Massachusetts, for a routine training flight.   All were part of the 101st Fighter Interceptor Squadron.

     Visibility at the time was described as “somewhat limited”.  The flight headed in a southerly direction towards the Atlantic ocean and climbed to an altitude of 12,000 feet.  Forty minutes later, as the flight was passing about 60 to 90 miles south of Martha’s Vineyard, one of the aircraft was noticed to be missing from the formation.

     The two other pilots attempted to make radio contact with the missing aircraft but were unsuccessful, and it was assumed that the missing plane had gone down in the water.  A large scale search and rescue operation was immediately put into effect.     

    The missing pilot was Captain Allan John Lavoie, 31, of Barnstable, Mass.  It was reported that if he was able to eject from the airplane, that he could possibly make use of the life raft and other emergency supplies attached to the ejection seat.  It was further reported that in the event a pilot ejected, a special radio was supposed to begin transmitting, but no emergency radio signal was received.    

     The search and rescue operation involved aircraft from the Air Force, Navy, and Coast Guard, as well as military surface vessels, yet despite all efforts, no trace of the aircraft or Captain Lavoie was ever found. 

     Captain Lavoie left behind a wife and three children.

     Sources:

     Providence Evening Bulletin, “More Ships, Planes Join Hunt For Guard Flier Off Nantucket”, June 8, 1983, Page A9

     Providence Journal Bulletin, “Search Ends For Air Guard Pilot As The Silent Sea Yields No Clue”, June 11, 1983, Page 1

 

Missing Army Bomber – December 13, 1943

Missing Army Bomber – December 13, 1943

 

B-24 Liberator
U.S. Air Force Photo

     In the early morning hours of Sunday, December 13, 1943, a B-24 Liberator bomber took off from Westover Air Field in Chicopee, Massachusetts, for a training flight in preparation for overseas duty.  It was never seen again, and was presumed to have gone down in the waters off the New England coast.

     There were eight men aboard the missing aircraft, two officers and six enlisted men.  They were identified as:

     2nd Lt. William P. Masters of Klamath Falls, Oregon.

     2nd Lt. Robert Rollin Hansen, age 25, of Corcoran, California.

     Sgt. Dean G. McAffery, age 19, of Tulsa, Oklahoma.

     Sgt. Stanley E. Zagae, of Detroit, Michigan.

     Sgt. Bernard G. Stoeckley, of Fort Wayne, Indiana.

     Sgt. Cicel H. Conklin, of Kansas City, Mo.

     Sgt. Anson G. Wiseman, of Spruce Pine, North Carolina.

     Sgt. Anthony L. Greco, of Pittsburgh, Pa.

     It is believed that the aircraft was assigned to the 759th Bombardment Squadron, which was stationed at Westover at the time before leaving for overseas duty in January of 1944. 

     Sources:

     Unknown Newspaper, “Westover Bomber Missing; Air, Land Search Under Way”, December 13, 1943

     The Fresno Bee Republican, (Fresno, CA.), “Corcoran Flier’s Plane Is Missing”, December 14, 1943, page 15.      

 

Mystery Aircraft Pieces Recovered – 1945

Mystery Aircraft Pieces Recovered – 1945

     On July 30, 1945, it was reported in the Cape Cod Standard Times that the fishing boat “Wallace and Roy” had recovered pieces to an unidentified military airplane.  The artifacts included a portion of “what looked like a gun turret”, and an airplane life raft.  The articles were reportedly found about noon the previous day off Martha’s Vineyard, with no specified location given.  

     The raft was in good condition, indicating it hadn’t been in the water for very long, but there was no way to identify the aircraft the items came from.   

     Source: Cape Cod Standard Times, “Boat Brings In Plane Life Raft”, July 30, 1943.

Professor Hogan And His Lost Airship – 1889

Professor Hogan And His Lost Airship

July 18, 1889      

Updated May 5, 2017

Professor Hogan and his airship - 1889

Professor Hogan and his airship – 1889

     Some aeronautical mysteries actually pre-date the airplane.  A case in point involves the disappearance of Professor Edward D. Hogan and his airship, America, in 1889.  

     The America was an 18,000 cubic-foot gas-balloon shaped like a breakfast sausage with a gondola slung underneath.  What made the airship different from traditional balloons was a motor driven eight-foot-long propeller to give the ship steering capabilities allowing it to navigate the sky at will.   

     On the morning of July 18, 1889, Professor Hogan climbed aboard his airship in Brooklyn, New York, and after giving a prearranged signal, the mooring lines were released.  To everyone’s surprise, the balloon shot up one-thousand feet in less than a minute where the wind began to push it in the opposite direction that the professor had intended.  Hogan started the engine hoping to gain control, but as he did, the propeller suddenly broke free and fell to earth, leaving the airship at the mercy of the wind. 

     The America quickly drifted eastward out over Long Island Sound and out of sight.  Being blown out to sea was an aeronaut’s worst nightmare for it almost always meant certain death for airships didn’t carry lifeboats or provisions.  Why the professor didn’t release some of the gas and make an emergency landing is open to speculation.  Perhaps he was unable to do so. 

    One report which appeared in The Evening Bulletin, (Maysville, Kentucky), on July 19, 1889, indicates a possible explanation.  According to the airship’s inventor, the craft was not built according to his specifications in that the release valve to allow gas to escape from the balloon was placed at the bottom of the passenger car, and not well above the pilot’s head.  The article sated in part, “All experienced aeronauts agree that the neck of the balloon should be at least fifteen feet above the car so that there would be abundant opportunity for the escape of gas without imperiling the life of the man manipulating the air ship.”  Therefore it was theorized that if Hogan had tried to vent gas from the balloon that he may have been overcome and rendered unconscious.  

     At about 5:30 that evening, the America was sighted by a schooner ten miles off Sandy Hook, Long Island.  The crew later reported that the balloon was dragging a rope beneath it through the water.  The schooner gave chase, but when it began to get close, the rope suddenly released and the craft abruptly ascended into the air and out distanced the boat.  

     Messages were relayed up and down the northeast coast to be on watch for the disabled airship.  One report sent from Providence, Rhode Island, stated that a balloon believed to the America had passed over the city about 7 p.m., but some in New York discounted this claim. 

     The following day the captain of the pilot boat Caprice reported seeing a balloon dragging its basket along the surface of the ocean at a point about 130 miles east of Atlantic City, New Jersey, and gave the coordinates as 39.40 Latitude, 71.40 Longitude.  The captain said his boat gave chase, but lost sight of the craft near sunset when the balloon collapsed.  This report was also viewed with skepticism as the winds had reportedly been blowing in a northeast direction when Hogan was last seen, which should have carried him towards New England.        

     In any case, Professor Hogan and the America were never seen again. 

 

Source:

New York Times, “Plunged Into The Ocean” July 19, 1889

New York Times, “Aeronaut Hogan’s Fate”, July 20, 1889

(Woonsocket) Evening Reporter, “Aerial Navigation”, July 20, 1889, pg. 4

The Evening Bulletin, (Maysville, KY.) “Hogan’s Lost Airship”, July 19, 1889 

 

The Enduring Mystery Of The White Bird

THE ENDURING MYSTERY OF THE WHITE BIRD

By Jim Ignasher 

 

A post card image of the White Bird and it's pilots.

A post card image of the White Bird and it’s pilots.

 

    mist It’s perhaps New England’s greatest unsolved aviation mystery that investigators and historians have been trying to unravel since 1927.  There are some who believe they may be close to finding the answer, while others maintain the truth will never be known for certain.  Riding on the outcome are the bragging rights of two nations, the Untied States, and France, both of which hope it was their countrymen who were the first to cross the Atlantic Ocean – non stop – by air.   

     Briefly stated; on May 8, 1927, Charles Nungesser and Francois Coli attempted to be the first to fly non-stop across the Atlantic Ocean from Paris, France, to New York City.  They left in a plane called the White Bird, and after passing over Ireland they were never heard from again, and the mystery surrounding their disappearance has been a source of debate ever since.  Did they accomplish their mission before Charles Lindbergh flew from New York to Paris on May 20-21?  Some believe they did.  Yet if so, then what happened to the White Bird?     

     The 1920s was a revolutionary decade for aviation, with new speed, altitude, and distance records being set and broken on a regular basis due to ever-developing technology.  Yet despite these milestones, the goal of the most intrepid aviators of the time was to be the first to fly from America to Europe, or vise-versa.  The desire to do so had been in the hearts of many since the first manned balloon flights had taken place in the late 18th century, but it wasn’t until the 1920s that aircraft design had reached a point where such a trip was considered theoretically feasible.   

     Besides the chance to make history, potential candidates were lured by the prospect of a standing $25,000 cash prize offered wealthy businessman Raymond B. Orteig to the first person(s) who could fly non-stop from New York to Paris, a distance of about 3,600 miles.  The prize money was a huge sum in those days, but initially, those who set out to collect it died in the process, until Charles Lindbergh accomplished the feat in1927.  

     Each failed attempt brought hope that the next would succeed, and as more candidates announced their plans to fly the Atlantic the competition to be the first grew.  By early May of 1927, Lindbergh was ready to try form New York, and Nungesser and Coli were set to leave from France. Each knew of the others plans, and the race to be first was on.    

     So it was that Nungesser and Coli took off at 4:30 a.m. from Le Bourget Field in Paris despite reports of unsettled weather over New England and Newfoundland which they would pass over on their intended flight route to New York. 

     “You know what this means”, said Nungesser just before take off, “and we both do.  We are taking a risk, I know, but we are taking it willingly and with all our hearts.” 

    Both Nungesser and Coli were experienced airmen, having flown as combat pilots during World War I, with Nungesser shooting down forty-five enemy aircraft.  The airplane they were using was a Levasseur bi-plane which they had painted white and modified with extra fuel tanks for the anticipated journey.  Along the side was painted L’Oiseau Blanc. (The White Bird)

     Evidently some French newsmen were so sure of their countrymen’s success,   that they prematurely reported details of the White Bird’s successful landing in New York Harbor.  Unfortunately it wasn’t true, and within hours the world came to know that the White Bird was missing.

     Ships at sea were notified to keep a lookout for the airmen as one of the largest air-sea search and rescue operations in history was organized.  Military ships and aircraft on both sides of the Atlantic also joined the search. 

     While concern mounted, some hoped that the men had been rescued by a passing ship that didn’t have wireless communication capabilities.  In that scenario, it might be weeks before word of their safety was heard, but history has shown that was not the case.  

      On the afternoon of May 9th a report was received from Sydney, Nova Scotia, that the White Bird had been observed near Cape Race at 10:00 a.m. however this was never corroborated.  

     A later report on the 11th stated the plane had been found in Truro, Nova Scotia, but this turned out to be false.  

    CORB1318The last confirmed sightings of the White Bird came from Ireland as it passed over on its way west.  The plane was reported seen over Dungarvan, in County Waterford, at 10:10 a.m. on the morning of the 8th; over Cappoqin at 10:16 a.m.; Glin, County Limerick, at 10:45; Kilrush, County Clare, at 10:50, and Carrigaholt, County Clair, at 11:00 o’clock.  Carrigaholt is located 630 miles from Paris. The last known person to see the plane was Father M. Madden of Carrigaholt.  

     On the other side of the ocean, three reputable residents of Harbor Grace, Newfoundland, reported hearing what they thought might be the White Bird as it passed through overhead fog.  These reports coincided with the White Bird’s intended flight path.     

     Other citizens of the region also came forward with what they had heard.  William Parsons, living on Ocean Pond, about 25 miles southwest of Harbor Grace, stated he heard an airplane experiencing what sounded like engine trouble pass overhead which may have crashed.  A Newfoundland Constable reported what Parsons had told him, “that it sounded like an explosion of a boiler at first, but it soon became apparent that it was overhead and the repetition of the sound, although not regular as in the case of a well running motor, indicated that it came from an airplane.” 

     Despite those who heard an airplane pass overhead, none could state they had seen it, or verify that it was the White Bird, due to the fog and cloudy weather that had enveloped the region on May 8th and 9th.       

     The White Bird’s anticipated flight plan would have brought the plane over northern Newfoundland near Belle Isle Straits, however, investigators theorized that if the aircraft had drifted southward due to fog it would have passed over Harbor Grace.  Traveling due west it would then cross Trinity Bay , and if it stayed on the same course it would pass over Arnold’s Cove in Placentia Bay, then on to the interior of Newfoundland, which in 1927 was described as “a desolate and rugged region of forests and rocks.” Police officers and woodsmen familiar with the region began a search that was estimated would take weeks for they were looking for the proverbial “needle in a haystack”.    

     At one point it was proposed to send the U.S. Navy airship Los Angeles to Newfoundland to assist in this search, but the plan was abandoned due to no substantiated reports that the White Bird actually went down in that region.            

     Some theorized that the craft might have made a water landing, and that the crew was safe living off provisions.  On the other hand, Henri Barbadoux, the engineer who designed the White Bird’s engine, offered his opinion that if the plane had made an ocean landing during the first portion of the trip, there would be no way to quickly empty the fuel tanks, and the weight of the gasoline would pull the ship under almost immediately.  If the men managed to escape the sinking plane, they most surely would have succumbed to hypothermia.      

     Hope that the mystery had been solved rose on May 18 when the captain of the steamship Bellepline, en-route from Rotterdam to Boston, reported sighting plane wreckage 100 miles out to sea from Boston.  He said the debris sighted on the 16th consisted of natural colored wood, “20 feet long and five feet wide, with cross and transverse ribs similar to an airplane wing”.  Unfortunately, attempts to bring it aboard were unsuccessful, so the ship moved on.

     The captain of a schooner seemed to support the Bellepline’s claim when he docked at Lynn, Massachusetts, and reported seeing a plane passing overhead in about the same area at an altitude of about 3,000 feet on the Monday the White Bird vanished.            

     Also on May 18th it was reported that a message in a bottle, allegedly written by Captain Nungesser, had been found on the English shore of Port Kerris. The message read in part, “Landed 75 miles lat (sic) off Ireland, engine trouble.  W.H. Nungesser.  Finder please communicate with H. Laurence R.A.F. (Royal Air Force)) secretary, London.”  The note was never authenticated.

     On May 20th another sighting of aircraft wreckage was reported floating in the water of Fort Pond at the end of Montauk Point, Long island, New York.  Coast Guard officials who examined the wing found it to be in very poor condition, and determined it had been in the water for a long time, not just for a week or two.  The canvas covering was shredded, and bore no identifying marks, and it was painted silver, not white.  It was their opinion the wing was not related to the White Bird

     DSC01884On May 26th it was reported that the search was now being conducted “with more vigor” after a report by two men near Placentia Bay, who claimed they had heard the sound of a plane overhead and then a crash on the day the White Bird vanished.  The search continued into June, and the aircraft Jeanne D’Arc, piloted by Major P. Sydney Cotton, was brought to Newfoundland by the Red Cross ship Silvia, to assist.    

     On July 25, 1928, more than a year after the disappearance, a piece of airplane wreckage with silver and bronze colored fabric was found floating in the ocean, with a portion of a wireless receiver attached.  The White Bird didn’t carry a wireless receiver, and the wreckage was determined to be from some other airplane.

     Eventually the world came to accept the fact the White Bird and her crew were gone, but that didn’t deter those intent on solving the mystery.  While some believe the aircraft went down in Newfoundland, others have explored the possibility that it continued as far south as Maine.    

     In 1966, famous New England author and historian Edward Rowe Snow published a book titled “Marine Mysteries and Dramatic Disasters of New England” in which he wrote a chapter about the White Bird.  Snow wrote that in 1947 (exact date unknown) a Maine lobsterman named Robert Mac Vane accidentally snagged a piece of airplane wreckage on one of this trap lines off the southwestern end of Jewel Island.  Snow brought several small pieces of the find to the South Weymouth Naval Air Station for examination where it was determined they were of World War II vintage. 

     Yet the find apparently intrigued Snow, for if it wasn’t the White Bird, then what aircraft was it?   Snow was also a scuba diver, and wrote that he had assisted other divers in recovering additional wreckage off Jewell Island.

     The pieces were put on display somewhere on Cliff Island, Maine, and news of their recovery eventually led a former member of the French resistance forces of WW II to visit the island and offer the opinion that they belonged to the White Bird.  Snow then went to Cliff Island and brought a piece to Quincy, Massachusetts, where it was examined by Major Marc Palabaud of the French air force, and Charles D. Pampelonne, the French consulate of Boston.  Major Palabaud was then allowed to take the piece back to France for further study. 

     Meanwhile, other pieces were sent to the J.H. Taylor Foundry in Quincy for testing.   While the French were extremely optimistic they now had proof that Nungesser and Coli had made it to America, Snow goes into detail relating how the Taylor Foundry spectrographic analysis concluded that the metal was   positively identified as being from an airplane of the World War II period.

     The French government wasn’t convinced, and asked that the area be dragged so that more wreckage could be retrieved, but this was never done.

     Snow’s research uncovered two WW II era aircraft wrecks that might be connected to the recovered wreck pieces. On April 5, 1944, a bi-plane belonging to the heavy cruiser U.S.S. Tuscaloosa, was lost in that area.  The pilot, Ensign K.W. Baker, and his radioman, C.E. Duiguid went to the bottom with their plane.    

Martin B-12A modified for sea duty.  U. S. Air Force Photo

Martin B-12A modified for sea duty. U. S. Air Force Photo

     Snow also heard tales of a plane that went missing from the Brunswick, Maine, Naval Air Station during a snowstorm off Jewell Island.  After diving in the area in water 134 feet deep, he discovered the remains of a B-12 trainer plane from Brunswick, NAS.    

      In 1980, Yankee Magazine published a story by Gunnar Hansen titled, “The Unfinished Flight of the White Bird” in which he described how a man named Anson Berry heard a plane pass overhead and then what he thought was the sound of a crash while fishing on Round Lake, in Maine, (which is not far from the Nova Scotia border) at the time the White Bird disappeared. 

     An interesting piece by Arthur P. Dolan, “Recovery Of White Bird Would Be A Feather In Maine’s Cap”, published in 2008, related how he and a friend discovered aircraft wreckage that might have been the White Bird while on a hunting trip in Maine in 1958.  In it he describes the scene, and the discovery of some bones which at the time they believed to be of an animal.  Years later he tried to locate the spot but was unsuccessful.   

     Others believe the wreck of the White Bird might be farther to the north.  In June of 2013, a New York Times article told of a man named Bernard Decre who had been searching the waters off the island of St. Pierre near Newfoundland for five years utilizing hi-tech sonar equipment to scan the ocean floor.  

     One noteworthy fact mentioned in the article was that Decre had discovered a U.S. Coast Guard telegram at the National Archives in Washington D.C. that is possibly related to the White Bird.  The telegram dated August of 1927, pertained to a bi-plane wing discovered in the water off the coast of Virginia.  A quote from the telegram read: “It is suggested to headquarters that this may be the wreck of the Nungesser Coli airplane.”  Unfortunately, what became of the wing is not known.

     It can be surmised that with the passage of so much time the debate as to whether Nungesser and Coli completed their flight or not will go on and on unless someone comes up with indisputable proof in the form of human remains, or an identifiable part of the White Bird.  Even today there are millions of unexplored square miles of wilderness in Maine and Newfoundland. Perhaps the remains of the White Bird will one day be discovered in one of these remote areas, or perhaps not.  As for now, the search continues, and the mystery endures.  

Sources: 

Woonsocket Call, “No Trace Of Nungesser – Coli Plane Found By Searchers Scouring Ocean And Shore”, May 10, 1927, pg. 1

Woonsocket Call, “Naval Tugs Leave Boston In Search Of Missing Flyers”, May, 10, 1927, Pg. 1

Woonsocket Call, “De Pinedo, Fog – Bound, Blames Air Conditions For Frenchmen’s Plight”, May 10, 1927

Woonsocket Call, “Nungesser Reported Sighted Off Coast of Newfoundland This Morning”, May 9, 1927, Pg. 1

Woonsocket Call, “Intensive 24-Hour Search Of North Atlantic Ocean Fails To Reveal Trace Of Flyers”, May 11, 1927, Pg. 1

Woonsocket Call, “Sea And Land Give Back No Answer To Anxious Questions”, May 11, 1927, Pg. 1

Woonsocket Call, “Nungesser’s Brother Feels Sure He Will Be Found”, May 11, 1927, Pg. 12

Woonsocket Call, “Number Of Persons In Southern Ireland Claim To Have Seen Plane”, May 11, 1927, Pg. 12

Woonsocket Call, “Hope Dwindles In Paris As No Word Of Airmen Comes”, May 12, 1927, Pg. 18

Woonsocket Call, “Ebbing Hope OF Searchers For Missing Flyers Seem To Rest On Newfoundland.” May 12, 1927, Pg. 1

Woonsocket Call, “Report Of Plane Whirring Through Fog Northwest of St. John’s N.F., Monday Morning Causes Stir.” May 13, 1927

Woonsocket Call, “Intensive Search On Land And Sea Fails To Bring News of Nungesser & Coli”, May 13, 1927, Pg. 1

Woonsocket Call, “Hope For Safety Of Nungesser-Coli Waning Despite Vague Reports”, May 14, 1927, Pg. 1

Woonsocket Call, “Member of Newfoundland Constabulary Writes Canadian Authorities That William Parsons Of Ocean Pond Less Than 100 Miles From Bay, Says He Heard Plane.” May 16, 1927

Woonsocket Call, “Continued Search Of Bleak Shores Of Newfoundland Fails To Reveal Any Trace Of Missing Flyers”, May 17, 1927, Pg. 1

Woonsocket Call, “Report of Plane Wreckage In Sea 100 Miles From Boston Made BY Steamer Captain”, May 18, 1927, Pg. 1

Woonsocket Call, “Airplane Wing Picked Up In Sea, Off Montauk Point, Long In Water”, May 20, 1927. 

Woonsocket Call, “Search For Missing French Flyers Goes On With More Vigor”, May 26, 1927, Pg. 1

Woonsocket Call, “Nungesser-Coli Search Airplane At St. John’s N.F.” June 9, 1927, Pg. 1

The Evening Independent, “Floating Wreckage Found Off Jutland Coast Sent To Paris For Identification As Part of Nungesser-Coli Machine” July 25, 1928.   

New York Times, “Lindbergh Rival’s Wreck Sought In Maine Woods”, February 22, 1987

New York Times, “A Fragment Of History Is Uncovered In Maine”, October, 15, 1987

New York Times, St. Pierre Journal, “Resuming The Search For A Pioneering Plane Off A Remote Island”, By Scott Sayare, June 24, 2013.

Yankee Magazine, “The Unfinished Flight Of The White Bird”, by Gunnar Hansen, June, 1980. 

“Marine Mysteries And Dramatic Disasters Of New England”, By Edward Rowe Snow, Dodd Media & Co. N.Y., C. 1976. (Chapter 10, Nungesser And Coli) 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Atlantic Ocean – December 10, 1944

Atlantic Ocean – December 10, 1944 

     On December 10, 1944, a group of eleven navy fighter planes left Otis Field in Falmouth, Massachusetts, for an operational training flight over the Atlantic, but only nine returned.  By 8:00 p.m. a search was begun for the two missing planes, and aircraft from Otis and Quonset Point, R.I., as well as crash boats from Woods Hole, Martha’s Vineyard, and Nantucket, searched the area north of Nantucket where there had been unconfirmed reports of flares being sighted. 

     Despite the efforts, no trace of the missing aircraft or the pilots was ever found.

     The missing men are: Ensign John D. Cassidy, 21, of Macon, Georgia, and Lieutenant John I. Drew, 27, of Milwaukee, Wisconsin. 

Source:

Falmouth Enterprise, ”Planes Lost On Training Flight”, December 15, 1944.   

 

 

 

Missing Aircraft – April 19, 1980

MISSING AIRCRAFT – April 19, 1980

Aircraft: Cessna 150, Registration N19593

      At 9:00 a.m., on April 19, 1980, a Cessna 150 left Bayport Airdrome on Long Island, New York, for a three-leg navigational training flight to Newport, Rhode Island, then to Oxford, Connecticut, and back to Bayport.  The pilot was 55-year-old Rose Heinlen, a student pilot from Lake Ronkonkoma, N.Y. with less than 60 hours of flight time.  Somewhere between Long Island and Newport she and the Cessna disappeared and have not been seen since.  No distress calls were received.

     Civil Air Patrol wings from New York, Rhode Island, Massachusetts, as well as the U.S. Coast Guard participated in the search.  25 aircraft of all types searched the waters from Montauk, Long Island, to Martha’s Vineyard, including waters along the coasts of three states.  

     One area of focus was Narragansett Bay north of the Mount Hope Bridge, where it was reported that an oil slick had been sighted on the water.  A Coast Guard vessel sent to investigate found only a wooden raft that was not connected to the missing plane.

     One woman reported that she had seen an airplane resembling a Cessna flying only ten feet off the water of Narragansett Bay on the day of the disappearance. Three fishermen later corroborated this, but nothing was found. 

     Part of the investigation revealed that a steady 20 to 30 knot wind had been blowing at the time of the flight which could have pushed the aircraft as much as 300 degrees off course towards Cape Cod and the islands, and Mrs. Heinlen may not have been aware of this.

     On April 23rd it was reported that Mrs. Heinlin may have communicated with another pilot via radio between 10:30 and 11:00 a.m. stating she was lost.  The revelation came about after a Rhode Island pilot reported hearing a radio conversation between a woman and another pilot.  The woman stated she was lost, and the pilot was attempting to give her directions.  Unfortunately, the pilot giving directions was never identified. 

     As of this time the case remains open. 

 Sources:

Providence Journal, “4-state Search For Small Plane Centers Briefly In Touisset Area”, April 22, 1980, Pg. A-3

Providence Journal, “Lost Pilot May Have Sought Directions”, April 23, 1980, Pg. B-13

NTSB Brief – NYC80FAMS4

 

 

 

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

    

   

 

 

    

    

    

 

WWII Helldiver Found – November 7, 1978

WWII Helldiver Found – November 7, 1978

    

SB2C Helldiver U.S. Navy Photo

SB2C Helldiver
U.S. Navy Photo

     On November 7, 1978, Michael Roy, 19, a scuba diver from Plymouth, Massachusetts, was sent to free a fishing net snagged on an underwater obstruction in 30 feet of water about a half-mile off the coast of Plymouth.  There he discovered that the net was caught on the propeller of an old airplane. 

     Coast Guard officials identified the wreck as being a WWII, U.S. Navy, Curtis SB2C Helldiver.  

     Roy noted that the switches inside the cockpit were in the “on” position, which may indicate that what ever happened with the plane was sudden.  There were no human remains seen in the cockpit. 

     Nothing is known about this wreck.  It was speculated that the plane might have gone down on a training flight or while on convoy/anti-submarine patrol. 

     Source: Lewiston Daily Sun, “Diver Finds WWII Navy Plane”, November 11, 1978      

WW II Mystery Airmen

WW II Mystery Airmen

     From time to time during World War II military aircraft were lost at sea.  Sometimes the loss was witnessed by fellow airmen, and other times a single aircraft went out on a mission and was never heard from again.  Such incidents happened all up and down the eastern seaboard of the United States.

     On occasion, the bodies of airmen lost on these missions would be found and recovered.  Unfortunately in some cases all identification such as wallet, dog tags, etc. would be missing, and the body in such an advanced state of decomposition that identification was impossible.  In a time when DNA testing did not exist, these servicemen were classified as “unknown” and buried pending any new information.   

     With a war on, and the rapid transfer of personnel, as well as many different commands and air stations that had planes and crew unaccounted for, attempting to match bodies with missing aircraft in a time without computers was virtually impossible.  

     The following information pertains to “unknowns” found in New England waters during World War II.  Perhaps there will be someone who will one day be able to figure out who these men were.   Keep in mind that ocean currents could have carried the bodies a considerable distance.    

     Case #1 involves the body of a U.S. Navy enlisted man recovered from Narragansett Bay, R. I. He’s described as a white male who “presumably drowned”.  The date he was recovered is not stated, but his remains were buried in Island Cemetery in Newport, R. I., August 14, 1943

Case #1 Click To Enlarge

Case #1
Click To Enlarge

 

     Case #2 involves a body recovered from the Atlantic Ocean on October 8, 1944, off Nantucket, Massachusetts, near a bell buoy.  The navy could not establish his identity, nor even his race.  The body was held until January 5th before it was buried in Elm Grove Cemetery, North Kingstown, R.I.   Cause of death was listed as “asphyxia by drowning” due to a “probable accident”.  The death certificate was field with the Rhode Island Department of Health January 5, 1945. 

Case #2 Click To Enlarge

Case #2
Click To Enlarge

Reverse Side - Case #2 Click To Enlarge

Reverse Side – Case #2
Click To Enlarge

 

 

 

  

Atlantic Ocean – March 23, 1951

Atlantic Ocean -March 23, 1951

     In the early morning hours of March 22, 1951, a U.S. Air Force C-124 transport (49-0244) left Barksdale Air Force Base in Louisiana bound for Loring Air Force Base in Limestone, Maine.  The aircraft arrived safely at 12:30 p.m. the same day.  After refueling, the plane left for Mildenhall, Royal Air Force Base in England. 

     At 1:00 a.m. on March 23, the pilot reported a fire on board in the cargo area, and ditched the plane in the Atlantic Ocean approximately 800 miles off the southwest coast of Ireland.  The aircraft landed intact, and all 52 servicemen aboard managed to get out safely wearing life jackets.  The men were able to climb into life rafts equipped with survival provisions and emergency radios.

     A U.S. Air Force B-29 was sent from England to search for survivors and found the men alive floating in the life rafts.  The aircraft circled the area waiting for other rescue craft,  but was forced to leave due to being low on fuel before any additional help arrived.  Apparently no other aircraft had been sent to relieve the B-29.

     It was hours later before the first ship arrived in the area on March 25th, but the only thing found were some charred crates and a partially deflated life raft.  All 52 men had simply vanished and were never seen again.  Speculation as to their fate focused on the Soviets.  At the time, the United States and the Soviet Union were immersed in what was called “The Cold War” , a nuclear game of cat-and-mouse with each side vying for superiority.  It was noted that many of the men aboard were involved with the U.S. nuclear weapons program, which would indicate they may have possessed valuable intelligence information.    

     A massive air-and-sea search was conducted over the next several days, but nothing more was found.  As stated, the men were wearing life jackets, but no bodies were ever recovered.

     Those aboard the C-124 aircraft were: (In alphabetical order.)

     SSG Glenn E. Adler

     Capt. Phillip B. Adrean

     Sgt. George W. Ambrose

     Cpl. Sterling L. Ambrose

     SSG Robert D. Amsden

     2Lt. Karl R. Armstrong Jr.

     Major Robert Bell

     S/Sgt. Bartin C. Bemis

     Pvt. Dwight A. Berenberg

     Sgt. Robert R. Bristow

     Sgt. Joseph D. Broussard

     Cpl. Arthur F. Chute

     Capt. Emmette E. Collins

     Capt. John E. Counsell

     Cpl. Jack R. Crow

     Brig. Gen. Paul T. Cullen

     Capt. Francis N. Davis

     Capt. Mark O. Dubach

     Capt. Dudek Miezslaw

     S/Sgt. Gene D. Dughman

     1Lt. Jack R. Fife

     2Lt. William E. Fisher Jr.

     Col. Kenneth N. Gray

     T/Sgt. Charles E. Green

     S/Sgt. Thomas E. Green

     Lt. Col. James I. Hopkins

     S/Sgt. Homer Jones Jr.

     Capt. Robert F. Kampert

     Capt. Thomas R. Kelly

     Capt. Carl N. Krawiec

     2Lt. Max D. Lee

     S/Sgt. Nicolo A. Lengua

     Samuel P. Lutjeans

     2lt. Howard P. Mathers

     Sgt. Ronald D. McGee

     Lt. Col. Edwin A. McKoy

     Sgt. Frank A. Meckler

     Capt. Walter T. Paterson

     Capt. Calvin Porter

     Lawrence E. Rafferty (rank unknown.)

     M/Sgt. Everett D. Scarbrough

     Major Gordon H. Stoddard

     Cpl. Clarence G. Swisher

     Cpl. Bobby G. Thomas

     M/Sgt. Taylor H. Vangilder 

     Capt. Roger S. Vincent 

     Capt. Walter A. Wagner Jr.

     M/Sgt. H. C. Williamson

     Raymond L. Witkowski (rank unknown.)

     Capt. Edwon D. Zabawa 

     Capt. Frank B. Zalac

     Capt. John C. Zweygarti

     Sources:

     Article by Don Wagner, “Last Flight Of The Missing Airmen, March 1951”, Walker Aviation Museum, Roswell, New Mexico  (Don is the son of Captain Walter A. Wagner Jr.)

     Air Force Times, “Plane’s 1951 Disappearance Still A Mystery”, by John Andrew Prime

 

      

 

    

 

       

 

 

 

 

A Mystery Man Lands In Middletown, R. I. – 1959

A MYSTERY MAN LANDS IN MIDDLETOWN 

Middletown, Rhode Island – June 13, 1959 

     On the evening of June 13, 1959, Albert Presso went to answer the insistent knocking on the door to his Willow Avenue home in Middletown, Rhode Island.  He opened the door to find a well dressed man in his twenties who identified himself as Greg Saunders, and then began to relate an incredible story.

     Saunders appeared shaken, but managed to tell bits and pieces of what he had to say – a plane – a fire – bailing out – a crash.   Presso knew immediately that he needed to alert authorities. Middletown police arrived in short order and took Saunders to Newport Hospital for examination.  There he recovered his composure enough to give a detailed account of what had happened.

     Saunders said he was a travel agent from Los Angeles, California, on a combined business and pleasure vacation.  He had left California for Mexico City a few days ago flying his own twin-engine, blue and white Piper Apache.  From there, he traveled to Nassau and on to Miami, Florida.  After leaving Florida he landed at Flushing Airport in Queens, New York. 

     At 4:30 p.m. on the 13th, he took off from Flushing bound for Maine, and attained a cruising altitude of 6,500 feet which put him above a rainstorm moving up the coast.  Somewhere near Rhode Island, he noticed flames licking out of the port engine and tried to extinguish the fire, but couldn’t.  He then tried to use his radio to call for help, but found it inoperable due to the fire. 

     At this point he felt he had two options, to drop down through the storm and risk a crash landing, or set the autopilot, bail out, and take his chances.  He opted for the later and took the plane up to 8,000 feet where he put it on a heading that would take it out over the Atlantic Ocean and away from populated areas.  He figured that the craft had enough gas to carry it another 300 miles provided it didn’t explode first.

     Saunders explained that normally he wouldn’t have had a parachute aboard, but because his flight plans had carried him over water he thought it prudent to carry one, along with an inflatable rubber raft. 

     Saunders came down on a Christmas tree farm in Middletown, and after removing his parachute he began looking for help.  He said he hiked for almost an hour before he found himself at Mr. Presso’s home. 

     Officers noted that the neatly pressed tan suit Saunders was wearing showed no signs that he had hiked through wet weather on a farm, and his shoes were dry and free of mud.  They also discovered that no reports of any aircraft in distress had been received. Skeptical of his story, they asked Saunders for positive identification, but he explained that in his haste to leave the burning aircraft that he had left it behind. He added that he would be filing an insurance claim for $49,795 for the loss of his plane, but first he needed to report the loss to Federal Aviation officials in Boston.   

     Saunders was dropped off at the Viking Hotel in Newport while police made plans to verify his story. 

     A check of the Flushing Airport revealed that there was no record of Saunders or his aircraft having ever been there. Civil Aeronautics Division officials in Boston stated that they had no record of Saunders ever filing any flight plans with them as required by law. 

     When daylight came the following morning, there were still no reports of any downed aircraft.  An air search conducted by Trooper Ashworth of the state police and Robert Wood, the owner of the Newport Air Park failed to find any trace of the parachute that Saunders claimed he had abandoned. 

     Saunders had told officers that his permanent address was 1136 Glendale Boulevard, in Los Angeles, California, however, phone company records showed this to be untrue. Obviously there were a lot of holes in Mr. Saunders’ story. 

      When police showed up at the Viking Hotel they discovered that Saunders had left, telling the clerk on duty that he was “going back home to Boston.”  The FAA in Boston was notified to be on the lookout for Saunders as Rhode Island officials had more questions for him, but Saunders never showed.  In fact, he was never seen again. 

     Who was Gregory Saunders, if in fact that was his real name, and what would possess him to perpetrate such a hoax?  Was it the media attention, an attempt at insurance fraud, or was it something else?  The story is long forgotten in Middletown, but the mystery remains.  

 Sources:

Providence Journal, “Man Says He Leaped From Burning Plane”, June 14, 1959, N:1

Providence Journal, “Dapper Parachutist’s Tale Grows Even More Murky”, June 15, 1959, Pg. 1 

Providence Journal, “Now, He’s Gone, Like His Plane, Parachute” June 15, 1959, Pg. 6

 

Lake Champlain – January 21, 1971

Lake Champlain – January 21, 1971 

Vermont’s Enduring Aviation Mystery

     Just before 7:00 p.m. on January 21, 1971, a Rockwell 1121 Jet Commander (N400CP) with five people aboard, took off from Burlington International Airport bound for Providence, Rhode Island.  It was snowing that night, and roughly three to four minutes after take-off the plane abruptly vanished from radar and has never been found.  No distress call was received.  

     It is presumed that aircraft went down in Lake Champlain, a massive body of water 120 miles long and 12 miles wide separating the states of Vermont and New York.

     Over the next few days more snow covered ground, and the lake surface froze, causing the search for the airplane to be called off on February 4th. 

     In April of 1971, debris believed to be from the missing plane were discovered along the shore of Lake Champlain near Shelburne, Vermont.  These included at tire and rim, a window frame assembly, insulation from the forward cabin area, an oxygen tank, and parts of a radio.

     No human remains have ever been found.

     One rumor connected with the flight is that the plane carried a large amount of cash and negotiable bonds, but this has never been substantiated.

     Those aboard the plane included:

     Pilot: George Nikita

     Co-pilot: Donald E. Myers

     Robert Williams

     R. Kirby Windsor

     Frank Wilder

     While the disappearance has faded into history, there are those who continue to search. 

     In 2014 a hi-tec sonar search of 15 square miles of lake bottom near Shelburne was conducted.  Although a number of possible targets were identified, nothing conclusive was found, and further investigation will be necessary.  

     Why can’t the plane be located?     

      As large as the sonar search area was, Lake Champlain covers, according to one source,  435 square miles, while another puts the figure at 490 square miles.  And nobody knows for sure where the plane went into the water.  Therefore there are still hundreds of square miles to be checked.  

     It’s also possible the plane broke apart on impact, which would make it more difficult to locate, and after more than forty years, it could have settled in silt.

      In the meantime, the disappearance remains Vermont’s longest unsolved aviation mystery.    

     Sources:

     The Telegraph, “Lake Champlain Search For Lost Jet Abandoned”, February 6, 1971

     Burlington Free Press, “Search Resumes For Jet Missing Since 1971”, by Mike Donoghue, July 18, 2014.

     Providence Journal, “Lake Champlain Searched For Providence-Bound Plane That Crashed 43 years Ago.” July 21, 2014

     Burlington Free Press, “Strong Leads In Search For Missing Plane”, July 22, 2014

     Marine Technology News, “Modern Tech For A Cold Case”, March 12, 2015

     Aviation Safety Network, Flight Safety Foundation

     Lake Champlain Land Trust website, www.lclt.org

     Wikipedia – Lake Champlain

 

 

 

    

    

Missing Aircraft – November 28, 1964

Missing Aircraft – November 28, 1964

     On November 28, 1964, a blue and white Cessna with four Rhode Island men aboard left North Philadelphia bound for Hillsgrove Airport, in Warwick, Rhode Island,  and vanished en-route.  (Hillsgrove Airport is today known as T.F. Green Airport.)

     And extensive land and sea search was conducted, and included all areas between  Atlantic City, New Jersey, to all across Connecticut, and Rhode Island.  Both military and Civil Air Patrol aircraft took part. Police agencies were notified to be on the alert.

     At one point it was thought the wreckage of the plane had been spotted from the air in a wooded area of Bozrah, Connecticut, however what was thought to be the airplane was actually an old abandoned car.

     On December 6 and 7 heavy snow blanketed the region hindering further search efforts.

     Despite the best efforts to locate the plane, no trace of it was ever found, and it was speculated that the aircraft may have gone down in the ocean.   

    The missing men were identified as:

     Pilot: Eugene Simoneau, 35, of Crasnton, R.I.

     Ralph H. Worrall, 42, of Warwick, R.I.

     Edward M. Balkin, 46, of Warwick, R.I.

     Edward Underhill, 47, of Warwick, R.I.

     Sources:

     Woonsocket Call, “4 RI Men Missing In Small Plane”, November 30, 1964  

     The Morning Record, “Thousands Powerless In Wake Of Blizzards”, December 8, 1964

     The Daily Register, “Small Plane Still Missing”, December 3, 1964, Section 2, page 1

     City of Warwick, Rhode Island, vital records.   

Missing Aircraft – April 27, 1966

Missing Aircraft – April 27, 1966

    

B-57 Reconnaissance Bomber U.S. Air Force Photo

B-57 Reconnaissance Bomber
U.S. Air Force Photo

     On April 27, 1966, an Air Force B-57 reconnaissance bomber was on a training flight from Newburgh, New York, to Otis Air Force Base in Falmouth, Massachusetts, when it disappeared after radioing a distress signal, presumably  somewhere near the Falmouth area. 

     There were two men aboard the aircraft: (Pilot) Major Malcolm T. Kalser, 42, of Biggs, California, and (Navigator) Major Frank N. Guzzetta, 40, of Darby, Penn.    

     After a widespread search nothing was found, and the Air Force called off the search after eight days.

     Then, on Sunday, May 9, 1966, two fishermen from Cuttyhunk Island reported finding what they though might be pieces of the missing aircraft on a nearby beach.  “The wreckage”, it was reported, “included one part about five feet long and a rubber de-icing boot.” 

     The pieces were turned over to the Air Force.

    Source:

    Woonsocket Call, “Plane Search May Resume; Parts Found”, May 9, 1966, Pg. 6       

New England Plane Crashes That Never Happened

New England Plane Crashes That Never Happened 

By Jim Ignasher

Updated May 6, 2016

Updated May 12, 2016

Updated October 20, 2017

     The following stories are about New England aviation accidents that never happened, although in some cases they were reported as fact.  Perhaps this is how legends get started.        

    On April 3, 1906, great excitement rippled through the populace of the small town of Franklin, Massachusetts, as word spread that an airship had crashed in the northern part of town.  Dozens flocked to the area, but found nothing. Had the airship been repaired and left?  Hardly.  It wasn’t exactly April Fools, but it was close enough for a man identified only as a “practical joker” living in north Franklin near the Medway town line.  The day before, a large number of people reported seeing what they thought was an airship pass over the town.  The joker took it one step further and told several people that the airship had broken down, and landed in a field near his farm.  As with the childhood game of “Telephone”, the landing became a crash, as the facts were twisted with each retelling.  

     The following three incidents took place in 1942 at a time when our country was immersed in the Second World War.  Were they the result of wartime jitters, overactive imaginations, or something else? 

     On April 25, 1942, the North Providence, (R.I.) police department began to receive reports that an army bomber had crashed and burst into flames somewhere in the town.  Some reported seeing a column of smoke, but couldn’t tell the exact location from where it originated. A search was instituted, and army officials were notified, and as word spread citizens were on the alert.     

     By the afternoon the Associated Press was carrying the story.  An army public relations officer in Boston stated he believed the craft to be an army bomber, and although he didn’t know how many men were aboard, the usual number was five.

     An army observation plane was brought in to assist with the search, but by the end of the day nothing had been found, and no military aircraft were unaccounted for.

     Less than a week later, a man in Bellingham, Massachusetts, reported that he saw a twin-engine army aircraft flying at tree-top level and assumed it crashed in a wooded area near Silver Lake.  Apparently his assumption was based on the fact the engines weren’t making any sound, and that at one pint he saw the wings clip the trees. 

     Bellingham police notified the army, and a search was instituted.  Residents in the Spring Street section told officers they had seen an army aircraft pass low in the sky with its engines throttled down, but didn’t know anything about a crash.  One citizen stated the plane had passed directly over him and then suddenly disappeared.  

     Police officers, firefighters, and civilian volunteers searched through the woods for several hours, but didn’t find anything, and the army determined that none of its planes were missing.   

    The fourth case didn’t involve a report of an actual plane crash, but of parachutes descending from the sky – possibly from a disabled aircraft.  

     At about 5:45 p.m. on November 4 1942, Sgt. Michael Ryan of the Fall River police was stopped by a motorist who reported seeing parachutists descending over the area of the Fall River Reservoir located in the northern part of the city.   A short time later another person approached him with the same report.  One claimed to have seen one parachute and a plane, the other, three parachutes. 

     At about the same time frame, Patrolman Michael Hart received a report of parachutes as he patrolled the central portion of the city. 

     At 6:30 p.m. another call about parachutes was received at police headquarters. 

     Patrol cars sent to investigate found nothing, and aircraft spotters stationed in a fire tower near the reservoir hadn’t seen any parachutes. 

     Yet reports kept coming, and chutes were also allegedly seen over Fall River’s neighboring communities, and in nearby Rhode Island.  Strangely, nobody had reported a plane crash, only parachutes, which raised the possibility of enemy saboteurs. 

     State and local police, aided by auxiliary volunteers, and the army, scoured the landscape in both states, but nothing was found.  At one point excitement rose when one group of volunteers reported that the parachutists were “bottled up” in Narragansett Bay, but this too was false.

     Authorities learned that neither the army nor the navy was missing any aircraft, and there had been no reported bailouts or scheduled parachute jumps in the area.  No explanation for the sightings was ever given. 

     Updated May 12, 2016

     On January 8, 1988, a heavy snow storm was blowing across central New Hampshire.  It was during this storm that authorities received an s.o.s. radio message from a man identifying himself only as “Dale”, a survivor of a small jet crash.  Dale claimed five people had been aboard; one was dead, and the other three seriously injured.

     The May Day call sparked a large scale search and rescue operation that later involved up to 20 aircraft.  One aircraft in particular was a navy plane that was re-routed to begin the search.  The pilot flew low level search patterns in dangerous weather conditions for over four hours, all the while remaining in radio contact with “Dale”.  Unfortunately the plane was forced to leave the area due to deteriorating weather and low fuel capacity.  The following day the downed plane report was determined to be a hoax.   

     Investigation led authorities to a 29-year-old man from Laconia, New Hampshire, who was charged and put on trial in May of 1988.  He was convicted, and sentenced to one year in a federal prison, and ordered to undergo psychiatric evaluation.   

     Coincidentally, it was about the time of the man’s trial that the following incident occurred.  

     Updated May 6, 2016

     On the night October 3, 1988, a man identifying himself as a Captain from Pease Air Force Base contacted authorities in the town of Milford, New Hampshire to report that a B-1 bomber aircraft with two men aboard had crashed in a wooded area behind Chappell Tractor Sales Inc. on Route 13 South.  The man further reported that the pilot had managed to eject from the aircraft before it crashed. 

     Milford Fire and Police responded to the area, as did members of the U.S. Air Force, but within an hour it was determined that the call had been a hoax. 

     Updated October 20, 2017

     Shortly after midnight on November 8, 1974, a man called the Connecticut State Police Montville barracks to report that he’d heard what he thought was a sputtering airplane engine followed by a loud crash in the vicinity of the Waterford-East Lyme town line near I-95.  Another caller described hearing a “low whining noise” before the crash.  Several others also called to report a crash.

     An air and ground search was organized, but nothing was found, and there were no reports of any missing aircraft.  No emergency radio distress called had been received, and all Connecticut civilian and military aircraft were accounted for.  The search was called off and the report was determined to be “unfounded”. 

     Sources:

     Westerly Sun, (R.I.), “Crash Report Is Said Unfounded”,  November 8, 1974, page 2

     Hartford Courant,” No Trace Found Of Airplane”, November 9, 1974, page 4.

 

Sources:  

The (Woonsocket) Evening Reporter, “Joker Causes Excitement” , April 4, 1906, Pg. 3

Woonsocket Call, “Bomber Crashes In No. Providence”, April 25, 1942, Pg.1

Woonsocket Call, Army Plane Crash Report Probed”, May 4, 1942 Pg. 1

Woonsocket Call, “Plane Crash Report Proves Franklin Hoax”, May 5, 1942, Pg. 2

Woonsocket Call, “Chutists Sought Near Fall River”, November 5, 1942, Pg. 1

Bangor Daily News, “”N.H. man Indicted In Plane Crash Hoax”, February 25, 1988

Bangor Daily News, “Trial Opens In Case Of Staged Plane Crash”, May 3, 1988

Bangor Daily News, “N.H. Man Convicted Of Faking Plane Crash”, May 5, 1988  

Nashua Telegraph, “Jet Crash Hoax Draws Searchers”, October 4, 1988

 

 

 

 

 

Mystery WWII Aircraft – Martha’s Vineyard – 1958

Mystery WWII Aircraft – Martha’s Vineyard – 1958

Updated July 13, 2017

    

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

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

     On July 8, 1958, a fishing boat out of New Bedford, Mass. was dragging its nets off the western coast of Martha’s Vineyard when the nets snagged the wreckage of a WWII era navy aircraft.  The boat dragged the wreck to shallow waters about a quarter mile off an area locally known as Menemsha Bight, then placed a marker buoy on it, before proceeding to port at the Vineyard.

     There the captain of the boat encountered three divers at the dock, and asked one of them to check the condition of his boat propeller because he felt the snarled nets may have damaged it.  Afterwards, the divers, Percy Kingsley, of Cranston, R. I., James Cahill, of Danvers, Mass., and Bradford W. Luther Jr., of Fairhaven, Mass., went to explore the wreck.  

     The wreck was in about 15 feet of water, and heavily encrusted with marine life, which obscured any identification numbers, but the paint colors established it as a navy plane.  In the cockpit they found human bones, some of which they collected, along with an oxygen mask, a flying boot, and what may have been a life raft, and turned them over to the Coast Guard.     

     A navy salvage vessel out of Quonset Point, Rhode Island, was dispatched to the scene to attempt to raise the wreck.  Divers from the salvage boat identified the wreck as a Grumman Hellcat of World War II vintage.  However, it was not specifically stated in the newspaper articles whether or not the plane was actually recovered.  If the marine life could be removed, the identification numbers from the tail would identify the aircraft, and who had been flying it. 

     However, recovery of the wreck may have been possible, and it may have been photographed instead, because it was reported that photographs of the plane’s instrument panel had been forwarded to Washington for further identification.  

     The bones recovered from the cockpit were sent to Quonset Point Naval Air Station where it was reported that the senior medical officer, Captain M. H. Goodwin, planned to seek instructions from the Navy Bureau of Medicine.   (This was in a time long before DNA testing was available.)

     The Quonset public information officer told reporters that there had been only one inquiry about the remains found, and it came firm a man whom the navy did not identify, but said a member of his family had been lost during the war on a flight from his air craft carrier to Quonset Point. 

      As of this writing, the name of the pilot is unknown.  

          Sources:

     Providence Journal, “Remains Of Unknown Plane, Pilot Found”, July 9, 1958, Pg. 14

     Providence Journal, “Identification Of Pilot Sought”, July 12, 1958, Pg. 2      

     Vineyard Gazette, “Final Chapter In One Or More Plane Crashes Near”, July 14, 1958

 

  

The Disappearance Of Lieutenant Jg. Arthur J. Cassidy Jr. – March 30, 1943

The Disappearance of

Lieutenant (Jg.) Arthur J. Cassidy Jr. – March 30, 1943

    

U.S.S. Ranger (CV-4)  U.S. Navy Photo

U.S.S. Ranger (CV-4)
U.S. Navy Photo

     On March 30, 1943, a late winter storm blew into New England from across New York.  It was nothing significant in relation to its duration, or the amount of snowfall, but it was underestimated, and left behind a mystery that to this day has never been solved.   

     On that day the USS Ranger (CV-4) was steaming off the coast of Massachusetts heading towards the Boston Navy Yard for some refitting.  As a precaution, the ship’s aircraft were to be sent inland.  Below decks the pilots joked in the ready room as the planes were fueled for takeoff.  Their final destination was to be Quonset Point Naval Air Station in Rhode Island, but first they were to stop at Squantum Naval Air Station in Quincy, Massachusetts, and obtain an updated weather forecast.  If it was favorable, they were to proceed to Quonset.  If not, they were to wait at Squantum.

     Unfortunately, this information was not relayed properly to the pilots, and as a result, all aircraft headed directly for Quonset and flew head-on into the storm.  There were thirty aircraft in total; twenty-five F4F Wildcat fighters, four SBD Dauntless dive bombers, and one TBF Avenger torpedo bomber.      

Lt. Jg. Arthur J. Cassidy (left) aboard the USS Ranger with "Red Ripper's" insignia on jacket.  National Archived Photo

Lt. Jg. Arthur J. Cassidy (left) aboard the USS Ranger with “Red Ripper’s” insignia on jacket.
National Archived Photo

     As bad weather closed in visibility dropped to zero.  The cloud cover began at 200 feet and extended all the way up to 7000 with icing conditions.  It wasn’t long before the aircraft got separated, and in some cases lost. Radio communications became garbled with intermittent static, leaving each pilot to his own devices.  

     The first aircraft to run into trouble was an SBD Dauntless, (Bu. No. 06826) piloted by Lt. Lukes M. Boykin.  His aircraft developed carburetor icing and was forced down in the water off Swampscott, Massachusetts.  Fortunately he and his radioman H. H. Reed were rescued by the Coast Guard.      

     Meanwhile, Wildcat #12196 piloted by Lt. Theodore A. Grell went down over Fall River, Massachusetts, most likely due to ice buildup.  Fortunately, Grell was able to bail out safely from an altitude of barely 200 feet!     

 

 

Red Rippers squadron insignia

Red Rippers squadron insignia

     Other members of the Ranger’s aircraft contingent were also in trouble.  Three Wildcat aircraft, #12143, #12186, and # 12179), got lost and wound up low on fuel over the small town of New Paltz in upstate New York.  After circling for several minutes they made an emergency landing in an open field. 

     Despite the accidents, by the end of the day all of the Ranger’s airmen had been accounted for except for Lieutenant (Jg.) Arthur Cassidy.  A check of all New England airfields revealed that he had not landed at any of them, nor had any municipalities reported any downed aircraft that the military wasn’t aware of. 

     The last possible sighting of Cassidy and his aircraft came from a woman in Attleboro, Massachusetts, who reported that she had seen a navy plane in distress over the North Attleboro area about 4:00 p.m. the day of the storm. It should be noted that there was no proof that the plane the woman saw was actually Cassidy’s aircraft, but with nothing else to go on, the navy took it as such, and began an intensive search.      

U.S. Navy Wildcat like the one Lt. Jg. Cassidy vanished in March 30, 1943. U.S. Navy Photo

U.S. Navy Wildcat like the one Lt. Jg. Cassidy vanished in March 30, 1943.
U.S. Navy Photo

     Media outlets were notified, and others came forward claiming to have seen a plane in trouble, but despite their eagerness to help, none of the witnesses were able to provide any useful information.  

     A massive air and ground search was conducted involving hundreds of military men, police, fire, and civilian volunteers. The search was widened to include several nearby towns in the Attleboro region as well as northern Rhode Island, but no trace of the plane or Lt. Cassidy was ever found. Some thought the Wildcat might have gone down in a large pond or reservoir, but according to one news account, the Navy discounted this idea with no explanation as to why.  

     On April 2, while the search for Cassidy was continuing, the Ranger left Boston for Argentina.  World War II went on.  Servicemen were transferred.  The military prepared for the invasion of Europe, and new headlines replaced the old.  The storm of March 30th and its aftermath were soon forgotten, and the mystery of what happened to Lt. Cassidy faded from memory.             

     So, what happened to Lt. Cassidy and his Wildcat?  There are several possibilities.

     One is that the plane went down in a remote area and disintegrated on impact.  Most New England towns were fairly rural in 1943.  Any explosion could have been muffled by the weather, and snow cover would have limited the spread of fire.     

Did Lt. Jg. Cassidy crash in western Massachusetts or some other remote area of New England?

Did Lt. Jg. Cassidy crash in western Massachusetts or some other remote area of New England?

     If Cassidy got disoriented like the three pilots who wound up in upstate New York, he might have flown to western Massachusetts where he could have gone down in the remote Berkshire Hills, or New York, or points north, such as Vermont and New Hampshire. 

     Another theory is that Cassidy unknowingly overshot Rhode Island due to the zero-visibility, and flew out over the ocean, not realizing his mistake until it was too late.      

     And despite what the navy said, it’s also possible he crashed in a large body of water such as a lake or a reservoir.  Maps of the search area, including northern Rhode Island, show several bodies of deep water large enough to swallow a Wildcat.  Since few reservoirs allow swimming or boating, it’s unlikely that a plane at the bottom would be discovered.  

     And perhaps the wreckage of Cassidy’s Wildcat has been found, only those who found it, didn’t know what it was, for WWII aviation wreck sites can be hard to distinguish to the untrained eye. Is there a hunter of hiker somewhere who has seen twisted portions of metal lying in the woods and never thought about it because it has always been there?  Maybe some fisherman knows of an aircraft related shape lying at the bottom of a body of water. Reporting such a find could lead to the answer of what happened to Lt. Cassidy.

     The serial number of Lt. Cassidy’s Wildcat is 11740, and his military service ID number is 0-098451.  This information is provided should anything be found.        

Navy Report on  Lt. Jg. Cassidy's disappearance. #43-6393 CLICK TO ENLARGE

Navy Report on
Lt. Jg. Cassidy’s disappearance.
#43-6393
CLICK TO ENLARGE

Cassidy report continuation. CLICK TO ENLARGE

Cassidy report continuation.
CLICK TO ENLARGE

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

     Arthur J. Cassidy Jr. was born in New York City, July 5, 1919, to Arthur and Marion (Meehan) Cassidy.    

     He graduated from Fordham University, Rose Hill Campus, Bronx, N.Y. in 1940, and entered the United States Naval reserve as a pilot cadet. 

     He served with Fighting Squadron 41 (VF-41) aboard the USS Ranger, and took part in Operation Torch, flying air support in the invasion of North Africa.

     Cassidy had survived two previous plane accidents. On May 8, 1942, he made a forced landing on Cape Cod, Massachusetts.  The second accident occurred May 21, 1942, while landing aboard the USS Charger, an escort carrier anchored in Chesapeake Bay.

     On February 26, 1943, he applied for a marriage license at the Cranston, (R. I.) City Hall, and was married to Marie Magdelaine Marchesseault on March 1st.   Their address was 99 Muran Street, Cranston.

     On March 31, 1944, Lt. Cassidy was officially declared dead by the navy. (Book 13, Pg. 213)

 Sources:

U.S. Navy Report of Cassidy disappearance 43-6393

Attleboro Sun, “Plane Reported Missing In North Attleboro”, April 1, 1943, Pg. 1

Attleboro Sun, “Blimp In Search For Lost Plane”, April, 1943, Pg. 1

Attleboro Sun, “No Word Of Missing Plane”, April 3, 1943, Pg. 1

Providence Journal, “Plane Reported Missing By Navy”, April 1, 1943, Pg. 27

Pawtucket Times, “Navy Plane Sought In North Attleboro”, April 1, 1943, Pg. 1

Fall River Herald News, “Navy Plane Feared Lost”, April 1, 1943, Pg.1

Cranston Herald, “Cranston Flier Reported Missing”, April 8, 1943, Pg. 6

Woonsocket Call, “Navy Plane Lost In Bay State Area”, April 1, 1943

City of Cranston, Rhode Island, vital records

www.wwiimemorial.com

 

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