East Granby, CT – February 11, 1942

 

East Granby, CT – February 11, 1942     

U.S. Army A-29 Attack Bomber - U.S. Air Force Photo

U.S. Army A-29 Attack Bomber – U.S. Air Force Photo

     On February 11, 1942, a Lockheed A-29A attack bomber (41-23340) with six men aboard was flying at 28,000 feet when the aircraft suffered a catastrophic malfunction.  According to one press report, numerous people on the ground had seen the plane’s right wing fall off while it was still falling from the sky. 

     One witness was Gordon Hayes, an aircraft spotter on duty in the Suffield Observation Post.  He described how the aircraft went into a “corkscrew spin” as it came down.

     Another was Paul Hass of West Suffield, who said that at one point the plane appeared to straighten out before going into another spin, and from his vantage point one wing appeared to be missing.

     Mrs. Elmer Mortensen of Bloomfield related how she saw one crewman jump from the plane.  “Soon, a speck came out of the heavens”, she recalled, “Then as the speck grew, I saw a stream of smoke with it.  I heard the motor skipping, and then the plane came down fast, straight down it seemed.  While it was smoking a man bailed out with a parachute.” 

     An unidentified operator of a garage in East Granby also reported seeing the plane fall with a wing and a portion of the tail missing.  

     The plane crashed shortly before 4:00 p.m., in a gully behind the Petraitis residence at 161 South Main Street. There was no explosion or fire.  State police and officials from Bradley Field in Windsor Locks responded.  Hundreds of curious spectators descended on the scene and police were busy keeping crowds at bay.  

     The dead were identified as:

     1st Lt. Melvin W. Schoephoester, of Baraboo, Wisconsin. (Pilot)

     2nd Lt. Walter C. Boyle of LaCrosse, Wisconsin.

     S/Sgt. Michael M. Kaufman of Windsor Locks, Connecticut.

     Sergeant Gordon Johnson of Renov, Pennsylvania.

     Sergeant Thomas F. Quinn of Upper Darby, Pennsylvania

     Sergeant John T. Howey, Jr. of New York City.   

     Missing at the wreck site was the body of the pilot, and it was presumed he’d bailed out prior to the crash.  An open parachute was later found a few miles away in East Willington, and a search was conducted there without results.  Schoephoester’s body was later recovered less than two miles form the crash without his parachute. An official from Bradley offered his opinion that Schoephoester had slipped from his chute after jumping, and that the weight of the harness was enough to keep it open while prevailing winds carried it a considerable distance.

     Other parachutes were found in the wreckage, but not on the men. While army regulations required that parachutes be worn, it was speculated that the crew of the A-29 wasn’t wearing theirs when the accident occurred.   

Updated March 7, 2016

     The following information comes from the U.S. Army Air Corps accident investigation report of the incident. (#42-2-11-4)

     The aircraft was assigned to the 1st Mapping Squadron, 1st Mapping Group, based at Bradley Field in Windsor Locks, Ct.  At the time of the accident it was conducting a high altitude photographic mission.  

     As part of its investigation into this accident, the army interviewed 35 witnesses.  A statement issued by the accident investigation committee it said in part:

     “One fact of interest is the large number of witnesses who testified that they saw the right wing leave the airplane.  As can be seen from the photographs, both wings were in the wreckage, the right wing being badly crumpled and apportion of it under the remains of the fuselage. The committee has found no evidence to indicate failure of the wings. 

     It was later determined that what witnesses likely saw was the tail section, not a wing,  break away from the aircraft.

     Numerous witnesses have testified that they could see the ship trailing smoke at high altitudes.  The committee believes that this so-called smoke was in reality a condensation trail left by the airplane in-so-far as no traces of fire could be found in the wreckage.” 

     While examining the wreckage, investigators noted that both engine switches were cut, the throttles to the right engine were completely closed, while the throttles to the left engine were completely open, and the fuel selector valve for the right engine was turned off. 

     The right propeller appeared to have been feathered, and experts concluded that it was feathered at the time of impact.

     Investigators considered the possibility that the accident was caused by a failure of the automatic pilot, however the auto-pilot was so badly damaged that no conclusions could be drawn, only that the auto-pilot was in the “off” position after the accident.        

     Sources:

     U.S. Army Technical Report Of Aircraft Accident #42-2-11-4

     Unknown newspaper, possibly the Hartford Courant – East Granby Public Library – Local History Room, “East Granby Bomber Crash Stirs Immediate Army Probe”, February 11, 1942.

     Unknown newspaper , possibly the Hartford Courant – East Granby Public Library – Local History Room. “Body Of Sixth Flyer Is Found In East Granby”, February 11, 1942

     Larry Webster – Aviation Historian

 

 

 

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