Newington, CT – July 20, 1931

Newington, Connecticut – July 20, 1931 

    

U. S. Air Force Photo Showing Early Formation Flight

U. S. Air Force Photo Showing Early Formation Flight

     On July 20, 1931, six U.S. Army Curtis Falcon airplanes left Mitchell Field on Long Island, N.Y. bound for Rentschler Field in East Hartford, Connecticut, on what was to be a routine training flight.  Once airborne, the planes formed into two groups of three aircraft, each group flying in a triangular vee formation.  The first leg of the flight was uneventful, however as the planes approached Newington, Connecticut, a civilian silver and blue aircraft was seen approaching them head-on.  As the formations took evasive action, two army aircraft (27-286) and (29-306) collided in mid-air, and immediately burst into flame.  

     The crew of one aircraft, Lieutenant Francis Kelly, and his observer, Staff Sgt. David L. Spicer, managed to bail out safely.  Kelly landed in a tree, and Spicer on telephone wires, but fortunately both men received only minor injuries. 

     The crew of the other plane, Lieutenant Benjamin F. Lowery, of Tennessee, and Corporal Harold Strosnyder, of Kansas, were killed either by the flames or when their aircraft crashed near the grounds of the Cedarville Sanatorium in Newington.

     Mitchell Petricelli, a civilian on the ground, was seriously injured when a piece of falling wreckage happened to land on him. 

     The army pilots blamed the civilian aircraft for the accident, but others blamed the army planes for flying too close.  A New York Times story read, “Witnesses differ as to whether or not this plane, (The civilian aircraft) not officially identified, made the proper effort to avoid a collision, such as a single plane should when approaching a formation of six ships”         

     The pilot of the civilian aircraft was suspected of being Connecticut’s Deputy State Aviation Commissioner. 

    Connecticut’s Aviation Commissioner put forth the idea that there may have been a second civilian plane following the first, but that the army flyers hadn’t seen it due to haze, and ground observers missed it due to their attention being focused on the accident. 

     “If the civilian plane had not been there, the accident would not have occurred,” the Commissioner was quoted by the Times as saying, “but that does not mean that the civilian pilot was responsible for the accident.  Whoever the pilot was, he got out of the way and was not actually in the crash.  It was up to the army pilots to do likewise.”   

     A special grand jury for the state of Connecticut was convened to investigate the crash, but on September 1st it was reported the jury “had found insufficient evidence for prosecution.”  

Sources:

Niagara Falls Gazette, “Two Die, Two Escape When Army Planes Crash In Air, Fall To Ground And Burn”, July 20, 1931

New York Times: “Army Men Roused Over Death Crash”, July 22, 1931

New York Times, “Admits Being Near Colliding Planes” July 23, 1931

Farmers Weekly Review, “Flyers Collide In Air And Perish” July 29, 1931

New York Times, “Clear Flier In Army Crash”, September 2, 1931

 

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