Simsbury, CT. – November 17, 1978

Simsbury, Connecticut – November 17, 1978

     On the night of November 17, 1978, a U.S. Marine helicopter with four Marines aboard left South Weymouth Naval Air Station in Massachusetts bound for Bradley International Airport in Windsor Locks, Connecticut.  While in-route, the helicopter experienced a mechanical problem, and the pilot attempted to make an emergency landing in an open field in the town of Simsbury, Connecticut, but the rotor blades clipped a tree near the edge of the field and a crash resulted.  All four were transported to a hospital with serious injuries.   

     Source:

     Providence Journal Bulletin, “Conn. Helicopter Crash Injures 4 Marines”, November 18, 1978, page A-2

Rentschler Airport, CT. – April 16, 1976

Rentschler Airport, East Hartford, Connecticut – April 16, 1976  

     On April 16, 1976, a Connecticut Army National Guard Huey helicopter left Bradley International Airport in Windsor Locks bound for Groton.  The crew consisted of the pilot, Major John M. Sivilla, and Chief Warrant Officer Gary Reviczky. 

     While over a residential section of East Hartford, sections of the tail rotor suddenly broke loose for no apparent reason.  Major Sivilla was able to maintain control and head towards Rentschler Airport about a quarter-mile away.  As he reached the airport and was in the process of landing, the helicopter bounced off the ground and spun around before crashing.  One of the rotor blades tore into the cockpit barely missing Sivilla and Reviczky.  There was no fire after the crash and both men escaped without injury. 

     One six foot long piece of the tail rotor imbedded in the roof of a private home on Margery Drive.  No occupants of the home were injured.  Another piece came down in the parking lot of the Edward B. Stevens School on Butternut Drive, and another section fell in a wooded area.  There were no injuries on the ground.

     Source:

     Hartford Courant, “Guard Helicopter Crashes In E. Hartford; Pair Unhurt”.  April 17, 1976, page 6. (With photo of crash) 

 

East Lyme, CT. – June 3, 1967

East Lyme, Connecticut – June 3, 1967

 

A-4 Skyhawk
U.S. Navy Photo

     On the morning of June 3, 1967, a flight of four U.S. Navy/Marines A-4 Skyhawk fighter jets took off from the South Weymouth Naval Air Station in Massachusetts to take part in a training exercise in conjunction with National Guard units at Stone’s Military Ranch in the Flanders section of the town of East Lyme, Connecticut.  When the aircraft arrived over Flanders, they broke into two sections, consisting of two planes each.  Witnesses reported that the aircraft made a pass over the ranch and then climbed to about 1,500 feet before circling to make a second pass. As they came in for the second pass, one aircraft suddenly dropped out of formation and crashed into a thickly wooded hillside and exploded, throwing debris over a large area and starting several brush fires.  The pilot, 26-year-old Marine Reserve Captain James Perlin, of Kew Gardens, Queens, N.Y., was killed instantly.

     The scene of the crash was reported to be about one “mile off Flanders Road, and about a half-mile from the road leading into the military area”.  

     Sources:

      New London Day, “Pilot Crash – Hits Trees At Stone’s Ranch”, June 3, 1967, page 1. (With on photo of crash.)

     New London Day, “Pilot Warned He Was Flying Too Low, Officials Say Of East Lyme Jet Crash”, June 5, 1967, page 4. (With 2 photos of crash.)

Shelton, CT. – February 2, 1966

Shelton, Connecticut – February 2 1966

     On February 2, 1966, a Sikorsky CH-53-A helicopter was operating over the town of Shelton on a test flight, when it experienced a mechanical malfunction leading both test pilots to abandon the aircraft and attempt to parachute to safety.   The helicopter crashed between two homes, damaging one of them, but there were no injuries on the ground.  The crash site was reported to be about a mile from the Sikorsky helicopter plant in the neighboring town of Stratford.

    Both test pilots were killed.  One was identified as Robert Gary Perrone, 33, of Trumbull, Ct., a former Captain in the United States Marine Corps.  His parachute opened, but he fell among trees and rocks and did not survive. 

     The other test pilot was identified as Lloyd C. Blanchard, 40, of Stratford, a former Captain in the U.S. Air Force.  His parachute didn’t open.  (To see a photograph of Capt. Blanchard, see www.findagrave.com, memorial #49123793.)  

     The helicopter involved in the accident was being developed for the U.S. Marine Corps.  It was 88 ft. 6 in. in length, and designed to carry 38 troops into battle along with a crew of three to four men.   

     It was reported that this was the “second multiple death crash at or near the helicopter plant in recent years.”  In April of 1960 three men were killed in a helicopter crash at the plant airfield.

     Source:

     New London Day, “Helicopter Crash Kills 2 In Shelton”, February 3, 1966

East Hartford, CT. – February 28, 1960

East Hartford, Connecticut – February 28, 1960

     On February 28, 1960, 1st Lt. John K. Rude, Jr., 24, was piloting a National Guard helicopter over the East Hartford area when the aircraft suddenly developed engine trouble.  With little time to react, Lt. Rude set the helicopter down in a cemetery located in a crowded residential area.  Upon making the emergency landing the rotor blades were seriously damaged when they lopped off the top of a tall monument.  There were no injuries, and Lt. Rude was praised for his handling of the emergency situation and avoiding nearby homes.

     The helicopter had been in the air for a couple of hours on a routine training flight out of Brainard Field when the trouble developed.  Damage was estimated to be $15,000.

     Source:

     New London Day, “Waterford Pilot Safely Lands Disabled ‘Copter”, February 29, 1960 

 

Off Block Island – May 10, 1956

Off Block Island – May 10, 1956

 

T-33 Trainer Jet
U.S. Air Force Photo

     On May 10, 1956, a U. S. Air Force T-33 jet trainer took off from Suffolk County Air Force Base in Westhampton, Long Island, New York, for an instrument check flight.  The pilot was Captain Howard M. Blanton, 32, of Baltimore, Maryland, and the observer was First Lieutenant William J. Reichard, 26, of Berwyn, Illinois.   

     The aircraft headed eastward out over the Atlantic Ocean.  At some point the crew discovered that the radar compass wasn’t working properly, and that they were lost.  They flew for a period of time until picked up by radar at Montauk Point, New York, and Quonset Point Naval Air Station in Rhode Island.   By now the jet was running low on fuel, and being closer to Rhode Island, was given emergency clearance to land at Quonset. 

     At about 12:30 p.m. the T-33 ran out of fuel as it approached Block Island/New Shoreham, which is located three miles off the Rhode Island Coast.  The crew ejected and the jet went into the water about a half-mile east of Block Island.

     Both crewmen landed safely in the water several miles apart from each other and rescue craft were immediately dispatched to the area.  Navy and Air Force helicopters found the men quickly due to the yellow dye markers each had carried, and directed surface vessels to their locations.  Both men were still alive at this point, but the cold temperature of the water was sapping their strength. 

     A sling was lowered form the Quonset helicopter to Lt. Reichard who managed to grip on to it, but moments later he fell back into the water and became entangled in the cords of his parachute.  He was retrieved by the crew of a Coast Guard boat, but wasn’t breathing when hauled aboard.  The crew attempted to revive him with artificial respiration without success.    

     Meanwhile, another Coast Guard boat recovered Captain Blanton, and he too was not breathing.  Attempts to revive him also failed.        

     Source:

     Unknown newspaper, “Two Jet Pilots Die Off Block Island”, May 11, 1956

 

Bethel, CT. – November 29, 1942

Bethel, Connecticut – November 29, 1942

     There are few details about this accident.    

Douglas C-39
U.S. Air Force Photo

     On November 29, 1942, an army C-39 aircraft, (Ser. No. 38-516), with seven men aboard was seen circling the town of Bethel for about fifteen minutes before someone aboard fired a red flare.  Then five parachutes were observed before the plane crashed in a wooded area.  Two men had remained aboard the plane and were killed.   Those who bailed out landed safely.

     The dead were identified n the press as:

     Major Herman B. Leeth, 46, of Indianapolis, Indiana.

     Captain John F. Meehan, Jr., from Wyncote, Pennsylvania.

     The survivors were identified as:

     Colonel George V. McPike of Hannibal, Mo.

     Major Robert V. Dunn, of Marion, Md.

     Captain Gerald Garrard, of Cordele, Ga.

     Lieutenant Ross De Lue, of Chicago, Il.

     A civilian, William Kurylo, of Middletown, Pa.

     The flight had originated at the Rome Air Depot in Rome, N.Y.  The reason for the distress flare and cause of the crash were not stated.

     Sources:

     Hartford Courant, “Plane crash In Bethel Is Fatal To Two”, November 30, 1942

     New York Times, “Two Army Fliers Killed”, November 30, 1942 

 

Rentschler Field – May 3, 1944

Rentschler Field, East Hartford, Connecticut – May 3, 1944

 

B-24 Liberator
U.S. Air Force Photo

     On the night of May 3, 1944, a B-24 Liberator with a crew of eleven men aboard, took off from Westover Field in Chicopee, Massachusetts, for a night training flight.  While over the Hartford, Connecticut, area the aircraft developed engine trouble and the pilot, 2nd Lt. John W. Garrett, age 19, attempted to make an emergency landing at Rentschler Field in East Hartford.  The B-24 crashed upon landing, killing Lt. Garrett, and injuring four members of the crew.  The other six escaped without injury. 

     Lt. Garrett is buried in Green Mountain Cemetery in Baltimore, Maryland. To see a photograph of Lt. Garrett, as well as a photo of his grave, see  www.findagrave.com, Memorial #114672261.   

     Sources:

     Springfield Union, “Westover Pilot Is Killed In East Hartford Crash”, May 4, 1944   

     www.findagrave.com

West Hartford, CT. – September 7, 1944

West Hartford, Connecticut – September 7, 1944

 

B-24 Liberator
U.S. Air Force Photo

     On September 7, 1944, a flight of B-24 Liberators out of Westover Field in Chicopee, Massachusetts, were on a combat training flight over the Connecticut River Valley when two of the aircraft were involved in a mid-air collision.  One aircraft crashed, but where it crashed was not stated.  It was initially reported that all of the crewmen aboard that plane parachuted safely however, by the end of the day it was realized that one man was missing.  His body was later recovered in the waters of Hartford Reservoir No. 5, located in West Hartford, Connecticut.

     The other aircraft was able to make it back to Westover Field. 

     The deceased aviator was identified in the press as Corporal John T. Melvin, age 20, of Selma, Alabama.  

     Sources:

     The Springfield Union, “Two Westover Planes Crash”, September 7, 1944.

     The Springfield Union, “Westover Man’s Body Is Found”, unknown date.

Windsor Locks, CT. – March 11, 1957

Windsor Locks, CT. – March 11, 1957

 

T-33 Trainer Jet
U.S. Air Force Photo

      At 4;45 p.m. on the afternoon of March 11, 1957, two T-33 trainer aircraft took off from Westover Air Force Base to participate in a radar-search training mission.  The two T-33s were to act as “targets” for an F-86 Sabre jet.  After take off the T-33 pilots had been briefed to climb to an altitude of 40,ooo feet.

     One of the T-33s, (Ser. No. 56-1600), was occupied by 1st Lieutenant Harold D. Gibson, (20), and 2nd Lieutenant John W. Chandler, (24), both assigned to the 337th Fighter Interceptor Squadron at Westover. 

     While participating in the exercise over the Hartford, Connecticut, area, Gibson and Chandler’s T-33 disappeared, and a search was instituted.  The wreckage of the aircraft was later located in a wooded are about 2.5 miles from Bradley Field in Windsor Locks,  Both had been killed instantly.

     Lt. Gibson is buried in Parkhill Cemetery in Columbus, Georgia.

     Lt. Chandler is buried in Portland Cemetery in Portland, Maine.

     Sources:

     Springfield Union, “Westover Jet Is Missing”, March 12, 1957, page 1

     Book: 60/33th Fighter Interceptor Squadron – Westover Memories, 1953-1960, by Stan Lukasiewicz, Trafford Publishers, C. 2005.       

 

Glastonbury, CT. – August 5, 1954

Glastonbury, CT. – August 5, 1954

 

F-86 Sabre – U.S. Air Force Photo

     On the afternoon of August 5, 1954, two F-86 Sabre jets were on a routing training flight over Massachusetts and Connecticut.  One aircraft was piloted by Flight Lieutenant James L. Dell of the Royal Air Force who was on exchange duty with the 60th Fighter Interceptor Squadron at Westover Air Force Base to learn American tactics.  The other F-86 was piloted by Captain Leo C. Baca, USAF. 

     At about 3:00 p.m. that afternoon the two Sabres were back in the vicinity of Westover AFB ready to land, but due to severe weather, and other aircraft that were given priority, Baca and Dell were put in a holding pattern and told to circle. 

     By about 3:15 p.m. both jets were running low on fuel, and began heading for Rentschler Field in East Hartford, Connecticut.  As they were making their approach to Rentschler, Captain Baca’s jet ran out of fuel, but he was able to glide his plane in for a safe landing.  At about the same time Flight Lieutenant Dell’s aircraft also ran out of fuel while he was at an altitude of 10,000 feet.  As the aircraft began to fall he attempted to eject, but found he couldn’t jettison the canopy. He had to manually beat against the canopy to get it to release.  When the canopy cleared the aircraft, Dell jumped and deployed his chute.  His F-86 came down in a wooded area in south Glastonbury and exploded. The canopy landed in the back yard of George Hall, the town’s chief of police. 

     Flight Lieutenant Dell landed safely.    

     Source: The Springfield Union, “Pilot Chutes To Safety In Jet Crackup”, August 6, 1952    

Northampton, Mass. C-54 Crash Memorial

Northampton, Mass. C-54 Crash Memorial

Located at Florence Road and Old Wilson Road, Northampton, Mass.  

To learn more about this accident, click here: Northampton, MA. – 1948

Photos taken May 3, 2018.

Click on images to enlarge.

Memorial at the crash site.
Established 1999.

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

 

Woodbridge, CT – July 23, 1938

Woodbridge, Connecticut – July 23, 1938

Updated Aug. 10, 2015

    

     On July 23, 1938, a U. S. Navy Douglas dive bomber attached to Torpedo Squadron 5 aboard the aircraft carrier U.S.S. Yorktown, left Norfolk, Virginia, for a flight to Squantum, Massachusetts Naval Air Station.  At 2:25 p.m. the aircraft crashed in heavy rain on the farm of Chester H. Carpenter in Woodbridge, Connecticut. 

     The impact drove the nose of the plane eight feet into the ground, and wreckage was strewn about a wide area.  All three servicemen aboard were killed instantly.

     The dead were identified as:

     (Pilot) Lieutenant James F. McDonough of Boston, Massachusetts. 

     Lieut. (j.g.) William J. Drumtra of Gloucester, Massachusetts.  

     Aviation Cadet John Richard Patch of Ipswitch, Massachusetts.

     A toy tricycle was found in the wreckage which McDonough was apparently bringing home to his child. 

     Sources:

     New York Times, “Three Navy Fliers Killed In Plunge”, July 24, 1938 

     New York Times, “Inquiry On Bomber Crash”, July 25, 1938

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

 

 

 

East Granby, CT – May 7, 1954

East Granby, Connecticut – May 7, 1954 

 

F-51D Mustang U.S. Air Force Photo

F-51D Mustang
U.S. Air Force Photo

     On May 7, 1954, Major Robert Anderstrom, 33, was piloting an F-51 Mustang from Mitchell Field on Long island, N.Y. to Westover Field in Chicopee, Massachusetts, when he crashed into a wooded hillside on the west side of historic Old Newgate Prison in East Granby.  The subsequent explosion blasted the plane to pieces, and left a crater 12 feet deep, 20 feet wide, and 30 feet long. 

    One witness, Mrs. Frances B. Allen, recalled to reporters, “I thought it was a bomb it went up so fast.”

     Major Anderstrom was an experienced pilot having served in the Pacific Theatre during World War II.  He was recalled to active duty in 1952 and assigned to the 131st Fighter Interceptor Squadron of the Massachusetts Air National Guard based at Barnes Airport in Westfield, Mass.  At the time of his accident he was the Commanding Officer of the 831st Replacement Training Squadron, and training officer for the 131st FIS.  During his career he earned three air medals.

     Anderstrom was survived by his wife Theresa and three young daughters. He’s buried at St. Thomas cemetery in West Springfield, Mass.  To see a photo of Major Anderstrom, go to findagrave.com and see memorial #6722890 

Sources:

Hartford Courant, “Air Guard Major Loses Life In East Granby Plane Crash” May 8, 1954.

Air Force Print News Today, Release # 030413, “104th Fighter Wing Remembers Fallen Heroes With F-100 Rededication”, April 30, 2013

Findagrave.com  memorial # 6722890

 

 

Windsor Locks, CT – June 5, 1942

Windsor Locks, Connecticut – June 5, 1942

 Narragansett Bay – Rhode Island

 

Curtis P-40 Aircraft
U. S. Army Air Corps Photo

     On June 5, 1942, 2nd Lt. Martin Taub of Newark, New Jersey, was piloting a P-40E (41-24782) over Rhode Island when his aircraft crashed in Narragansett Bay, killing him. 

     It was reported that he was the second serviceman from New Jersey to loose his life in an aviation accident over southern New England that day.  The other pilot was Richard M. Stafford, of Summit, N.J. who was killed in a crash at Windsor Locks, Connecticut. Stafford’s plane was a P-40F, (41-13765). 

Sources: New York Times, “New Jersey Pilot Killed”, June 7, 1942

New Canaan, CT – January 2, 1943

New Canaan, CT – January 2, 1943

     At 7:30 p.m. on January 2, 1943, a U.S. Navy aircraft crashed on Ponus Ridge in the town of New Canaan.  The plane came down on the estate of Lindsey Bradford, and the wreckage was strewn for hundreds of yards.  The pilot was found still strapped to his seat lying against a stone wall. 

     As of this posting, no information is available as to the type of plane, where it was from, or the pilot’s identity.

Source: New York Times, “Crash Kills Navy Flyer”, January 2, 1943    

Near Bridgeport, CT – November 12, 1942

Near Bridgeport, Connecticut – November 12, 1942

P-47C Thunderbolt

U.S. Air Force Photo

     On November 12, 1942, U.S. Army Captain Robert K. Noel, 23, was piloting a P-47C Thunderbolt, (41-6171), on a routine training flight over the Bridgeport area when according to witnesses the plane suddenly dove towards the ground and exploded on impact.

     Noel was from Beckley, West Virginia, and was engaged to be married to a Bridgeport woman in four days.  On the day he crashed, he had gone to Bridgeport Probate Court to obtain a waver of the state’s five-day waiting period.     

     Source: New York Times, “Army Pilot Dies In Crash”, November 13, 1942  

Off Charlestown, R.I. – October 21, 1945

Off Charlestown, Rhode Island – October 21, 1945

 

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

     On October 21, 1945, Lt. (Jg.) T. R. Delehunt was piloting an F6F-5N Hellcat, (Bu. No. 70915), taking part of a training exercise off Block Island when he noticed grey smoke streaming from one side of his engine.  After declaring an emergency, he set a course for Quonset Point Naval Air Station.  Despite the smoke, all instruments were reading normal, until he came within the area of Point Judith.  At that time his oil pressure began dropping, so he was re-directed to the Charlestown Naval Auxiliary Air Field.  The oil pressure continued to fall, and as he neared Charlestown Beach the engine suddenly stopped.  Lt. Delehunt was forced to make an emergency landing in the water, coming down about a 1/2 mile from shore.  The aircraft was a total loss, but Delehunt was not injured.

     Source: U. S. Navy Accident Report, dated October 21, 1945

 

Tips For Researching A New England Military Plane Crash

Tips For Researching A New England

Military Plane Crash

    

New England Mountains

New England Mountains

      The idea for this article came about because from time to time I’ve been  contacted by people looking for information about family members lost in military aviation accidents, or local historians and veteran’s organizations hoping to find more details about WWII era military crashes that occurred in their area.     

     There have been literally thousands of military aviation accidents all across the United States going back to the early days of flight, however this article will focus on researching those that occurred in New England.   

     During World War II, army and naval air fields were established in all six New England states to be utilized for coastal defense, training of new pilots, and way stations for bomber crews arriving cross-country bound for Europe.  With a war on it seemed inevitable that accidents would happen – and they did -almost on a daily basis, which is the reason why the majority of New England’s military aircraft accidents occurred during World War II, (1941-1945).  However, there were also accidents that occurred during the post-war years up to the 1970s.    

     The word “accident” is appropriate, for there are no known combat related air crashes that occurred in New England.  Accidents occurred for various reasons including bad weather, mechanical failure, structural failure, unforeseen ground conditions, or human error.    

This water-filled crater in the woods of Charlestown, R.I., is where a navy Hellcat fighter crashed on May 14, 1944.

This water-filled crater in the woods of Charlestown, R.I., is where a navy Hellcat fighter crashed on May 14, 1944.

     Southern New England in particular has numerous World War II era wreck sites, although most are unrecognizable as such today.  Unlike the mountain-top crash sites of northern New England where remote locations made it necessary to leave the wreckage where it fell, those in the south are generally not as obvious, for once the sites were “cleaned” by the military, Mother Nature began to reclaim the land.  And some sites have been lost all together due to modern development.     

    SECTION I

Getting Started

       The first place most people begin their research is with the Internet, but sometimes this leads to a dead end.  Now what?   Now you get to play detective, but where do you begin?  That all depends on how much information you have to start with.

     The following tips are offered as guidelines  to genealogists and historians although they may not apply in all cases.

   A genealogist researching a family member killed in a plane crash will likely have the person’s name and date of death, and probably a general location, such as the name of a town, or at least the state.   However, in other cases, a local historian may hear of a crash, “that happened sometime during World War II“, and is trying to learn more based vague recollections and scant information.  The historian will likely have a general location, but no names or date(s) to work with.  Therefore, each will have to begin their research in different ways.  

       The date of occurrence is necessary if one is looking for newspaper articles and official reports about the accident.  Unfortunately, if you don’t have the date, there’s no centralized government repository where such information is easily found.   

       To the genealogist; if you have a name to work with, but not the exact date or place of occurrence, try contacting the appropriate state agency responsible for keeping vital statistics, i.e. birth and death records.  This might be different for each state, so visiting a state’s government website should help in directing you to the proper office.  (Look under “vital statistics”.)   

     The state office/archives where vital statistics are kept should be able to provide the date and location of death, (city or town), as well as a copy of the death certificate if one is willing to pay for it. 

     Be aware that if the deceased was initially reported as “lost” or “missing”, and was never found, (Such as lost at sea.), the date of death might be listed as one-year-and-a-day after the date of the incident.  This is called a “presumption of death” which was generally issued 366 days after the fatal incident for widow’s benefits and estate settlement purposes.

    If the genealogist knows the name of the town in which the accident occurred, then they can contact the town hall directly, and the name of the deceased can be looked up in town death records, which will contain the date of occurrence and other helpful information.  Phone numbers for the town clerk’s office are usually posted on the town’s government website.   

     To the historian; if you don’t have any name(s) or dates to work with, as is often the case when getting third-hand information about a crash that occurred decades earlier, there are several other options to explore presuming you at least know the municipality in which the crash occurred. 

     The following are some suggestions to guide all researchers.

     1) Contact the local historical society. Even if the town doesn’t have one, a neighboring town might. If such is not the case, many towns have at least one “unofficial” town historian – someone who has taken it upon themselves to learn all they can about local history.  Finding that person could be as easy as calling the town hall, or speaking with the reference librarian at the local library.  

     2) Speak with the reference librarian at the local library.  Sometimes libraries have local history rooms, or at least history files that are available to researchers. These files can contain news clippings, photographs, and other helpful information.

     Ask the librarian about newspaper microfilm collections.  Many libraries have them, and some are quite extensive.  If the library doesn’t have one, ask the librarian if they know of another that might.  If the microfilm collection is indexed, then you can probably get the date of the crash from that, a well as copies of newspaper articles about the crash.  (More about newspaper articles later.)

     If the microfilm collection isn’t indexed, that’s alright.  Just knowing it’s there will be helpful later. 

     I was once using a microfilm viewer at a library when three youths came over to ask what kind of “computer” I was using.  For those too young to know, microfilm was a pre-Internet way of preserving and storing newspapers on small rolls of film.  The newspaper pages would be photographed in high resolution on transparent film to be viewed by researchers using special microfilm viewing machines.  Modern technology is gradually making these machines obsolete as more and more libraries digitize their collections.         

     3) Try contacting local veterans groups, such as the Veterans of Foreign Wars, or the American Legion Post. They may have a record of the incident, or perhaps photos or artifacts.  It’s also possible they held a memorial ceremony at some point.

     4) Speak with long-time residents.  You can try talking with long-time local residents to see what they might know or remember.  A senior center is a good place to start, but be warned, memory can be hazy when it comes to recalling incidents that occurred 50 to 70 years earlier.  

U.S. Army RB-34 U.S. Air Force Photo

U.S. Army RB-34
U.S. Air Force Photo

     In 2003 I researched a military crash that occurred in August of 1943.  Some people I spoke to were “positive” as to the type of aircraft involved.  One said it was a B-17, another, a B-25, still another, a B-26, and one was sure it was a P-38.  The downed plane later turned out to be an RB-34, the army’s version of the navy PV-1 Ventura.  

     As to the date of the crash, I was given several, ranging from 1939 to 1946, all of which were incorrect.      

     I further learned that the crash had taken on some local folklore.  It seems that after the volunteer fire department had extinguished the blaze, military officials arrived and made everyone leave the immediate area.  This was actually standard procedure done to protect the scene from souvenir hunters, as well as the public from any unexploded ordinance, or gruesome sights.  However, the local rumor mill at the time interpreted this to be some type of “cover up”, and as time went on rumor became “fact”.  It was said the plane had crashed because it was overloaded with bombs, and had been carrying top-secret military equipment, neither of which turned out to be true.         

     That’s not to say that those you speak with will provide useless information.  I found a woman who was 12-years-old at the time who saw the plane go into the hill.  She’d ridden her bicycle to the scene, and was able to recall quite vividly what she saw.   

     I also spoke with a former volunteer fireman who was too young for military service, but old enough to ride a fire truck who’d also been at the crash.

     If you’re lucky, you may find someone who happened to have a camera and took photos of the incident. 

     5) Visit the town hall.  Town halls and city halls have death records (under “vital statistics”) pertaining to anyone who has ever died within the municipality.  If you have the name of the pilot, or a crew member, someone in the town clerk’s office can look up the date of death for you.  If you don’t have a name, there are other ways to look up the information.

     Before going to the town hall, it’s advisable to familiarize yourself with the state’s “open records laws” pertaining to death records.  These can usually be downloaded from the state’s Secretary of State website. 

    There’s a difference between a “death certificate” and a “death record”, and you need to be clear about what you’re asking for.  Death certificates are official documents that people request certified copies of for various reasons; the probate of wills for example. (There is a fee for these.) “Death records” are generally kept in large, hard-bound, books with a canvas cover and leather spine.  These books will be marked “Death Records”, and will usually contain records for a designated number of years such as from 1920 – 1945.  I’ve found these books to be more or less universal from one town hall to the next, but in a couple of cases I’ve been to town halls that didn’t use them, and stored old records differently.    

      Researching the town’s death records without a name or date is difficult, but not impossible.  The “death record” books have an alphabetical name index used to look up the name of the deceased.  It tells the clerk which page in the book the record will be found.  However, names aside, in most cases all death records are entered in the book(s) in the sequential order in which they occurred, not by alphabetical order.  Therefore, if you know the year, or a specific time frame, using the book that contains the records from that year or time frame is the place to start.

     Here’s how it can be done.  Each death record entry lists a “cause of death”, i.e. heart attack, drowning, accident, etc.  Those involving a plane crash will state something to the effect of “massive trauma resulting from plane crash”, or “severe burns due to plane crash”.  Under “occupation” should be some reference to military service. Unless you’re dealing with a municipality located near an active or former military air base, chances are there will be very few military plane crash deaths listed. 

     Therefore, if you know the crash took place in a particular time frame, such as the summer of 1944, the clerk can skim through the pages for July and August looking at “cause of death” to find what you’re looking for.

     If you know the exact date of the incident, but don’t have any names, the incident could be looked up by the date alone because the death records are entered in the order of occurrence, and not by alphabetical order.  Therefore, looking up the records only requires opening the death record book to the page(s) that contain the entries for that date.  

     If more than one person was killed in the same plane crash, all names should be listed together in the book, either on the same page or the one following it, regardless of where they fall alphabetically on the name index.  An exception to this could be if one of the victims died days or weeks later due to their injuries. 

     Many New England towns were still “small towns” during the 1940s and 50s.  Therefore, there may not be very many death records to sort through to find what you’re looking for.  Unfortunately this is not true with larger municipalities.

    Some clerks may be under the impression that since it was a military plane crash, the deaths won’t be found in their records, but in the town hall records of the hometowns of where the servicemen came from.  In some cases this may be true as with “presumption of death” entries done for estate settlement purposes.  However, these are general cases where a body was never found.  Under most circumstances, any and all deaths that occur in a municipality are supposed to be recorded in that municipality where the death occurred. 

     Having said that, there could still be other exceptions.  For example, suppose a man is injured in Town A, and is transported to a hospital in Town B, where he dies.  Or he is pronounced “dead on arrival” at the hospital.  In either case, his death record is likely going to be found in Town B.     

     The information found in death records is helpful, for they not only give the exact date of the crash, they also contain the airman’s date of birth, marital status, and place of burial.  (More on that later.)

      6) Local police and fire departments. You could try seeking official reports or photographs from local fire and police departments, but generally such records no longer exist.  Most fire departments were volunteer organizations until the later half of the 20th century, and many small towns during the 1940s and 50s were policed by part-time officers or constables.  

      In many cases, municipal police and fire departments today are only required to keep records for seven years unless the case is still “active”, such as with an unsolved murder.        

     7) Aviation Museums. One can also contact regional aviation museums to see if they might have any information on the crash you’re investigating.  This is a long shot, but in one instance it paid off for me.   

Not all WWII aviation accidents involved fatalities.

Not all WWII aviation accidents involved fatalities.

     If the incident you’re investigating didn’t involve any fatalities then information about it will be harder to find.  Army and navy aircraft accidents were very common, especially during WWII.  Therefore, an accident that only involved the loss of an airplane may have escaped notice by the local media unless there were some unusual circumstances such as the plane landing on a house.  In cases where there were no fatalities involved, I’d suggest contacting websites that deal with military aviation accident reports.  (More on that later.)  

     Another idea is to try looking up squadron histories if the squadron number or designation is known.

 

SECTION II

So you have the date and place of occurrence, now what?

   In the woods 3  Once you have the date and location of the accident you can gather more information through sources that are mentioned in Section I.

   1) Newspaper microfilm collections at a library will hopefully provide details about the crash.  Unfortunately, in some cases they give extremely little information depending upon what else was going on with the war and locally at the time.  In other cases they weren’t reported at all.  This is more likely if the paper was a weekly instead of a daily.

     Newspaper articles may provide the type of aircraft involved, but  when the press wasn’t sure, sometimes the aircraft would be described as a “navy fighter plane”, or an “army bomber-type aircraft”, which isn’t much help to the researcher other than to give the branch of service it belonged to.

     Sometimes names of the deceased weren’t mentioned in the press because they were withheld pending notification of next-of-kin.  However, by knowing the date of occurrence, the names can be looked up in municipal death records.  

     In other instances, to save space, the reporter may have only used first and middle initials.  Again, full names can be determined through death records.  

    If you do locate an article about the crash, remember that follow-up articles may have appeared in the same paper over the next few days.  

    If other newspaper microfilm collections exist at other libraries, see if they reported different accounts of the crash.  You might be surprised to see how one newspaper covered the event in far more detail than another.   

     2) Getting back to municipal death records.  One piece of information they contain is the place of burial, which is generally in or near the person’s hometown.  Since many airmen weren’t from New England, the press may not have included much personal information about them, such as where they went to school, what organizations they belonged to, what they did prior to the war, etc. That information will likely be found in their hometown newspapers. 

     3) Getting back to reference librarians – or you could do this next part on your own. 

     The reference librarian can contact a library in the deceased’s home town and ask them to look in their microfilm collection for any articles pertaining to the person, and any follow-up articles about the funeral.  Such articles might contain a photo of the deceased.  

 

SECTION III

Obtaining A Copy Of The Official Investigation Report   

Wreckage from a navy aircraft in the woods of Connecticut.

Wreckage from a navy aircraft in the woods of Connecticut.

     Newspaper articles might only tell part of the story – the part that the military deemed appropriate due to wartime or military secrecy.  If you want to learn more then you may want to obtain a copy of the official crash investigation report.

     Every WWII military aircraft accident was investigated and a report of the official findings was filed.  Until about twenty years ago, those reports remained classified and unavailable to the press or public.  Today, reports up to the mid 1950s are available through the Freedom of Information Act, and through websites that sell microfilm copies of such reports.  Search under “Military Aviation Archeology”, “Aviation Archeology”, or “Military Aviation Accident Reports”.  (I’m not at liberty to endorse one website over another.)

     The cost of a report depends on the number of pages, and whether or not there are photos that go with it.  I’ve seen reports that have over 100 pages, and others that have as few as 2. 

     Information found in these reports may or may not contain information about the aircraft, copies of maintenance records, witness statements, the investigation committee’s findings as to the cause of the crash, recommendations pertaining to any discipline, and ways to prevent future occurrences.  Each circumstance is different.

 

SECTION IV

Establishing A Memorial

Memorial to those who lost their lives in the service of their country at Charlestown (RI) Aux. Landing Field

Memorial to those who lost their lives in the service of their country at Charlestown (RI) Aux. Landing Field

     After researching the crash, you may want to erect some type of memorial honoring the men who lost their lives so their sacrifice won’t be forgotten.  This is a noble cause, but there’s a lot to consider before getting started. 

     First there are some basic questions you need to ask yourself. 

     1) Would the memorial be placed at the site of the crash where only a few might see it, or in a public park, or other location where everyone can see it?  Be aware that private property owners may not want a memorial on their land for various reasons.  

     2) What permissions or municipal permits would need to be obtained? 

     3) How big should the memorial be, and what materials would be used?

     4) What is the projected cost, and how will the money be raised?

     5) Who will do the work?    

     6) Does the town already have a WWII memorial, and if so, can the names of those killed in the crash be added?

     With a project of this type y0u should solicit the help of people who can get things done on a municipal level. Contacting local veterans groups, civic organizations, and politicians can be a good place to start. 

     Newspapers and magazines can be helpful with publicity by writing stories about the project. 

     Good luck with your research.  If you have any questions, please feel free to contact this website. 

 

 

 

Boston Harbor – May 2, 1925

Boston Harbor – May 2, 1925

     On the morning of May 2, 1925, Lieutenant Alexander V. MacAulay, and his observer, Private Angus D. MacPhee, both of the Massachusetts National Guard, took off from East Boston Airport to join other military aircraft circling overhead for a formation flight over Boston in celebration of Loyalty Day.  When MacAulay’s aircraft reached 800 feet, it suddenly went into a spin and dove into the mud flats of Boston Harbor.    

     Lt. MacAulay died later that day.  Private MacPhee was seriously injured, but not fatally. 

     Lt. MacAulay, a veteran of World War I, was from Beverly, Massachusetts, and is buried in St. Mary’s Cemetery in that town.  (See www.findagrave.com memorial #87490098)

     Source: New York Times, “Dies After Plane Dive, Honored As Safe Flyer”, May 3, 1925

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