Quonset Point, R.I. – October 14, 1970

Quonset Point Naval Air Station, Rhode Island – October 14, 1970

     At 5:55 p.m. on October 14, 1970, a U.S. Navy Grumman S-2E Tracker, (Bu. No. 153), left Quonset Point for a routine training flight.  The S-2E was used by the navy in anti-submarine patrols, and this plane was attached to Antisubmarine Squadron 30.   

    The aircraft carried a crew of two men: the pilot, Lt. Cmdr. George H. Wigfall, 33, and Lt. (jg.) Richard J. Moriarty, 24. 

     Twenty five minutes into the flight, the crew realized that the landing gear was malfunctioning.  After alerting the Quonset tower of their situation, the base crash trucks were activated and began spraying foam over the runway.  Meanwhile the plane circled overhead until this was completed.   

     The aircraft made a wheels up belly landing and skidded for 2,300 feet along runway 16 causing extensive damage to the plane, but the crew was not injured.

     Source:

     Providence Journal, “Navy Antisub Plane Make Emergency Landing At Quonset”, October 15, 1970 

Coventry, RI – March 28, 1952

Coventry, Rhode Island – March 28, 1952

    

U.S. Navy  Grumman F9F Panther U.S. Navy Photo - National Archives

U.S. Navy
Grumman F9F Panther
U.S. Navy Photo – National Archives

     On March 28, 1952, a flight of three navy F9F-5 Panther jets took off from Quonset Point Naval Air Station for a training flight.  At some point after take off, one pilot noticed that one of the other aircraft was on fire and radioed a warning.  The burning aircraft (#12528) was piloted by Commander Richard L. Wright, the commanding officer of Fighter Squadron 73, (VF-73).  Being over a populated area, Commander Wright made no effort to bail out, and elected to stay with the aircraft.  His plane crashed and exploded in a wooded area off Tiogue Avenue in the town of Coventry, near the East Greenwich town line.     

     Commander Wright was a veteran of WWII, and had earned the Distinguished Flying Cross, four Air Medals, and various other medals during his time in the service.  He was survived by his wife Susan, and a son, Richard Jr..  He’s buried in Arlington National Cemetery. 

     There has been some discrepancy over the years as to the location of this accident.  Some sources say it occurred in the water off Little Compton, Rhode Island, or in the town itself.  Others state Coventry-East Greenwich.  A check with the Coventry Town Hall has revealed that the crash actually occurred in Coventry, Rhode Island. 

     Sources:

     Woonsocket Call, “Quonset Jet Pilot Killed In Crash”, March 28, 1952, Page 1 

     Newport Daily News, “Navy Pilot Identified”, March 29, 1952, Page 3.

     Newport Mercury, “Navy Pilot Identified”, April 4, 1952 

     Town of Coventry, R.I., Death Records

    

Quonset Point, R.I. – November 16, 1956

Quonset Point Naval Air Station – November 16, 1956

     On November 16, 1956, a U.S. Navy, S2F-1 Sentinel, twin-engine aircraft crashed just after take off from Quonset Point NAS.  The plane went down 200 yards off the seawall at the end of Runway 5, and sank in 30 feet of water in Narragansett Bay.  All three crewmen aboard were killed.  Their names were not published pending notification of kin.

     The aircraft was assigned to Antisubmarine Squadron 39 at Quonset Point.  

     Source: Lewiston Evening Journal, “Three Killed In Crash Of Navy Plane”, November 16, 1956

 

Quonset Point, R.I. – May 1, 1962

Quonset Point Naval Air Station – May 1, 1962

     On May 1, 1962, an U.S. Navy, AD5W Skyraider, crashed on take off from Quonset Point Naval Air Station.  The plane went down in the waters of Narragansett Bay about 500 years northeast of Pier 2. 

     Both crewmen aboard were killed.  They were identified as:

     (Pilot) Lieutenant Harold E. Richlie, 27, of Missoula, Montana.  he was survived by his wife Janet.

     Parachute Rigger 2C Kenneth M. Robinson, 33, of Randolph, Massachusetts.  He was survived by his wife Ann.

     The aircraft was assigned to Carrier Airborne Early Warning Squadron 33.

     Source:

     Lewiston Evening Journal, “Fear Two Dead In Navy Crash”, May 2, 1962 

    

Quonset Point Naval Air Station – May 24, 1966

Quonset Point Naval Air Station  – May 24, 1966

     On the night of May 24, 1966, Lieut. Cmdr. Bruce R. Richmond, 31, and Lieut. Stephen Losey, 37, were practicing landings and take offs at Quonset Point Naval Air Station when their twin-engine aircraft crashed in Narragansett Bay.  Both men were killed. The type of aircraft was not stated.

     Lieut. Cmdr. Richmond is buried in Fort Rosecrans National Cemetery in San Diego, California.  To see a photo of his grave see www.findagrave.com memorial #3427105.

     Lieut. Losey is buried in Arlington National Cemetery.  To see a photo of his grave go to www.findagrave.com memorial #49249517.   He was from New Jersey.

     Sources:

     New York Times, “Two Navy Fliers Die In Crash”, May 25, 1966

     www.findagrave.com

Off North Kingstown, R.I. – June 28, 1942

Off North Kingstown, Rhode Island – June 28, 1942

  

P-40 Warhawk  U.S. Air Force Photo

P-40 Warhawk
U.S. Air Force Photo

     At 10:30 a.m. on June 28, 1942, army aviator (rank unknown) Robert M. Flanders, 24, was killed when the airplane he was piloting crashed at the water at the east end of Hope Island, which is located in Narragansett Bay, just off shore from the former Quonset Naval Air Station in North Kingstown.   The type of aircraft and details of the accident are unknown.

     Source: North Kingstown, Rhode Island, death records #42-23  

    Update September 15, 2015:  Robert Flanders was a 2nd Lieutenant, and was from Cambridge, Massachusetts.  The aircraft he was piloting was a P-40E (#40-440)

    Sources:

     New York Times, “4 Army Fliers Die In Ohio”, June 29, 1942.  (The article covered more than one plane crash.)

     Larry Webster, Aviation Historian and Archaeologist.

     Update March 2, 2016:   This accident occurred while Lt. Flanders, and 2nd Lt. David H. Brown were engaged in a mock aerial dogfight at 15,000 feet in their P-40 airplanes.  At one point, Lt. Flanders’ P-40 began to dive at high speed, reaching the speed of 400 mph.  At 8,000 feet he began to pull out of the dive at which point his plane exploded in mid-air. 

     A statement filed by Lt. Brown to Army investigators reads as follows:

     “Lt. Flanders and I were on a combat mission when his plane exploded and he met his death.

     We were on oxygen and fighting at 15,000 feet at this time.  Lt. Flanders rolled over on his back and started down in a split-S.  I immediately rolled over and followed him down.  As he started to pull out at about 8,000 feet, and traveling at approximately 400 mph, there was a terrific explosion and his plane went to pieces.”    

      The accident was also witnessed by at least three observers on Hope Island, all of whom basically stated that after the explosion the plane fell nose first into the water.

     It was the opinion of the accident investigation committee that the explosion originated in the reserve fuel tank, possibly caused by a portion of engine cowling being ripped loose from the force of the dive and cutting into the tank.  

     Both pilots were attached to the 66th Fighter Squadron then based at Hillsgrove Army Air Field in Warwick, Rhode Island. 

     Lt. Flanders had obtained his pilots rating on May 29, 1942.

     Lt. Flanders was born June 23, 1917, and died just five days after his 24th birthday. He’s buried in Bellevue Cemetery in Lawrence, Massachusetts.

     Sources: 

     United States Army Crash Investigation Report#42-6-28-8

     www.findagrave.com

     Updated March 9, 2016

     On June 12, 1942, sixteen days before his fatal accident, Lt. Flanders had a close call while flying another P-40 aircraft, (Ser. No. 41-36514).  On that date, he was returning to Hillsgrove Air Field in Warwick, Rhode Island, after a routine training flight.  Just as he was landing, a strong gust of wind lifted the left wing, causing the right wing to touch the ground and send the plane into a 270 degree “ground loop”.  The aircraft suffered some damage, but Lt. Flanders was unhurt.

     Source: U.S. Army Air Corps Technical Report Of Aircraft Accident #42-6-12-32, dated June 26, 1942.

    

  

Charlestown, R.I. – April 17, 1944

Charlestown, Rhode Island – April 17, 1944

Great Swamp

Updated July 8, 2017 

 

Hellcat Fighters
U.S. Navy Photo

     On April 17, 1944, a flight of four F6F-3 Hellcats left Quonset Point Naval Air Station for a familiarization training flight.   During the flight the aircraft flew in a line of four, in a “follow the leader” type of pattern.  It was during a phase of the exercise when the aircraft were changing positions in the formation that a mid-air collision between two of the aircraft occurred.  Both aircraft, (Bu. No. 40345), piloted by Ensign Stephen L. Smith, 21, and (Bu. No. 66034), piloted by Lieutenant Robert C. Stimson, 27, crashed and exploded in a wooded portion of the “Great Swamp” area of Charlestown.  Neither pilot survived.

     Ensign Stephen Luther Smith was from of St. Andrews, Florida. He’s buried in Greenwood Cemetery in Panama City, Florida.  (See www.findagrave.com, memorial #32844142)

     Lieutenant Robert Charles Stimson was from of Shelby, Ohio, and was survived by his wife. He’s buried in Oakland Cemetery in Shelby.  To read more about Lt. Stimson, and to see photographs of him, go to www.findagrave.com, memorial 73196817.

     Sources:

     North Kingstown, Rhode Island, death records       

     U.S. Navy Accident Report #44-12263

North Kingstown, R.I. – August 21, 1944

North Kingstown, Rhode Island – August 21, 1944

The Rose Hill area of Saunderstown

    

U.S. Navy Avengers National Archives Photo

U.S. Navy Avengers
National Archives Photo

     On August 21, 1944, a flight of TBM Avengers out of Quonset Point Naval Air Station were flying in formation over southern Rhode Island when one aircraft grazed its wing against the elevator of another sending it down over the Saunderstown section of North Kingstown.  The plane’s wing struck the roof of a vacant house belonging to Mrs. Mabel Barton before it crashed nose first into the side yard and exploded.  Flaming gasoline showered the home and set it ablaze.  All three crewmen aboard were killed instantly.

     The three men who lost their lives were:

     Walter Lee Miller Jr., 21, of Morton, Texas.

     Joseph Camel Beam, 20, of Pottstown, Penn.

     Donald Joseph Finkler, 19, of Cleveland, Ohio

     The other aircraft involved in the accident made it safely back to Quonset NAS.

     At the time of the crash, an 8-year-old boy was playing in his front yard nearby the Barton home, and suffered minor burns as a result of the flaming gasoline. 

     One eyewitness told reporters that after falling out of formation, the pilot had raced the motor in an effort to gain altitude.

     A second house in which an elderly invalid woman was residing was also set ablaze.  She was rescued by two Coast Guardsmen, Meredith E. Dobry, and Daniel Caruso, who happened to be in the area at the time of the crash.     

Sources:

Providence Journal, “Three Quonset Airmen Die As Plane Falls, Fires House”, August 22, 1944, Pg. 1

New York Times, “Plane Hits House; 3 Die”, August 22, 1944 

Town of North Kingstown, Rhode Island, death records.

 

Exeter/West Greenwich, R.I. – June 24, 1953

Exeter/West Greenwich, Rhode Island – June 24, 1953  

Updated October, 2017

 

U.S. Navy F2H-3 Banshee,  (Bu. No. 126384) of VF-71 This is the plane flown by Lt. Jg. Jack O. Snipes  on the night of June 24, 1953.

U.S. Navy F2H-3 Banshee,
(Bu. No. 126384) of VF-71
This is the plane flown by Lt. Jg. Jack O. Snipes
on the night of June 24, 1953.

     On June 24, 1953, a flight of U.S. Navy F2H Banshee jets out of Quonset Point Naval Air Station were on a night training mission over southern Rhode Island when two aircraft in the formation collided in mid-air.  The resulting flash and explosion was seen for miles by those on the ground.   

     The crash occurred at 19,000 feet near (over) the Exeter/West Greenwich town lines, and debris was scattered for several miles in all directions, most of it coming down in woodlands, but some of it on public roadways.      

     A large portion of one Banshee, (Bu. No. 126384) piloted by Lt. Jg. Jack Oliver Snipes, 24, came down in Robin Hollow Pond, off Robin Hollow Road, in West Greenwich.  It was later recovered by the navy.

     It is believed Lt. Snipes was killed instantly in the collision.  The nose portion of the his aircraft up to the cockpit was torn away by the impact, and Snipes fell away still strapped to his ejection seat.   His body was later recovered still in the seat in a wooded area off Breakheart Hill Road in West Greenwich.

     The main portion of the other Banshee, (Bu. No. 126411) piloted by Lt. Jg. James J. Schollian, 23, came down in an area off  Austin Farm Road in the town of Exeter.  Schollian was able to successfully eject from his aircraft, and parachuted safely.    

     At the moment of impact Lieutenant Schollian’s cockpit was illuminated by the intense light of the explosion, and his aircraft was set ablaze.   As Snipes’ plane spun away in a flat spin, Schollian attempted to bail out, but discovered his ejection seat was not working.  Remembering his training, he released his seatbelt and literally floated up and out of his seat, then pushed himself out of the falling jet with his feet.  It took him several more seconds to locate the parachute D-ring, but he finally deployed the chute at about 10,000 feet.

     Hanging in the air, he watched his doomed aircraft continue on its fiery plunge to oblivion.  As he got closer to the ground he saw two cars stopped by the side of a road, and lit a signal flare, but it failed to gain any attention.  Prevailing winds carried him over heavy woodlands where he came crashing down through the treetops.  After assessing himself for injuries, he set out to find a road, but the woods were near pitch-dark, and he didn’t have a compass.  After stumbling around in the dark for awhile he came to a clearing next to a swamp and decided to light a signal fire.  After awhile a circling aircraft spotted the fire and led him out of the woods where he was found about three miles west of Nooseneck Hill Road, West Greenwich.        

Lt. Jg. Jack Oliver Snipes  aboard the USS Bon Homme Richard (CV-31)  National Archives Photo

Lt. Jg. Jack Oliver Snipes
aboard the USS Bon Homme Richard (CV-31)
National Archives Photo

      The flash of the mid-air collision was seen by those in the air-traffic control tower at the Quonset Naval Air Station, and within seconds their worst fears were confirmed as the flight leader contacted the tower.    As crash-rescue personnel were mobilized, hundreds of civilian curiosity seekers converged on the area clogging the roadways which hindered fire fighters battling numerous brush fires started by the falling debris, and search and rescue operations being conducted by the navy.  State and local police did their best to block access to the area, but the throngs of humanity were no match for the comparatively small contingent of law enforcement.   

     The dark night and poor visibility hampered search teams, and authorities had to deal with conflicting reports based on rumor and vague witness accounts.  It is therefore understandable why the following morning local newspapers erroneously reported that both pilots had been found, and that only one had suffered any injury. Unfortunately this was untrue.  While at the time the papers went to press Lieutenant Schollian had been located by searchers, Lieutenant Snipes was still missing. 

     As the sun came up on the morning of the 25th, a contingent of aircraft took off from Quonset NAS to conduct an aerial search of the vast wooded areas of Exeter and West Greenwich.  The search was partially delayed when one of the search aircraft developed engine trouble shortly after take-off and went down in Wickford Harbor.  Fortunately the crew escaped without serious injury, but some of the resources allocated to looking for Lieutenant Snipes had to be diverted to Wickford.  

     (That incident involved an AD Skyraider piloted by Lt. Comdr. Michael J. Baring.) 

     The body of Lieutenant Snipes was recovered on the morning of the 26th.   A memorial service for him was held the following Monday at the Quonset Chapel, and was attended by his squadron mates. 

     Jack Oliver Snipes was born October 1, 1928 in Greensboro, North Carolina, to Ransom Oliver, and Maude Elizabeth Snipes.  The family later moved to Nashville, Tennessee, where Jack attended local schools.  He attended North High School in Nashville from 1945-46, before transferring to East High School, also in Nashville.    

      Jack left high school during his senior year, and enlisted in the United States Navy on February 18, 1947.  After basic training in San Diego, California, he was sent to Aviation Fundamental School in in Jacksonville Florida, then on to Aviation/Aerial Photography School in Pensacola, Florida. From there he was assigned to Utility Squadron 10, (VU-10), stationed at Guantanamo Bay, Cuba, as a photographer.       

Ensign Jack O. Snipes
U.S. Navy

    While in the navy, Jack completed his high school studies and received his GED from East High School in 1948.  He later applied for and was accepted to pilot training school.  He began flight training on January 26, 1949 at the Pensacola Naval Air Station in Florida, and did extremely well.  After Pensacola, he was sent for advanced training at the naval air station in Corpus Christi, Texas, where he was stationed from March thru September of 1950.  On September 20, 1950, he received his officer’s commission as an Ensign in the United States Naval Reserve, as well as his navy pilot’s wings. 

     After being sent to Whiting Field in Florida for more advanced training, Ensign Snipes was assigned to Fighter Squadron 71, (VF-71), and transferred to Quonset Point, R.I., where he reported for duty on November 18, 1950.       

     In January of 1952, VF-71 was assigned to Carrier Group Seven, Atlantic Fleet, to conduct test flights of the Navy’s new F9F-5 Grumman Panther fighter jets equipped with various experimental engines to determine how the different engines would affect the operational performance of the aircraft in simulated combat conditions.   One can see the potential hazards connected with such an assignment.  Testing took place 24/7 under any and all types of weather conditions, because the information to be learned was considered vitally important to the on-going war effort in Korea. This testing period continued until March 1, 1952.

     For his participation in these test flights, Ensign Snipes received a letter of commendation in his navy personnel jacket which stated in part: “The Commanding Officer notes with pride that as a pilot attached to this command during the tests, you bravely and unselfishly participated in hazardous test flying.  Your excellent performance of duty reflected credit to the squadron.”     

U.S. Navy
Grumman F9F Panther
U.S. Navy Photo – National Archives

  On May 14, 1952, VF-71 was transferred to the aircraft carrier Bon Homme Richard, (CV-31).  During this time period the squadron was flying F9F Panther jets. The Bon Homme Richard sailed into the Korean Theatre of Operations on June 22, 1952.  

     The following day Ensign Snipes participated in a coordinated air strike on a hydro-electric complex in North Korea for which he was later awarded the Air Medal with gold Combat Star.   

     His award citation reads as follows: “For meritorious achievement while participating in aerial flight as a pilot of a jet fighter plane attached to Fighter Squadron Seventy One, during operations against enemy Communist Forces in North Korea on 23 June 1952, Ensign Snipes bravely and skillfully executed two bombing and strafing runs against Fusen number two hydro-electric power plant obtaining hits in the target area.  He inflicted serious damage to the installation in the face of enemy anti-aircraft fire and contributed materially in the complete destruction of this vital plant.  His outstanding courage and skillful airmanship were in keeping with the highest traditions of the United States Naval Service”   

     Between September 22, 1952, and December 12, 1952,  Ensign Snipes flew twenty combat missions over North Korea.

     According to fitness evaluations in Ensign Snipes’ navy personnel file, he was considered an excellent pilot and showed great leadership capabilities. He was promoted to Lieutenant Junior Grade on October 17, 1952.             

     After serving aboard the Bon Homme Richard, VF-71 returned to duty at Quonset Point.  One week before his death Ensign Snipes had visited his sister in Nashville.  He’s buried in the Prospect Free Will Baptist Cemetery in Erwin, North Carolina.   To see photos of his grave, click here: www.findagrave.com

    Lieutenant (Jg.) James Schollian continued to serve in the Navy until his retirement in 1976 at the rank of captain.     

VF-71 Aboard the USS Bon Homme Richard Lt. Jg. Snipes standing third from left, back row. Lt. Jg. Schollian third from left, front row.   U.S. Navy Photo - Click To Enlarge

VF-71 Aboard the USS Bon Homme Richard
Lt. Jg. Snipes standing third from left, back row.
Lt. Jg. Schollian third from left, front row.
U.S. Navy Photo – Click To Enlarge

     The F2H-3 Banshee was a Cold War era, single-seat fighter jet, designed by the McDonnell Aircraft Corporation for the United States Navy. It was a large, well-armed, aircraft, measuring 44’, 10” in length, and 40’, 2” wide, capable of sailing through the sky at over 500 mph.  When fully loaded, it carried slightly more than eleven-hundred gallons of high octane aviation fuel, which could explain the massive fireball created when the collision occurred. 

     The word Banshee comes from Irish and Scottish folklore, and refers to a female spirit who is a harbinger of death.  It is said that banshees can attach themselves to a particular family, and when a member of that clan is about to die, the banshee will begin a melodic sorrowful moan foretelling the impending death.        

 

A portion of the F2H-3 Banshee  undergoing restoration  at the Quonset Air Museum.

A portion of the F2H-3 Banshee
undergoing restoration
at the Quonset Air Museum.

     In 2011, the Quonset Air Museum of Rhode Island acquired an F2H-3 Banshee in need of restoration.  Restoration was begun, and plans were underway to give it the same paint scheme and markings as the one flown by Lieutenant Snipes as a memorial to him.  Unfortunately, in March of 2015 a portion of the museum’s roof collapsed under the weight of heavy snow, and the building was closed to the public.  Then, for a variety of reasons, the museum was forced to permanently close in 2017.  Thus the project was never completed.     

     Update, October, 2107: The Quonset Air Museum Banshee has since been sold to a private individual who had the pieces transported to his property where he plans to continue the restoration.    

      The accident scattered debris from both aircraft over a wide area, and due to the rural nature of the towns of Exeter and West Greenwich, some of it was never recovered by the navy.  Over the years pieces have been found in the woods by hunters, hikers, and metal scrapers.       

A center-wing portion of the Quonset Air Museum F2H Banshee under restoration. Now in the possession of a private individual.

     According to a Providence Journal article dated 6-26-53, Navy crews buried the wreckage of Lieutenant Schollian’s Banshee “off Victory Highway where it fell to earth.”  It presumably lies there yet, waiting for the day when future development might bring it to light.  Those who find it may wonder how it came to be there.  Hopefully they will know of this story.     

Sources: 

Providence Journal, “2 Navy Jets Crash: Pilots Found, One badly Hurt”, June 25, 1953, Pg. 1

Providence Journal, ”Searchers Fail To Find Trace of Missing Banshee Jet Pilot”, June 26, 1953.

Providence Journal, “Fire Believed Started By Jet Flier Is Under Control After 17 Hours”, June 26, 1953, Pg. 6

Providence Journal, “Body Of Missing Jet Pilot Found”, June 27, 1953.

Woonsocket Call, “Quonset Fliers Safe In Crash In Search For Missing Airman”, June 25, 1953, Pg. 1

Woonsocket Call, “Jet Pilot’s Body Found In Woods In W. Greenwich”, June 26, 1953, Pg. 1

U.S. Navy Crash Investigation Report #53 06 45

U.S. Navy Crash Investigation Report #53 06 46

The Meridian Record Journal, “Pilot Hunted After Two Jets Crash In Air”, June 26, 1953.

Nashville Tennasean, “Nashville Pilot Sought After Mid-Air Crash” June 27, 1953 (Snipe’s mother and sister lived in Nashville at the time.)

Book, United States Navy Aircraft Since 1911, by Gordon Swanborough & Peter M. Bowers, Funk & Wagnalls, 1968.

The Naval-Aviator Network, Capt. James J. Schollian, (1948-1976)

Information supplied by Lawrence Webster, Aviation Archeologist & Historian.    

June, 2017 – Copy of Lt. Jg. Snipes’ navy personnel record.

North Kingstown, R.I. – March 30, 1950

North Kingstown, R. I. – March 30, 1950

Near Quonset Point Naval Air  Station

   

F4U-4 Corsair 81347 Pilot: Ens. Henry F. Hite Killed March 30, 1950 North Kingstown, Rhode Island Navy Photo

F4U-4 Corsair 81347
Pilot: Ens. Henry F. Hite
Killed March 30, 1950
North Kingstown, Rhode Island
Navy Photo

   On March 30, 1950, two U.S. Navy F4U Corsairs collided in mid-air about a mile from the Quonset Point Naval Air Station.  One plane crashed in a residential neighborhood, and the other in woodland.  Both pilots were killed.

     The pilots were identified as Ensign John Hall, 22, of Hamburg, New York, and Ensign Henry F. Hite Jr., 23, of Waco, Texas.

     Source: New York Times, “Air Collision Kills Two”, April 1, 1950

 

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