Off Charlestown, R.I. – January 4, 1945

Off Charlestown, Rhode Island – January 4, 1945

 

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

     On the night of January 4, 1945, a flight of U.S. Navy Hellcat aircraft took off from Charlestown Auxiliary Naval Air Station for a night gunnery practice flight.  Once sufficiently off shore, two float lights were dropped into the water, only one of which ignited. 

     After the aircraft had made a few runs at strafing the “target”, Ensign Bruce S. Little, piloting an F6F-5N Hellcat, (Bu. No. 71411), was advised by the flight leader to drop his float light.  Ensign Little acknowledged and said he would drop it at the end of his run.  Ensign Little was seen turning his aircraft and start his run at a diving angle.    When he reached the area of the target-float-light his aircraft hit the water and disappeared. 

     The accident occurred at 40 degrees, 55′ N, 71 degrees, 01′ W.

     Lt. (jg.) Little was assigned to VF(N)-91

     Source:  U.S. Navy Accident Report dated January 4, 1945

 

 

Narragansett Bay, R. I. – July 16, 1943

Narragansett Bay, Rhode Island – July 16, 1943

 

F6F Hellcat
U.S. Navy Photo

     On the morning of July 16, 1943, Ensign Joseph Paul Staar was piloting an F6F-3 Hellcat, (Bu. No. 25848), over southern Narragansett Bay as part of a training flight.  The purpose of the flight was “Fighter Director Practice”, and Staar’s aircraft was part of a large group of aircraft.  

     As the flight of Hellcats was in the vicinity of Newport, Rhode Island, another aircraft made two diving passes at them from out of the sun.  On the second pass Ensign Staar’s aircraft entered a “high speed stall” due to “an abrupt climbing turn”, which led to his crashing into the water about 500 yards off Brenton Point in Newport.  He did not survive. 

     Source:

     U. S. Navy Accident Report #44-7667 

 

Narragansett Bay, R.I. – November 1, 1943

Narragansett Bay, Rhode Island – November 1, 1943

 

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

     On November 1, 1943, fighter squadron VF-14 was commencing a carrier breakup over the Quonset Point Naval Air Station.  Two flights were in the air at the time; one flight of six planes, and a second flight of four.  All aircraft were F6F-3 Hellcats. 

     As the flight of four planes crossed over the flight of six, the last two planes in each group collided in mid-air.  On aircraft, (#66024), was piloted by Ensign Prentice A. Martin, age 23.  The other aircraft, (#65923), was piloted by Ensign George E. Kloss, age 23.  Both planes fell into 26 feet of water not far from the shore of the naval air station.  Neither pilot survived. 

     Ensign Kloss is buried in Holy Sepulchire Cemetery in Alsip, Illinois.

     Ensign Martin is buried in Memorial Park Cemetery in Oklahoma City, Oklahoma.

     Source:

     U.S. Navy Accident Report #44-9424 

     www.findagrave.com, Memorial #58751036, and # 43654228

Quonset Point, R.I. – November 5, 1943

Quonset Point, R. I. – November 5, 1943

 

 

F6F Hellcat
U.S. Navy Photo

     On November 5, 1943, Lt. (jg.) George E. Orenge was piloting an F6F-3 Hellcat, (#65895) on a test flight from Quonset Point Naval Air Station.  At about 10:00 a.m. he came back to land at Quonset Point.  After touching down on the runway, the left tire on the landing gear blew out causing the plane to swerve into an ordinance truck parked on the extreme edge of the tarmac.  There were no injuries, but the aircraft required a major overhaul. 

     Source:

     U.S. Navy Accident Report # 44-9523

 

Narragansett Bay, R.I. – November 27, 1943

Narragansett Bay, Rhode Island – November 27, 1943

 

F6F Hellcat
U.S. Navy Photo

     On November 27, 1943, Ensign Paul M. Churton took off from Quonset Point Naval Air Station in an F6F-3 Hellcat, (Bu. No. 65925), for a routine training flight.  Approximately two minutes into the flight the aircraft motor started cutting out and then stopped altogether, forcing Churton to make an emergency landing in Narragansett Bay.  Ensign Churton escaped from the aircraft uninjured. 

     Investigation revealed that the same aircraft had been grounded three times by three different pilots the previous day for the same problem, and each time it had been placed back in service by the mechanics.  After examining the recovered aircraft, a crack was found in the engine which had allowed foreign matter to impede fuel and oil flow.   

     Ensign Churton was assigned to VF-14.

     Source:

     U.S. Navy Accident Report #44-9977

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

 

Charlestown, R.I. – February 16, 1944

Charlestown, Rhode Island – February 16, 1944

 

F6F Hellcat
U.S. Navy Photo

     On February 16, 1944, Ensign James G. Canning, 23, took off from Charlestown Auxiliary Naval Air Station in Charlestown, Rhode Island, for a training flight in an F6F-3 Hellcat, (Bu. No. 41235).  The purpose of the flight was to practice take-offs and landings. 

     At approximately 3:40 p.m., as Ensign Canning was making a runway approach, his aircraft suddenly lost power and fell into a lagoon to the south-west of the field.  The aircraft hit the water and flipped over, trapping Canning inside, and then sank to the bottom in five feet of water.  By the time help arrived, Ensign Canning had drowned.  

     At the time of his death Ensign Canning had been assigned to VF(n)-78.  He’s buried in Arlington National Cemetery.  (see www.findagrave.com, Memorial #49163354)

     Source:

     U.S. Navy Crash Report #44-11788

 

Quonset Point, R.I. – March 28, 1944

Quonset Point, R.I. – March 28, 1944

 

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

     At 7:45 p.m., on the night of March 28, 1944, members of the U.S. Navy’s VF-7 squadron were at Quonset Point Naval Air Station in North Kingstown, Rhode Island, preparing for a night tactics training flight.   All aircraft involved in the operation were F6F-3 Hellcat fighter planes.

     The first six aircraft left the ground without incident.  The next aircraft in line, (Bu. No. 41964), was piloted by Ensign Claude Earl Schilling.  When Ensign Schilling was granted clearance, he proceeded down the runway.  After traveling approximately 2,000 feet down the tarmac, his aircraft inexplicably veered to the right and went off the runway and onto the grass where it ground-looped back onto the runway and came to rest.   Meanwhile, the eighth aircraft, (Bu. No. #41938), piloted by Ensign Charles Francis Sullivan, had also been granted permission to take off on the same runway used by Schilling.  Due to the dark conditions, nobody realized that Schilling hadn’t made it into the air,  and Sullivan’s Hellcat struck Schilling’s plane just aft of  the cockpit severing the fuselage and igniting the fully loaded fuel tanks. 

     Sullivan managed to escape the burning wreckage, but Schilling was killed.

     According to the navy investigation report, what caused Ensign Schilling’s aircraft to leave the runway could not be determined.   

     Ensign Schilling is buried at Rio Vista Fellows Masonic Cemetery, in Rio Vista, California.  See www.findagrave.com, Memorial #135531762. 

     Source:

     U.S. Navy Investigation Report #44-12718    

 

    

 

Quonset Point NAS – December 5, 1943

Quonset Point Naval Air Station – December 5, 1943

    

Lockheed PV-1 Ventura U.S. Navy Photo

Lockheed PV-1 Ventura
U.S. Navy Photo

     One of the worst aviation accidents to occur in Rhode Island happened on December 5, 1943 at the Quonset Point Naval Air Station.  Early that morning a U. S. Navy PV-1 Ventura, (#33413), took off from Quonset Point to practice bombing techniques off Block Island.  The aircraft was assigned to bomber squadron VB-134. 

     The plane returned to Quonset Point at 11:38 a.m. and the pilot attempted to land on runway 34.  While doing so the aircraft went out of control and crashed into Hangar #2 and burst into flames.  

     The Navy investigation report describes the final moments before the crash. 

     “Aircraft crossed edge of runway 34 at 50-75 ft. at approximately 100 knots.  Plane made “back of  wheel” landing at too great a speed.  Maine wheels hit the ground first and then the tail-wheel, as tail-wheel hit – the plane bounced off the ground and assumed an unusual nose high attitude at which time the pilot pushed his engines full on in an attempt to go around the field again.  The main landing gear seemed to be retracting which would tend to verify that the pilot was attempting to go around again.  The initial bounce plus the use of engines took the plane up to about 100 ft. of altitude in a very nose high attitude.  Nose high tab used in landing probably increased the pilot’s dilemma and ended with the plane in a full-power stall at 100 ft.  The control surfaces in this stalled condition could not counter-act the torque at full power and the plane began a slow steady turn to the left  barely maintaining altitude. When approximately 90 degrees to the original heading of 340 degrees, the plane’s left wing began to slowly drop and at about the same time it struck the hangar and sheared off near the wing tip.  The rest of the airplane crashed into the hangar and was consumed in flames.”            

     All six crewmen aboard the Ventura were killed, as well as three men working in the hangar.  The dead were identified as:

     (Pilot) Lt. Walter Philbrick Craig, Sr., 27, of Jacksonville, Florida. He was survived by his wife and son.  He’s buried in Evergreen Cemetery in Jacksonville, Florida.  

     (Radioman) ARM2c Max Ivan Colaw, 19, of Yates Center, Kansas.  He was survived y his wife, Marie, and two brothers, Orrie, and Victor, both of whom were also serving in the military.  He’s buried in Long Island national Cemetery in East Farmingdale, New York.  

     AOM 3c  Norman Louis Simoneau, 18, of Portland, Maine. He’s buried in Calvary Cemetery, South Portland, Maine.  

     AMM 3c William George Wheeler, 22, of Braintree, Massachusetts.  He’s buried in Evergreen Cemetery, Woodville, Massachusetts.  

     AMM 3c Hugh Patrick Biddick, 22, of New Hyde Park, New York.  He’s buried in St. John’s Cemetery, Middle Village, New York.   

     AMM 3c William Edward O’Hern, 20, of McKeesport, Penn.  He was survived by his wife Dorothy. He’s buried in McKeesport Versailles Cemetery in McKeesport, Penn.  To see a photograph of AMM 3c O’Hern, and read more information about him, see www.findagrave.com, Memorial #56158727.  

     Those killed in the hangar were identified as:

     AOM 3c Luvern Charles Klinger, 22, of Richville, Minnesota.   He’s buried in St. Lawrence Cemetery, Otto Township, Minnesota.   

     AOM 2c John Stanley Wojcik, 23, of Amsterdam, New York. He’s buried in Amsterdam, N.Y.

     AOM 2c Walter Edward Connelly, 19, of Milford, Nebraska. He’s buried in Dorchester Cemetery, Dorchester, Nebraska.

     The hangar in which the plane crashed was repaired.  It was one of four that stood near the runway.  It was torn down in 2010. 

     Sources:

     U.S. Navy Crash Report, #41-10111

     Town of North Kingstown, Rhode Island, death records

     New York Times, “Eight Killed In Navy Plane Crash”, December 6, 1943, Pg. 24. 

     Providence Journal, “Eight Men Killed In Bomber Crash At Quonset Base”, December 6, 1943, Pg. 1

     (Providence) Evening Bulletin, “Quonset Death Toll Now Nine”, December 6, 1943, Pg. 1 

     (Providence) Evening Bulletin, Quonset’s Fatal Accident Probed”, December 7, 1943, pg. 4.   

     Amsterdam Evening Recorder, “Amsterdam Boy Meets Death In Plane Crash While Serving At Naval Station In Rhode Island”, (John S. Wojcik), December 6, 1943

     Florida Times-Union, “Navy Aviator Dies In Crash”, (Lt. Craig.) December 8, 1943.    

     Perham Enterprise Bulletin, “Luvern Klinger Fatally Hurt In Airplane Crash”, December 9, 1943.

     Yates Center News, “Max Colaw Killed In Navy Plane Crash”, December 9, 1943.  

 

    

Richmond, R. I. – March 16, 1944

Richmond, Rhode Island – March 16, 1944

Updated June 28, 2017

    

F6F Hellcat U.S. Navy Photo

F6F Hellcat
U.S. Navy Photo

     At approximately 7:40 p.m. on the night of March 16, 1944, Ensign Herbert Leslie Woods, 22, took off from Charlestown Auxiliary Naval Air station In Charlestown, Rhode Island, for a night training flight.  The weather that evening was cloudy, with a 500 to 600 foot cloud ceiling, and poor visibility of less than a mile.

     Ensign Woods was piloting an F6F-3 Hellcat, (Bu. No. 41008).

     Ensign Woods was last seen entering the clouds by those in the control tower.  At 7:46 p.m., an emergency IFF signal was received by the tower.  The signal lasted approximately three minutes before it stopped.  Afterwards Ensign Woods could not be contacted.

     The following morning the wreckage of Ensign Woods’s Hellcat was found next to a stream in a wooded area of the village of Kenyon, which is located within the town of Richmond, Rhode Island.  The plane hat crashed at high speed and Woods had been killed instantly.

     At the time of his death, Ensign Woods was assigned to Night Fighter Squadron 79, VF(n)-79.  

     Ensign Woods was from Springfield, Illinois.  He’s buried in Camp Butler National Cemetery in Section 3, Site 809.  One can see a photo of his grave at the Camp Butler National Cemetery, site search, www.Findagrave.com, Memorial #2562708     

     Sources:

     U.S. Navy Crash Report #44-12450 

     North Kingstown, Rhode Island, death records

     Larry Webster – Aviation Archaeologist and Historian, Charlestown, R.I.

     www.Findagrave.com

Westerly, R.I. – October 24, 1943

Westerly, Rhode Island – October 24, 1943

U.S. Navy Grumman Avenger National Archives Photo

U.S. Navy Grumman Avenger

National Archives Photo

     On October 24, 1943, a Grumman TBF-1 Avenger (Bu. No. 06096) piloted by Ensign Ralph E. Sethness, 28, was approaching Westerly Auxiliary Air Field (Today known as Westerly State Airport) when the plane developed engine trouble and crashed on the golf course of the Winnapaug Country Club.  (The club was, and still is, located at 180 Shore Road in Westerly.)

     The plane came down near the 7th hole and burst into flames.  Two local men, Robert C. Gentile, and Benjamin B. York, were the first to arrive at the scene where they found the badly injured pilot lying right next to the burning wreck with live ammunition from the plane’s machine guns starting to go off.  With disregard for their own safety, they carried Ensign Sethness fifty feet away and lay him down.  No sooner had they done so, the plane’s fuel tanks exploded spraying flaming gasoline all about the area.  The flames quickly set off a succession of machine gun rounds, and Gentile shielded the injured man with his body.   This lasted for about two minutes until the heat of the flames forced them to move Ensign Sethness another fifty feet away.  There they tended to him as best they could until fire and rescue units arrived.     

     Both men were later awarded the Carnegie Medal of Heroism for their efforts.  

     The Grumman Avenger generally carried a crew of three men however, on this particular flight Ensign Sethness was alone.  The reason for the flight was not stated, nor was the cause of the accident.   Ensign Sethness was assigned to torpedo squadron VT-15.

    Sources:

     The Westerly Sun, “Saw Plane Crash, Shore Road Men Rush To Scene”, October 25, 1943

     U.S. Navy accident report #44-9275

     Carnegie Hero Fund Commission

 

Return to Top ▲Return to Top ▲