Wednesday, November 30, 2016

American Airlines Flight 28 The Infamous Palm Springs Mid-Air

American Airlines Flight 28...October 23, 1943
A Deadly Greeting, A Surprise Witness, And A Jinxed Bomber


You'd really think that the 1929 San Diego mid-air collision, which occurred when an Army Air Corps fighter collided with a Maddux Air Lines Ford Trimotor while stunting, killing six people and destroying two airplanes while coming scary-close to taking out part of a residential neighborhood, would have been a major wake-up call for the Military Aviation community.  It was a huge story when it happened, and the negative publicity it generated put the dangerous tendency of military pilots to perform aerobatics while flying near civilian aircraft under a microscope. The resultant pressure from the Media, the public, and the airlines to do something about the problem would have been tremendous, and I have a sneaking suspicion that the military brass cracked down hard on that  tendency in the weeks immediately following the crash.

This crack-down very likely created a textbook example of a phenomenon popularly known as 'Crap Runs Downhill'. Preemptive chewing outs would have flowed from the command staff to base commanders to squadron commanders to flight leaders to the individual pilots, gaining momentum with each until the briefings in squadron ready rooms throughout the land very likely made the rantings of R. Lee Ermey's iconic Sgt. Hartman in 'Full Metal Jacket' sound like a Gospel song.

Pilots were probably told, in no uncertain terms, that exceeding a given angle of bank within a couple of miles of a civilian aircraft would result in punishments the likes of which they didn't even want to think about, much less actually experience.

And for about 12 years, at least as far as records indicate, these threats actually seemed to work. But then something extraordinary happened...and I don't mean extraordinary in a good way.

 What was this extraordinarily bad event? I'll give you a hint.  

December 7th, 1941

That's right...the infamous December morning when the Japanese Navy managed to, as one of the their own admirals put it, 'Awaken A Sleeping Giant And Fill Him With A Terrible Resolve'. And trust me on this...that Sleeping Giant was pissed and out for blood when he woke up!

When those bombs and torpedoes started falling and running on that Hawaiian Sunday morning  three-quarters of a century ago they plunged the U.S. into a war the likes of which the world had never before conceived of even in it's darkest nightmares, and which we, hopefully, will never ever see the likes of again. Here in the U.S. patriotism and a desire for vengeance were both running high, and with-in the first few months of the war, tens of thousands of young men enlisted, and they kept on enlisting. By the end of 1942, the four branches of the Armed Forces (Army, Navy, Marines, and Coast Guard) counted just over 1.8 million men in their ranks...a number that would swell to over twelve million by the war's end.

Even as young men flooded recruitment centers all of America's industry went to a total war footing, and with-in a couple of months of our entry into the war factories began turning out the machines of war...from bayonets to battleships...in record numbers.

Aircraft production shot up something on the order of 1000%...and yes, you read that right. Want proof? Lets just look at wartime aircraft production. Anyone want to guess how many airplanes U.S. manufacturers turned out between January1942 and August 1945? Anyone? Bueller? Bueelller??

If you guessed 200,000, you were still short by nearly a hundred grand. There were just shy of 300,000 airplanes built in the US during the three years and eight months we were involved in the war. That comes out to 6,818 planes per month. To put that in perspective, the modern day annual production of airplanes in the US...of all types...falls well short of half of that figure.

To get all of those planes in the air, the same number of pilots...or at least very close there-to...had to be trained to fly them. Those tens of thousands of kids...and most were just that, kids between 17 and 22 or 23 years old...who enlisted in the U.S. Armed Forces during the first few months of the war? A huge percentage of them wanted wings on their uniforms, and the task of training those who made the grade and became Army...or Navy...or Marine...aviators turned into a pretty daunting task. Over the course of the war, 193,000 new pilots were trained by the Army Air Force alone.The Navy and Marines added thousands of their own pilots to the mix. This would put a lot of inexperienced pilots in the air flying high performance aircraft.

To get all of these new pilots trained and in the air in the first place, they needed airfields. Of course, all of the service branches already had air bases, but nowhere near enough of them, so more than a few existing civilian fields were taken over...in whole or in part...by the military while hundreds of new fields were built to accommodate the nations rapidly expanding air forces. One of these new bases was in Palm Springs, California...the airfield that, in fact, still exists in greatly expanded and modernized form as Palm Springs International Airport.

But in October of 1942, it was an almost brand new Army air field, bursting at the seams with both aircraft and pilots...both seasoned veterans and starry-eyed new recruits...lots of starry-eyed new recruits  and...it's not where we're going just yet. Oh, we're staying in Southern California And we'll end up in Palm Springs...but first we've got to join a conversation between two friends.

We're going back to the evening of Oct 22nd...the evening before the accident I'm posting about here...to a restaurant somewhere in Long Beach, where a young American Airlines pilot named Louis  Reppert and an Army Air Force pilot named William Wilson were eating some dinner, downing a few brews and telling tales. The two had trained together some time back and became friends in the process, though their paths had diverged with Fred Reppert (His middle name was Frederick) going with a career with American Airlines while Bill Wilson signed up for the full hitch in the Army Air Corps, which ended up being for 'The Duration'...until the war ended, when ever it might end.

Bill Wilson had probably wanted fighters...all aspiring military aviators want fighters, no matter what service branch they go with. Really, no one really wants bombers, and no one wants transports, but Wilson ended up getting Air Transport Command and being stationed at Long Beach. At least he was attached to Ferrying Command...the command tasked with transferring aircraft from one base to the other...so he got to fly a variety of aircraft. The next day, in fact, he and another pilot were to ferry a Lockheed B-34 Ventura medium bomber from Long Beach Army Airfield to the Palm Springs Army airfield at about the same time that Fred Reppert was to fly right seat on American Airlines Flight 28 from L.A. to New York, with a stop-over in Phoenix. Flight 28's routing to Phoenix took them through San Gorgonio Pass so they could safely clear several peaks that soared well above their cruise altitude, and this would, in turn, take them to with-in spitting distance of Palm Springs.

It was a good bet that Wilson would also 'Fly The Pass' into Palm Springs. This would potentially put both the B-34 that Wilson was ferrying and American Flight 28 in the same area at fairly close to the same time.

Reppert and Wilson picked up on this as they discussed their schedules, and once they realized they'd be in the air at about the same time and potentially in the same general area, a plan began to take shape. At first the two of them discussed just clicking their mikes at each other, this having been a time-honored aerial greeting for as long as radios had been standard equipment aboard commercial and military aircraft. A quick review of the frequencies available to the American Airlines pilot shot that idea down, however, when they realized that the two aircraft shared no common frequencies.

No problem, then...they'd just wag their wings at each other. Of course that would mean that the two planes would have to be close enough together for each pilot to see the other wag his aircraft's wings so he could return the greeting. But that wouldn't be that dangerous...I mean, if all they were going to do was wag their wings at each other, what could go wrong??

They discussed it, decided that the wing-wag was the way to go, shot the bull as they finished their beers, paid the check, tipped the waitress, and parted company until their next meeting, over Palm Springs. Said meeting, however, would not go as planned.

*

October 23rd, 1942 dawned as one of those classic Southern California days...skies of a dazzling blue with a few puffy clouds here and there, warm temps, light winds...both on the ground and aloft...and flying conditions that were just about Webster's definition of 'C.A.V.U. (Ceiling and Visibility Unlimited).  In Los Angeles nine people started jumping through all the hoops that getting ready for an afternoon departure on a cross country flight requires

Keep in mind that back in that era air travel was crazy expensive. A cross country airline ticket could cost as much as a month's salary for a middle class American, making it pretty much the domain of the business traveler (With the flight paid for by the passenger's employer), the wealthy, and the famous (Who, of course, also tended to be wealthy).

Also, well before 1942 was over, serious war-time restrictions on civilian air travel had been put in place. Pleasure flying as well as tourism of any description came to a virtual standstill for the duration of the war. The Air Transport Command...still an integral part of the Military today...was organized during World War II, and all but took over the airlines, meaning that any civilian flying commercial was doing so in some capacity that was beneficial to the war effort. So. even though October 23rd was a Friday, none of the people who arrived at Burbank's Lycoming Air Terminal that afternoon were flying out for a casual weekend get-away... all nine of the passengers who who'd be boarding American Airlines Flight 28 had a good reason to be flying.

Whatever their reasons for traveling on that lovely SoCal fall day, they also had a celebrity in their midst. One of Flight 28's nine passengers was a seriously talented...as in Oscar-winning level talented...Hollywood composer named Ralph Rainer. Mr Rainer had penned several major hits of the era, including the classic Blue Hawaii, a cover of which became the title track for the Elvis Presley flick of the same name. While he was at it, Rainer also wrote 'Love In Bloom', which would become Jack Benny's theme song, and 'Thanks For The Memories', which Bob Hope would snag as his theme song. He, along with Flight 28's other eight passengers and three crew members were beginning their last hour on earth as they boarded the American Airlines DC-3 at about 4:15 PM

For the moment though, we're going to leave our nine doomed passengers as Fred Reppert, along with Captain Charles Pedley, preflighted the big Douglas DC-3 while pretty 25 year old stewardess Estelle Reagan made sure all was ready in the passenger cabin and galley. When we leave them we're heading about 40 miles south, to Long Beach Army Airfield, still in existence today as Long Beach International Airport, and home back then of the Air Transport Command's ferrying division where Bill Wilson, along with 25 year old Sgt. Robert Leicht, were preflighting B-34 Ventura Bureau # 41-38116...the bird that they were ferrying to Palm Springs.

A Lockheed B-34 Ventura similar to BuNo 41-38116, the B-34 piloted by Bob Wilson that struck and downed American Airlines Flight 28

The B-34 was a light bomber based on the popular Lockheed Lodestar airliner. At just over 50 feet long with a wingspan of 65 feet it was smaller than the DC-3, but was nearly 100 MPH faster.  The B-34 cruised at 230MPH (Same as the DC-3’s top speed) and topped out at 322 MPH.

Take a look at the B-34’s nose and cockpit, and imagine a plane the size of the DC-3 just ahead, to the right, and below it and you get an idea of why neither Wilson or Leicht could see it, once they inadvertently put it in the B-34’s ‘Ahead and Below’ blind spot, until they hit it. That doesn’t even come close, however, to excusing them for getting in that situation in the first place.


Wilson's log book showed a total of nearly 1500 hours in the air, but only eighteen of them were in the B-34...and of those eighteen, only nine were as pilot in command.  Leicht was so new at flying he shined...only 100 hours, most of it during primary and advanced training, Their lack of familiarity with the aircraft just might have had a little bit of bearing on what was about to happen.

This wouldn't be a long flight...well under an hour at the B-34's cruise speed of 230 MPH,,,and as they did the walk-around inspection, Bill Wilson very likely told Leicht about his conversation with Fred Reppert the previous evening along with their plan to meet up in the air, also telling his co-pilot jokingly that he'd like to 'Thumb His Nose' at Reppert. The two of them discussed  just what they'd have to do to make the  aerial meeting happen. With the B-34...Also known as the PV-1 Ventura/PV-2 Harpoon in Naval service as a patrol bomber...being way faster than the DC-3, as long as they could spot them, they could catch them.

SO sometime around 4:20 PM Bob Wilson set magnetos, throttles,  and mixture, called 'CLEAR!! through the bomber's open left cockpit window, and hit the starter for the # 1 engine, sending first exhaust-snorts, then the distinctive roar of a Pratt and Whitney R-2800 radial engine across the field. He repeated the procedure for the #2 engine, asked for and received taxi clearance, then released the brakes and cracked the throttles, sending the B-34...which, due to it's potbellied, slab-sided fuselage looked for all the world like it was pregnant... rolling across the field towards the active runway.

At 4:26 PM, according to records, Bill Wilson lifted the B-34 off of Long Beach's active runway. He called for 'Gear Up, asked for and received clearance for a departure to the east, then eased the bomber into a turn that would put it on a rough course for Palm Springs. Except they weren't going to Palm Springs...not directly anyway.

I can just about bet that, as they lifted off and headed just about due east east, Wilson and Leicht were discussing the fact that they were in the air a good ten minutes before Flight 28's scheduled departure time. The flight from Long Beach to Palm Spring is well under an hour. If they didn't dawdle a little, they'd be on the ground well before the airliner overflew Palm Springs.

Not a problem! Wilson banked them gracefully to the left, and headed for March Field, which, as well as being one of California's larger bases and one of the oldest military airfields in the country, was also just south of the route Flight 28 would use to enter San Gongonio Pass.

Wonder if, as they headed for March Field, they discussed things like the huge blind spot that the B-34 (And any large aircraft) had in front of and below it, and what effect that had on flying close formation with another fairly large aircraft? Naaaa...probably not.

*

American Airlines flew some seriously sharp looking ships back in that era, using the same basic livery right on through the 1960s, and a version of it until about 2009. Their DC-3s were finished in natural aluminum with a bright orange shield splashed across the nose and a narrow orange lightning bolt running the length of the fuselage just beneath the cabin windows. The control surfaces were trimmed in orange, and the scheme was finished off with the cowl ring...the forward most portion of the engine nacelles...also trimmed in orange.  American Airlines name and classic circular Eagle logo were emblazoned across the aft portion of the fuselage, just ahead of the horizontal stabilizer, with the term 'Flagship'...as all their DC-3s were known...above the cabin windows.  The ship's name... American named all of their planes back than, as did most airlines...was emblazoned across the nose beneath the lightning bolt, with 'American Airlines, in slightly larger script, above it. The DC-3 assigned to Flight 28 had been christened Flagship Connecticut.

The Flagship Connecticut was gleaming in the late afternoon sun as Flight 28's nine passengers walked across the concrete apron and climbed the short set of boarding stairs on the aft starboard side, walked uphill (The DC-3 was...and indeed is, as several hundred of them are still in the air...a taildragger.) and took their seats.  The DC-3 was a 21 seat airplane, so they'd have plenty of room, and she'd be light when she took off.

An immaculately restored...and better yet, airworthy...American Airlines DC-3 all but identical to the ill-fated Flagship Connecticut. The Douglas DC-3 had already become the workhorse of the airlines by 1942, and would become one of the most famous airplanes of all time. It, along with the smaller DC-2 that birthed it, was by and large the prototype for the modern airliner.  The DC-3 was 65 feet long with a 95 foot wingspan and could cruise at just shy of 210 MPH. It was also a very comfortable...even luxurious...airliner, with an off-set center aisle between two abreast seating on the left side of the aircraft, and a single seat beneath each window on the right in a 93" wide cabin that allowed it's passengers to stand up. The DC-3 also boasted a small galley and a lavatory aft.

While 607 actual DC-3s were built, just over 10,100 C-47s...the military version of the DC-3...were built during the war, making it one of the most prolific aircraft ever produced and flooding the post-war market with surplus transports that could be bought, then converted to a civilian airliner, for maybe a quarter of the cost of a new airplane. Lots of airlines got their start flying DC-3s, and lots of established airlines flew them on regional routes well into the 1950s.

With that being said...the Air Force flew the C-47 until 2008. The DC-3 was and indeed, is, a legitimate flying legend.

.
  Flight 28's passengers grabbed seats, Estelle Reagan went through the flight safety speech that's been a part of air travel for eighty or so years, and Charles Pedley hit the ignition and starters for the two big Wright Cyclone radials, kicking them over with the stuttering roar and clouds of blue smoke that big radial engines are known for.

He contacted Lockheed's tower, got permission to taxi, then take-off clearance and at 1636, lifted off of the active runway. They were immediately cleared for both a departure to the east, and a climb to the flight's cruise altitude of 9000 feet, just about exactly ten minutes after Bill Wilson lifted the B-34 off of Long Beach's active runway with very similar clearances.

There was, very likely, one big difference, though. While Bill Wilson and his copilot had discussed the plan to meet up with the airliner at some length, it's speculated that Fred Reppert never even mentioned the plan to Charles Pedley, and in fact, may have even forgotten about it.

There are two trains of thought on that subject, though. The other train of thought is that Reppert did mention the plan to Pedley, but Pedley forbade any kind of show of recognition or anything else that would tempt the Army pilot to fly dangerously close to the airliner.

Whichever one actually happened, the outcome ended up being the exact same.

Of course, if Bill Wilson had flown directly from Long Beach to Palm Springs, Flight 28 would have probably still been 30 or so miles out when the B-34's wheels chirped onto Palm Spring Army Airfield's runway. They were, after all, at least ten minutes ahead of the airliner, and if they had flown directly to Palm Springs Army Airfield, nothing would have happened in the first place.  The problem was, Wilson didn't consider just forgetting about the rendezvous and flying directly to Palm Springs an option, nor did he consider the fact that they were ten minutes ahead of Flight 28 a major problem.  He'd already worked out a solution to that problem that was elegant in it's simplicity.

As noted above, the airliner's course to Phoenix would take it north of Palm Springs, and of March Field, which was only also very slightly north of the Bomber's course. So, very shortly after departing Long Beach and climbing to his assigned cruise altitude of 4,000 feet, Wilson eased the B-34 into a gentle left turn, putting them on a course that would take them west of March Field. They put March Field a couple of miles off their right wing tip, flew a couple of more miles north, then Wilson told his co-pilot to 'Keep your eyes peeled for the airliner.' as he banked the bomber into a wide circle in the sky, taking them close to Riverside to the west and Moreno Valley to the East. They had made two circles when one of them spotted the sun glinting of of all of that polished aluminum...

*

Back in the pre-radar, pre-regional air traffic control era that 1942 was smack dab in the middle of it was up to the individual airlines to keep tabs on their flights, therefore each airline had regional dispatch centers that the crews were required to keep in touch with during their flight. All these dispatch centers did was keep tabs on their position and relay weather information...they had no way of knowing where any other airlines' planes (Or military aircraft) were so they couldn't provide actual air traffic control services.

One of American Airlines' regional dispatch centers was in Burbank and at just about 1702...5:02PM...Fred Reppert contacted Burbank and advised them that they were over Riverside, California at their assigned cruise altitude of 9,000 feet, and would be over their next reporting point...Indio, California...at 1722. Only thing was, they'd never make it to Indio.

A Map showing the approximate flight paths pf both aircraft, and the locations and time line of the events leading to and just after the collision. Click on the map to see it full size.

1)       B-34 BuNo 41-38116 takes off from long Beach Army Airfield (Now Long Beach International Airport) at 4:26 PM, enroute to Palm Springs. Wilson has told his copilot, Sgt Leicht, of the plan to meet up with Flight 28, and exchange wing-wags. They are ten minutes ahead of Flight 28

2)       American Airlines Flight 28 takes off from Lockheed Air Terminal, in Burbank (Now Bob Hope Airport) at 4:36 PM, heading for Phoenix…10 minutes after the B-34 departs from Long Beach…and climbs to it’s cruise altitude of 9000 feet.

3)       Wilson, flying at 4000 feet, makes a course change, taking him north and west of March field, then begins a wide circle between Riverside and Moreno Valley in order to allow Flight 28 to catch up with them.  Wilson tells Sgt Leicht to keep an eye out for the DC-3. Guestimating here, it’s probably about 4:50 PM or a little after.

4)       At 5:02 PM, Flight 28 contacted their Dispatch office/Flight Service Center in Burbank to report that they were over Riverside, and expected to report over Indio at 5:22 PM.


5)       After two circles and possibly the beginning of a third, Sgt Leicht spots Flight 28, 5000 feet above them, at about the time that or slightly after Flight 28 makes their position report, They probably allow the DC-3 to over-fly them to confirm it's the right plane, then Wilson begins a high performance climb to catch the DC-3

6)       Wilson catches up with Flight 28 at about the same time both planes are entering San Gorgonio Pass, which at the time all aircraft flying in and out of the L.A. area had to fly through to clear Mt San Jacinto to the south and Mt San Gorgonio to the north.

7)       Wilson pulls even with the DC-3, about 1.5 miles to its left and wags his wings, getting no response. After asking Leicht if he saw any sign of recognition and getting a ‘No’, he decides to…

8)       …pull ahead of the DC-3 , climbing to a slightly higher altitude, cross over to the other side of the DC-3’s flight path, then throttle back, allowing the DC-3 to catch up with him. The B-34 is a quarter mile or less to the right of the DC-3 at this point.

9)       Still getting no sign that Reppert saw them, Wilson decides to close the distance between the two aircraft, and begins a turn to the left. In the process he loses sight of the DC-3.


10)   Having lost situational awareness and not realizing he’s already slightly to the left of, above and behind the DC-3, but deciding that he’s probably closer to it than he intended, Wilson belatedly decides to abandon the rendezvous. He rolls out of his turn, he and Leicht briefly look for the DC-3, then Wilson trims for his decent to Palm Springs and begins a descending turn to the right…almost immediately the B-34’s right propeller strikes and shreds the DC-3’s vertical stabilizer…

11)   ... The B-34 is kicked upward and to the left, the DC-3 very briefly rises about 20 feet, stalls, falls off to the left, and enters a flat spin. Burbank receives a message ‘Flight 28 from Burbank…CORRECTION…Burbank From Flight 28’ at 5:15 PM. Burbank tries to contact them with no success, along with the Phoenix and Tucson dispatch offices. Flight 28 had, at that point, impacted a ridge and caught on fire, killing all 12 passengers and crew aboard.

12)   Leicht calls in a mayday to Palm Springs Army Airfield while Wilson briefly fights the slightly damaged bomber. Wilson quickly finds throttle and trim settings that keep the B-34 under control, and makes a normal descent and landing at Palm Springs Army Airfield (Now Palm Springs International Airport).




The bomber's crew probably spotted the airliner a minute or so either side of their position report, as it overflew Riverside. Even as Reppert was handling the position report, Pedley made a couple of minor course adjustments that would allow them to split the middle down San Gorgonio Pass...the same route that I-10 takes through the San Bernardino mountains today...and fly safely between 10,000 foot Mt San Jacinto and 11,500 foot Mt San Gorgonio.

Flight 28 was probably cruising at right around 200 MPH and approaching San Gorgonio Pass as Bill Wilson started climbing towards them. They were only ten or fifteen minutes out from Palm Springs Army Airfield at that point, so the prudent and sensible thing for Wilson to have done would have been to say 'I guess I'll have to catch up with Fred next time he's in L.A.', and break off the rendezvous, but then again, if he'd done the prudent and sensible thing, I wouldn't be writing this.

Wilson, instead, pointed the bomber's bulbous nose skyward, trimmed her up for best rate of climb (About 2200 feet per minute) and let her eat up airspace. He probably started climbing towards the airliner a couple of minutes after Fred Reppert gave their position report, after they had confirmed that it was probably Flight 28, then reached the DC-3's 9000 foot cruise altitude two minutes and change later...just as both planes entered San Gorgonio Pass. The Pass is just under ten miles long, at 200 MPH it would take the two planes right at three minutes to pass through it. It would be a very eventful, hectic, and tragic three minutes.

Wilson leveled off at 9000 feet, a mile and a half or so to the left of, and slightly behind the DC-3. I have a feeling that both Wilson and his copilot were looking over towards the airliner as Wilson jockeyed the throttles, putting them even with the DC-3. As he'd agreed the evening before, Wilson gently turned the control wheel first to the left, then to the right, then repeated, wagging the wings several degrees up then down. The two of them continued to gaze at the DC-3 as it glittered in the sun...

"...You think he sees us?" Probably from Wilson. There was likely an insightful pause for a few seconds as Sgt. Leicht, who had a more direct view of the airliner out of his window, gazed at the distant glittering dab of silver.

"Doesn't look like it..."  And Wilson missed a second chance to do something sensible. Instead of throttling back to let the airliner pull away from them, and trimming for their approach to Palm Springs as the DC-3 became a distant and rapidly disappearing silver dot in the sky ahead of them, he probably said something like 'We'll see about that', shoved the throttles forward and eased back on the control yoke, giving them another couple of dozen yards of altitude as he pulled away from the airliner, banking into a gentle right turn as he did so.

He was still climbing at a shallow angle as he crossed the airliner's nose, probably a quarter to a half mile ahead of it and very likely far enough above the DC-3 that it's upper windshield frame and cockpit overhead effectively hid the bomber from view. Wilson had a plan in mind to get Reppert's attention, but he'd have to work fast. By now he could probably see Palm Springs in the near distance, ahead and to his right. By all rights he should have been setting up for his descent and approach but instead he leveled off and throttled back to let the airliner overtake him on his left.

Now it was Wilson's turn to watch the DC-3 ease up next to and slightly below them, still a quarter mile or so to their left. The bomber was now to the right of the DC-3, so if Reppert looked out of his cockpit window, he'd see the bomber, and to be honest, this close to both a very active wartime air base and a commercial airport, he probably should have been scanning the surrounding skies a bit...but I don't think Wilson ever gave him a chance to do so.

We'll never know if Pedley and Reppert ever actually saw the bomber or not, or if Reppert had informed Pedley of the planned aerial meeting. If he had informed Pedley of the meeting, and if Pedley did see the bomber, it's a good bet that he flat out refused to participate in what was an unforgivably reckless maneuver.  It's also all but a sure bet that if Pedley did see the bomber he was saying something to the effect of  'What the hell is this idiot doing now???" as Wilson pulled ahead of them, crossed over, then allowed them to pull even with them.

It was also at about this point that Wilson decided that he was still too far from the DC-3, so he banked into a gentle left turn, babying the throttles forward a bit as well so the airliner wouldn't get too far ahead of them...

You know the blind spot all cars have in front of them...the one that actually hides ten or more feet of the road/parking lot/what have you directly in front of you. Now imagine that the hood of your car was ten or fifteen feet long, that your windshield was only about a third as tall as it actually is, and that you were in the air. Just exactly how big would that blind spot be?

Bill Wilson was about to find the answer to that question as, somewhere during this gentle turn that was meant to bring him closer to the airliner, he realized that he'd lost sight of it, Not only had he lost sight of it, he'd lost all situational awareness...he though he was still to the right of the DC-3 when, in reality, he'd already overflown it and was to the left of it. On top of that, as he turned, the airliner had pulled away from him, but only very slightly.

What he did know was that he suddenly couldn't see the DC-3 even though he was in a left turn and, as far as he knew heading towards it, which meant he was getting closer to it by the second. When he realized this he immediately rolled out of the turn and looked out of his cockpit window.

No Airliner.

He probably asked Leicht if he could see the DC-3, but Leicht couldn't see it either.

They couldn't see it because they'd managed to pull one of those 'You couldn't have done that if you'd tried' tricks. As they overflew the DC-3's flight path while it very slowly pulled away from them, then rolled out of their turn, they managed to tuck themselves in close formation with the airliner. They were maybe a hundred or so feet behind, to the left of, and very slightly above the DC-3, and in a perfect position for the entire airliner to be in a huge blind spot that hid it from both Wilson and Leicht. And, as they were flying on a parallel course to the airliner, at a slightly higher speed, they were also very slowly over taking it

Wilson didn't know this, of course, even though the DC-3 was less than a hundred feet from him...he did know that he had been turning to the left, towards the DC-3 when he lost sight of it, which meant that he probably needed to turn to the right...like now...to put some breathing room between them and it. Ironically, he also decided to abandon the rendezvous. He trimmed for his descent towards Palm Springs, throttled back and banked to the right, into a sweeping turn, he thought, away from the airliner...

...the problem was, by then he'd caught up with the DC-3 and may have even been slightly overlapping it, which meant he wasn't turning away from it...he was turning into it.  As for Pedley and Reppert, they either figured that the bomber crew had decided to call off their little stunt and head for Palm Springs, or never even knew the bomber was there in they first place.

...As Wilson started his turn to the right he may have even reached for the radio mike to request landing clearance from the tower at Palm Springs Army Airfield, visible ahead of them and to their right, but he never even got to unclip it.

A sudden double-barreled, clanging ' PA-PANG!!!'  rang out to their right even as the bomber was jolted upward and to the left. Sgt Leicht's head jerked around to the right as the impact's clanging resounded through the cockpit, and his eyes went huge as he glanced out of his side window and down...I can almost bet he yelled the classic scatological oath of surprise before he exclaimed 'We hit the airliner!!!' in a tone of shocked, horrified surprise...

Wilson probably said something like 'Say what?? even as he got real busy for a second or two as the bomber began shuddering and shaking, and trying to roll slightly to the right...then I know both of them probably yelled the aforementioned oath as the DC-3, now minus most of it's vertical stabilizer rose up almost even with their altitude, well less than 100 feet in front of them

'Our right prop got their rudder...' Leicht may have said to Wilson, who was busily hauling back on the yoke and feeding in power, praying that he still had usable power on his right side as, against every instinct he had, he turned in to what he knew was a damaged engine. The airliner, after rising just enough to make Wilson regain religions he'd never even practiced, shuddered and fell off to the left, it's shredded tail starting a slow rotation around to the right as it entered a flat spin, sun glinting off of the fuselage as it turned..

"Call Palm Springs...declare an emergency!" Wilson likely told Leicht as he backed the power off on the right engine to a point where the vibration all but stopped. The engine still wasn't sounding overly pleased with them, but least they weren't going to fall out of the sky, Wilson still had a feeling that it wouldn't be a bad idea to get back on the ground, like right then. Next to him, Sgt Leicht had snagged the radio mike...

While the actual radio traffic has, of course, been lost to history, it may have been something like:

"Palm Springs Tower, Palm Springs Tower, Army 116, MAYDAY, MAYDAY, MAYDAY!!!

In the elevated control tower cab at Palm Springs Army Airfield, a controller dived for the desk mike, reaching for notepad and pencil even as he keyed up

"Go ahead, Army 116.

"Palm Springs, Army 116 has been involved in a mid-air with an airliner approximately two to three miles northwest of the field...Army 116 is under control with damage to our starboard engine and wing. Requesting an immediate straight in approach...

"Army 116, you're cleared for any runway...we'll get the rigs rolling for you..."  Even as they scrambled to clear the pattern and get crash trucks rolling, and make notifications you know they looked out of the control tower cab's windows, gazing to the north west to see if they could spot the damaged bomber. I can't help but wonder if the blinking flash of the sun glinting off of Flight 28's polished aluminum skin also caught their eye as it spun.

*

Charles Pedley and Fred Reppert were seven minutes from their next checkpoint at Indio,  checking time and navigation instruments as well as spotting landmarks , the most prominent of which was a couple of miles off of their right wing tip...10,000 foot high Mt San Jacinto. You can bet that all nine of Flight 28's passengers were likely gazing in awe at the spectacle of the peak's spectacular north face soaring a thousand feet higher than their own altitude.  Fred Reppert may have even glanced out at it, despite the fact that he'd flown this same route several times before...even spectacular beauty can become old hat if you see it often enough.

The North Face of Mt San Jacinto...this was the sight that greeted crew and passengers as the transited San Gorgonio Pass, though their view was even more spectacular as they were closer and at an altitude of 9,000 feet.


They never really knew what happened, though if they had seen the bomber, you can bet that Pedley probably yelled something like 'That freaking idiot hit us!!!' when a sudden sharp jolt and clanging bang aft was accompanied by the rudder pedals suddenly going mushy beneath his feet. The ship started yawing from sided to side before suddenly rising about 20 feet, dumping most of it's airspeed, then dropping it's left wing and starting a slow rotation around it's nose as it fell straight down on almost an even keel. By the time the nose rotated around so it was pointing back west, they'd already lost at least a couple of hundred feet of altitude, so they probably never saw the bomber, which was above and behind them by then, after it hit them.

The passengers likely freaked out, but in the cockpit both Pedley and Reppert tried to keep their composure, and probably tried to recover from the spin...they had no idea exactly what had just happened, or how badly they were damaged. One of the two of them grabbed the radio mike and keyed up as they dropped faster and faster.

"Flight 28 from Burbank...CORRECTION!!..Burbank from Flight 28..."

In the Burbank American Airlines office, one of the radio operators looked at the speaker for an instant...Flight 28 wasn't due for a position report for another five minutes or so, and besides the voice crackling over the speaker sounded strained. He glanced up at a wall clock as he stepped on the foot pedal that keyed his desk mike. 5:15 PM

"Go ahead, Flight 28..."  No answer. " Go ahead Flight 28!" No answer. A cold chill fell over the personnel in the office as the radio operator tried once more.  People who have worked for years in aviation can usually sense when something bad had happened, and this had 'BAD' written all over it. He grabbed a phone and notified a supervisor of what had happened as, in the background, both the Phoenix and Tuscon offices also tried to call flight 28, with equally little success.

The DC-3, still in a flat spin and dropping straight down on an even keel, shed it's entire tail just a second or so before it slammed into a ridge north and east of Mt San Jacinto, about three miles from Palm Springs Army Airfield. Eyewitnesses said it bounced upward twenty or so feet, then slammed back down and erupted into a fireball as it's fuel tanks ruptured, sending a column of black smoke roiling skyward. All nine passengers as well as Pedley, Reppert and stewardess Estelle Reagan were killed instantly as the airliner slammed into the ground.

At least two people actually saw the collision, a couple more saw the fireball as the plane impacted the ridge, and the Palm Springs Army Airfield tower had gotten report of the crash, so Palm Springs Fire and PD as well as, likely, equipment and personnel from the airfield headed for the source of the black smoke that was staining the pristine fall sky...but it was a lost cause.   The crash scene was on a rock-strewn ridge well away from any roads, and it would have been a job getting a jeep anywhere vaguely near the crash scene, much less fire apparatus.  Several people...a combination of residents, fire and PD, and soldiers from the airfield...made the trek on foot and managed to get to the scene while the wreck was still burning.  According to reports I found, they tried to get to the passengers (So the fuselage may have still been partially intact when some of them got to it) but they couldn't even get near it. It would have been a lost cause anyway...as noted above, the plane's occupants were killed instantly. The DC-3 burned for about 5 hours without any application of water or foam.

The damaged bomber, meanwhile, made a routine landing and taxied to the hardstand. (Probably with one of the big army deuce and a half based crash trucks of that era following along, siren light mounted on it's left front fender winking at them).  Wilson shut down both engines, then he and Leicht climbed down onto the tarmac and, almost inevitably, walked around to the right side of the plane and gazed at the right engine.  An oil cooler air scoop was crushed, the rubber de-icer boot inboard of the engine was pulled partially loose and was hanging free, and the right prop was dinged and scratched, with a hunk missing from one blade. One of them may have walked around so he could look at the prop from the side...all of the blades looked like they may have been bent forward a bit as well.

Wilson sighed, looked at Leicht, and said something like 'I have a feeling that the skipper (The base commander) wants to talk to us.' The two of them trudged to the base commander's office to make the first official report of the incident. They had actually managed to come up with a story, BTW, one which they recounted to P.S.A.A.'s base commander. They had seen the DC-3, but then had flown into the smoke plume from a near-by forest fire and lost sight of it...it was while they were in this smoke plume that they hit the airliner.

Keep in mind here that the smoke column from a forest fire can be seen for as much as ten miles and often more, and that the airliner's crash scene was only three or so miles from the Army airfield. With that being said, I really hope that the base commander beckoned for them to follow him, walked outside, pointed at the pristine sky over San Gorgonio Pass (Stained by the black smoke column from the burning airliner, which was far darker and smaller than the high, wide wall of buff colored smoke generally generated by a brush or forest fire) and said 'What forest fire??'

Further questioning got the truth out of them, and three investigations began all but simultaneously as the DC-3's crash scene was put under military guard until both the U.S.Army and the C.A.B. investigators could examine it. The damaged bomber was immediately grounded, and very likely moved to a guarded hanger. Wilson was charged with 12 counts of manslaughter, among other charges, and brought before a military court marshal...and that's where things got just a bit strange. As in 'Suddenly Appearing Witness' strange.  But I'm getting a little bit ahead of myself here. Let's take a quick look-see at the C.A.B. investigation.

Investigators from the Civil Aeronautics Board (Or C.A.B., the fore runner to the F.A.A.) were on the scene with-in a day or so of the incident, and they likely split into teams, one team making the climb into the San Bernardino Mountains to the DC-3's crash site, another examining the damaged bomber (At least to the extent that the Army allowed them to.), and another interviewing any eyewitnesses to the collision.

Here's the thing...the C.A.B. investigators could only find two eyewitnesses who had actually seen the planes collide.  One was a house wife who had seen the collision from about three miles away, and another was a telephone company guard, who was also a volunteer plane spotter. The second witness was a bit closer, though his exact distance from the collision wasn't noted in the C.A.B. report,  Both, however, told the same story, the phone company guard/plane spotter with a good working knowledge of aircraft and aviation backing his statement.

They saw the bomber behind, to the left, and close in to the airliner, then saw the bomber turn to the right and clip the airliner's tail. They saw something fall away from the airliner, which then 'wobbled', fell away to the left and started turning slowly, falling almost straight down on an even keel until it disappeared behind obstructions that blocked it from view.  A couple of minutes later, they saw the black smoke beginning to rise.

Adding legitimacy to their version of events, it was essentially exactly what Wilson had told his superiors had happened. To pretty much put a lock on it, investigators found the upper 3/4s of the rudder and vertical stabilizer two miles from the DC-3's main wreckage site. Being comparatively light weight, flat, and aerodynamic in it's own right, it would be no stretch at all for the stabilizer to float, glide, and flutter that far when falling from an altitude of almost two miles. At any rate, the C.A.B. didn't have a difficult time at all coming up with a cause for this one.

They concluded that the accident was the result of  'The Reckless and Irresponsible act of the bomber pilot in maneuvering with-in close proximity of a civilian airliner for the sole purpose of signalling the airliner's co-pilot, and that the captain of the airliner was totally without fault.'

Thing is, the Army wasn't having any of that...they kinda pulled a fast one.

It's a couple of days into Lt Wilson's Court Marshal and, by his own testimony, he'd not only admitted that he did indeed put the bomber in extremely close proximity to the DC-3, he also told the court why he'd done so. Things were not looking good for Lt Wilson, and it pretty much looked like the prosecution had a lock on it...

Then the defense calls the third eye witness...

All of the C.A.B. investigators at the trial probably silently asked 'Wait...what...Where the hell did this guy come from???' as one person. They only knew of two eyewitnesses. But sure 'nuff, there was an Army private, in his dress uniform, being sworn in and told to take the stand...

Meet Private Roy West, U.S.Army, who apparently made himself available to the Army investigators (Or maybe Bob Wilson's defense team) when he heard they were searching out eye witnesses.

Private West, in his testimony, stated that he had been batting a tennis ball off of the side of a building at the U.S.C.Campus (I'm thinking he actually meant California State) and was about three miles from the aircraft when he spotted the two planes (If it was Cal State-San Bernardino, it was more like five or six miles) and he took notice of them because they were flying in such close proximity.

Ok, keep in mind here that he was looking at two airplanes, each about 50 or 60 feet long, from below and as much as six miles distant, and that he was not at all familiar with aviation...he'd flown in an airplane. Twice. As a passenger. From three miles an object that's sixty feet long appears about as long as an adult's fingernail, so this leads me to ask just how much detail someone who was familiar with airplanes could make out from that distance, much less someone who wasn't.

As he was watching, he continued, the airliner, seeking a lower altitude, dropped it's nose and raised it's tail, colliding with the bomber.  And yes, you read that right. He basically said that Captain Pedley flew his aircraft into the bomber, not the other way around.

OK, let's take a real quick look at the way an airplane maneuvers along that 'Pitch' axis. When you push forward on the stuck, the elevators swing down and this causes the nose to drop and the aircraft to descend. It does not, however, rotate the aircraft around the pitch Axis as if it's on a axle or balanced on a fulcrum...Or to put it in simpler terms, the nose doesn't drop, say, ten feet causing the tail to also rise by ten feet, It just don't work that way.

We won't go into the fact that, even if it did work that way, it would still mean that Wilson had to be only ten or twelve feet above the airliner's tail in order to get hit in the first place. Unless you are part of an aerobatics team called The Blue Angels or The Thunderbirds, you do not intentionally fly that close to another airplane.

Trust me on this, as Private West described what he supposedly saw, The C.A.B. investigators were looking at him incredulously. Anyone who knew anything about airplanes was looking at him incredulously. I have a feeling any 8 year old airplane buffs who happened upon a news article about Private West's testimony would have looked at it incredulously.

The Military court trying Lt Wilson, however found it absolutely believable...so believable, in fact, that they acquitted Wilson of all charges and returned him to his unit. Cue more looks of incredulity (And one look of intense relief from one Lt Bill Wilson.).

This didn't keep the C.A.B. from burning him a new one in their conclusion at the end of their official report on the crash, but those conclusions didn't have any effect on Lt. Wilson's career. His acquittal basically allowed him the get away with negligently causing the deaths of 12 people without suffering any consequences at all. He was likely transferred to another unit nowhere near California shortly there-after and he dropped from sight shortly after that, and I'm talking no info, other than that related to the mid-air, at all, anywhere.  I couldn't even find out whether he survived the war or not.

As to how he managed to escape being found guilty and sentenced...we can thank the the mysterious Private Roy West who, were I a cynical individual, I'd say was very likely coached on what to say, possibly even with the promise of some kind of remuneration when the trial was over.

As to why the Army would do something like this...I can't even begin to figure this one out, though the desire to avoid bad publicity comes immediately to mind. Also, it was war-time, and the desire to avoid the loss of a trained pilot could have well factored into it as well.

 Another possibility could have been the number of complaints that the airlines had made about Army aircraft flying to close to airliners since the war began. There had been several near misses...one so close that the airline pilot's evasive action had actually thrown a couple of passengers from their seats...and this midair was one big  'I Told You So', with consequences yet to be seen...unless their pilot ended up being acquitted of all charges.

Wilson's motivations for pulling such a dangerous stunt are a little easier to figure out. All of these thousands of young men training to be military pilots were highly patriotic, highly motivated, and full of what my grandfather and father both would have termed 'Piss and Vinegar'.

First, as military pilots, a lot of these guys considered themselves just a little bit more skilled than the average civilian pilot. They wanted action, preferably against aircraft with either black crosses or red 'Rising Suns' painted on their sides. And, as noted above, all of them wanted fighters...that was the glamour job, throwing a P-47, or P-51, or P-38 or Grumman Wildcat or Vought Corsair around the sky, blowing away any enemy aircraft that had the misfortune of getting anywhere near them.

Of courses not everyone could be in fighters, and not everyone could always be in a war zone. So those pilots occasionally made their own action happen. And when they did, that action occasionally became an accident that often ended up having tragic consequences.

I think that's exactly what happened to Lt. Wilson...he wanted to make his own action, as innocent as it seemed...to him. He'd been trained to fly this type of aircraft, therefore he knew what he was doing. Just how dangerous could flying a few hundred feet from a larger, slower aircraft that he could fly circles around be, anyway?

Sadly, he found out, and the answer was not the one he expected.

 In his mind (And the minds of thousands of young pilots) the rules and regulations were merely guidelines that could be modified on the fly in order to get the job done...and yes, that's how a lot of personnel looked at it. In  a combat zone, when the formation of bombers a pilot is escorting is suddenly jumped by a couple of dozen Me109s or FW190s, or Mitsubishi Zeros there was actually more than a little truth to that thought.

Problem was, this wasn't a combat zone...it was Southern California in a very tight traffic corridor, and there wasn't a plane with a black cross or a red circle on it's side with-in several thousand miles.

Also, Wilson wasn't that experienced with handling the type of aircraft he was flying...he only had 18 hours in the B-34, only half of that in the left seat, so he wasn't fully familiar with how it would react in given situations at given power settings and control surface configurations. And he wasn't entirely familiar with all of it's blind spots.

I'm not talking about the huge blind spot ahead of and below the aircraft...the only time that might be a legitimate issue is on landing approach in a congested traffic pattern, and only then if another pilot is somewhere he shouldn't be. In normal level flight at cruise altitude, however, no pilot should ever be close enough to another airplane for it to be hidden in that 'Underneath and In Front' blind spot.

There are other blind spots, however, When Wilson came up on a parallel course with and a mile and a half or more to the left of the DC-3, he was still well with-in regulations, which I believe called for a separation distance of 500 feet. He was also over-taking and passing (Though he possibly throttled back when he 'wing-wagged'). He started living loose with the rules when he crossed over in front of the airliner and throttled back to allow it to over take him, both because of the maneuver itself, and because he couldn't see where it was in relation to his own position, but he lucked out that time as he still had a quarter mile or so separation from the airliner.

He totally screwed the pooch, though, when he decided that they still weren't close enough. He put the bomber into a left turn,  gaining a bit more altitude, and probably pulling ahead of the airliner slightly as he did so (If he'd dropped back, he wouldn't have hit it in the second turn, to the right), then slo-o-o-ly loosing that slight lead as he turned. In the process of making that left turn he lost sight of the DC-3 because it was first slightly behind and below him, then as he turned, to his left and below him, (Probably hidden beneath the wing and engine nacelle) and finally (And absolutely unknown to him) just ahead of him and below him, and to his right. Completely inside that evil 'Ahead And Below' blind spot.

 Wilson didn't even try to keep the airliner in sight as he turned. and, by not keeping it in sight through-out the closing maneuver, which turned into an inadvertent crossing maneuver, he lost any semblance of situational awareness. He had absolutely no idea where the DC-3 was in relation to his own aircraft at any time during that left turn. I mean think about it...when he rolled out of the turn he thought he was still to the right of the airliner instead of slightly to the left...and when he finally tried to do something sensible and turn away from it...to the right...he turned into it.

But again, if he hadn't approached the airliner so closely in the first place, none of the above would have been a factor. But unfortunately he did, it was, and twelve people died because of it.

Then the Army let him get by with it. I couldn't find any reports of the reaction to that...and it was a far different era, keep in mind...but I can only imagine that the families of those twelve people weren't real happy about it, not that they had a lot of recourse. From the sounds of things, the Army pretty much wrote their own ending to the story, then swept it under the oft-mentioned rug, and they were likely the only ones happy with the way things turned out.

The story doesn't quite end yet, though...and it's post script was written by Lockheed B-34 Bureau # 41-38116, the very same bomber involved in the mid-air.. After the investigation was over, the B-34 was quickly repaired and put back in service. (Even as the crew repairing it were likely amazed at the concept of a plane that was involved in a mid-air collision suffering only minor, quickly repairable damage). One thing we don't know, BTW, is if those repairs included installation of a new right engine.

After it was repaired, 41-38116 was re-designated as an RB-34A-4 target tug, used to tow large cloth banners that were used by fighter jocks for gunnery practice. The bomber didn't serve in that role for long though. It was sent to the East Coast, and on August 5th, 1943...less than a year after the Palm Springs mid-air...it was being ferried from one base to another when it lost an engine near Smithfield, Rhode Island. I don't know if the pilot tried to turn into the dead engine, stalled, and spun in, or if it was loaded to a weight that was too heavy for a single engine to keep it in the air, but what ever the cause the bomber crashed into into Wolf Hill, near Smithfield, killing all three crew members. Oh...from what little I could find out, it was the right engine that failed...the same engine that was damaged in the mid air collision.


<***> Notes, Links, & Stuff <***>

 Ahhh, the difference something like, say, an C.A.B report makes! While there was very little information  available about this one on-line , the C.A.B. report was on-line, and  it made a huge difference. Both of the other sources that actually said anything about how the accident happened basically stated that the B-34 clipped the DC-3's tail after flying recklessly close to it without any further details.  The C.A.B report, on the other hand, was very detailed and in-depth, both concerning the details of the accident, and the details of Lt Wilson's Courts Marshal. While reading it, I could almost read  'Where the hell did he come from?!?', referring to the mysterious Private West, between the lines.

Between the unbelievably reckless actions that caused the accident, and the sudden appearance of Private West, this was definitely a one of a kind accident, and the report being available allowed me to write a post that...I hope, at any rate...did it justice.

This one's been all but forgotten, save for some die-hard aviation buffs and aviation archeologists, but it's still important in the context of history and regulations. Accidents like this, as stupid as they were (Or maybe because they were as stupid as they were) helped develop the rules, regulations, and procedures that make air travel the safest form of modern transportation.

On to the Notes!


<***>


The flight number wasn't retired after the crash, and in fact is still in use today.  Today's Flight 28 is still a coast-to-coast flight originating in L.A. (LAX rather than Burbank now) and ending in New York (JFK), but these days it's a non-stop red-eye, departing from LAX at around 10 PM, and landing at JFK at around 6:00 AM (3:00 AM L.A. Time)

<***>

While there weren't but a couple of mid-airs involving military aircraft and airliners in U.S. airspace during the war years, there were thousands of crashes involving military aircraft. Over 14,000 aircraft were lost in the U.S. between December 1941 and September 1945, resulting in just under 15,000 fatalities to military personnel.

I can just about bet that the number of young kids being put in the cockpits of high performance aircraft had something to do with a goodly number of these crashes, but the thing is, there is no other way to train combat pilots during a war. They have to be turned loose quickly, and many of them hadn't worked all of that excess 'Piss and Vinegar' out of their systems when they were awarded their wings. This created the same basic effect you get when you give a teenager a high performance car for their 16th birthday. Both the teenager and the young pilot with newly minted wings are going to be sorely tempted to see how far they can push the limits of their new rides.

The result was a lot of planes augering in before their pilots ever shipped out to a war zone over the course of the three and three quarters years we were involved in the war.

<***>

Air Transport Command...the command that Bill Wilson was attached to...ferried some 270,000 aircraft from point 'A' to point 'B' worldwide over the course of the war, losing only 1,013 in the process. One of these, of course, was B-34 BuNo 41-38116, when she augered in in her second accident.

<***>

 If you can find the DC-3's crash site, you'd still find remnants of the plane scattered about, as well as a monument to those who died in the crash (I also posted a link, below, to some pictures of the monument and the remaining wreckage). The plane burned for five hours, so most of it was reduced to melted aluminum slag, and the larger parts of the plane that remained...the tail and wings,,,were probably melted down on site and removed to be recycled for the war effort.

<***>

Interestingly, all four airfields mentioned in this post are still very active airports. Long Beach Army Airfield is now Long Beach International Airport. Lockheed Air Terminal is now Bob Hope Airport/Hollywood-Burbank airport, March Field is now a California Air National Guard base as well as home to a truly kick-ass aviation museum, and Palm Springs Army Airfield is now Palm Springs International Airport.

Needless to say, all have been expanded and modernized greatly over the years, and Bob Hope Airport as well as Palm Springs airport have erased all hints of their earlier days as, respectively, one of L.A.'s first major airports and a bustling Army air base. If, however, you go to Google Earth and look at both March Field and Long Beach Airport and look closely you can see definite remnants of their earlier years...especially at March Field, where one entire runway from the past still exists as well as remnants of a second.


<***> Links <***>

Not a whole lot available on-line about this one, but I included the best three I found, plus one other interesting general info site..


https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/American_Airlines_Flight_28  The all but inevitable Wiki page. Includes links to the C.A.B report (First link in References) as well as several period news articles.

http://ghosttownexplorers.org/aircraft/flight28/01.htm   Page from Ghost Town Explorers about the crash, includes pics of what remains at the DC-3's crash site today. This is an awesome site in general...just don't start exploring it if you're pressed for time, because it'll eat up a couple of hours without even breaking a sweat!

http://smithapplebyhouse.org/prelude/  Another excellent blog post about the accident.

https://www.quora.com/Why-were-there-so-many-accidental-air-crashes-by-U-S-planes-in-WWII
An interesting discussion about the high number of military aircraft crashes in the U.S during WW II

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