Accident of C-47 # 42-92887  - 73rd TCS – 13 December 1944 – Aldermaston

 

Like so many other days after the Normandy invasion, December 13 was a day that supplies were carried from England to the continent.

 

A take off was scheduled for a few C-47s. Plane number 42-92887, tail letter W, being one of them, leading a three plane element.

The plane was loaded with gasoline for the advancing armies. On the way back to England, the plane wound load wounded troopers for evacuation. The crew was:

 

Capt. Harold R. Taylor (P)

2nd Lt. Clarence J. Steinbacher (CP)

1st Lt. George S. Thayer (N)

Cpl. Elbert M. Hickox (CC)

S/Sgt. Archie G. Breslin (RO)

2nd Lt. Virginia C. Russell (Nurse)

 

The pilot, co-pilot and navigator went out to the airplane sometime after 10.00. there they found the two enlisted men and 2nd Lt. Virginia Russell.

The ship had been preflighted and the pilot checked the load and the tying down. It all seemed fine.

The pilot stated:

I started the engines and warmed them up some before taxiing out to the take-off runway. There was frost and/or ice on the front one-third of the airplane wings with the exception of behind the engines and propeller arc where it was just wet from melted frost and ice. The airplane had been sitting with the back to the sun and the water was dripping off the wings. It looked as though there was little frost and ice left and it would melt off sufficiently in one mile of taxiing and the run-up before take-off. I allowed an extra five minutes, delaying my take-off to give it time to melt, then took off after going through the normal run-up procedure.

We were using runway 28, I used 2700 and 48 inches. I was getting off the ground in a normal distance and got about 15 or 20 feet in the air. I asked for gear up. At that time the left wing stalled and went down, and I’d get it started back up when it would stall again. I felt no loss of power but my airspeed didn’t seem to be picking up very fast. The plane stalled into the ground, hitting a mound and bounced across the road, heading about 45 degrees from my take off direction with the left wing and propeller hitting first.

It stopped about 160 degrees from the take off direction. The co-pilot shut off the ignition and master switches and we both noticed that it started burning immediately.

 

Statement by co-pilot Steinbacher:

After the wheels came up the ship seemed to stall out, the left wing dropped and touched the ground first causing the ship to swerve.

Immediately after the ship came to a stop I reached over and turned the switches off and opened the escape hatch. Before going out I looked back and noticed the companion way cluttered with equipment and noticed no personnel.

On my way out the hatch I noticed a fire had started on left engine and wing.

All members of the crew were uninjured except for the crew chief who got a badly cut left leg and internal injuries. 2nd Lt. Virginia Russel immediately went to work to ease the crew chief’s pain bandaging his wounds and administering morphine.

Lt. George Thayer stated:

I was sitting at the navigators table and was first aware of some trouble just after entering take-off time in the Form #1A at which time we were approximately half or slightly more down the runway. At this time I noticed a stalling attitude of the plane with the left wing down which at first made me think that the left engine had cut.

However, on looking out it seemed normal, so my next thought was that the load had shifted. On looking out I had noticed frost on the forward side of the wing well out to the tip which part was in my view although from my position I could not see the leading edge. However, at the time I did not associate it with the trouble. By now it was obvious we were going to crash not having enough lift to clear the end of the runway and too near the end of the runway to stop especially in view of a slippery runway due to heavy frost.

My last notice of position of personnel was the crew chief who was standing in the forward part of the companionway with his left leg slightly forward about on the fire extinguisher. About this time we hit after just jumping the road and I was thrown over onto the radio operator with parts of radio equipment flying into my face. At the moment the plane came to a stop the pilot shouted to everyone to get out, and I jumped up grabbing for the door, finding the companionway deeply strewn with equipment which later seemed to explain my not noticing the crew chief who it seemed must have been beneath it. No fire was visible in the plane at that time.

Running down to the door over the diesel oil cans (which were still tied down) I noticed fire on either side of the fuselage and also that the nurse who was going for the rear door apparently seemed unhurt. Sitting on the right side of the plane the sharp swing to the left after hitting had not thrown her.

Both of us fell on the cans but got out and ran about 50 yards from the plane. Turning around I noticed the pilot, who had gone out the window, and the co-pilot who had gone out the escape hatch, coming around the plane and at the same time hollering at the others for a check up.

It was just about when they noticed the crew chief was missing that he reached the rear door by crawling over the cans. The pilot, co-pilot and radio operator pulled him out of the door. I was nearing them at the time and helped carry him to the spot where the ambulance picked him up.

The crew chief’s leg was badly lacerated and he complained of his stomach hurting him.On arrival of the ambulance the nurse, 2nd Lt. Virginia Russell, gave the crew chief a shot of morphine and applied a heavy bandage to the wound on his left leg.

 

2nd Lt. Virginia Russell, 810th Medical Air Evacuation Squadron, was interviewed in 2000 and the full interview can be found at the website for the The Betty H. Carter Women Veterans Historical Project.

 

HT:

Do you ever recall being afraid?

VR:

Oh, yes, a lot of times. I was afraid when we crashed on takeoff that time.

HT:

That's the photograph you showed me?

VR:

Yes. We got out, and the crew chief was hit. The prop hit him. We were hauling these gasoline tanks. We took the gasoline in that way for Patton's troops, and that's what we were hauling.

We took off, and something happened. They thought it was ice on the wingtips, because it didn't lift. We came back down, and we hit gliders, and we did a 180-degree turn before we could stop.

All I could think of is, “We're going to blow up. We've got gasoline.” I jumped out and ran. The navigator came out the back door. Then the copilot and the pilot went out these little [unclear]. They don't know how they got out of them. They didn't think they could get through those, but—because we were on fire.

Then they started running back. The navigator was behind me—I mean the radio operator, and I was behind the navigator. We jumped. We jumped down. We had to jump. Then we ran away from the plane. Then the pilot and copilot started going back. The navigator—and I did, too—thought that they thought I was trapped in there, because I was back there by myself.

HT:

So you were in the back of the plane while this was going on?

VR:

Yes. Yes.

HT:

Did you guys wear seat belts or harnesses of some sort?

VR:

Well, this time I didn't. I was sitting on just a little place that I had—that all these were gas tanks around. The seats were out, and I was just trying to sit anywhere I could.

HT:

So you were literally sitting on gas tanks.

VR:

No. I was sitting on a little stool, but nothing was fastened in, and I couldn't fasten my seat belt. I mean, there was no place—we had little things that fell down like seats on the side. They weren't seats like they have in airplanes now.

HT:

Little jump seats, I think they call them.

VR:

Yes, yes. So I was sitting on that. They had just a space for me. I remember I had a jacket on, and I didn't have my arms in it. I had it around me. When I got up, I just didn't even wear my jacket. I just jumped right out of my jacket and started going out [unclear], and he was in front of me.

We got away, and the navigator said, “She's with me.” I was running with him where they were so they would see me. It was the crew chief, and he'd been injured. So they threw him off the plane, and then they just set him down.

I said, “Let's get him away from this plane.” I gave him first aid, and then our doctor came.

He said, “Thank God you're giving first aid, not getting it.” Because they could look on the number on the tail and know who was on the plane. So he knew that I was on that plane. Then he took over.

The boy died. He was very young, and he had internal injuries. He had a compound fracture, and I was putting this on him.

I said to the radio operator, “Hold his head up.”

He said, “I can't breathe.”

I said to him, “You have to breathe.”

He said, “I have a baby at home I've never seen.”

But he didn't make it, and he was only about twenty. So then I was afraid to get on. I remember I told Clay—that's my husband—I confessed to him, I said, “I'm afraid to get on those planes anymore.”

He said, “Don't tell anybody. Just get on.”

I thought he'd sympathize with me.

 

Left: The C-47 very shortly after the crash. There is fire and a few men watch. The photo is taken fron under a glider wing. (Mrs. V. Russell-Reavis)

Right: A shot from the other side. The fire has consumed more of the airplane. Gliders are visible on the extreme left and right of the photo. (Lunday  col.)

One of the damaged gliders is # 42-77580. (Lunday  col)

Airborne Troop Carrier - Miscellaneous

Flight Nurse Virginia Reavis of 810th Medical Air Evacuation Squadron. (Mrs. Virginia Russell-Reavis)