|The following information was obtained primarily from the actual Army Airforce accident reports. Other data from Byrd Granger's, "On Final Approach", Marianne Verges', "On Silver Wings", Adela Scharr's "Sisters in the Sky Volume II - The WASP", Marion Stegeman Hodgson's "Winning My Wings", Sally VanWagenen Keil's "Those Wonderful Women in Their Flying Machines", and Doris Brinker Tanner's "Zoot Suits and Parachutes" were used where it seemed factual and in agreement with the accident report.|
|Margaret S. Oldenburg, KIS - 3/7/1943, Houston, Texas, Primary Training|
Margaret was the first WFTD trainee killed in an accident. She was a trainee in class 43-4.
It was a Sunday and she was just starting her second week of training. Margaret and her civilian instructor, Norris G. Morgan, were flying a PT-19A. Margaret had about 3.5 hours time in the PT-19 and at least 47 total hours of flying. Her instructor had over 21 hours in this plane and a total of 786 hours of flying. The plane had be used for almost 177 hours. At approximately 17:45, after flying for about 30 minutes, two witnesses observed the plane spinning into the ground about 6 miles south of Houston. The closest witness stated that, "It seemed to me that the pilot was practicing a forced landing."
A rumored contributing factor in Granger's book was that the plane was "out of rig" as noted by its Form 1-A, which limited the plane's use to non acrobatic maneuvers. Was the civilian instructor aware of the importance of the Form 1-A? All of the instructors were subsequently flight checked by order of the new WFTD commanding officer Major Walter Farmer and some were dismissed according to the M. Verges book.
A short biography is also available.
|Jane Deloris Champlin, KIS - 6/7/1943, Sweetwater, Texas, Basic Training|
Jane was the first WFTD trainee killed after training was moved to Sweetwater. She was also a trainee in class 43-4.
On the night of June 7, 1943, Jane and her instructor, Henry S. Aubrey, also a civilian, were on a night cross-country training flight in a BT-15. They were about 40 miles west of Sweetwater There were no witnesses to the accident. From analysis, the investigating committee determined that the plane was in a turn just before the accident. The opinion of the team is that during the turn both the instructor and student "lost the horizon and allowed the ship to spiral. The instructor failed to go on instruments in time to prevent the crash.
Jane was not comfortable with Mr. Aubrey. She had asked to be assigned to a different instructor but that did not happen. This instructor had reportedly fallen asleep on previous flights. He was also know for screaming at the students for the slightest error.
The plane was found inverted at the crash site. The watch on Mr. Aubrey's wrist has stopped at 11:15.
A short biography on Jane is also available.
|Kathryn Barbara Lawrence, KIS - 8/4/1943, Sweetwater, Texas, Primary Training|
At about 16:45 Kathryn got her turn in the PT-19. This was her solo flight in a plane that had had 7 other flights that day. She had accumulated almost 19 hours of flying this type of plane since her class, 43-8, started on July 5, 1943. There were no witnesses to the crash and a cause was not determined. The plane was found about 15 miles northwest of Avenger field. The plane had nosed down into the ground and Kathryn's body was found about 150 feet from the plane. It appeared she attempted to bail out, but did not even have time to pull the rip cord. The parachute was checked and found in working order.
The plane Kathryn was flying had over 600 hours. The engine had almost 18 hours. The Form 1-A also indicated, "Hole in L. Wing".
A short biography on Kathryn is also available.
|Helen Jo Anderson Severson and Margaret June "Peggy" Seip, KIS - 8/30/1943, Sweetwater, Texas, Advanced Training|
It was a Monday and Helen and Margaret were just two weeks away from graduation with class 43-5. It was mid afternoon and there were scattered to broken clouds at 2,000 feet near Big Springs, Texas. Their civilian instructor was Calvin G. Atwood and they were on a dual instrument training flight in a UC-78, Bamboo Bomber. Big Springs was the midpoint in the flight.
There were no witness reports documented in the Army report, however according to class mate Marion Stegeman Hodgson's book, a young farmer's son had seen the crash but did not tell his parents until after finishing his chores later that evening. As a result, locating the accident site was delayed.
The Army's investigation into the accident did not come to a conclusion as to the cause of the accident. The report observed that the plane was in a spin as it nosed into the ground at almost near vertical. During the descent, the plane fell apart. The left aileron was found 250 feet from the main wreckage. The right engine was also found 250 feet from the main wreckage and there were no marks on the ground between the wreckage and the engine.
At the time of the accident, the instructor, Mr. Atwood, was married to Anna Frankman from class 43-3, who was on duty at Love Field.
A short biography on Helen is also available.
|Betty Pauline Stine, KIS - 2/25/1944, Sweetwater, Texas, Advanced Training|
It was a Friday afternoon and there were overcast skies at 5,000 feet near Quartzite, Arizona. Betty was on the return leg of a solo cross-country training flight to Tucson and had just left Blythe in an AT-6. She was part of a group of 13 WASPs from class 44-2. Betty had accumulated almost 160 hours of flying and over 47 were in the AT-6.
At about 16:15, a miner, Mr. L. A. Aplington, observed a parachute descending and an aircraft crash into the ground. He called to two other men to help and they went to the parachute. It took approximately 45 minutes to get to Betty. She was laying motionless on the ground. Her shoes were missing and were never found. They wrapped her in some blankets, put her in the truck, and took her to Quartzite. An ambulance was dispatched from Blythe Army Air Base. She was taken to the base hospital where she died soon afterward.
Examination of the crash site found the wreckage in two main areas. Part of the tail section, including the right horizontal stabilizer, was found in a burned condition at the top of a mountain. The rest of the plane was found at the foot of the mountain with no signs of burning. The report concludes that Betty abandoned the plane after sparks from the engine exhaust set fire to the fabric covered horizontal stabilizer and she lost control of the plane.
Very shortly after Betty's death, a parachute training system was built at Avenger field and twelve hours of instruction were added to basic training. Later in July, a modification to the AT-6 exhaust system was introduced.
A short biography on Betty is also available.
|Jayne Elizabeth Erickson and Mary Holmes Howson, KIS - 4/16/1944, Sweetwater, Texas|
It was a Sunday afternoon in Sweetwater, Texas. The air was clear, visibility unlimited, and winds were out of the S. E. at 15 miles per hour. Elizabeth was in basic training with class 44-6, was only 8 days from her 23rd birthday, and had accumulated over 71 hours of flying with just over eleven in her AT-6. Mary was in the advanced training phase with class 44-4 and was also flying an AT-6. Mary had just over 48 hours in this type of plane and a total flying time of 163 hours. With the graduation of 44-3 on April 15, 44-4 were now the seniors at Sweetwater.
It was about 13:15 and Elizabeth was practicing touch and go landings as part of her basic training requirements and was on her 8th attempt. Her first three were with her instructor, the last 5 were solo. There was a lot to do and Elizabeth was busy, getting the landing gear down, watching her speed, setting the flaps, and other things. She was also in radio contact with the tower. Mary, in the advanced phase of her training, was on the return leg of a solo cross-country flight to San Antonio, had a more time to get ready, and was more comfortable with her plane. She was looking to the tower for visual directions.
Elizabeth was entering traffic over Avenger field on a 45 degree leg to the downwind leg from an easterly direction. Mary was also entering traffic on a 45 degree leg to the downwind leg from a westerly direction. They were both at about 800 feet altitude had turned into their base leg, perpendicular to the runway, and were now headed right at each other. It was now 13:20. Mary, having more flying experience was looking around for other aircraft. She spotted Elizabeth's plane and turned to avoid the collision. However, it was too late and Elizabeth's plane rammed into Mary's. Elizabeth was pinned in and could not eject. Mary jumped, but she was too close to the ground and her parachute didn't have a chance to open. Mary was 25 years old.
On April 17, 1944, a forty-five minute memorial service was held. Many were in attendance including all the new trainees for class 44-9 which had just started their first week of training the day after the crash.
Mary's closest friend in training was Dorothy Herthneck. Dorothy believed the fault rested with the tower. After the accident the overhead approach was changed to 4,000 feet before entering to land.
A short biography on Jayne is also available.
A short biography on Mary is also available.
|Marjorie Doris Edwards, KIS - 6/13/1944, Sweetwater, Texas, Advanced Training|
A month had almost passed for class 44-6, since the loss of Elizabeth Erickson, when a second fatal accident stunned the class.
The class was now about 3 weeks into their Advanced training phase. Marjorie was on a cross-country training flight in an AT-6 flying from Avenger to Vernon then to Amarillo. It appears that she had just left Vernon. She was seen heading west at the time of the accident and she was near Childress, Texas, when things started to go wrong.
Two witnesses observed Marjorie's AT-6 at low altitude. The engine was back-firing and smoking. As the plane lost altitude, Marjorie bailed out. The plane nosed into the ground. Marjorie pulled the D-ring on her parachute, but it opened too late. Her body was found about 75 yards from the wreckage. An oily substance was found on her flight suit and the outside covering of her parachute. There was no evidence of a fire.
Form 1A indicated that the engine in this T-6 had almost 740 hours and the plane had over 1,375 hours. The form also indicated that a classmate, Florence G. Shutsy, had flown the same plane the night before. Florence recalls that during her night cross-country flight the lights went out on the instrument panel shortly after takeoff. She returned the plane to Sweetwater and completed her training in another plane. She also understands that a broken hydraulic line may have blinded Marjorie. (My thanks to "Shutsy" for this contribution.)
Unfortunately, this was not only a bad day for 44-6, it was also the worst week in the WASP training program and the worst month for the WASP program as a whole. All six classes in training that week had a least one accident. There were a total of nine accidents involving 10 WASP trainees. For the month of June, there were 32 accidents, involving 34 pilots, and 5 deaths including Marjorie's.
A short biography on Marjorie is also available.
|Gleana Roberts, KIS - 6/20/1944, Sweetwater, Texas, Basic Training|
It was a Tuesday, the skies were clear, the winds were out of the S.S.W. at 18 m.p.h., and Gleanna's class, 44-9, was in their last week of primary training. Gleanna had been flying solo for about half an hour. She was in a PT-17 that had already flown twice earlier that morning and had accumulated 67 hours of flying time. It was a little after 11:00 AM.
Gleanna was flying about four miles north of Lorraine, Texas, which is about 20 miles to the west of Sweetwater. Two witnesses observed her plane flying in a southerly direction and at a low altitude. She started a 180 degree turn and that gave her a slight tail wind. One witness stated the plane was losing altitude. Neither witness indicated that they observed anything wrong with the plane prior to the crash.
It was the opinion of the Accident Committee that the plane stalled in a "steep down-wind turn." The left wing of the plane struck the ground first then the plane cartwheeled.
According to the report, Gleanna had flown earlier that morning with her instructor, but there were no documents relating to that flight. The report stated that in the earlier flight some acrobatic maneuvers were performed. The committee did not come to any conclusions about the cause of the accident but did make reference to possible fatigue and poor student performance throughout primary training.
A short biography on Gleana is also available.
|Marjorie Laverne Davis, KIS - 10/16/1944, Sweetwater, Texas, Basic Training|
It was October 16, 1944 and the weather was not an issue. In a little over two months, the WASP program would be dissolved. Only classes, 44-9 and 44-10, were still in training and they were both in the advanced training phase. There were about 120 pilots left in the two classes. Class 44-9 would graduate on November 8, 1944, and 44-10 was scheduled for graduation on December 7, 1944.
Earlier the same day, class 44-8 had graduated, but the remaining pilots had training to complete. Class 44-9 was scheduled for a 2,000 mile cross-country flight. On this trip, twelve trainees were headed to Courtland, Alabama, via Stuttgart, Arkansas. Marjorie was in an AT-6. She had 54 hours in this advanced trainer and a total of over 168 flying hours. During the stop in Stuttgart, everyone had dinner before leaving for Courtland.
It was after 19:35 local time and the sun had just set. Marjorie was about 90 miles west of Courtland and about a mile south of Walnut, Mississippi, near the Tennessee state line. She had been flying for over 2 hours since she and her classmates left Stuttgart. She must have gotten lost. It was estimated that she should have arrived in Courtland by 19:10.
A witness indicated Marjorie had been in the area around Walnut for about an hour. She had made one attempt to land in a hay field, ran into and broke some power lines, and then circled to try landing again. It was during this second attempt, in the dark, that Marjorie crashed. The evidence at the crash site indicates that she had released her shoulder straps in order to try and see the ground. She was leaning out the right side of the cockpit when the plane hit the ground. Her head was slammed against the canopy edge and that appeared to be the cause of death.
The training leader 1st Lt. Leonard Gonye, that had accompanied the flight and was the last one to leave Stuttgart and land in Courtland, initiated actions to find Marjorie soon after he landed. It was not until after 20:00 that they received word of the crash near Walnut. Examination of the plane indicated there was 3.5 to 4 inches of fuel still in each tank.
On December 7, 1944, at the graduation ceremonies for 44-10, Lt. Gen. Barton Yount, spoke movingly about all the WASP pilots, "Let us acknowledge the measure of their sacrifice by honoring them as brave women, and by honoring them as women who served without thought of the glory which we accord to the heroes of battle."
A short biography on Margie is also available.
|WASPs were classified as civilians by the Army during their service to their country. When they were killed in service, the army only provided a pine box for the body. It was left to classmates, training staff, other military personnel, and Jacqueline Cochran to provide a cover for the box and to transport/escort the body home.|