Women Airforce Service Pilots, Class 43-6
The contents of this page are a result of Mr. Robert C. Staggs' efforts, see his story below about witnessing the aftermath of the crash. His most recent efforts have resulted in a map , dated from around 1917, showing the crash site. Newer maps no longer show Randado, Texas. He has added details to the map showing Departure, Crash Site, Destination, and a photo of the type of plane, BT-13, Bonnie Jean was flying at the time of the crash.
There is also information below from Becky Rosenfelder, a niece of Bonnie Welz.
|Date: Sun, 20 Oct 1996 07:00:12 -0700|
|From: "Robert C. Staggs"|
|Subject: An Aviatrix from WWII|
|I have just discovered your web page and I was moved by it! How proud you must be of your mom. Your presentation shows genuine feeling for not only your mom, but for all of the women who were there and achieved what they did. Imagine what it must have been like in those days for a woman (called "girls" then) from a farm in Iowa or a small town in Ohio to venture into a male-dominated, high-tech world where women were expected to be house wives or secretaries -- and to be able to gain a patriotic self-esteem rivaled only by Rosie the Riveter and only a few others.|
|I was a kid of about 10 in those days and I had an experience that had a profound effect on me and I still think about it. It was perhaps early in 1944 or late 1943, and we were living in a remote area in the mesquite brush country near Laredo, Texas. My brother, who was much older than me (he went into the navy in 1944) lived a few miles away with his wife and small son. One day an AT-6 approached his house and began circling as though the pilot was looking for something. My brother could tell that the airplane's engine didn't sound right, and then he realized that the pilot was looking for a place to have an emergency landing. Because there were many oilfields in the area, there were several landing strips for the oil company airplanes. Apparently the pilot knew this and was looking for one as well as a clearing in the brush suitable for a landing. My brother watched as the airplane came down and disappeared behind some mesquite trees. There was an explosion and then fire and smoke. My brother quickly got into his truck and drove through the prickly pear cactus and drove up to the fire as close as he thought was safe. He realized that there was no way that the airplane could be entered - it was upside down and completely engulfed in flames. He decided to look around in case anyone had been thrown clear. Sure enough, he soon found a man who was wandering around in a dazed state of shock. My brother couldn't make out what the man was saying, except he heard the words "she" and "her" as the man pointed into the flames.|
|The next day, after my brother had taken the man (who was a captain or major) to the Laredo hospital in very serious condition, I went to my brother's house with my parents. About the time that we got to his house, a large air force truck carrying some burnt aircraft wreckage drove up. My sister-in-law had been providing the men with coffee and refreshments, and the men stopped by for one last time. One of the men carried a rather small fabric bag which contained the remains of the pilot. He transferred the bag from the truck to a car (it could have been a military ambulance) that had been waiting at the house. The faces of these men were extremely grim. One of them said that the pilot's flying cap disintegrated as they were placing the remains into the bag exposing long red hair that was completely un-scorched. After I heard this, I was never quite the same.|
|The woman was flying a VIP from Harlingen Air Base to Laredo Air Base (or vice-versa) when the airplane's engine began to have problems. The passenger was in the back seat. The pilot circled around until a clearing was found. For some reason, the pilot chose to land with the landing gear down. It was apparently a good landing, except that one of the wheels apparently had fell into a gopher hole causing the airplane to flip over. The canopies were open. The passenger's seat harness was apparently unfastened and he was thrown clear as the plane flipped. The pilot apparently died before she could release her harness which had been fastened.|
|I've always wanted to know her name. I don't exactly know why, except that I know that she must be remembered. Perhaps in your research you have seen accident reports or other details, orally or written, of such events. I would appreciate any information that you may have.|
|Congratulations on such a wonderful web page. I think that you should write a book.|
As a result of this letter, referring to On Final Approach by Byrd
Howell Granger, and additional correspondence with Mr. Staggs, we
determined that the female pilot was
Bonnie Jean Welz
and that she was flying a BT-13. Mr. Staggs also added,
The important thing here is the fact that the BT-13 had fixed landing gear and this explains why Bonnie had her gear down when she landed.
|The following was provided by Bonnie's niece, Becky Rosenfelder, on March 14, 1999.|
|Yesterday I attended a presentation at the Museum of Flight in Seattle by five former WASPs. During their talks with the audience I learned of the Texas Woman's University and their efforts to archive information about the WASPs. I decided last night to see if they had a website and subsequently was directed to one of yours. I was completely taken by surprise when I read an account of my Aunt Bonnie Jean's death written by Mr. Staggs. My mother's family was one that was torn apart by the war - Bonnie Jean went into the Women's Airforce Service Pilots, her brothers into various branches of the service and my mother to Hawaii with her new husband, who worked on the docks at Pearl Harbor (another story altogether). Their father was killed when they were young and their mother was already estranged from her grown children. When Bonnie Jean was killed, the family members were informed, but her story was lost. My mother, Bettie, died two months ago not knowing the circumstances of Bonnie's death. I was very moved by Mr. Staggs' story and his concern that "she must be remembered". Of course we remember her in our own way, but it was always incomplete. Your website offered another piece to the puzzle.|
|I noticed that you do not include her maiden name. It was Alloway. And to my knowledge she was born in Kettle Falls, WA, as was my mother and her other sisters (her brothers were from another marriage, last name Minor.)|
|As soon as I send this e-mail to you I am going to call my sister, Bonnie Jo, who was born the year after our aunt died and tell her what I have found. I am so grateful that all of these incredibly adventurous and brave women are being remembered and honored.|
|Thank you. Sincerely, Becky Rosenfelder|
This is the first of many other stories from someone who knew of the Women Airforce Service Pilots. Thank you Mr. Staggs for allowing me to make this available to share with others.