The following is the text from the Army Air Force accident report No. 95, dated July 8, 1944. It was facilitated by Terence Geary who provided a microfilm copy of this report.
Following the report, is some additional insight about the accident from the brother of the witness mentioned in the report, Robert Staggs, and from my mother.
Army Air Force Accident Report, AAF Form No. 14
(Brief narrative of accident. Includes statement of responsibility and recommendations for action to prevent repetition)
At 1107 on 29 June 1944 WASP Bonnie Jean Welz with Major Robert B. Stringfellow, as passenger, took off from Harlingen Army Air Field on a routine administrative flight to Laredo Army Air Field, Laredo, Texas in BT-13A type aircraft #41-22090. She was cleared under contact flight rules direct to destination and estimated one hour and ten minutes time en route. At 1205 on this date the airplane was seen to crash and burn about forty-two miles from Laredo Army Air Field near the town of Randado, Texas. Authorities at Laredo AAF were notified of the crash and immediately went to the scene where they found that the plane was completely demolished and burned, and the pilot had died in the crash and the passenger had been taken to the hospital with major injuries.
A witness, the first man to the scene of the crash, stated that he first saw the airplane while it was at a high altitude (he was unable to estimate the altitude in feet) and that it was in a wide turn to the left and losing altitude. He watched the plane continue in this attitude until it went out of sight behind the trees and hit the ground. He rushed to the scene which was about a mile distant, and there found the plane burning and the passenger sitting about fifty yards away. He stated that the engine sounded as though it were running wide open all during the descent.
Marks on the ground indicated that the airplane struck the ground while still in a turn to the left. It had then nosed over and skidded on its back.
The passenger, Major Stringfellow, when questioned was unable to give a reason for the crash. He stated that they were flying at an altitude of approximately 1500 feet, straight and level, and directly on course when they reached the town of Randado. At this point the airplane started into a gentle turn to the left and started losing altitude. The engine was running smoothly and the turn seemed to be a coordinated one; so he assumed that the pilot was going down to buzz. The pilot gave no sign of distress either visually or by interphone. He did not realize anything was wrong until just before the crash. He further stated that the pilot made no attempt to reduce power or level off prior to striking the ground.
Investigation of the wreckage revealed the fact that one of the cables running to the steerable tail wheel was jammed; but after investigation, it was decided that the position in which it was jammed would not effect the flying characteristics enough to cause the accident.
It is the opinion of the Aircraft Accident Committee that the major, minor and underlying cause of this accident is unknown.
8 July 1944
Subject matter of this report investigated by Intelligence personnel as required by par I, 2., b and par III, Part Six of AAF Regulation 62-14A, dated 28 Jan 1944 and facts found not to require separate Intelligence Report.
EMANUEL F. BONVICIN Major, Air Corps Intelligence Officer
HAROLD A PRUITT, Major, AC, President
John B. Dubose, Jr., Capt., AC, Member of Board
Jack Kelly, Capt., AC, Recorder
Comments from Robert Staggs, brother of accident eye witness.
|I'm rather surprised that my memory agrees with most of the report, and yes, the witness mentioned in the report was my brother. There are some things that bother me in the report, though. The report implies that the airplane "hit" the ground, whereas I remember seeing tire tracks in the sand that approached the actual point of impact. When my brother showed the crash site to the rest of the family, he pointed out the tire tracks and the contact with a gopher hole, the disappearance of the tracks, and then the point of impact. There was no question about the airplane flipping over, but to me it seems that if the airplane had touched down hard it would have bounced, leaving holes in the sand rather than tracks. Fearing a stall, she probably was landing at a faster speed than normal. Since this was an emergency landing in an aircraft with fixed landing gear, with no choice of an upwind landing and on an undetermined landing surface, she may have felt that a higher speed would also enable a semi-aborted landing if necessary. In other words, if she saw that a mesquite tree was in the path of the airplane, she could apply a little more power and controls in order to hop over the obstacle. The most curious aspect of the entire event was the absence of communication between Bonnie Jean and Major Stringfellow. I hesitate to even guess at the reason for this. The accident report definitely adds a veil of mystery to the accident.
Comments from WASP Lois Hailey, 43-3, and followup with Mr. Staggs.
The report states that the passenger saw "no sign of distress either visually or by interphone" from the pilot. This, according to Lois, could be explained by, "carbon monoxide poisoning."
When I passed this along to Mr. Staggs, he replied, "Carbon monoxide poisoning is something that I didn't even think about. This really makes more sense than anything else and a good explanation for the absence of conversation between the pilot and passenger. About an hour after takeoff, the pilot feels quite ill and for this reason she seemed to race to a landing - as though she realized that she was going to black out. She probably avoided talking because she was too sick or wanted to maintain her concentration."
Read more from Mr. Staggs on his childhood memories of the accident.