Topics - C54G Skymaster Crash
Tacoma, Washington, November 28, 1952

 
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A C-54G Skymaster en route to the United States from Alaska was nearing its landing destination on November 28, 1952, when it encountered dense fog.  Rather than attempt to land "blind" in the thick fog at McChord Air Force base under the guidance of a radar-directed ground crew, the veteran pilot radioed in to the control tower that he was going to try to land at his home base in Great Falls, Montana.  Moments later, the plane clipped two fir trees and crashed and burned in South Tacoma, Washington.  Only two on the plane survived.  Thirty-seven people were killed, including women, young children, and babies.

Portions of this page of the Korean War Educator were found on Washington State's HistoryLink (File #8803) , and all credit goes to that website and the author of the article, Daryl C. McClary. HistoryLink.org is the first online encyclopedia of local and state history created expressly for the Internet. (SM) HistoryLink.org is a free public and educational resource produced by History Ink, 501 (c) (3) tax-exempt corporation. Contact them by phone at 206-447-8140, by mail at Historylink, 1411 4th Ave. Suite 803, Seattle WA 98101 or email admin@historylink.org.

To add information and photographs to this page contact Lynnita Brown, 111 E. Houghton St, Tuscola, IL 61953; ph. 217-253-4620 or e-mail lynnita@thekwe.org.

Most recent update to this page: March 26, 2014


Table of Contents:

  • HistoryLink
    • Synopsis
    • The Crash
    • The Investigation
    • Casualty List
    • Sources
  • About the Victims and Survivors
  • News Clippings
    • Tacoma News Tribune, November 28, 1952
    • Tonawanda [NY] Evening News, February 1953

Synopsis

On November 28, 1952, a U.S. Air Force Douglas C-54G Skymaster, en route from Fairbanks, Alaska, carrying 39 people, crashes in South Tacoma while attempting to land in thick fog at McChord Air Force Base. The pilot decides to abort a ground-controlled approach to the runway and divert to Malmstrom Air Force Base in Great Falls, Montana. The aircraft, however, strikes the tops of two tall fir trees, crashes into a field and bursts into flames, killing 37 persons. A young airman and an 8-year-old boy, who lost five family members in the mishap, are the only survivors.

The Douglas C-54 Skymaster was the military version of the DC-4 passenger aircraft, developed in 1938. The C-54s began service with the U.S. Army Air Corps (now the Air Force) on February 14, 1942, shuttling passengers across the North Atlantic between the U.S. and Great Britain during World War II (1941-1945). The transport, considered large in its day, was approximately 94 feet long with a 118-foot wingspan, and was powered by four 1,450 hp Pratt & Whitney R-2000 “Twin Wasp” engines. At a cruising speed of 207 m.p.h., the Skymaster had a range of 4,200 miles and could accommodate up to 80 passengers. Douglas C-54 Skymasters were finally retired from military service in 1975.


The Crash

On Friday, November 28, 1952, an Air Force C-54G, assigned to the Military Air Transport Service (MATS), 1701st Air Transport Wing at Malmstrom Air Force Base (AFB), Great Falls, Montana, was inbound from Ladd AFB, Fairbanks, Alaska, carrying 32 American servicemen and their dependents, and a crew of seven. At 12:30 a.m., the pilot, Captain Albert J. Fenton, radioed the McChord air traffic control tower for field conditions and was informed that visibility was approximately three-quarters of a mile. Captain Fenton was directed to execute a wide left-hand turn and descend for a ground-controlled landing from the south. As the aircraft neared the field, a thick fog bank, rising 300 feet high, suddenly developed, reducing visibility to near zero.

At 12:48 a.m., Captain Fenton, now on final approach, decided to abort the landing and radioed the control tower that he was proceeding to Malmstrom AFB instead. Minutes later, witnesses telephoned the control tower and the Pierce County Sheriff’s Department to report a downed aircraft. The Skymaster crashed into an open field (now Wards Lake Park) approximately one mile north of McChord AFB and one-half mile east of S Tacoma Way between S 84th and S 88th Streets in the unincorporated community of Lakewood. It barely missed the Edgewood Park apartments, 35 four-family units built to ease the military’s housing shortage during the Korean War (1950-1953), and other nearby homes.

Several people who saw the accident said the Skymaster was on fire before it crashed. Upon impact, the aircraft broke in two and exploded into flames. Bodies, personal belongings, packages and luggage were scattered around the crash scene for 200 yards. Most of the fire was in the forward section of the fuselage, the tail and aft section remaining almost intact. Some witnesses said they could hear the cries of people caught in the burning wreckage, but were helpless to render assistance.

Meanwhile, fire and rescue teams from McChord AFB, Lakewood, and Tacoma rushed to the crash site and extinguished the fires in the fuselage and scattered debris. Using magnesium flares and flashlights, police and sheriff’s officers, firemen, and military personnel searched the smoldering, twisted wreckage, looking for victims. Of the 39 people aboard the C-54G, they found only three survivors: Airman Bobby R. Wilson, age 20, a member of the plane’s crew, Airman Curtis Redd, age 23, and Joseph M. Iacovitti, age 8, both passengers.

Wilson, who had third-degree burns, internal injuries, and multiple skull fractures, died at Pierce County Hospital on Saturday, November 29. Redd was taken to St. Joseph Hospital in Tacoma in critical conditions with third-degree burns, but survived. Iacovitti was taken to Pierce County Hospital in serious condition with burns, broken legs and a fractured neck. He lived through the ordeal, but his parents, two brothers, and a sister died in the mishap, leaving him an orphan and the only surviving member of his family. Three other families were wiped out entirely.


The Investigation

An Air Force crash-probe team, commanded by Brigadier General Richard J. O’Keefe, was immediately dispatched from Norton AFB, San Bernardino, California, to begin sifting through the wreckage for clues to the accident. They wanted to determine why the aircraft was so low as to clip the tops of two fir trees before crashing. One of the aircraft’s four propellers was found 100 yards from the wreckage, sitting upright in the field. The condition of the blades indicated the propeller had stopped turning before it hit the ground. Twelve witnesses, who saw the Skymaster just prior to the crash, said the right wing or an engine was on fire. Captain Fenton had been in constant radio contact with the tower until the final moment, but never reported a mechanical difficulty or fire. Just before announcing his decision to fly to Malstrom AFB, the pilot inquired about weather at the Seattle-Tacoma International Airport and was told conditions were clear.

The Air Force Board of Inquiry determined that as Captain Fenton was on final approach to land at McChord AFB, he boosted power to regain altitude, but the Skymaster’s number three engine failed. In the thick fog, the pilot was unable to see, much less avoid, a line of towering fir trees immediately north of the base. The aircraft sheared off the tops of two 100-foot tall Douglas firs, slammed into an open field and exploded into flames.

November 1952 had been a disastrous month for the U.S. Air Force. The crash of the Douglas C-54G Skymaster in Tacoma brought to seven the number of big transport airplanes to crash or disappear in the Pacific Rim area and raised to 199 the number of persons dead or missing. Just three weeks later, December 20, 1952, one of the worst air disasters in Washington history occurred when an Air Force Douglas C-124A-DL Globemaster II crashed at Larson AFB in Moses Lake (Grant County), killing 87 of the 115 persons aboard.


Casualty List

U.S. Army

• Coons, Robert F., 22, Corporal
• Galloway, Calvin, 18, Private First Class
• Hockenberry, Denny L., 22, Sergeant
• Hockenberry, Elda M., 21, spouse
• Hockenberry, Susan E., 2, daughter
• Hockenberry, Denise M., 1, daughter
• Lebonitte, Joseph T., 23, Private First Class
• Zeravich,Christoph, 24, Corporal

U.S. Air Force

• Alsbury, Jack R., 21, Airman Third Class
• Cook, Robert H., 20, Airman First Class
• Farley, Donna L., 20, (spouse of Farley, Glen D., Staff Sergeant)
• Iacovitti, Anthony R., First Lieutenant
• Iacovitti, Dorothy E., 31, spouse
• Iacovitti, Anthony F., 6, son
• Iacovitti, John A., 4, son
• Iacovitti, Barbara, 2, daughter
• Johnson, Dwight P., 23, Airman Second Class
• Morris, George E., 33, Master Sergeant
• Morris, Anna D., 28, spouse
• Morris, George E., Jr., 3, son
• Morris, Geraldine A., 5, daughter
• Niemi, Edwin, 35, Staff Sergeant
• Parlett, Frederick D., 18, Basic Airman
• Pickerel, Robert L., 22, Airman First Class
• Smith, Raymond D., 24, Staff Sergeant
• Swang, Marion E., 41, Major [incorrectly listed as Swann]
• Weikum, Elmer, 23, Airman Second Class
• Wells, Samuel R., 35, Master Sergeant
• Wells, Margaret A., 33, spouse
• Wells, Samuel R. III, 3, son

USAF Crew Members

• Benedict, John H., 20, Airman Second Class
• Bentley, Patricia, 24, Airman Third Class
• Bokinsky, Joseph H., 24, Staff Sergeant
• Childers, Wilber C., 21, Airman Second Class
• Fenton, Albert J., 29, Captain, pilot
• Harvey, James D., 27, First Lieutenant, copilot
• Wilson, Bobby R., 20, Airman Third Class


Survivors

Iacovitti, Joseph M., 8, (son of Dorothy and Anthony Iacovitti)
Redd, Curtis, 23, Airman Second Class
Wilson, Bobby R.


Sources:

David Gero, Military Aviation Disasters: Significant Loses Since 1908 (Sparkford, England: Patrick Stephens, Ltd., 1999), 55; “Wives, Children of Servicemen on Craft from Alaska,” Seattle Post Intelligencer, November 28, 1952, p. 1; “Wreckage of Missing C-154 Finally Found in Alaska,” Ibid., November 29, 1952, p. 1; “Victims in C-54 Tragedy,” Ibid., November 29, 1952, p. 9; Ed Karl, “Eyewitness Describes Tacoma Crash Horror,” Ibid., November 29, 1952, p. 9; “Plane Crash Death Toll Now 201 for Month of November,” Ibid., November 29, 1952, p. 9; “8 Children Die, 1 Hurt as Military Transport Crashes in Dense Fog,” The Seattle Times, November 28, 1952, p. 1; “Probers of Air Crash at Tacoma Delayed by Fog,” Ibid., November 29, 1952, p. 2; “Tacoma Plane-Crash Passengers Listed,” Ibid., November 29, 1952, p. 2; Jack Pyle, “GI’s Families Wiped Out in Air Tragedy,” The Tacoma News Tribune, November 29, 1952, p. 1; “Survivors May Live,” Ibid., November 29, 1952, p. 1; “Air Force Identifies 36 Killed in Tragedy,” Ibid., November 29, 1952, p. 1; Art Getchman, “Fiery Plane Just Slid to Earth, Says Witness,” Ibid., November 29, 1952, p. 6; “Sift Facts on Crash,” Ibid., November 30, 1952, p. 1; “Airman Dies of Burns in C-54 Tragedy,” Ibid., December 1, 1952, p. 1; “First Crash Rescuer in Hospital,” Ibid., December 1, 1952, p. 1; “Survivors Improving,” Ibid., December 2, 1952, p. 3; “Courage of Boy Crash Victim Amazes Hospital,” Ibid., December 7, 1952, p. 1; HistoryLink.org Online Encyclopedia of Washington State History, “Air Force transport plane crashes on takeoff at Larson Air Force Base, killing 87, on December 20, 1952” (by Jim Kershner), http://www.historylink.org/ (accessed July 1, 2008). By Daryl C. McClary, October 17, 2008.


About the Victims and Survivors


Jack R. Alsbury
(Click picture for a larger view)

Alsbury, Jack R. - Jack Ray Alsbury was born April 17, 1931 in Newton, Iowa, a son of Edwin L. and Opal Johnson Alsbury.  He attended Mason City schools and was a member of First Christian Church in Mason City.  He entered the service on August 23, 1949 and attended an aviation specialist course in the technical training center, Chanute Air Force Base in October 1950.  He was en route home to be discharged from the Air Force when he was killed in the plane crash.  His brothers were World War II veterans Norman V. "Lefty" Alsbury (1921-2001), Robert L. Alsbury (1924-1989), and Gene Alsbury, all of Mason City at the time of Jack's death, and his sister was Joann Alsbury Wilson of Richmond, California.  His mother, Opal Alsbury, died in January 1951.  Jack is buried in High Ridge Cemetery, Stanberry, Missouri.  According to Dan Alsbury of Byron, Minnesota, Jack's plans were to attend the University of Iowa upon discharge from the Air Force.  He was going to room with his younger brother Gene Alsbury in Iowa City, Iowa, where they both planned to attend college.  After the plane crash in November 1952, Gene decided to not go to college.

Benedict, John H. - John, age 21, was the son of Harry A. Benedict (1900-1968) and Frances Benedict (1901-1987) of Route 2, Sparta, Wisconsin.  A graduate of Sparta High School in the Class of 1950, John went into the Air Force in 1951.  He trained at Lackland Air Force Base, San Antonio, Texas, and at Great Falls, Montana.  As a Sparta high school student he competed on the baseball, football and track teams.  John was survived by his parents; three sisters, Mrs. Carl (Doris) Carlson of Los Angeles, California, Mary Benedict, at home, and Mrs. Larry (Betty) Pross of Ridgecrest, California; two brothers, Tom Benedict of Leon, and Gordon, on duty with the Air Force at Lackland Air Force Base.  Born in 1931, John is buried in Woodlawn Cemetery, Sparta.

Bentley, Patricia Jean - Born August 24, 1928 with a home town address of Stockton, California in 1952, she was a member of the 84th Air Traffic Squadron when she was killed in the plane crash.  She was an Air Force stewardess on the plane.  She is buried in Parkview Cemetery, Manteca, California.

Bokinsky, Henry Joseph - Born in 1928 in Somerset, Pennsylvania, he was a son of Joseph Walter and Mary Catherine Jandura Bokinsky of Windber, Pennsylvania.  His siblings were: George Edward Bokinsky Sr. (1918-1992), Mary Bokinsky McDowell, Ann Bokinsky Cherneskey, William "Bill" David Bokinsky, Helen Bokinsky Halleck, John F. "Boogy" Bokinsky (1914-2007), Joseph Albert Bokinsky, Isabel Bokinsky Bock, Pauline Bokinsky Hollern, and Robert "Bobby" Bokinsky.

Childers, Wilber Greig - Born November 6, 1931, Greig Childers was the son of World War I veteran Howard Greig Childers (1895-1980) and Alma Lee Bowen Childers (1900-1984)  of Evansville, Arkansas.  He joined the Air Force and served with the Pacific Air Command in the South Pacific for 24 months before returning to the States to marry his fiancee, Lorene Adair, daughter of Mrs. Sarah Adair of Stilwell, OK.  The couple was married on May 13, 1952.  The Childers then went to Great Falls, Montana, where he was stationed until his death in the airplane crash.  He was on his last flight before getting his discharge.  He was survived by his wife--who was pregnant with their daughter Greiga at the time, his parents, brothers World War II veteran Clifton M. Childers (1918-1999), "Dick" Childers and World War II veteran Billy Jack Childers (1924-1995), and sisters, Mrs. Hubert (Geneva Lee Childers) Keene (1922-2001) and Mrs. Robert (Wanda) Childers Blanchfill of Ft. Smith, AR.  Wilber's daughter Greiga married Michael O'Bleness, who is now deceased, and she lives in the Tulsa, Oklahoma area.  Lorene Adair Childers was also living in the Tulsa/Jenks area at the time of this writing in 2014.

Cook, Robert Hill - Born on February 18, 1932, Robert's next of kin at the time of his death was his mother, Mrs. Leila A. Cook of Boise, Idaho.  He was engaged to marry 18-year-old Shirley Rhodes.  Robert is buried next to his mother in St. Joseph Memorial Park, St. Joseph, Missouri.  He was a member of the AGI 5001 Motor Vehicle Squadron in the Air Force.

Coons, Robert Fuller - next of kin: Mrs. Robert F. Coons, Jamestown, NY.  He is buried in Fluvanna Cemetery, Ellicott, New York.

Farley, Mrs. Donna L. - next of kin: SSgt. Glenn D. Farley (who was a patient in the hospital at Elmendorf AFB, Alaska at the time of the crash) and Mrs. Odessa Graves, Wenatchee, WA.  Born in 1932, she is buried in Wenatchee, Washington City Cemetery, Wenatchee, WA.

Fenton, Albert J. - Originally from Bergenfield Borough, Bergen, New Jersey, Albert Fenton was 29 years old when he piloted the C-54G Skymaster that crashed in Tacoma.  He was stationed in Great Falls, Montana as a communications specialist at the time.  He was survived by a wife and two daughters, Linda (age four at the time) and Lisa (born six months after the crash).  His parents were Albert and Stella Fenton of Bergen, and his sisters were Ellen and June Fenton.  June still lives in the township of Washington, New Jersey. Ellen is deceased.  In June of 2014 the KWE heard from Fenton's youngest child, Lisa Mayfield, who told us:

"It was very difficult for my mother and for my sister, who was four years old at the time.  For me, losing my father was a hole that was never filled.  My mother went on to marry another pilot, Charles Raymond Walker (he was a test pilot).  They had two children and he was killed in a plane crash also.  His plane blew up in midair over Sherman, Texas.  Mother married a third time and they were married until her death in 1999.  She always wore my dad's wedding ring on her right hand.

My sister Linda moved to Shelton, Connecticut several years ago.  She married a man that grew up there.  Linda later learned that the little boy who survived the plane crash lived in Bridgeport, Connecticut, which is very close to Shelton, but he died before she knew about his whereabouts.

My father was stationed in Great Falls, Montana.  He was a communications specialist.  He told my mother a crazy store right before he went on that flight.  He showed her his winter gear.  He made her promise that if anything happened to him while he was on that trip she would make them open the casket to ensure that his body was in it.  His best friend accompanied his body, she asked to see him, but they would not allow her do so.  After reading this article, I would assume he was burned beyond recognition.

Until about eight years ago, I had not met my Aunt June or her three children.  Linda mad met them a couple of times.  I finally contacted them and we have been in close contact ever since.  I travel to the East Coast from time to time to visit the whole family.  I have also made contact with Peter Gallione, Ellen's son.  I would be glad to send additional information to you along with a picture of my dad in his uniform.  He was stationed in Hawaii before Great Falls, Montana, and I believe was an avid softball player.  I still have the jacket he wore."

Galloway, Calvin - next of kin: Mrs. Leola Galloway, Arkansas City, AR

Harvey, James D. - Jamestown, NY

Hockenberry, Denny Lynn III - Born February 22, 1931, in West Sunbury, Pennsylvania, he was the son of Denny Lynn Hockenberry II (1878-1991) and Marjorie E. Aggas Hockenberry (1904-1999).  "Lynn" Hockenberry (Denny's father) worked for the post office in West Sunbury.  Denny enjoyed roller skating, which is how he met  his future wife, Elda M. Orr.  They were married on August 9, 1950 in West Virginia.  The Hockenberry family was returning stateside because he was being transferred from Alaska to Texas.  They are buried in Union Cemetery, West Sunbury, PA.

Hockenberry, Elda Mae - Born September 8, 1931 in Harrisville, Pennsylvania, she was the daughter of Raymond Leslie Orr (1902-1987) and Elda Mae Critchlow Orr (1899-1985).  She was the wife of Denny Lynn Hockenberry, and the mother of daughters Susan and Denise Hockenberry.  All were killed in the plane crash.  Her siblings were: Mila Ann Orr Bouvard (1921-1999), William Perry Orr (1923-2010), Alice Arline Orr (1924-1983), Lois Maxine Orr NeSmith (1924-1983), Margaret Mary Orr McDougall (1927-2013), Edith Marian Orr (1934), and John Raymond Orr (1947-2005.  Elda Mae was interested in music, and sang a solo at the commencement exercises when she graduated from Harrisville High School in 1949. She also enjoyed roller skating and that is how she met Denny. They were married on August 9, 1950 in West Virginia and had two daughters.  H

Hockenberry, Susan E. - Born August 16, 1952 in Fairbanks, Alaska, she was the daughter of Denny L. and Elda Mae Hockenberry, and lost her life in the airplane.

Hockenberry, Denise M. - Born March 28, 1951 in Harrisville, Pennsylvania, she was the daughter of Denny and Elda M. Critchlow Hockenberrry.

Iacovitti, Anthony F. "Buddy" - Born in 1933, he was the son of Anthony R. and Dorothy F. Barber Iacovitti,  He is buried in Saint Augustine Cemetery, Bridgeport, PA.

Iacovitti, Anthony R.  - The son of Joseph and Loretta Iacovitti, Bridgeport, Pennsylvania, Anthony was born in 1920.  He enlisted in the Army Air Corps at Orlando Air Base, Florida, on September 16, 1946.  He was married to Dorothy F. Barber and they had children John A. Iacovitti, Anthony F. Iacovitti, Barbara Iacovitti, and Joseph Iacovitti.  Lieutenant Iacovitta was leaving Alaska on rotation after two years with a fighter squadron there.  He was on his way to Cambridge, Massachusetts where he had been assigned to the Cambridge Research Center.  Anthony ordered a new car from Detroit, and had planned to pick it up on the way to visit his relatives in Pennsylvania.  His entire family was on the C-64 Skymaster that crashed, and all died with the exception of his eight-year-old son Joseph.  He is buried in Saint Augustine Cemetery, Bridgeport, PA.

Iacovitti, Barbara - Born in 1950, she was the daughter of Anthony R. and Dorothy F. Barber Iacovitti.  She is buried in Saint Augustine Cemetery, Bridgeport, PA.

Iacovitti, Dorothy Barber - Born in 1925, she was the wife of Anthony R. Iacovitti, and the mother of Anthony (Buddy), Barbara, John Allen, and Joseph Iacovitti.  She is buried in Saint Augustine Cemetery, Bridgeport, PA.

Iacovitti, John Allen - Born in 1952, he was the son of Anthony R. and Dorothy F. Barber Iacovitti.  He is buried in Saint Augustine Cemetery, Bridgeport, PA.

Iacovitti, Joseph - Survivor.  Obituary [2006] - Joseph M. Iacovitti, 61, of 321 S. Lehigh Ave., Frackville, Pennsylvania, died Thursday, February 23, 2006, at Seton Manor, Orwigsburg. Born in Fresno, California on October 17, 1944, he was a son of the late Anthony and Dorothy Barber Iacovitti. He was the owner of the Black Diamond Bar & Restaurant, Frackville. He was of the Catholic faith and a member of the American Bar Association. He is survived by his wife of 24 years, Teresa Keys Iacovitti; three daughters, Michele Perainno, Wenonah, New Jersey, Daniele Newman, Pawtucket, Rhode Island, and Joele Gerhard, Ephrata; a son, Anthony Iacovitti, Pottsville; and eight grandchildren. He was preceded in death by his parents; two brothers, Anthony "Buddy" Iacovitti and John Iacovitti; and a sister, Barbara Iacovitti, all of whom died in a C54G transport crash near Tacoma, Washington in 1952. Mass of Christian Burial will be held at 10:30 a.m. Tuesday from Annunciation BVM Catholic Church, 7 Broad Mountain Ave., Frackville. Friends may call from 9:30 until 10:30 a.m. at the church. Burial will be in Odd Fellows Cemetery, West Mahanoy Township. Nice-Hart Funeral Home Inc., Frackville, is in charge of arrangements. In lieu of flowers, contributions may be made to Hunting Disease Society of America, 525 Plymouth Road, Suite 314, Plymouth Meeting, Pennsylvania.

Johnson, Dwight - next of kin: Gwen C. Johnson, Tacoma, WA

Lebonitte, Joseph T. - next of kin: Mrs. J. Lebonitte, St. Albans, Long Island, NY.  It is believed that his mother was Mary Lebonitte, and he had siblings Thomas Lebonitte and Anna Lebonitte, but that has not been confirmed by the KWE as of this writing (3/25/2014).

Morris, George E. - next of kin: H.K. Papp, Yakima, WA

Morris, Anna D. - Her parents were from Yakima, WA.

Morris, George E. Jr. -

Morris, Geraldine A. -

Niemi, Edwin - He was survived by his wife, Claudine Niemi, Laurel, MS (1918-1984).  She was listed as his next of kin, c/o Jasper Lewis.

Parlett, Frederick D. - next of kin: Mrs. Fred Parlett, Dayton, OH

Pickerel, Robert L. - The son of Mr. and Mrs. A.B. Pickerel of Spokane, Washington,  Robert was also the husband of Dorothy Hamlin Pickerel, daughter of Mr. and Mrs. Charles F. Hamlin.  Robert and Dorothy were married in April of 1951, and on May 1, 1951 he was called to active duty with the 141st  aircraft control and warning squadron of the air national guard.  Mrs. Pickerel gave birth to a daughter in Alaska while her husband was serving in that state.  Mrs. Pickerel and her nine-month-old daughter had returned to Washington on an earlier flight.  The Pickerels were from St. Joseph, Missouri, where he had attended school.  Both Mr. and Mrs. Pickerel were employees of the Washington Water Power Company prior to their marriage.

Redd, Curtis - Survivor.  Next of kin: Mrs. Curtis Redd, Fairfax, SC.  Born December 10, 1930, Curtis died October 31, 1993 and is buried in Arlington National Cemetery.

Smith, Raymond D. - next of kin: Mrs. Ray Smith, Canisteo, NY

Swang, Marion E. - Major Marion Swang was born March 3, 1911, a daughter of Benjamin L. Swang Sr. (next of kin living in Porterville, CA at the time of her death) and Harriet E. "Hattie" White Swang (1875-1936).  She was the sister of Benjamin L. Swang Jr. (1915-1932).  The KWE believes that she also had a sister Mildred, but this has not yet been confirmed.  It is certain that Mildred and Marion were the granddaughters of Benjamin D. and Lena Swang of Oconomowoc, Wisconsin.  At the time of the aircraft accident, Marion was returning to the States from Alaska after having served at Ladd Air Force Base as assistant personnel officer for the 5001st composite wing since January 1951. 

Marion Swang was supervisor of health and physical education at Watertown, Wisconsin and Rochelle, Illinois from 1936 to 1942.  She attended LaCrosse State College and Peabody College for teachers in Nashville, Tennessee before she entered the Army Air Corps in August 1942 and attended officer candidate school in Des Moines, Iowa.  She received instruction in personnel administration at Purdue University in 1945, and attended an air inspector's course at Craig Air Force Base in Alabama in 1950.  In her post at Ladd AFB, she managed personnel activities, including career guidance, classification, assignment, promotion and separation, effectiveness rating and transfer for personnel at the air base.  In 1952 she was named Military Woman of the Year at Ladd, and she was active in church work at the base.  According to the Waukesha Daily Freeman newspaper (August 11, 1952), she was the niece of Mrs. Charles White Sr. of Pewaukee, Wisconsin.  She was also related to Gordon B. Swang (1901-1954) of Porterville, California. Marion is buried in Forest Hill Cemetery, Pewaukee, Wisconsin.

[KWE Note: Marion Swang's name is incorrectly listed on casualty reports as Marion E. Swann, and that incorrect spelling is also shown on her government tombstone.]

Weikum, Elmer - Elmer was born on December 10, 1929 in Hazelton, North Dakota, a son of George and Eva Albrecht Weikum.  He was survived by his half-siblings (the children of Andrew and Eva Albrecht Weikum): Mrs. Charles Fay (Alvina Weikum) Warren (1921-2006), Nathalie Weikum, Henry Weikum, and Reinie Weikum.  After Andrew Weikum died, his widow married Andrew's older brother George Weikum, and children born to them were Herman Weikum, Amelia Weikum, Elmer Weikum (who died in the plane crash at Tacoma), Elsie Weikum, Mary Ann Weikum (Wilson), and George Weikum Jr. "Pepper".

Wells, Samuel R. II - Born in 1917, he was the son of Samuel Wells I and the husband of Margaret A. Wells and the father of Samuel R. Wells III.  He was a native of Harrisburg, Pennsylvania and a graduate of Washington and Jefferson College.  He had planned to visit with his family in Pittsburgh after returning from Alaska, but they were killed in the plane crash.  Samuel is buried in the Coraopolis Cemetery, Allegheny County, PA.

Wells, Margaret A. - Born in 1919, she was the wife of Samuel R. Wells II and the mother of Samuel R. Wells III.  The daughter of Ennis W. Allison (1883-1977) and Edith G. Kleinman Allison (1886-1965) of Neville Island, Pennsylvania, she was a graduate of Grove City College in Western Pennsylvania.  She had been married to Samuel R. Wells II for seven years when she died in the airplane crash.  Margaret is buried in the Coraopolis Cemetery, Allegheny County, PA.  She had a brother H. Wayne Allison (1912-2000) of Neville Island, and one other sibling.  Margaret was the granddaughter of the late Waitman Columbus Allison (1852-1934) and Margaret E. Alexander Allison (1860-1949) of Pennsylvania.

Wells, Samuel R. III - Born in 1947, Samuel was the young son of Samuel R. Wells II and his wife, Margaret A. Wells.  He is buried in the Coraopolis Cemetery, Allegheny County, PA.

Wilson, Bobby R. - (Survived the crash but died in the hospital the next day, November 29, 1952.)  He was based at Great Falls,  Montana, but was from Fort Worth, Texas.

Zeravich, Christopher Jr. - Christopher Zeravich was the son of Christ and Tillie Mrowiec Zeravich of Chicago, Illinois; husband of Mrs. Joan (Lumb) Zeravich, Chicago; and father of a son, Joseph Alan Zeravich (age three months).  He was the grandson of Mike Zeravich and the late Anna Zeravich, and brother of Robert Zeravich.  He was the nephew of Edward and Josephine Mrowiec, Rudy Mrowiec, Leo Mrowiec, Victor Miklos, and Mrs. Helen Jennings, and the cousin of Edward J. Mrowiec and Mrs. Martin (Joan) Gorskey, all of the Chicago area.  Christopher Zeravich's funeral service was held in St. Timothy's Lutheran Evangelical Church in Chicago and he was buried in Glen Oak Cemetery.


News Clippings

The Tacoma News Tribune, November 28, 1952, p. 1 & 6

"Tacoma Airplane Crash of 1952" by Jack Pyle

Flames lapped at the wing of a C-54 military plane as it crashed to earth in an open field at South 86th and Pine Streets, just one mile short of its McChord Air Force Base destination, cartwheeled, then the craft exploded scattering wreckage and human bodies over an area nearly two blocks square shortly before 1:00 a.m. Friday.

Deputy Coroner Larry Amundsen said 36 persons were dead or missing. There were three survivors of the crashed transport which was carrying its human cargo, service men and their families, home from Alaska to enjoy the holidays in the states.

The only known survivors in Tacoma hospitals early Friday were: Airman Curtiss Redd, McChord Air Force Base, suffering from burns. Attendants at St. Joseph's Hospital described his condition as critical. Airman Bobbie Wilson, Great Falls, Montana, suffering a head injury, internal injuries and burns. An eight year old Pennsylvania boy listed as Joseph Iacovitti, suffering a broken leg and burns.

The passenger list of servicemen and dependents included seven women and nine children. The only survivors were two airmen and an eight year old boy. Two of the women killed were in the military service. Several of the children were babies. The names of the dead were being withheld.

Sgt. Raymond Smith, who was reported to have been stationed at McChord died of head injuries after being taken to a hospital. Two of the passengers who died in hospitals shortly after arrival were identified as Airmen Raymond Smith and Robert Cook. Cook, twenty, suffered a head injury and burns.

Richard Heath, 22, of 1107 South 16th who rushed to assist in the search of the wreckage suffered a concussion when a portion of the plane exploded. Tacoma General Hospital attendants said his condition was satisfactory but that he is under close observation.

39 On Plane

The manifest listed 18 military passengers, 14 civilians [apparently all the wives and children of service men] and a crew of seven airmen, Captain Jack Easley, McChord Public Information Officer stated. The bodies of at least four babies were found at the disaster. A child's doll, partly burned, lay in the center of the field, its legs twisted and its eyes staring skyward. Some articles were intact, while others were charred beyond recognition.
Only the tail section and part of the fuselage was recognizable and it lay badly twisted in the center of the open field.

Two persons, who said they were eye witnesses to the tragedy said the plane was in flames before it slithered down into the field.

Heavy Fog Envelops Area

Captain Easley said the early reports indicated the plane struck a tree while coming in through the heavy fog after a ground control approach. First witnesses said they could hear the cries of children trapped inside the burning wreckage, but they were helpless to render assistance.

The crash occurred about a block from the Edgewood Park apartments which figured locally in a foreclosure suit recently. The apartments contain 35 four family units, most of which are occupied. Nearby residents said it was miraculous the plane missed nearby homes or the South Tacoma business district, less than a mile west of the crash.

34 Bodies in Wreckage

Amundsen said five persons were found alive after the crash but said he had heard one had died en route to a hospital and another died shortly before 5 a.m. He said he was informed that 34 bodies had been located at the scene of the wreck. Some witnesses said many of those who were killed were believed to have burned to death after the crash and explosion. Ed Carl said he heard the cries of children coming from the mangled fuselage.

One man who rushed to help was overcome with emotion while trying to remove the bodies from the field. He was reported to have collapsed hysterically crying: "I want my mother," and was taken to a waiting ambulance.

Grim Scene

The garish rays of red police blinker lights knifed through the fog shrouded field. Flashlights cut the darkness as the grim group of police, firemen, sheriff's officers and military personnel stalked silently through bits of wreckage carrying out their grisly task.

At the edge of the field was a straight row of evergreen trees, flanked to the east by two squatty leafless tree skeletons, branches raised upward as if to depict the horror that filled the thin line of spectators standing directly across South 86th watching the searchers in awesome terror.

The wreckage seemed to have chosen the roadway as its boundary, strewn over an area about two blocks square. Parachutes the victims had been unable to use lay strewn about the field, some opened. An airman picked up a red parachute and quickly dropped it. Then a small group of men gathered around that particular place of horror and soon a stretcher was brought up.

Another airman looked under an unrecognizable bit of cloth at the edge of the field, directly in front of a group of spectators. They watchers quickly backed away to the other side of the road and another stretcher arrived.

"There was a child crying when I got here," one of the spectators said. It was crying for its mommy. I don't know if it was a boy or a girl. I don't know whether it had been on the plane or not. I couldn't look." "One lady came over to see if she could help," another man said, "She went out on that field, and she stepped on the body of a baby. We had to take her home. She was crying something awful.

Voices hardly were raised above whispers as those who worked quickly and efficiently seemed not to fee the freezing cold which sliced through the air.

Wreckage Burns

In the center of the field was a white hot fire. Part of the plane was burning, and it lit up the twisted tail section of the plane. Other fires broke out spasmodically but they were quickly extinguished.

Fog, mixed with the smoke, seemed to rise in a ghastly dance from the trampled down tall grass. Flashlights occasionally caught the ghost of the fuselage though most of the other parts of the plane were scattered so far that there was hardly a piece larger than two feet square.

At the edge of the field a twisted propeller stood upright form the ground. The odor of burning rubber and burning flesh swept the area.

Sheriff Harold Bird walked momentarily off the field. He was wearing old clothing, and he had been working side by side with the military personnel.

Not Surprising

"Its terrible out there," he said, "This was a horrible thing." One spectator said he thought it was a miracle such an occurrence hadn't taken place before. "We were overdue for one of these," he said, "and it could have been worse. Thank God there were no houses here. It can't be helped. When you build an airport, people build houses near it.

Phillip Bolde, 8612 Elliott Avenue, a McChord taxi driver, who saw the crash said the plane was only about 300 feet in the air as it went over his house.

Whole Thing Burning

"It looked as if the second motor on the right wing and the whole right wing itself were burning. I saw it crash, then I called McChord and my wife called the sheriff. "While we were calling I heard the explosion. It wasn't too loud, but you could tell it was an explosion all right. The plane seemed to be circling back towards the field."

Another eye-witness, Raymond Hall, a pharmacist of 3406 South 90th, said he had seen the bodies of five or six small children. Most of them appeared to be horribly mangled he said. Hall said bodies were strewn all over the area, some as much as 200 feet from the hulk of the plane. One woman passenger was thrown free of the transport, still strapped in her seat, he stated, she was dead.

The Tonawanda News, February 1953

Boy Who Lost Family in Crash of C-54, Comes Home

They all tried to make the “homecoming” as happy as possible for little Joe. His grandmother and an aunt and uncle were at the station when his train pulled in this morning on the last lap of a heartbreaking journey home from Alaska. They had a room at home all fixed up and waiting for him.

But 8-year-old Joe Iacovitti didn’t say much. The best he could manage was a half smile. Joe is the sole survivor of a family of six in the flaming crash of a C-54 transport plane at Tacoma, Washington, last November 28. Only three persons lived to tell of the crash which took 36 lives.

Joe’s father, 1st Lt. Anthony Iacovitti, 32; his mother, Dorothy, 23; brothers Anthony Jr., 4, and John, six months, and his sister, Barbara, 3, were killed. Joe was pulled from the wreckage with a broken neck, a broken right leg, and multiple severe burns. But he lived. After long weeks of painful treatment at a Tacoma hospital, doctors released him last week. His aunt, Helen Iacovitti, stayed with him during the painful hospital ordeal and rode home with him today. She said Joe seemed interested in the trip, but spoke very little during the long ride.

He didn’t say anything when the porters lifted him from the train at North Philadelphia Station and placed him in a wheelchair. He looked very small and almost dazed. Bandages covered his forehead. His grandmother and other relatives couldn’t get to him at first because of the crowd of photographers who joked with the little boy and told him he was “getting more attention than a movie star”. Joe just smiled.

He was still smiling slightly when the crew of a Navy ambulance placed him on a stretcher and drove him off to Valley Forge Army Hospital for a “check-up”. Then Joe will go to his grandparents’ home at nearby Bridgeport, Pennsylvania to begin a new life. His grandmother, Mrs. Loretta Iacovitti, says she has his room all ready with new furniture. They hope he’ll like it.

The plane crash occurred while the boy and his family were en route home to Bridgeport from Fairbanks, Alaska for a Christmas reunion with other members of the family who had never seen the baby, born in Alaska. Lieutenant Iacovitti, a veteran of 11 y ears in the Air Force, had been stationed in Fairbanks for two years as a radio observer. He was to have been re-assigned to a base near Boston, Massachusetts.

 
 
 
 

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