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.
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Most recent update to this page: March 26, 2014
Table of Contents:
- The Crash
- The Investigation
- Casualty List
- About the Victims and Survivors
- News Clippings
- Tacoma News Tribune, November 28, 1952
- Tonawanda [NY] Evening News, February 1953
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.
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,
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.
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.
• 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
• 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
• 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
Iacovitti, Joseph M., 8, (son of Dorothy and Anthony
Redd, Curtis, 23, Airman Second Class
Wilson, Bobby R.
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
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.
(Click picture for a larger view)
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,
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
Isabel Bokinsky Bock, Pauline Bokinsky Hollern, and Robert "Bobby"
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
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,
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.
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.
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 
- 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
Morris, George E. - next of kin: H.K. Papp, Yakima,
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,
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,
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
(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,
[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.
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
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
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.
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
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.
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
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.
"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
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
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.