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On 23 May 1951, a C-124 Globemaster crashed in a field near New Castle, Indiana, during an experimental
flight originating from Wright-Patterson AFB. One hour after leaving the base, two of the four propellers on
the huge aircraft reversed pitch, causing it to lose altitude. As the pilot attempted an emergency landing,
the C-124 clipped several trees, which "caused the plane to hit the earth with such violence that parts of
the plane were strewn over a charred and churned path several hundred feet long before it finally came to
rest right side up." The plane burst into flames, and firefighters were stationed at the scene throughout
the night attempting to keep an intact fuel tank from exploding. The twelve personnel on board were assigned
to the Air Development Force at Wright-Patterson. There were five survivors and seven fatalities.
The tragedy of this experimental flight was underscored by the main headline over a photograph of the
crash on the front page of the New Castle Courier: "Allies Smash Across 38th." The crash of an experimental
aircraft was a reminder that the dangers of war were not just in combat. Many men and women gave their lives
for the cause at home as well.
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- Newspaper Articles
- Reader's Comments
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- Capt. Richard B. Varnum (30 years old, Enon, Ohio; wife Fern L. and daughters Nancy Lynn and Judy;
World War II veteran with 50 missions as a medium bomber pilot in the Italian campaign; born August 12,
- Vivien Paul Baughn (45 years old, Washington Court House, Ohio; motion picture sound technician Air
Development Command; born June 16, 1906, Fayette County, Ohio, son of Werter Stanley and Audry L. Brock
Baughn; husband of Donna S. Straley; father of David Lee Baughn and Beverly Baughn.)
- Capt. Francis M. Blair (36 years old, Terre Haute, Indiana; observer; born July 2, 1914; veteran of
World War II)
- Capt. John M. Christianson (30 years old, Long Island, NY; pilot)
- Robert L. Hellmuth (29 years old, Springfield, OH; technician & mechanical engineer in the vibrations
testing division at Wright-Patterson AFB; born February 4, 1922, in Springfield, Ohio, son of Mrs. Andrew
A. Hellmuth; brother of Andrew L., Paul, and Mary Rita Hellmuth; World War II veteran who participated in
the liberation of the Philippines, discharged late in 1946.)
- Harold R. Holm Jr. (27 years old, Boston, MA; equipment engineer)
- John Robert Say (33 years old, Delphos, OH; civilian sound technician; born January 26, 1918; husband
of Jane Deffenbaugh)
- M/Sgt. Donald L. Shady (29 years old, Ft. Wayne, IN; flight engineer; son of Oscar L. and Josephine O.
Baker Shady, Ft. Wayne, IN)
- Capt. William C. Snell (27 years old, Owenton, NY; co-pilot; son of Mr. and Mrs. Leonard Snell of
- M/Sgt. Jack R. Sowers (36 years old, Rockwell, NC; flight mechanic; WW II veteran)
- James C. Stelyn (30 years old, Chicago; WWII veteran, graduate of Illinois Institute of Technology;
recruited by the government as a physicist/engineer; working at Wright-Patterson for the Department of
Defense at time of crash; hospitalized, but had no residual injuries from the crash; died in 1999, Troy,
- M/Sgt. Cassius Zedaker (35 years old, Fairfield, OH; flight mechanic) (suffered severe burns)
- Capt. Richard B. Varnum (buried in Ronan Cemetery, Ronan, Montana)
- Vivien Paul Baughn (buried in Washington Cemetery, Fayette County, Ohio) (see newspaper article, "Two
Local Men Killed in Fiery Plane Crash")
- Capt. Francis M. Blair (buried in Highland Lawn Cemetery, Terre Haute, Indiana)
- Robert L. Hellmuth (buried in St. Bernard Cemetery) (see newspaper article, "Two Local Men Killed in
Fiery Plane crash")
- Harold R. Holm Jr.
- John R. Say (buried in St. Johns Catholic Cemetery, Delphos, Allen County, OH)
- M/Sgt. Donald L. Shady
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Rome News-Tribune, May 24, 1951
7 Die in Crash of Globemaster
New Castle, IN - May 24
The Air Force today studied a pilot's harrowing account of how his giant Globemaster cargo plane
crashed and burned near New Castle, killing seven and injuring five others aboard.
The huge 110-ton craft--an experimental plane capable of carrying 200 equipped infantrymen--exploded in
flight yesterday and terrified onlookers who watched it plummet to the ground in flames.
Capt. John M. Christianson, the pilot who climbed out of the wreckage unaided with four other
survivors, said the 4-engine plane developed mechanical difficulties when he tried to crash-land. He
explained: "I went to the nearest open field but was unable to clear a growth of trees."
The Globemaster ripped through a grove of cedar trees, uprooting two and slicing off trunks 30 inches
in diameter. The plane narrowly missed the farm home of John Disbro, knocking the family's
television antenna off the roof, and struck a plowed field on an adjoining farm. Fire burned all but
the tail assembly.
Mrs. Ralph Abrams, telephone operator at nearby New Lisbon, said she saw the plane go up in flames and
added: "I don't see how anybody could have survived." James Stelyn, 30-year-old civilian onboard the
plane, told a reporter that, "it sounded like an engine was running away" just before the crash.
Two Local Men Killed in Fiery Plane Crash
[KWE Note: The article at right was sent to the Korean War Educator courtesy of the Clark County
New Castle Courier Times (May 1951), Newcastle, IN
[KWE Note: The following articles were sent to the KWE courtesy of the Henry County Historical Society
Inc., New Castle, Indiana.]
Falls Here, Burns
Seven, Maybe Eight, Lose Lives in Fiery Crash SE of City
Big Ship Barely Misses Farmhouse, Then rips Littered Path Into Field
Seven, and possibly eight men met flaming death at 10:30 o'clock this morning as a big C-124 army cargo
plane crashed southeast of Newcastle. The huge, four-motored ship clipped off a television antenna
on a farm house, tore the top out of a tree in the front yard, then plowed on for more than a quarter of a
mile, uprooting and snapping off trees and scattering flaming wreckage along its path. The plane was
one hour out of Wright field, Dayton, on an experimental mission.
David Giboney, engineer at the Ingersoll mill west of the city, saw the big plane come banking and
dropping out of a cloud. It veered back to the east, passed over New Castle losing altitude, veered
south and disappeared in the trees. A second or two later, Giboney saw a great plume of smoke and
flame mushroom into the sky.
Mrs. J.A. Carithers, who lives on the Hagerstown road east of New Castle, said she was upstairs in her
home when she heard the "terrible roar" of the plane and immediately looked out. The big craft was
circling toward the southwest and was obviously in trouble, Mrs. Carithers said. She saw it crash
into the trees and saw the thick, black smoke plume upwards.
Mrs. Harry Hendricks, a teacher at Riley school south of the city, heard and saw the plane. It
was heading east and was trailing smoke at that time.
Jason Ziglar, 20-year-old farmer who saw the plane fall, gave this version: "The plane circled
and went into a 45-degree angle dive. It was smoking. The engines vibrated so much they
shattered the neighbor's windows. It leveled off but hit the top of a pine tree and then hit a beech
tree, squarely uprooting it. It carried the tree about 200 feet and then it burst into flames.
Fire shot out of it and there was a solid sheet of flame between the ground and the tree tops. Then
the plane skidded into the ground, landing on its belly. Five men climbed out. They were cut
and burned. One said he was the pilot and another said he was the copilot."
One survivor, John Stelyn of Dayton, was able to walk away from the crash. Stelyn told
investigators that he had no advance warning of the crash, but was suddenly catapulted forward by
the plane striking something. At the scene, he insisted that he was not hurt and did not believe he
needed hospitalization. He was taken to the hospital, however.
Names of the survivors are uncertain. The army authorities prohibited the Henry County Hospital
from releasing the names of the five patients there. But as nearly as could be ascertained from
ambulance drivers who removed these men from the scene, the survivors are:
- Capt. John M. Christensen, the pilot, of North Carolina; first, second and third degree burns,
condition critical. He said there were 13 aboard the plane.
- Jack Sowers, co-pilot, serious condition
- William Snell, fair condition but serious shock
- Cassius Zedaker, fair condition but serious shock
The plane struck the television antenna on the house occupied by the John Disbro family on the Jesse
Cartwright farm. It roared on through trees and across fields on the George Ball farm to the south,
spreading flame along its path.
State police, county sheriff's officers, local police and law enforcement officials from neighboring
communities patrolled the area. Robert Dillon, state police detective who was on the scene,
theorized that the plane may have had a "runaway" propeller which sent the big craft out of control.
A "runaway" prop results when the governor controls on an engine fail and let that engine and the
propeller run wild at top speed.
It appeared that the pilot may have sighted the level, plowed field on the Ball farm and tried for a
crash landing there. He apparently lost altitude too fast, however, and struck trees before he
reached the open space. Even so, the plane plowed on across the open field, overran it and stopped
in an adjoining field, after uprooting everything in its path. Propellers, an engine the size of a
small automobile, parts of a wing and unidentifiable debris littered the long path of the plane.
One of the bodies lying slightly in front of the wreckage and burned was in such a position as to
indicate that he may have tried to crawl from the pyre but was overtaken by flames.
The left wing of the plane remained mostly intact except for the tip shorn away and the wing tank still
contained many gallons of gasoline. The flames were only a few feet from this wing tank.
Officers feared the tank might explode at any moment and injure hundreds of spectators nearby.
Miraculously, it did not catch fire.
At 7:30 p.m. tonight WCTW will air eye witness reports from the scene of the plane crash.
Plane Crash Death Toll is Seven; Five Others Alive
[New Castle Courier Times May 24, 1951]
The toll of dead is established today at seven in the crash of the air force C-124 yesterday on the
George Ball farm, five miles southeast of New Castle.
One of the five survivors remained in a critical condition today in the Henry County hospital.
One of the pilots, who survived, yesterday said 13 had been aboard the plane, leading to the belief there
might be eight dead.
The most seriously injured is M/Sgt. Cassius Zedaker, 35, of Midway, O. The hospital listed his
condition as critical and three others as serious, with the fifth being in good condition and showing
Those listed as serious are Capt. John M. Christenson, 30, instructor pilot, whose home is at Baldwin,
Long Island, NY; Capt. William G. Snell, 27, co-pilot, Owenton, KY; M/Sgt. Jack Sowers, 36, Fairborn, O;
James C. Stelyn, 30, civilian technician of Dayton, who was in the tail of the plane and walked unaided
from the wreckage, is in good condition and is improving. He suffered mostly from shock.
From Patterson-Wright Field in Dayton, the list of dead was announced as follows: Capt. Richard B.
Barnum, 30, Enon, O, pilot, parents Mr. and Mrs. Fred C. Barnum, Ronan, Montana; M/Sgt. Donald L. Shady,
29, Fairborn, O, engineer, mother Mrs. Josephine Shady, Ft. Wayne; Capt. Francis M. Blair, 36, Dayton, O,
co-pilot, parents Mr. and Mrs. Marion W. Blair, Terre Haute; Robert L. Hellmuth, 29, civilian technician,
Springfield, O; John Robert Say, 33, civilian technician, Dayton, O, wife lives at Dayton; Harold R. Holm,
Jr., 27, civilian technician, Dayton, O, parents Mr. and Mrs. Harold Holm, Dorchester, Massachusetts; and
Vivien H. Baughn, 45, civilian technician, Springfield, O, parents Mr. and Mrs. Werter Baughn, Washington
Coroner Robert Couden, who is conducting the inquest on the deaths of the seven air men, said that he
released the bodies to the air force at 4 p.m. Wednesday, granting a burial transit permit. By 6
p.m. Wednesday, five of the bodies removed by the air force had been specifically identified.
Coroner Coulden said that his verdict in the seven deaths will list the cause as third degree burns
caused by a plane crash. Maj. Adolph Kloeck of the Patterson-Wright air base made the preliminary
investigation and the air force was to launch a formal investigation today.
Capt. Christensen, one of the survivors, was credited with saying the ship's propellers reversed pitch
and it was almost unmanageable. The four huge engines with the plane only a few hundred feet off the
ground made a tremendous noise and this was heard as far away as downtown New Castle.
The pilot made a marvelous effort to land the plane and probably would have succeeded if he had not
struck trees and uprooted a beech tree measuring 30 inches in diameter.
Six planes from Stout field in Indianapolis paid tribute to the dead this morning by flying over the
scene of the tragedy in formation. The planes flew over the city en route to the scene of the crash.
Equals Tragedy in December, 1942
The tragedy southeast of the city yesterday recalled the crash of an air force transport plane on the
night of Dec. 13, 1942, a few miles northeast of Lewisville in which eight men were killed. The
plane, loaded with airplane motors, was en route from Wright Field to Stout Field in Indianapolis when it
crashed. There were no witnesses to this accident which occurred at about 11 o'clock at night.
Fire Flares From Wreck Again in Night
[New Castle Courier Times, May 24, 1951]
Firefighters, Others Get Long Workout
Fire broke out again last night at about 8:30 in what was left of the big C-1224 transport plane which
crashed west of New Lisbon yesterday morning. New Castle's fire department put out the blaze in the
remaining motor with 100 gallons of water and what remaining foam they had left. The department also
shoveled dirt on the fire when its water ran out.
Keeping the remaining 3,000 gallons of gasoline from exploding resulted in a long day for New Castle's,
New Lisbon's and Lewisville's fire departments. The local department arrived at the scene of the
tragedy about 10:45 a.m. and stayed until 9:15 p.m.
When the department first received word of the airplane's crash, the Number Two company was sent to the
scene. After finding out what had happened and that saving any more lives was hopeless, the company
called the department back telling them what they wanted.
No. 1 then went to the crash with equipment and relieved the Number 2 company. That was the
pattern of the day for the department--one company relieving another one to give them rest and also not to
leave New Castle without protection. New Lisbon's department brought water to the company.
Chief Vaughn Reid some time ago had gotten 35 gallons of foam for an occasion just like yesterday's
tragedy. The department used all 35 gallons yesterday. This morning Chief Reid borrowed ten
more gallons of foam from Chrysler for reserve until the department could receive more. Wright Field
sent a supply of foam here this morning to replenish the fire department supply. The transport ship
left Dayton with 5,000 gallons of gasoline.
When Chuck Woods and Clarence Justice got to the scene in the emergency first aid unit they found Pilot
John M. Christenson and Civilian Technician John Stelyn in the yard back of the George Ball farmhouse.
The pilot, Justice said, was severely burned on both shoulders, both hands, and the face. He now
is in Henry County hospital suffering from first, second, and third degree burns. The civilian was
bleeding around the head but did not require immediate treatment. After the pilot was bandaged and
treated the unit took Christenson and Stelyn to the hospital. While being treated the pilot asked
how many got out.
Dr. Robert S. Ensign, New Castle veterinarian who was in the neighborhood, saw the big plane fall and
took two of the survivors to the hospital. How the fifth survivor was taken to the hospital had not
been ascertained today.
New Castle's old emergency first aid unit also got a workout yesterday evening and this morning.
Capt. E.M. Koughn used the old unit to make five trips since yesterday taking food, blankets, and supplies
to the national guard unit, the fire departments, and the Army personnel who had to stay with the ship
throughout the night.
The Red Cross as well as many residents of the community also sent equipment and supplies. Chief
Reid of the fire department was in Indianapolis attending a fire school when the airplane fell. When
he arrived in New Castle he went to the accident to help his men and to find out what he could do.
The army officials asked him to keep his department there until Wright Field's fire and crash unit could
get there. The unit from Dayton arrived at 9:15 p.m. Off-duty men of the fire department also
worked either at the airplane crash or they stayed on duty at one of the stations in New Castle.
The local fire department has found a fire extinguisher which doesn't belong to it. Any company
which has lost one may stop at the Number Two station and get it. Chief Vaughn Reid said that all
emergency units were co-operating wonderfully. One of the regrettable aspects was that the units
couldn't get through for the sightseers, the chief added.