Topics - Globemaster Crash
New Castle, Indiana - May 23, 1951

 
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Introduction:

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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Page Contents:

  • Introduction
  • Manifest
  • Fatalities
  • Newspaper Articles
  • Remembrances
  • Reader's Comments
 


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Manifest:

  • 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, 1921)
  • 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 Owenton, KY.)
  • 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, MI)
  • M/Sgt. Cassius Zedaker (35 years old, Fairfield, OH; flight mechanic) (suffered severe burns)

Fatalities:

  • 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

Newspaper Articles:


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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 Historical Society.]

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 improvement.

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.

Dead Identified

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 C.H., O.

Bodies Returned

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.


Remembrances:


Reader's Comments:

 

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