• U.S.

CATASTROPHE: Weather Clear, Altitude Normal

2 minute read

Burbank’s Lockheed Air Terminal, with its buildings painted a wartime khaki, was drab under a cloudy sky when American Airlines’ Captain Charles F. Pedley lifted his Douglas twin-motored liner off for the 4:30 p.m. flight to New York. He climbed gradually to skim the jagged, purple San Jacinto Mountains. Forty minutes after the takeoff, approaching Palm Springs, he was flying at 9,000 in clear sunshine. There were numerous planes in the air; Pilot Pedley was straight on his course.

Watching from a telephone-repeater station, Civilian Air-Raid Spotter R. M. Martin saw the airliner cruising smoothly ahead, followed by another twin-motored plane. Spotter Martin saw the trailing plane veer off to the side, then come back toward the transport at an angle. Suddenly “they looked like one plane, they were so close.” Sky-watching citizens in Palm Springs thought they saw someone bail out in a parachute. But what they saw was the transport’s tail assembly. Then the airliner screamed crazily earthward, careened into a mountainside. The wreckage burned for five hours; the three crew members and nine passengers, including Songwriter Ralph Rainger (Moanin’ Low, Love in Bloom), were dead.

A day later the Western Defense Command announced that the trailing plane that clipped the tail assembly was an army bomber. About all other details it was mum. Airline officials and pilots had cause to say: “I told you so.” Long & loud have been their complaints about Ferry Command pilots who hop on & off the airlines’ beam without reporting positions to traffic controls. One pilot reported last week he had to pull up the nose so fast to avoid hitting an army plane that he almost threw his passengers through the floor. The Army and CAA immediately launched an investigation: this was one time when there must be abundant, clear-cut evidence.

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