Glider crash fatal to ten in St. Louis (8-1-43)

The Pittsburgh Press (August 2, 1943)

Glider crash fatal to ten in St. Louis

Mayor and leaders in aircraft industry are among victims

St. Louis, Missouri (UP) –
Army investigators sought to determine today what caused the wings of a new cargo glider to collapse, sending the craft earthward in a dive that killed 10 persons, including Mayor William Dee Becker of St. Louis and others prominent in the aircraft industry.

The new-type glider, making its second flight, crashed before 10,000 horrified spectators at Lambert-St. Louis Municipal Airport yesterday firing a public demonstration, the craft was similar to the one which was recently toward across the Atlantic to England in the first such flight.

Lt. Col. G. R. Johnston, Army Air Forces Press Relations Officer, said the Army would ground all similar gliders manufactured by the Robertson Aircraft Corporation on the possibility that structural flaws caused the crash. The number of such gliders in Army service and the number produced by the firm were not disclosed.

Air pioneer killed

Col. Johnson said a preliminary investigation disclosed no evidence of sabotage but added that the probe would continue.

The 10 victims included Mayor Becker, Thomas Dysart (president of the St. Louis Chamber of Commerce) and Maj. William B. Robertson (president of the Robertson Aircraft Corporation, which built the glider).

Maj. Robertson, a pioneer in aviation, was cofounder of Lambert Field and helped finance Charles A. Lindbergh’s historic flight to France. He helped organize transcontinental airlines, assisted in surveying and laying out the China National Airways and made an aerial survey of the air transport facilities of Turkey.

Women faint

The glider was flying directly over the field at an altitude of about 2,000 feet when spectators saw the right wing collapse. The wing dropped off seconds after the glider was released from the towline for the flight under its own momentum. Shortly afterward, the left wing buckled under pressure and folded back against the fuselage as the glider plummeted toward the ground.

Women fainted as the craft struck the earth. Splinters and fragments were hurled several hundred feet.

The flight was staged by the Robertson Aircraft Corporation and the I Troop Carrier Command of the Army Air Forces. Maj, Walter T. Fletcher, who piloted the Douglas C-47 cargo plane which towed the glider, said the craft was released from the towline without incident.

Made successful flight

Cpl. J. A. Briggs, crew chief who released the line, said the motorless craft faltered a few seconds later.

The glider was built to accommodate 15 fully-equipped soldiers or five soldiers and one jeep, but company officials said it could handle five times its weight capacity. Shortly before the crash, the craft made a successful test flight.

At a press conference before the flight, Mayor Becker was asked whether he thought glider flights were dangerous. Mayor Becker, who had never flown in a glider, replied:

You can die only once and we must die sometime.

Others killed

Others killed in the crash were:

  • Lt. Col Paul H. Hazelton, Army Air Force;
  • Max Doyne of the St. Louis Public Utilities Department;
  • Charles Cunningham, assistant city comptroller;
  • St. Louis County Judge Henry Mueller;
  • Harold A. Krueger, vice president and general manager of the Robertson Corporation;
  • Capt. Milton C. Klugh of the 71st Troop Carrier Squadron, Stout Field, Indianapolis (pilot of the glider);
  • Pvt. J. M. Davis, attached to the 71st Troop Carrier Squadron.
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The Pittsburgh Press (August 4, 1943)

Glider crash blamed on structural defect

St. Louis, Missouri (UP) –
The Army Board of Inquiry report on the glider crash which killed ten persons at Lambert-St. Louis Municipal Airport Sunday is expected to place blame for the disaster to structural defects.

Senator Bennett C. Clark, chairman of the Special Senate Committee for Investigation of Civilian Aviation crashes, said today he had been informed that a structural flaw in the glider’s fuselage had caused the death-dive of the glider. He received information in Kansas City, he said, from Lt. Carl Harper, USN (ret.), investigator for the committee who sat in with the official Army investigators.

No investigation by any group, including agents for the Federal Bureau of Investigation, had indicated sabotage, it was said.

The Pittsburgh Press (August 12, 1943)

2 inspectors suspended in glider crash inquiry

Washington (UP) –
The Army Air Forces materiel command will decide on the basis of a current investigation whether disciplinary action should be taken against two civilian inspectors at the Robertson Aircraft Corporation, St. Louis, manufacturers of the glider which crashed Aug. 1 killing 10 persons.

The War Department announced late yesterday that faulty manufacture by a subcontractor, faulty inspection by the prime manufacturer, and inadequate enforcement of inspection procedures, combined to produce a fatal hidden defect in a wing strut metal fitting.

While the materiel command’s investigation continues, Charles C. Latty, Army Air Forces inspector in charge, and William W. Williams, AAF receiving inspector, have been suspended temporarily.