Memphis, TN Transport Plane Crashes On Landing, Dec 1947



Memphis, Tenn., Dec. 11 (UP) -- A C-47 transport plane carrying 20 army officers and men dived to earth as it came in for a landing at the Memphis airport Thursday night and exploded with a flash that turned night into day. All aboard were reported killed instantly.
Capt. CHARLES CARMICHAEL, public relations officer for the 408th air force base unit here, announced that all 20 bodies had been accounted for.
The plane was en route here from Biggs field, El Paso, Tex., on a training flight. Its home base was Aberdeen, Md.
The bodies and fragments of bodies were taken to the Kennedy Veterans hospital here. Several of the victims were decapitated and arms and legs were found here and there amid the ribboned wreckage.
Without Premonition.
The two-engined transport, the army's version of the DC-3 commercial air liner, crashed apparently without premonition of trouble. It was learned, however, that the flight was an instrument training test and the pilot may have been coming in blind, although visibility was good for 500 ft.
The plane crashed, exploded and burned in a fiery shower of sparks in an open field three miles short of the airport at a spot near the Mississippi state line. En route to its fate it sheared off a dozen pine trees.
TILGHAM TAYLOR, a county penal camp guard, had just come home from work about 6 p.m. when he saw the blinding flash that denoted the crash. He ran a mile through the woods to the scene and tried to put out the fire enveloping the broken bodies.
Declines Particulars.
Biggs field operations officers reported from El Paso that 20 men were aboard but declined to give particulars about the personnel until their families had been advised.
CARMICHAEL, however, said that a major's insignia and a captain's hat were found in the wreckage, indicating officers of that rank were aboard.
Several furlough papers also were found, indicating that some of the passengers were en route to their homes for Christmas.
CARMICHAEL said the pilot had not reported any trouble as he received clearance to come in for a landing. There was an overcast at 1800 ft. and the night was slightly hazy, but conditions were not adverse enough to warrant an instrument flight unless the crew was testing.
"The weather apparently was not a factor in the crash," CARMICHAEL said.
Colonel In Command.
Col. DONALD K. FARGO, of the airport base unit, took command at the scene. He said that the wreckage will be cleared "starting at sunrise" and an army airport investigating board will be appointed to check the cause of the crash.
Another at the scene, M. D. AVERY, Whitehaven, Tenn., manager of the Memphis light and power division said he heard the crash while at the dinner table.
"I looked out and saw the flames in the distance," AVERY said. "I thought it was some house afire."
AVERY said he started toward the scene. But before he got there, about a half mile from the area, a violent explosion occurred, he said.
The explosion, scattered the wreckage, he said, and the flames died down.
"Bodies of many of the victims were burned and blackened horribly," AVERY said.
'Whole Sky Lit Up'
TAYLOR said that "night turned to day" when the plane hit.
"The whole sky lit up. Then the ground and the house shook -- and then I heard an explosion."
CARMICHAEL said the plane was making a landing approach when it crashed.
"We don't know what happened," CARMICHAEL said. "The plane's pilot had been on the airport control beam and had received instructions to land."
TAYLOR, the first man to reach the scene, said he ran a mile across wooden country and fields to the blazing pyre of the plane."
"When I got there I saw at least seven or eight bodies still burning and scattered in the wreckage all around the plane," he said.
"I put out the fire on some of them. They were in army uniforms."
"The plane was just all blown to pieces," TAYLOR said. "I saw the hull of the nose and it looked like the only piece left."
ROBERT HALL, who said he lives two and one-half miles south of the airport, said he saw the crash and rushed to the scene.
HALL said he first noticed that the plane seemed to be in distress when he heard one of its engines "laboring real loud." Shortly afterward, he said, there was a "flash in the sky" and he saw the plane crash through the treetops on the hillside.
Another persons who lives near the site of the wreckage, DAVID HALL, 19-year-old machinist, said he heard the crash "and it sounded solid -- like dynamite. It rattled the windows in my house."
All available ambulances were rushed to the scene immediately after reports of the crash were radioed to Memphis by the crew of a Memphis Light, Gas and Water Co. truck in the area -- near Whitehaven, Tenn.
The crash occurred about two miles directly south of the Memphis airport. Observers said the plane may have struck the radio directonal towers which send out aviation beams.
A representative of the 468th Air Force base unit at the airport said the unit was expecting a plane carrying 13 soldiers.

The Salt Lake Tribune Salt Lake City Utah 1947-12-12


Dec 11, 1947 Memphis Air Crash

My father, Lt Joseph Fraser was the co pilot of the plane.He was 28 and flew 87 missions over Burma. We were stationed at Aberdeen. He was the P 51 pilot for the last war bon tour in 1945.I was 4 years and my sister 6 months. We relocated to West Hartford,CT to live with my grandmother and both live in greater Hartford today. I have followed the crash with the crash report and articles from the Memphis papers. I also learned a good deal about his war service. Please contact me, Marshall. Home phone is 860-404-7760. Regards, Reid Fraser

Memphis Crash of 1947

Mr. Haley, the father of my brother and myself Lt. Joseph F Fraser was the co-pilot of that plane. He had been a fighter pilot flying some 100 missions in the Burma Theatre. Along with our mother before us we also have agonized over the circumstances behind that plane accident. I was 6 months old at the time and my brother Reid was 4 years old. We would like to hear from you if possible. Thank you,

Sincerely, Karen Fraser

Maj. Austin Haley

My father, Maj. Austin Haley, was on that plane. The paper's description of the flight's purpose and origin were a 'top secret' spin. They were ordnance officers returning from one of many bomb tests at White Sands, NM to their jobs at Aberdeen Proving Grounds. Dad, a former machinist in the Bremerton Navy Yard (apprenticed at age 15) was in charge of developing the world's then-largest cannon, 'Little David,' of which I have a picture. He was assistant to the Army's Chief or Ordnance Research and Development in the Pentagon -- which is why we lived in Arlington at the time. He had just received orders to attend the Command and General Staff School at Fort Leavenworth, KS. He was 36; I was almost 3 months; my brothers were 8 and 9. I wish I'd known him. I'm sure the other 19 killed that evening were valuable members of our nation's defense, good men who were also terribly missed by their families. God bless America.