Fort Dix, NJ Navy Fighter Crashes Into Airliner, July 1949


Fort Dix, N. J., July 30 (AP) -- Sixteen persons were killed Saturday as a Memphis-bound airliner was chopped apart in the New Jersey skies by what witnesses described as a stunting Navy fighter plane. The airliner's left wing and tail were shorn off, and the crippled Eastern Airlines DC-3 whirled into a farm pasture and burst into a wall of flame. The Navy plane burrowed into the ground two miles away.
The charred bodies of twelve passengers and three crew members were strewn throughout the wreckage of the airliner. The pilot of the Navy plane was found dead in a field beside an unopened parachute.
Over Fort Dix.
State police said they had reports from two witnesses who saw the two planes tangle high in the sky over the Fort Dix military reservation.
One was a pilot of a Piper Cub who said the Navy fighter had buzzed his little craft and "stood by on my right wing for an instant" just before zooming into the airliner.
"The small plane appeared to strike the airliner on the left side just aft of the left wing," the Piper Cub pilot, GEORGE HUMPHRIES, of Fair Haven, told investigators.
"Parts of the airplane were all over the sky, and I veered to my right. I saw the aircraft strike the ground amid a cloud of dust and flames."
Into Spin.
Another witness, farmer HARRY MILLER, said he saw the fighter plane take the tail off the airliner and send it into a spin."
"The big plane took three turns and then the wing fell off," he said.
Pilots of two other commercial planes complained later at Miami that their airliners had also been "buzzed" by Navy aircraft while flying over the New Jersey area Saturday.
A National Air Lines pilot said three Navy craft had swerved in front of his plane two-and-a-half hours before the fatal crash. Another Eastern Airlines pilot said his plane had been buzzed at about that same hour about 25 miles from Fort Dix. Both statements were in the pilots' reports to their airlines.
The dead were taken from the scattered wreckage Saturday night and placed in three funeral homes throughout this rural area. State police said that most of the dead were burned beyond recognition.
The Navy in Washington identified the dead flier Saturday night as Lieut. (JG) ROBERT VERNON POE, 26. His wife, the former MARY ELIZABETH MUTTAZE, was reported in Corpus Christi for her father's funeral.
In addition to his widow, the Navy pilot leaves a three-year-old son.
Included among the casualties was HOWARD SANDERSON LE ROY, of Washington, D. C., a past president of Rotary International.
The two-engined airliner, bound from Boston to Memphis, plowed open a wide ditch as it ground into a mass.
Farmers who ran to the rescue said an explosion and a wall of flame kept them at a distance for almost half an hour.
Firemen said there wasn't a sound from the burning plane when rescuers reached it.

The Abilene Reporter-News Texas 1949-07-31