Grants, NM Mike Todd Perishes In Crash, Mar 1958



Grants, N. M. (AP) -- Famed produced MIKE TODD perished in flames early Saturday with three others in the crash of his twin-engined airplane "The Lucky Liz," named for his actress wife Elizabeth Taylor.
The executive-type plane plunged with tremendous force, exploded and burned in the Zuni Mountains of western New Mexico southwest of here at 2:05 a.m. in a storm.
One who died was a movie writer, ART COHN, who was working on the story "The First Nine Lives Of Mike Todd."
The secretary for the colorful and flamboyant 50-year-old producer of "Around The World In 80 Days" said in Los Angeles that TODD, COHN, 49, pilot BILL VERNER, 45, and co-pilot TOM BARCLAY, 34, definitely were aboard. He saw them off at Burbank at 10:41 p.m. Friday.
But officers who made their way to the remote crash scene about 20 miles southwest of this uranium mine-mill town said they could only what appeared to be parts of three bodies. Conditions of the bodies made positive identification at least temporarily impossible.
Liz Collapses.
MISS TAYLOR did not accompany her husband. She stayed at their West Coast home because of a cold. She collapsed when she heard the news and was placed under sedation.
TODD, an enthusiastic air traveler, was flying to New York for a testimonial dinner Sunday night. COHN was along so they could discuss the book COHN was writing about TODD, who often was called the modern Barnum and boy wonder producer.
COHN wrote a column for the San Francisco Examiner. In his first one, he wrote, "Things seem to happen where I happen to be."
VERNER, the pilot, was a major in the Air Force Reserves and flew a C46 during World War II over the Himalayas between India and China.
Co-pilot BARCLAY was obtained at Burbank when the regular co-pilot failed to show for the flight said DICK HANLEY, TODD'S secretary in Los Angeles.
CAA investigator GLEN HUGHES said that judging from the wreckage, the plane appeared to have rammed nose-first into the ground.
The burned wreckage, with pieces of engine cowling and other metal bits fused together, was scattered over about a quarter of an acre, he said, as if the Lockheed Lodestar had exploded when it hit.
It was on the edge of an arroyo in a small dished-out opening ringed by mountains running up to about 9,300 feet. The pilot who found the wreckage estimated the small valley floor was about 7,000 feet.
JOHN JOHNSON, a Civil Aeronautics Administration employe at Grants, saw the flash of the crash.
He said the pilot had reported icing conditions at 11,000 feet and asked permission to climb to 13,000 feet. He said permission was granted and the pilot reported again when he reached the higher altitude.
That was the last word. Shortly afterward, JOHNSON was the flash.
He called DICK LANE, operator of the Grants Airport. LANE and BILL HOPWOOD set out at daybreak in the direction of the flash.
HOPWOOD spotted a wisp of smoke rising from through the cloud shrouded mountains about a half-hour after takeoff.
"We had trouble seeing very much of the terrain because the ground was partly obscured by fog," LANE said. "HOPWOOD saw this little column of smoke down in a small valley. It turned out to be the wreckage. The outer portions of the wings and a small portion of the tail were all that was left. There wasn't enough left to see anything."
Icing Conditions.
The pilot reported at about 1:55 a.m. to a CAA communications station that the plane was encountering "moderate" icing conditions.
TODD had visited Albuquerque, 78 miles east of Grants, only Wednesday. His movie extravaganza was playing there.
He arrived in Albuquerque in his private plane and was greeted by officials and a small crowd. It was the same plane that carried him today to his death.
He turned down an idea suggested then by the officials to ride into town in a siren-shrieking parade.
"Sirens, in an instance like this," he said, "are very undemocratic. They divide Americans into two classes and have a way of saying: 'Get out of my way, you peasants, here comes a big shot,'"

The Abilene Reporter-News Texas 1958-03-23
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