Mars Bluff, SC Airliner Crashes In Swamp, Sep 1945



Entire List of Passengers and Crew Apparently Instantly Killed Or Burned to Death. Bodies Removed to Local Undertaking Establishments.

A huge Eastern Airlines Transport plane plunged into a swamp near Mars Bluff early yesterday morning, carrying to death the three crew members and 19 passengers, nine of whom were servicemen.
The crash occurred a few minutes before two o'clock. However, it was shortly after 10:00 a. m. before the wreckage was located. The pilot of the twin-engined plane, a DC-3, was believed searching for a place to make a forced landing.
Shortly before the crash in the dense Pee Dee swamp near Mars Bluff, about 12 miles northeast of Florence, the airliner's commander had radioed the Florence Army Air Field that the was having trouble and would attempt to land at the base.
From all appearances the plane was turning or had turned around to head toward the local field when the crash occurred. It was on its scheduled Miami to New York flight with Raleigh, N. C., as the next stopping point.
One Escapes Burns.
Ripping a hole into the swamp 200 feet by 50 feet, the airliner evidently came down rapidly. The stabilizer of the Airliner was found to be burned and the trunk of a tree which had fallen on it was not burned, which lead authorities to believe that the plane may have been burning before it crashed.
Most of the charred bodies were piled up in a heap near the center of the wreckage. However, there were a few scattered. Three were spotted in a heap to one side while another badly burned man was a short distance off.
Only one passenger escaped serious burns. He was a civilian who was evidently thrown a short distance from the plane. An injury to his head was believed to have caused death.
The bodies were brought to Waters and Ouila's Funeral Homes, where they were being identified. By midnight Coroner JOE W. CLARKE said that 16 had been positively identified. He said the investigation will continue today and that he believed identity of the other six will be made before the day is over.
A tractor pulled wagon was used to transport the bodies approximately a mile and a half through the dense woods and mud, to a point where they were loaded on civilian and military ambulances. Earlier a raod was cut three-fourths of a mile through swamp land to get ambulances to the spot.
First To Wreckage.
The accident occurred on the property of B. H. HARWELL where the large plantation home known as the RANKIN home stands. HICKS HARWELL, 12, was the first to sight the wreckage. He and a colored boy, JOE JOHNSON, were searching for the plane and saw it from a distance of about 200-300 yards.
They became excited and hurriedly returned to their home. En route they met DAVID, HICKS older brother by two years. DAVID went to the scene of the crash and checked to see if anyone was living. He found them all dead.
Gruesome Sight.
In a few minutes a negro, LOUIS SANDERS, arrived. He and DAVID returned to the HARWELL home and MRS. HARWELL immediately telephoned the Florence Army Air Field. She said that she thought it was a military plane stationed here as one had crashed near her home approximately two years ago. HOMER FORD was also among the first to arrive.
At the crash the sight was gruesome. One of the charred bodies was in a kneeling position, as if the person was saying his prayers. Letters were scattered over a large territory as well as baggage, and other personal belongings, including wallets and loose money, all of which was turned over to the FBI. The odor from the burned bodies was almost unbearable.
A tip of one wing was found about a 100 yards away from the main load of the torn and burned plane. On a tall tree was a woman's slip. A pocketbook had caught on a limb by it.
Many View Wreckage.
Despite the muddy trail which led to the funeral pyre, large numbers of men and women sloshed through the mud, knee deep at places, over the two mile course which had to be made by foot. All cars were left at the HARWELL home.
Two army ambulances and another army truck got stuck trying to make it closer to the scene. It was then decided to cut a road and carry the bodies over another route to the ambulances.
The plane evidently exploded and burned in air with several lesser lightning-like blasts occurring after the impact. The falling tree, a huge one, evidently added to the noise which followed immediately.
Hears Explosion.
MRS. W. L. RANKIN, grandmother of the HARWELL boys, said the she was awake at the time of the crash. "I couldn't sleep and was sitting up in my bed," she exclaimed.
"All of a sudden I heard a terrific explosion which was followed by quick, loud detonating sounds. I knew something terrible had happened. I called my daughter (MRS. B. H. HARWELL) who was aroused by the noise. After checking on the weather and seeing that it was fair she finally returned to bed puzzled as to what had occurred," MRS. RANKIN continued.
MRS. HARWELL said that at first she thought it was thunder but dispelled that idea after checking on the weather, "I knew something terrible had happened so I returned to the house and looked at the clock to see what time it was. It was a few minutes before two o'clock. I knew I would read something about whatever it was in the papers," she continued.
Navy Blimp Here.
Several negroes in that vicinity declared that they heard the noise and one reported that he saw a flame. To back up his statement he pointed in the direction where the plane was eventually found, declaring that flames were seen in that vicinity following the loud blasts. The negro, DAVID BROCKINGTON, couldn't explain why he didn't think about notifying anyone.
During the early hours of the morning planes from several fields and a large Navy blimp circled the area for hours before locating the wreckage. One army captain explained that the visibility was bad which coupled with the fact that the wreckage was almost totally hidden from the air hindered the search.
The blimp, one of the first seen in this section in some time, attracted much attention. It apparently came to a complete standstill over the wreckage, thus helping to lead military authorities to the scene. The HARWELL boys also aided considerably, assisting military police from the FAAF, amaong the first to arrive, to the secluded spot in the swamp.
Horses Are Used.
W. W. McDOWELL, Associated Press photographer who flew to the scene from Atlanta, shot pictures from the air but the small amount of wreckage did not show up well in the film. To reach the scene for ground shots, he was forced to journey two miles on horseback. Several others were treated to horseback rides from the HARWELL home, thanks to their generosity. In addition to EAL officials, FBI agents, military authorities, county and state officers, a postal inspector, the coroner and others acting in an official capacity made their way to the wreckage.
Civilian Passengers.
Capt. J. OLIN KING of Miami, Fla., was the pilot of the big transport. Other crewmen were listed as R. A. KELLEY, co-pilot and GERTRUDE GRAHAM, flight attendant.
Names of the civilian passengers were immediately released as:
M. CHCINFLED and L. F. COCKBURN, Miami; W. E. GRAY, Standard Oil company, Miami; ROBERT STEVENSON and his mother, MRS. G. G. R. SHARP of Kingston, Jamaica; ANDREWS GERARD and LOUISE GERARD, French citizens en route to New York; MR. and MRS. OSCAR FIGUREREDE, Carrascas, Venezulea, and W. E. PIERCE, who boarded the plane at Jacksonville.
Sgt. BAUER Killed.
At midnight last night the following statement was issued by the Public Relations office of the Florence Army Air Field:
Following notification of the next of kin the name of Sgt. BERNARD D. BAUER of Bell Raven prisoner of war camp, Kendall, Florida, was released this evening as one of 22 fatalities in the Eastern Airliner crash earlier today about eight miles northeast of Florence. He was the husband of MRS. BERNARD D. BAUER of 1503 Walton avenue, Bronx, New York. The announcement was made by Col. JAMES R. GUNN, JR., commanding officer of the Florence Army Air field. Sergeant BAUER was one of 10 members of the armed services riding the plane. The others were seven naval personnel and two members of the Marine corps. Announcement of their names will be handled by the appropriate branches of the service.
The Sixth Naval district, with headquarters at Charleston, reported that it would be today before the names would be revealed due to the difficulty in learning the identify and next of kin.
In New York City, EDWARD V. RICKENBACKER, president and general manager of Eastern Airlines, in a statement said:
"No cause has as yet been established for the accident, but an investigation has been initiated by company officials to determine, if possible, the cause."
EAL officials said they were at a loss to explain the crash. The country is level. There was a ceiling of more than 6,000 feet at the time.
The plane left Miami, Fla., at 9 p. m. yesterday. It took off from Savannah, Ga., at 12:30 a. m., today.
FAAF Statement.
The army air base here issued the following statement:
"An army plane piloted by Capt. N. W. SARR from Laurinburg-Maxton Army Air base at 10:30 this morning located from the air the Eastern Airliner which earlier in the day crashed about eight miles northeast of Florence Army Air field."
"Later Commdr. JAMES R. GUNN, JR., commanding officer at FLorence disclosed that crash crews from this base reached the scene of the accident not long after it had been located from the air, prepared to be of any possible assistance."
"The Air Liner crashed into a wooded swampy area in the vicinity of the Pee Dee river. Prior to the location of the downed plane, army, navy and coast guard planes had undertaken an intensive survey of the area."
"Included among this aerial search party were planes from Chatham field, Savannah, Ga., the air-sea unit at Charleston Army Air base as well as aircraft from Florence, Laurinburg-Maxton, N. C., the field at Wilmington, N. C., and Pope field at Fort Bragg, N. C."
"Crash crews ambulances and medical personel from Florence Army Air field were sent to the accident. Upon arrival it was determined that all passengers and crew numbering 19 and three respectively, according to the Eastern Air Lines passenger list, were dead."
"It was believed that of the passengers ten were service men. Names of passengers have been withheld pending notification of next of kin."
"The accident occurred on the property of B. H. HARWELL and the plane was first located on the ground by HICKS HARWELL, teen-age son of the owner of the plantation."
"Poor visibility and bad flying conditions, together with the fact that the wreckage was almost totally hidden by the air from surrounding trees, hampered the search."

Florence Morning News South Carolina 1945-09-08

Names of the additional passengers of the airliner were released, positive identification made on four more of the bodies, and investigation by Eastern Air Lines authorities were developments here yesterday.
The eight Navy and Marine corps personnel were:
Lieut. Col. W. E. PIERCE, Marine corps, whose wife lives at 823 Church street, Alexander, Va. His mother, Mrs. E. A. Pierce lives at Hardee avenue, Chablee, Ga.
Copl. CRAWFORD D. JOHNSON, Marine corps, 131 Barnum street, N.W., Washington, D. C.
Ensign ALVAN NORTON SIMON, 21 Egmont street, Brookline, Mass.
Ensign WILLIAM COOK RATHBURN, 40 Forest place, Rockville Center, N. Y.
Lieut. Sgt. H. B. JOHNSON, whose mother, Mrs. Alice Louise Johnson, lives at Parallel street, Riverside, Conn.
Lieut. WESLEY THOMAS WHITFIELD, 220 East 18th street, Brooklyn, N. Y.
Lieut. (jg) JOHN THOMAS MALLON, 2489 Tiebout avenue, The Bronx, N. Y.
Lieut. FRANK E. HENSTEIN, whose father Issac Heuslein, lives at 630 Gramalan avenue, Mount Vernon, N. Y.

Additional listing of fatalities from
Florence Morning News South Carolina 1945-09-09


Mars Bluff Airliner Crashes in Swamp

Many times, my husband told me about seeing the airline crash site. He said it was a disturbing scene with limbs hanging from trees and the smell was terrible. David never forgot about that scene. He said that what he remembered was his Mother standing at the sink saying that she heard a noise last night in the swamp. Hicks and a playmate had run ahead of David and they saw it first. He said they hooked up a wagon to mules and pulled bodies from the swamp area.

Within a few miles of this swamp is where an Atomic Bomb fell on Mars Bluff, making a large hole.