Near Lafayette in Allen County, Ohio — The American Midwest (Great Lakes)
P-39 Airacobra Crash Site
March 18, 1942
On March 18, 1942, four U.S. Army Air Corps pilots lost their lives within a quarter mile of this marker. Three months after Japan bombed Pearl Harbor, these pilots left Wayne County Airport near Detroit flying P-39F Airacobra pursuit planes. They were part of the Army Air Corps Ferry Command delivering new aircraft to Louisville, KY. As they entered Allen County, a blinding snow storm limited visibility and convinced flight leader Lt. Edward H. Saunders to make a U-turn to escape the perilous conditions. With ice building on their wings and windshields, all four pilots, flying in close formation, crashed their planes into the ground within seconds of each other. There were no survivors. Although these men never faced the enemy, their mission was crucial to the United States in fighting the war.
Lt. Edward H. Saunders of Lake Village, AR: Lt. Armel J. Kennedy of Oklahoma City, OK: Lt. Eugene H. Anderson of Kewanee, IL: and Lt. Earl A. Houser of Pesotum, IL of the United States Air Corps gave their lives in the service of this country. They were flying P-39F Airacobra pursuit planes developed and built by Bell Aircraft of Buffalo,
Erected 2014 by Lafayette-Jackson Historical Society and The Ohio Historical Society. (Marker Number 7-2.)
Topics and series. This historical marker is listed in these topic lists: Air & Space • Disasters • War, World II. In addition, it is included in the Ohio Historical Society / The Ohio History Connection series list.
Location. 40° 45.036′ N, 83° 59.087′ W. Marker is near Lafayette, Ohio, in Allen County. Marker is on North McClure Road one mile south of Ohio Route 81, on the left when traveling south. between Resevoir Road and Route 81. Touch for map. Marker is at or near this postal address: 875 N McClure Rd, Lima OH 45801, United States of America. Touch for directions.
Other nearby markers. At least 8 other markers are within 5 miles of this marker, measured as the crow flies. The Hog Creek Settlement (approx. 1.8 miles away); McKee's Hill (approx. 1.8 miles away); LaFayette - Jackson Township Civil War Memorial (approx. 2 miles away); Veterans Monument / Memorial GardenWorkman's Crew Caboose (approx. 4.4 miles away); 1905 Shay Engine (approx. 4.4 miles away); Harrod Veterans Memorial Park (approx. 4.4 miles away); USS Texas (CGN 39) (approx. 4.4 miles away). Touch for a list and map of all markers in Lafayette.
It was an event that shocked the residents of Jackson Township. Just a few miles outside of LaFayette, a terrible tragedy unfolded. What happened that day in 1942?
“My wife and I were getting ready to eat when we heard a plane. She was looking out the window and drew my attention to it. Before I could get to window, the plane struck the field just 800 yards north of our house. It was in a nosedive and immediately burst into flames. Although I rushed to the scene, I could not get close to it because of the intense heat. It appeared that most of the plane, and probably the pilot, were buried in the ground”. – Byron Hefner
“It was terrible. We heard the motors of the planes and stopped working for a few seconds to hear them. Then there was a loud crash and our house shook. Through the window, we saw a flash of fire then another flash. My daughter, Mrs. Donald Hefner, and I didn’t know what to do. We stood as if paralyzed. My daughter wanted to run to the scene but the fire had gained such headway that it seemed impossible for anyone to escape the wreckage.” – Mrs. Ralph Binkley
In all, four Army Air Corps attack planes crashed in quick succession near Reservoir Road. There was no indication of any problem. No one had radioed the Patterson Field in Dayton, where they were headed, nor had they radioed for help from Selfridge Field near Detroit, Michigan, where they had originated. It was the middle of the day on Wednesday, March 18, 1942. But a storm had quickly developed. It was snowing and sleeting and witnesses described it as a “blinding snowstorm”.
The State Patrol and local law enforcement, lead by Sheriff William Daly, arrived first, quickly followed by personnel from the Army Air Corps. The area was cordoned off and cameras were confiscated. One man who had gone there and recorded the events with his 8mm movie camera was Waldo Robinson. But the Army removed his film, as well as several other cameras from bystanders, as they enforced a “no pictures” edict.
The location of the plane crashes were as follows: Two crashed on the Irwin Lutz farm, ¼ mile north of High Street (now Reservoir Road), one on the east side and one on the west side of McClure Road. A third plane crashed in the woods south of Reservoir, also on McClure Road, on a farm then owned by the Blickenstaffs. The fourth plane plowed into a soft wheat field on Byron Hefner’s farm on Cool Road, about 800 yards north of his house.
When the crash team arrived with large trucks, ambulances, and armed guards, the salvage and investigation processes began. The planes were the famous Airacobra P-39’s, developed by Bell Aircraft. The Army Air Corps (precursor to the Air Force) called their fighters "pursuit" aircraft (reflected by their designation in the "P" series), and these four were on a mission for the Air Corps Ferry Command. Pearl Harbor had been attacked only three months prior to the quadruple plane crash on Reservoir Road. After the USA entered World War II, it became clear that the fastest and most economical method of moving combat aircraft from the factory to the front, which might be
10,000 to 15,000 miles away due to the worldwide nature of the conflict, was to ferry them under their own power. The Ferry Command became so important in moving aircraft, replacement parts and supplies that it eventually developed into the logistics arm of the Department of Defense and is now known as the Military Air Transport Command. The four planes each had less than three hours of flight logged, so they were probably newly manufactured and on their way to their jumping off point, ultimately to be flown overseas for battle.
The investigation revealed the names of the four pilots who died. Edward H. Saunders, age 26, was the flight leader. Arnel J. Kennedy, age 26, Eugene H. Anderson, age 23, and Earl A. Houser, age 23, were the three other pilots. They were all 2nd Lieutenants. Their remains were taken to Dayton. Nothing further is known about them.
The investigation and crash team continued the grim task of gathering the remains of men and machines, being somewhat hampered by the soft ground. It was reported the aircraft that nose-dived in the wheat field was most difficult to remove. The Allison engine on the P-39 aircraft was mounted directly behind the pilot. The force of the crash buried the pilot, the engine and all but the tail section of the plane to a depth of more than six feet. One pilot must have come to realization that he was seconds from a disastrous end. He attempted to eject, but it was too late. His parachute became entangled on some part of the plane and was found only 30 feet from the cockpit, his body still attached to it. There was no question as to the time of the accident. Amid the scattered metal shards, a watch recovered from the mud was stopped at 11:21 a.m.
There were many questions surrounding this accident, described by one investigator as “…one of the most peculiar in the annals of flying.” Although the official cause was simply “weather”, one eyewitness near Findlay said she saw an object fall from one of the planes. Several eyewitnesses reported seeing four planes circling Lima. The Hefner family said the planes seemed to be going in a northeasterly direction, away from their intended destination in Dayton. Adding to the rumors and speculation was the lack of follow-up information released to the public. No reports could be found in the newspapers after the initial stories. Even now, an internet search turns up nothing, as if this horrendous incident was just a figment of our imaginations, the memory of it obliterated in a blinding snowstorm. So what really happened that day? The answer may be buried deep in a muddy field in Jackson Township.
Published May 2010
“The LaFayette Jackson Times”
— Submitted February 23, 2016, by Jennifer Palmer of LaFayette, Ohio.
Additional keywords. P-39 Airacobra
Credits. This page was last revised on September 28, 2020. It was originally submitted on February 17, 2015, by Michael Baker of Lima, Ohio. This page has been viewed 1,576 times since then and 151 times this year. Last updated on September 28, 2020, by Robert Baughman of Bellefontaine, Ohio. Photos: 1, 2, 3. submitted on February 17, 2015, by Michael Baker of Lima, Ohio. • Devry Becker Jones was the editor who published this page.