On the 4th
of July, 1944 a formation of B-24 bombers of the Fourth Air Force,
420th Army Air Force group stationed at March Field in Riverside,
California was on formation camera, bombing, and gunnery training mission over the
California desert when a mid air collision occurred between the
formation lead bomber B-24J, S/N 42-51022 and another B-24, S/N
42-51435, the #2 wing
Accident Summary from the Army Air Force Crash Report;
"A three-plane formation lead by B-24 No. 022, piloted by
Lt. Smallfield was proceeding west at approximately 10,000 feet at the
time of the accident. The pilot of the No. 2 wing plane, Lt. Solheid,
had turned the controls over to Lt. Darland, the co pilot. Lt. Darland,
while closing, over-shot and pulled up above the lead plane. The pilot
believing that he had pulled up sufficiently to clear, did not take over
the controls, but it was not sufficient clearance and the two planes
collided. The tail of the lead plane was so damaged that it went out of
control immediately, looping too violently for the crew to fasten the
parachutes and bail out. The pilot was thrown out with his chute, which
he managed to fasten to his harness and use just before striking the
ground, but no one else in the plane survived. The pilot of the wing
plane, Lt. Solheid, ordered all of his crew, with the exception of the
co pilot, to abandon the plane, but he was able to keep the plane under
control and made a forced landing.
This accident was the result of pilot error on the part of
Lieutenants Solheid and Darland, due to inexperience in formation
S/N 42-51022 was built
by Ford at the Ford Willow Run plant in Michigan.
The accident resulted in the loss of nine airmen on board the
B-24J S/N 42-51022;
2nd Lt. John R. Styll, Co-pilot
2nd Lt. Glenn L. Hoover, Navigator
2nd Lt. Donald S. Rogers, Bombardier
Cpl. Robert R. Detty, Engineer
Pfc. James H. Drewel, Asst. Engineer
Cpl. Eugene M. Cormeny, Radio Operator
Cpl. Donald T. Sherman, Arm-gunner
Pfc. A. J. Baker Jr., Arm-gunner
Pfc. John H. Noonan, Asst. Radio Operator.
(Pfc. Noonan was listed as missing on the crash
The pilot, 2nd. Lt. George B. Smallfield was the only survivor
and was able to escape from the aircraft as it plummeted to earth, which
lead to this article in Ripley's Believe It Or Not;
"SAVED BY THE CRASH OF HIS OWN PLANE"
"LT. GEORGE SMALLFIELD, B-24 Pilot, was forced to bail out without
his parachute - his foot caught in the hatch opening - and as he
struggled to get back in the plane - a parachute miraculously fell
into his hands"
"The chute opened only 100 feet from the ground directly over his
plane which had crashed and was burning as he hung helplessly over the
flames - the plane exploded and blew him safely to one side."
Pilot George B Smallfield's name shows up again in a listing of
accidents at Mcchord Field in Washington state. On May 19, 1945
Smallfield was the pilot of a USAAF B-26C S/N 41-35392 that was involved
in an accident in Yakima, Washington.
The crash is composed of two sites separated by about 3/4 of a
mile. Three exploratory trips to the area involved hiking cross country
checking out various ridges, canyons, and drainages which resulted in
overall hiking of 31.5 miles in search of this elusive crash site.