Crew 16 – Assigned 752nd Squadron – October 26, 1943

Not pictured: Charles Nichols – E, and Andrew McGowen – G

(Photo: Amadella Nichols)

Crashed during training at Tonopah – November 16, 1943 – AR 44-11-16-1

RankNameSerial #Crew PositionDateStatusComments
2LtSigmund E Hons0684000Pilot16-Nov-43DNBHobson, TX
2LtEugene J Austenfeld0693728Co-pilot16-Nov-43DNBLyon County, KS
2LtJames B Fahey0810162Navigator16-Nov-43DNBHouston, TX
2LtWilliam L Ingalls0689467Bombardier16-Nov-43DNBCass County, ND
SgtEugene W Randall16134531Radio Operator16-Nov-43DNBDane County, WI
SgtCharles A Nichols18188933Flight Engineer16-Nov-43INJInjured in training acc 4BC 4AF
SgtCharles H Shepard18039613Nose Turret Gunner16-Nov-43DNBDallas County, TX
SgtArlie Long18180786Aerial Gunner, 2/E16-Nov-43DNBCampbell County, TN
SgtWarren H Buicke32671713Ball Turret Gunner, 2/E16-Nov-43DNBNiagara County, NY
S/SgtAndrew D McGowen34256556Airplane Armorer-Gunner01-Apr-44UNKFlight Status w/Crew 3 - Martin

Lt Sigmund B. Hons and crew began their combat crew training in Tonopah, NV with the 458th Bomb Group in early November 1944.  Two weeks later eight men on Crew 16 became the first casualties that the 458th Bombardment Group would suffer during the war.  Like so many of the airmen who died in the USAAF during World War II, their deaths were not combat related, but occurred during training.  They crashed shortly after takeoff on a night training flight due to mechanical failure of their aircraft.

Flight engineer Sgt Charles A. Nichols was severely injured in the crash and did not return to flying.  Tail gunner Sgt Andrew D. McGowen was ill the night of the flight and was not aboard the aircraft.  He was subsequently assigned to the 752nd crew of John S. Martin (Crew 3). After flying eight missions with the 458th, the Martin Crew was transferred to the 451BG in the 15th Air Force, where they completed a combat tour.

Charles Nichols letter to Allen Metscher Sept. 19, 1995

My actual memories of the accident are very few and not nearly as dramatic as some that the other guys went through.

I enlisted with my older brother on 10/22/42, six days after my 18th birthday, sent to Ft. Sam Houston for induction, to Ellington Field for basic, to Keesler Field for AM Scholl, to Laredo Gunnery School, finishing 8/31/43. Then to Salt Lake City, Boise, Wendover Field, and finally arriving at Tonopah on 11/4/43.

Our crew of 10 was formed and we began bombing training on B-24’s. Shortly thereafter we got our plane that we would take overseas. It was just off the Ford Willow Run assembly line, being one of the first with a nose turret.

We were scheduled for some night training and getting more acquainted with our new plane the night of 11/16/43. One of our gunners was sick that night and did not fly. I remember we did our usual walk around inspection of the exterior and interior of the plane. We then taxied to the end of the runway where we did the engine run-up power checks, radio, etc. just prior to takeoff. We began our attempt to fly, with me in my regular place standing between the pilots, checking the instrument readings. The rest of the crew was on the floor behind me which was also standard procedure. At about 8:20pm we began rolling down the runway and began our ascent. The last thing I remember was our rate of climb indicator showed we were going down. I don’t remember how fast we were going or how high we had climbed. I was told later that we got to about 500 feet before crashing at the end of the runway. The medics found me unconscious near a part of the tail section. The eight others were dead.

I awoke three days later to the sight of my mother who had come from Houston. I spent the next four months getting well and was discharged from the hospital on 3/29/44 to do light restricted duty at my squadron. I was about to be put back on full duty when the war ended and I was discharged on 11/25/45.

November 16, 1943

The remains of Hons’ B-24H 41-28577.

(Photo: George Reynolds)

Description of Accident

On 16 November 1943 at 2020 B-24H No. 41-28577 took off on a local bombing mission at the Tonopah Bombing and Gunnery Range, Tonopah, Nevada. The ship was the second ship to take off for a two ship formation flight. The ship took off on runway 33 and according to statements of several witnesses including the sole survivor the ship was not gaining altitude in a normal manner. After leaving the field, the ship proceeded straight ahead for approximately three miles then made a shallow diving turn to the right crashing into the ground. A burst of flames flared up on impact, but the wreckage did not burn. The skid mark reveals that the ship hit the ground at a shallow angle at a great rate of speed. The right wing tip struck the ground first, spinning the ship in a clockwise manner. This statement is substantiated by the fact that the propellers, engines and other parts of the wreckage were scattered over a wide area.

It is the opinion of the board that this accident may be attributed to 100% pilot error. This statement is based on the fact that all propellers, propeller governors and engine oil screens were tested after the accident and found to be in a normal condition. Failure of the ship to gain altitude could not be attributed to material or engine failure. The flaps were in a half down position which is normal for takeoff. It is believed that after takeoff the pilot attempted to fly contact in order to locate the lead ship. Due to a high overcast and an exceptionally dark night there was no invisible horizon, and this fact would make instrument flying by the pilot mandatory after takeoff. By attempting to fly contact, the pilot was unaware that he was losing altitude, thus flying the ship into the ground.

The Board recommends that this accident be used by safety agencies of the A.A.F. to emphasize use of all safety precautions during night operations particularly when there is no visible horizon. Pilots should be continually impressed with the fact that they cannot fly instruments and contact at the same time.

JAMES A. HOGG, Major, Air Corps
HENRY S. TAYLOR, Major, Air Corps
DIMITRY PRATAS, Capt., Air Corps
JOSEPH W. JACKSON, 2nd Lt., Air Corps


Accident Report 44-11-16-01


At approximately 8:10 p.m. Tuesday, November 17, 1943 I was standing outside the main gate waiting for transportation to town. Planes were taking off at regular intervals in a northerly direction without attracting any unusual interest on my part. At approximately 8:15 p.m. a plane took off and particularly attracted my attention because it was not gaining altitude. From that point on I followed the progress of the plane because of its low altitude flying. Next it appeared to me that the plane turned around and was returning in the direction of the base. The plane appeared so low that I thought a landing was being attempted. As the plane crashed there was a brief vivid flash that seems to envelop the plane. For approximately 25 minutes after the crash I could discern only two small areas of light.

Finance Detachment
Bombing and Gunnery Range,
Tonopah, Nevada.

SUBJECT: Accident Report
TO: Base Operations Officer
17 November 1943

1. At 2017 November 16, 1943 pilot 2nd. Lt. Sigmund B. Hons of the 752nd. Bomb. Sqdn. (H) took off on a local flight in Army 577, a B-24H. Take off was south to north on runway no. 33; Wind NNE at 4 mph.

2. There was no radio transmission from army 577 following take off.

3. At 2020 a long burst of flame was observed several miles northeast of the field at approximately 6,000 feet. All stations were immediately notified by Teletalk of the suspected aircraft accident and crash truck and ambulance immediately proceeded to the scene of the accident. Tower personnel then checked with the aircraft dispatcher to ascertain their receiving the crash report. Crash radio reception on the Fisher set was R535.

4. All planes in the air at the time of accident with exception of Army 577 responded to calls from the tower. Crash crew verified the crashed aircraft as Army 577 shortly after arrival at the scene of accident at 2033.

5. The control tower was later advised that all members of the crew had been killed except the engineer who was taken to the base hospital and that the aircraft was a complete loss. The cause of the accident was undetermined.

6. No other information was given to the control tower.

Operator on Duty

Chief Tower Operator

I was first engineer on B-24H No. 577 which took off on a routine bombing mission at 2019, 16 November 1943, and I was standing between the pilot and co-pilot. We taxied to the end of the runway and ran up the engines. Everything was O.K. at that time. The tower cleared us for takeoff. I checked the instruments again and everything was O.K. But next thing I remember was looking at the rate of climb indicator, and it was registering much less than it should have. We must have been at the end of the runway by then and should have been way up in the air. The pilot seemed to have the ship under control and was not fighting the controls. He did not seem to think anything was wrong at the time. The next thing I remember is waking up in the hospital.

Sgt., 752nd Bomb Squad,
458th Bomb Gp.

On Tuesday, 16 November 1943, Lt. Hons and myself were scheduled for bombing missions and were to fly formation up to bombing altitude. I taxied out to warm up position ahead of Lt. Hons and was unable to get full contact with him on 7165 Kcs. After the engine check I taxied out and took off using my landing lights. Upon clearing the field I cut my lights and went on instruments. There was no horizon that night. I climbed straight ahead for about a minute and a half and started a turn to the right. After turning a little over 90 degrees, I looked back toward the field and saw a streak of light and then an explosion. I called the tower and reported the crash.

1st Lt., Air Corps

I am Pfc. Donald V. Burnett, ASN 3254 7024. I am in the medical detachment, station Hospital, bombing and gunnery range, Tonopah, Nevada. I was on the way to Tonopah at approximately 2030, 16 November 1943, when I heard an airplane takeoff. I was between the hospital and the main gate when I saw the airplane clear the highway east of the gate. It appeared to be much lower than planes usually are when taking off. Several people were at the gate watching the plane and talking about how low it was. The plane was no longer visible when I saw a small reddish glow between the radio range station and Rye Patch. The small glow of fire turned to the right and hit the ground and a fire flared out in two separate places. It was still burning as I went to Tonopah about 20 minutes later, but had diminished in intensity.

Pfc., Medical Detachment

I arrived at plane 577 when it came in from the flight preceding the flight during which the accident occurred. The Form 1A said the De-icer boot on the horizontal stabilizer had become inflated on the flight. I told the Line Chief and also the Engineering Officer about the horizontal stabilizer inflating in the air. The Crew Chief and I ran the plane engines up to 1500 R.P.M. and it did not inflate on the ground. Then the plane was released for flight.

M/Sgt. 752nd Bomb Sq
Flight Chief

We arrived at plane about 1500, for a high altitude bombing mission. As pilot I gave the ship a visual preflight in company with my assistant engineer and I did not notice anything unusual. We were delayed while the ground crew serviced the ship with gas, oil and oxygen, and loading ten bombs. During this interval I read over the Form 1A signed the exceptional release. Then I checked with the first engineer to determine the C. G. for the proper disposition of my full crew of ten men.

We used the check list which was hung alongside the copilot, and started the engines. There had been an entry in the Form 1A made by the pilot of the previous flight regarding the stiffness of operation of the De-icer control, so I checked it to make sure it was off and that the boots were not inflated.

Our take off was made with normal throttle settings and R.P.M. During our take off and climb to 14,000 feet the ship gave no indication of any defects. At that altitude and at an air speed of 150 M.P.H. the rate of ascent became negligible. The waist gunner reported the left landing gear was slipping down, and this was remedied immediately. Then the cowl flaps were closed completely but this gave us no appreciable increase in the rate of climb. The bombardier in the nose was asked to check the leading edges of the wings to determine the condition of the De-icer boots. He reported them to be properly deflated. The waist gunner, hearing this conversation, checked the De-icer boots on the empennage and reported that they were inflated. The lever was again checked in the off position and the engineer went forward to check the leading edges of the wings. He confirmed the bombardier’s report that the De-icer located there were normal. Then we leveled off to prevent any strain on the engines and set the controls for cruising. With a throttle setting of 30″ Hg. and 2000 R.P.M. the ship cruised around 155 M.P.H.

I descended to an altitude of 10,000 feet with the intention of landing. At that altitude I decided to simulate a landing to determine the landing characteristics of the plane. We lowered the landing gear, closed the cowl flaps, set 20 degrees of laps, ran the R.P.M. up to 2400 and throttled back as in a normal landing. The ship glided well at 130 and did not give evidence of stalling until we reached an air speed of 115 M.P.H. I did not completely stall the ship, but nosed it down and applied power as soon as I noticed the approach of stalling characteristics.

Rather than land we decided to fly instruments for about an hour until it began to get dark and then land. When we decided to go in for landing we developed trouble in receiving the tower. The radio man checked the receiver but could not find anything wrong, so we contacted the tower on the compass radio and told them our trouble and asked for landing instructions. They had us circle the field twice and then come in for a landing. The final approach was made at 140 M.P.H., and we held this speed until we reached the end of the runway, and then cut the power and landed in a normal manner, with no unusual characteristics noted.

We taxied into the line and cut the engines. The command receiver and the inflated condition of the empennage De-icer boots were entered in the Form 1A. The defect in regard to the De-icer boots was specifically reported to the crew chief. The boots were checked by members of the crew and were found to be in a deflated condition. This terminated our flight, and we returned to operations.

2nd Lt., A.C. – 0-747292

2nd Lt., A.C. – 0-811002

Sgt., A.C. – 32573790

The above signed personnel, members of Crew No. 13, participated in flight of November 16, 1943, in Army 41-28577, extending from 1600 to 1845.

The write up in the Form 1A was Horizontal Stabilizer De-icer won’t deflate.

After telling the Engineering Officer the right up the Flight Chief and I ran up the engines up to 1500 rpm and checked the deflation of the boots. After not finding anything wrong with the Horizontal Stabilizer De-icer boots, I told the pilot and we checked the boots by looking for tears in the boots and I felt with our hands to make sure the boots weren’t inflated. I also checked in the same manner with the Engineer. The pilot and engineer said they would watch it in flight to see if they could find anything wrong. The pilot and engineer and I checked the boots. This pilot and engineer were the ones who flew the mission in which the ship crashed. The ship referred to in the above was Army 577.

Sgt, 752nd Bomb Sq.
Crew Chief, Ship 41-28577

I am one of the two engineering officers in the 752nd Bombardment Squadron (H). I had just come on duty, and the day Line Chief was telling Sergeant Jones the work accomplished and the work left to be accomplished. About this time Sergeant Allison, Crew Chief of Military Aircraft No. 41-28577 entered the Engineering office and stated that the Horizontal Stabilizer De-icer boots of ship No. 41-28577 wouldn’t deflate. I told him to run the engines up, push the De-icer handle to the full deflation position and check to see that the De-icer boots were deflated. Sergeant Allison did not return to the Engineering office to report the ship out of commission.

2nd Lt, Air Corps