LAFAYETTE — Flying in formation through snow and sleet, four pilots crashed their planes within seconds of each other into Jackson Township fields.
That was March 18, 1942. Fewer and fewer Allen County residents remember the tragic event. Lafayette resident and Navy veteran Bill Kimmel wants to make sure the plane crashes, and the men who were killed in service to their country, are not forgotten.
Monday marks the 71st anniversary of the crashes. Kimmel and his daughter, Lafayette Councilwoman Jennifer Palmer, are hoping to raise public awareness about them and drum up support for a historical marker near the crash sites.
“I’ve always thought about these poor guys who died. Their job was just as important as other pilots who flew in World War II,” Kimmel said. “They were doing a job that had to be done and they gave their lives for it. They deserve recognition, a permanent marker.”
Newspaper reports from the time detailed a “blinding storm of snow and sleet” was responsible for the crashes that happened at about 11:30 a.m. near McClure and Cool roads. Four pilots, all second lieutenants — Edward H. Sanders, 26, of Lake Village, Ark., Arnel J. Kennedy, 26, of Oklahoma City, Eugene H. Anderson, 23, of Kewanee, Ill., and Earl H. Housern, 23, of Pesotumn, Ill., were each flying a P-39 Aircobra for the Army Air Forces from Detroit to Dayton.
Two of the four planes crashed on the Lutz farm less than two miles from Lafayette; one plane was partially buried on the Hefner farm west of the Lutz farm and the fourth plane crashed and burned on the Blickenstaff farm, about a mile south of the Lutz farm. Witnesses reported hearing the planes go overhead then explosions and flashes as gasoline ignited.
Little is known about the mission or cause of the accident. The pilots were ferrying the new planes to then-Patterson Field in Dayton. The planes, made by Bell Aircraft Corp. in Buffalo, N.Y., were said to be the Army’s fastest. The Army believed ice and sleet forming on the planes contributed to the crash.
“No one seems to know much about it any more,” Kimmel said. “Some of this land is developed, but a lot of it is still farmland.”
Also this year, the names of the men will be added to the veterans memorial in Lafayette, Kimmel said. But he is working with the Jackson Township trustees to develop a marker near the sites.
“I just feel we should recognize these men,” said Kimmel, 90, a Navy veteran. “These were veterans who gave their lives. You know I spent three years in World War II, in the South Pacific. I just have a deep feeling for them.”