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ACUFO:

ACUFO is my comprehensive catalog of cases of encounters between aircraft and UFOs, whether they are "explained" or "unexplained".

The ACUFO catalog is made of case files with a case number, summary, quantitative information (date, location, number of witnesses...), classifications, all sources mentioning the case with their references, a discussion of the case in order to evaluate its causes, and a history of the changes made to the file.

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San Diego, California, USA, in the end of the Summer of 1939:

Case number:

ACUFO-1939-00-00-SANDIEGO-1

Summary:

In the 1950's, Leonard H. Stringfield, US ufologist and UFO witness, edited a small UFO newsletter called Orbit, concentrated on one would later call "whistleblower" testimonies of UFO reports, crashed saucers recoveries, and official "leaked" information on UFOs.

In the November 4, 1955. issue of this newsletter, he published claims by Robert C. Gardner, a "lecturer and private UFO investigator" who had recently visited him. Gardner first claimed that at the end of February 1953, he personally heard from Eastern Air Defense chief General Benjamin Chidlaw, that the Air Force had "stacks of reports about flying saucers. We take them seriously when you consider we have lost many men and planes trying to intercept them."

Then, according to Stringfield, Gardner told him the following story:

"Case 107, Between San Diego and Honolulu. Late Summer 1939 - At 3:30 p.m., a military transport plane with thirteen men aboard left the Marine Naval Air Station in San Diego for a routine flight to Honolulu. When three hours at sea the aircraft was in dire distress. Mayday calls were radioed back to the base, then suddenly nothing more was heard until the craft came limping back and executed an emergency landing. The first men to reach the craft were shocked by what they saw - all thirteen members of the crew were dead, save for the co-pilot who managed, miraculously, to steer his charge in safely. Three minutes later he was also dead! Examination of the bodies showed remarkably large gaping wounds, not unlike those received by the surface of the craft, which indicated the impact of missiles. A second amazing discovery was that the service pieces, 45 Colt automatics, carried by the pilot and co-pilot, had been emptied and their shells found lying on the floor of the cockpit. Lastly, and possibly akin to saucer phenomena, was the characteristic rotten egg odor which pervaded the chamber's atmosphere. It was also learned regarding the incident that personnel who handled parts of the aircraft showed a mysterious skin infection. Security measures, Gardner was told, immediately blanketed the affair and cameras restricted. Corpsmen were barred from removing the bodies and the job of identification and diagnosis was limited to three medical officers only."

Stringfield wondered whether this aerial crime had been committed by the Japanese Air Forces, but dismissed it because he thought it would have "required the undetectable presence of Japanese aircraft carriers and escort vessels", "in U.S. controlled waters" - (which was quite a weak argument by Stringfield, since it actually occurred in the Pearl Harbor attack). Stringfield also dismissed that it could have been the result of a mutiny, because of the missile scars on the outer surface of the plane.

The story next appeared in the British Flying Saucer Review issue of November / December 1967, picked up by Jerome Clark in introduction to an article he wrote about UFOs being possibly hostile.

Clark did not specify the source of the report, so when John Keel picked it up in his 1971 book "Our haunted planet", Clark was credited as the source of the story. Keel cited the story without deformation, but added his grain of salt, one of his most outlandish, claiming that in WWII bomber crews "were also reporting constant appearances of little green men who invaded their planes and caused all kinds of mischief. The press labelled them Gremlins and the popular conclusion was that the crews were merely hallucinating because of the high altitude and thin atmosphere." Jr concluded: "Since then there have been thousands of little green men reports from all over the world. They are now an integral part of the flying saucer lore."

The story was then picked up by Charles Berlitz, as a still unclarified mystery, without much deformation, and a vague credit to "the investigator, Robert Coe Gardner", who "heard about it from a witness."

The next appearance of the story was by Belgian "skeptical" ufologist Godelieve van Overmeire; who commented that Jerome Clark and John Keel had been "inspired by an old gazette from 1939 to set up this improbable story..." and, citing a Web list of airplane crashes, noted that there had been "no plane crash or perdition at this date and in this place" in the whole year 1939. (Not only is this incorrect, we shall see, but also there was neither crash not perdition but a successful emergency landing.)

In his 2003 book "Strange Skies", Jerome Clark went back to the story, indicating where it came from. He said that there is no evidence that anything like this ever happened, though it was possible that it "appeared originally as a story in a pulp magazine, but if so, no one has been able to produce it." Clark clarified Gardner's status: a minor figure on the early UFO scene who "had a reputation as a spinner of yarns and a shader - at best - of truth." Clark recalls that UFO personality James W. Moseley recalled a 1954 conversation with former Blue Book head Edward Ruppelt and Pentagon UFO spokesman Albert M. Chop, in which Ruppelt mentioned Gardner's habit of telling lecture audiences that high-level government sources had slipped him previously unreleased UFO photographs, whereas he had simply clipped these pictures from newspapers.

Later, on the Internet, several people interested in such mysteries took it up again with a much skeptical grain of salt, but not always referring to the primary source. Several people noted that - unlike claimed by Godelieve van Overmeire - there had been real planes crashes with some similarities with the story. None involved anything mysterious, no story of dead crew, no mysterious skin disease, but other similarities certainly suggest that Gardner had fabricated his story using elements from newspapers accounts of one or the other real plane incident.

Data:

Temporal data:

Date: End of the Summer of 1939
Time: ?
Duration: ?
First known report date: 1955
Reporting delay: 16 years.

Geographical data:

Country: USA
State/Department: California
City: San Diego

Witnesses data:

Number of alleged witnesses: Several.
Number of known witnesses: 1
Number of named witnesses: 0

Ufology data:

Reporting channel: UFO lecturer Robert C. Gardner.
Visibility conditions: ?
UFO observed: ?
UFO arrival observed: ?
UFO departure observed: ?
UFO action: ?
Witnesses action: ?
Photographs: No.
Sketch(s) by witness(es): No.
Sketch(es) approved by witness(es): No.
Witness(es) feelings: ?
Witnesses interpretation: ?

Classifications:

Sensors: [ ] Visual: N/A.
[ ] Airborne radar:
[ ] Directional ground radar:
[ ] Height finder ground radar:
[ ] Photo:
[ ] Film/video:
[ ] EM Effects:
[ ] Failures:
[ ] Damages:
Hynek: CE4
Armed / unarmed: ?
Reliability 1-3: 1
Strangeness 1-3: 3
ACUFO: Probable invented story.

Sources:

[Ref. lsd1:] LEONARD STRINGFIELD:

Scan.

EXCLUSIVE: STATEMENT BY HIGH-RANKING
AIR FORCE GENERAL IS BARED, POINTING TO
SAUCER MENACE

Robert C. Gardner (3), lecturer and private UFO investigator, in a recent visit, gave the writer a statement, hitherto unpublished, which quotes a top-ranking officer in the Air Force. Needless to say it supports the CRIFO theory, and we quote: "In the later part of February 1953, I carried a letter of introduction and recommendation from a New York official in charge of our Eastern Air Defense to General Benjamin Chidlaw, then in charge of all our continental air defenses at Ent Air Force Base in Colorado. The letter concerned a plan I had which the Eastern Air Defense considered important to our national defense. Out of courtesy to General Chidlaw, who has since retired, I have withheld until now the vitally important information herewith revealed. In the course of the half hour private interview the General mentioned, among many other interesting items, the following, 'we have stacks of reports about flying saucers. We take them seriously when you consider we have lost many men and planes trying to intercept them'."

VIOLENCE IN RETROSPECT

Beyond estimation is the number of aircraft, military and otherwise, that have been lost to the UFO. Surely, the earliest date for such occurrences goes back farther than the classical Mantell "death chase" of 1948.(4) In this category, we once again refer to the files of Robert Gardner which reveal for us this unusual incident dating back to 1939 - just before the outbreak of World War II.

Case 107, Between San Diego and Honolulu. Late Summer 1939 - At 3:30 p.m., a military transport plane with thirteen men aboard left the Marine Naval Air Station in San Diego for a routine flight to Honolulu. When three hours at sea the aircraft was in dire distress. Mayday calls were radioed back to the base, then suddenly nothing more was heard until the craft came limping back and executed an emergency landing. The first men to reach the craft were shocked by what they saw - all thirteen members of the crew were dead, save for the co-pilot who managed, miraculously, to steer his charge in safely. Three minutes later he was also dead! Examination of the bodies showed remarkably large gaping wounds, not unlike those received by the surface of the craft, which indicated the impact of missiles. A second amazing discovery was that the service pieces, 45 Colt automatics, carried by the pilot and co-pilot, had been emptied and their shells found lying on the floor of the cockpit. Lastly, and possibly akin to saucer phenomena, was the characteristic rotten egg odor which pervaded the chamber's atmosphere. It was also learned regarding the incident that personnel who handled parts of the aircraft showed a mysterious skin infection. Security measures, Gardner was told, immediately blanketed the affair and cameras restricted. Corpsmen were barred from removing the bodies and the job of identification and diagnosis was limited to three medical officers only.

ED: The first explanation that comes to mind is an act of violence by the flaunting Japanese as displayed in the Panay affair of 1937, but this theory is weak when we consider that the event was aerial and such would require the undetectable presence of Japanese aircraft carriers and escort vessels. For these to be sailing in U.S. controlled waters at that time would have been provoking war

Scan.

prematurely which was not a part of the Japanese plan as we learned at Pearl Harbor. Another possibility was internal trouble such as mutiny, but this does not explain the missile scars on the outer surface of the plane, therefore the evidence of empty shells suggests a retaliatory effort against hostile and mysterious outside forces. But dead men tell no tales and we shall never know who or what caused the disaster for certain.

Note 3 read: "See Saucer Sundries back page."

Note 4 read: "Must read is Desmond Leslie's article, 'New Light on the Mantell Case'".

[Ref. jck1:] JEROME CLARK:

Scan.

ON a day in late summer 1939, a military transport left the Marine Naval Air Station in San Diego California, for a routine flight to Honolulu. About three hours afterwards, several urgent distress signal sounded from the plane, and then silence. Later, the craft came limping back to execute an emergency landing. When Air Station personnel entered the plane, they found every man on the crew, including the co-pilot, who bad lived long enough to pilot the craft back to its base, dead of unknown causes.

Each of the bodies carried large, gaping wounds, and the outside of the ship was similarly marked. Air Station men who touched parts of the craft came down with a mysterious skin infection.

One of the most puzzling aspects of the whole affair was that the .45 automatics carried by the pilot and co-pilot as service pieces bad been emptied and the shells lay on the floor. A smell of "rotten eggs" pervaded the atmosphere inside the plane.

Was this 28-year-old air disaster an early case of UFO hostility? "Mysterious skin infections"! and "rotten egg" odours" are phenomena familiar to all UFO researchers. lt would seem that the trans¬port was attacked - apparently without provocation - by some sort of strange aerial intruder.

[Ref. jkl1:] JOHN KEEL:

Ufologist Jerome Clark uncovered an extraordinary item from an old 1939 newspaper. "On a day in late summer 1939, a military transport left the Marine Naval Air Station in San Diego, California, for a routine flight to Honolulu," Clark wrote in Flying Saucer Review. "About three hours afterwards several urgent distress signals sounded from the plane and then silence. Later the craft came limping back to execute an emergency landing. When Air Station personnel entered the plane, they found every man of the crew, including the co-pilot who had lived long enough to pilot the craft back to its base, dead of unknown causes."

Each of the bodies carried large, gaping wounds, and the outside of the ship was similarly marked. Air Station men who touched parts of the craft came down with a mysterious skin infection.

One of the most puzzling aspects of the whole affair was that the .45 automatics carried by the pilot and copilot as service pieces had been emptied, and the shells lay on the floor. A smell of rotten eggs pervaded the atmosphere inside the plane ... Mysterious skin infections and rotten egg odors are phenomena familiar to all UFO researchers, It would seem that the transport was attacked - apparently without provocation - by some sort of strange aerial intruder.

[...] In those days military men called UFO’s Foo Fighters. The Foo Fighters baffled both Allied and Axis pilots over Germany and Japan in the final days of the war. Bomber crews were also reporting constant appearances of little green men who invaded their planes and caused all kinds of mischief. The press labelled them Gremlins and the popular conclusion was that the crews were merely hallucinating because of the high altitude and thin atmosphere. Since then there have been thousands of little green men reports from all over the world. They are now an integral part of the flying saucer lore.

[Ref. cbz1:] CHARLES BERLITZ:

Massacre in mid-air

Here is a terrifying story that has remained secret to this day.

The events took place at the end of the summer of 1939. According to what is known, a transport plane left the San Diego Naval Air Station at 3:00 a.m. It had thirteen men on board and it was just a routine flight to Honolulu. Three hours later, frantic distress signals were received from the plane then flying over the Pacific. Then the radio went silent.

Some time later, the plane returned to the base as best it could and made a forced landing. Base personnel rushed into the aircraft and, once on board, were horrified to discover twelve men dead. The only survivor was the co-pilot who, although seriously injured, was able to live long enough to bring the plane back. He in turn died a few moments later.

All the bodies had large gaping wounds. Even more mysterious, the pilot and co-pilot had emptied their Colts 45 against something. The empty cartridges were found on the cockpit floor. A strong smell of powder filled the aircraft.

The exterior of the plane was badly damaged, as if it had been hit by missiles. The staff who boarded the plane came back suffering from a curious skin disease.

Safety measures were quickly taken and the rescue team was ordered to leave the plane. Three army doctors were tasked with removing the bodies from the cabin and carrying out an investigation.

One managed to cover up the affair. Fifteen years later, the investigator, Robert Coe Gardner, heard about it from a witness. The mystery of what happened in the sky on that September day in 1939 has never been clarified.

[Ref. gvo1:] GODELIEVE VAN OVERMEIRE:

1939, end of Summer

USA, San Diego (California)

A military transport leaves the San Diego Air Force Base (California) for a routine flight to Honolulu. Three hours later, various distress calls from the plane were received, then there was silence. The plane was later found, having made a forced landing. When base personnel entered the aircraft, they found the crew dead, including the pilot (having survived long enough to land). Author KEEL continues: "Each body showed large gaping wounds and people who touched the exterior of this plane were affected by a mysterious skin infection. One of the most unusual aspects was that the charges of the 45 automatic weapons were missing, and that the cartridge cases were on the ground. A smell of rotten eggs was rampant in the plane. (vog note: hell! so many fired cartridge cases plus the smell of a few corpses..." Jerome Clark and John Keel, having been inspired by an old gazette from 1939 to set up this improbable story... Flying Saucer Review) (vog note: no plane crash or perdition at this date and in this place (nor even for the whole year 1939, in the database http://www.planecrashinfo.com/database.htm Copyright 1997-2004 Richard Kebabjian)

[Ref. jck2:] JEROME CLARK:

The erudite US ufologist Jerome Clark tells that in C.R.I.F.O.'s newsletter Orbit for November 4, 1955, Leonard Stringfield told of a conversation with "lecturer and private UFO researcher" Robert Coe Gardner, who claimed that in February 1953, General Benjamin Chidlaw, head of the Eastern Air Defense, told hom that they take UFO reports seriously "when you consider that we have lost many men and planes trying to intercept them."

Gardner then went on with a strange story for which he provided no source, or, at least Stringfield does not mention a source.

The story was that on a late summer day in 1939, a military transport left the Marine Naval Air Station in San Diego for a routine flight to Honolulu, and about 3 hours afterwards, several urgent distress signals came from the plane, followed by eerie silence.

The plane came later limping back to execute an emergency landing, and when Air Station personnel entered the plane, they found every man in the crew, including the copilot, who had lived long enough to fly the craft back to its base, dead of unknown causes.

Each of the bodies bore large gaping wounds; the outside of the plane was "similarly marked"; those who touched parts of the craft came down with a mysterious skin infection. The .45 automatics carried by the pilot and copilot as service pieces had been emptied and the shells lay on the floor. A smell of "rotten eggs" pervaded inside the plane.

It is said that the incident was immediately covered up, Air Station personnel were sent away from the site, leaving identification of the bodies to three medical officers.

Clark adds that there is no evidence that anything like this ever happened; thought it is possible that it appeared originally as a story in a pulp magazine, but if so, no one has been able to produce it.

He adds that Gardner was a minor figure on the early UFO scene and had a reputation as a spinner of yarns and a shader - at best - of truth. Longtime UFO personality James W. Moseley recalls a 1954 conversation with former Blue Book head Ed Ruppelt and Pentagon UFO spokesman Albert M. Chop, and Ruppelt mentioned Gardner's habit of telling lecture audiences that high-level government sources had slipped him previously unreleased UFO photographs, whereas it turned out that he had simply clipped these pictures from newspapers.

[Ref. mms1:] WEBSITE "MILITARY MATTERS":

Halloween Special – The Mysterious Slaughter of a Transport Crew in Mid-Air, 1939

November 1, 2021

This is the terrifying story of what befell the unfortunate crew of a transport aircraft – butchered by some terrible menace as they flew through the skies. The story was written up in the 1988 book World of Mysterious Phenomena and apparently based on some earlier writings.

To impart the true horror, I shall tell the story verbatim:

"Something terrifying happened in the air one day in the late summer of 1939-and to this day the incident is shrouded in secrecy.

"All that is known is that a military transport plane left the Marine naval Air Force Base in San Diego at 3:30 one afternoon. It and its thirteen-man crew were making a routine flight to Honolulu. Three hours later, as the plane was over the Pacific Ocean, a frantic distress signal was sounded. Then the radio signal died.

"A little later the plane limped back to base and made an emergency landing. Ground crew members rushed to the craft and when they boarded, they were horrified to see twelve dead men. The only survivor was the copilot, who, though badly injured, had stayed alive long enough to bring the plane back. A few minutes later he was dead, too.

"All of the bodies had large, gaping wounds. Even weirder, the pilot and copilot had emptied their .45 Colt automatic pistols at something. The empty shells were found lying on the floor of the cockpit. A foul, sulfuric odor pervaded the interior of the craft.

"The exterior of the airplane was badly damaged, looking as though it had been struck by missiles…The incident was successfully hushed up and did not come to light for fifteen years, when investigator Robert Coe Gardner learned of it from someone who was there. The mystery of what the crew encountered in midair that afternoon in 1939 has never been solved."

Yeah, the only true horror in this story is in the details. In fact, where I’m from, this is what is known as a load of bollocks.

For starters, what transport aircraft was flying with the…what was it…oh yeah, the Marine naval Air Force between San Diego and Honolulu in 1939? If anyone out there knows, please feel free to tell me. Because I don’t think any of the US services had an transport aircraft in service capable of covering that distance with thirteen personnel on board in 1939.

OK, maybe it’s a mistake and the aircraft wasn’t a transport, but a bomber or a patrol aircraft like a Catalina. That may be possible, but it would be a heck of a squeeze and distance to cover even for one of the early B-17s. And as there were only about two dozen of those around at the time, pretty sure it would be difficult to hush up if one of those got attacked by…whatever this is meant to be.

And of course, this thing – or things – tore its way into an aircraft, without actually causing it to crash, killed twelve men and critically injured another, again without causing the aircraft to crash, and took multiple .45 calibre rounds – assembly at close range – and then vanished without a trace.

As a final note on this "mysterious" case, I shall cite something said by every one of my history professors; "Who is imparting the information?"

"Investigator", and I use that in the loosest of terms, Robert Coe Gardner was something of a figure in the early UFO movement in the 1950s and retained some fame in the field throughout his life. But he was, quite frankly, a bit of a bullshit artist.

"From someone who was there" – well, I’m convinced!

Anyway, I think it safe to say flying beasties are not buzzing around, smashing into aircraft, and killing the combined service staff personnel that apparently fly them. But I do wonder if perhaps a real-life event did inspire this yarn.

On February 2, 1938 two Catalina flying boats of the US Navy were engaged in a tactical night exercise off the coast of California. Unfortunately, tragedy struck and the aircraft collided in the dark. One crashed into the sea with all hands, but the other, piloted by Lt. Carlton Hutchins, managed to stay airborne long enough for three of the crew to parachute to safety.

Hutchins subsequently died in the crash and was awarded the Congressional Medal of Honor for "extraordinary heroism" in staying at the controls to save the lives of his crewmen at the cost of his own.

So why would our fantastical story be linked to this tragedy?

Well, in total the aircraft had an overall crew number of thirteen, though three did survive thanks to the sacrifice of Lt. Hutchins. Plus we have an aircraft critically damaged that is kept flying by a brave pilot.

I’ll admit, the connections between this event and the spook story are tenuous. But it’s far more likely that someone spun a yarn about an actual event they had heard some details of, rather than flying monsters attacking aircraft.

Or maybe I’m just a cynic?

[Ref. cfn1:] WEBSITE "THE CURIOUS FORTEAN":

EARTH MYSTERIES, TECHNOLOGY, UFO

A Massacre in Flight: A Fresh Look

One "paranormal" event which I remember hearing about when I was younger and which I’ve been fascinated with for years was a number of "mysterious" deaths which took place aboard a World War II-era airplane. The original story is given by Charles Berlitz in 1988’s World of Mysterious Phenomena as "A Massacre in Flight:"

Something terrifying happened in the air one day in the late summer of 1939, and to this day the incident is shrouded in secrecy.

All that is known is that a military transport plane left the Marine Naval Air Station in San Diego at 3:30 one afternoon. It and it’s thirteen man crew were making a routine flight to Honolulu. Three hours later, as the plane was over the Pacific Ocean, a frantic distress signal was sounded. Then the radio signal died.

A little later the plane limped back to base and made an emergency landing. Ground crew members rushed to the craft and when they boarded, they were horrified to see twelve dead men. The only survivor was the copilot, who though badly injured had stayed alive long enough to bring the plane back. A few minutes later he was dead, too.

All of the bodies had large, gaping wounds. Even weirder, the pilot and copilot had emptied their .45 Colt Automatic pistols at something. The empty shells were found lying on the floor of the cockpit. A foul, sulfuric odor pervaded the interior of the craft.

The exterior of the airplane was badly damaged, looking as if it had been struck by missiles. The personnel who boarded the craft came down with an odd skin infection. Strict security measures were quickly put into effect and the emergency ground crew was ordered to leave the plane. The job of removing the bodies and investigating the incident was left to three medical officers. The incident was successfully hushed up and did not come to light for fifteen years, when investigator Robert Coe Gardner learned of it from someone who was there. The mystery of what the crew encountered in midair that afternoon in 1939 has never been solved.

Now, much has been written elsewhere indicating that Berlitz, like many other authors of "strange-but-true" paperbacks, was far from a reliable source. So I had long taken it as more or less a given that this story didn’t quite happen as written, if at all.

What really did happen that day in 1939? As it turns out, there were a number of incidents in the late 1930s which could have given rise to this story. There was a mass flight of a 17-airplane convoy (which made the flight in record time) on July 7, 1938 from San Diego to Honolulu – the same route as the ill-fated plane was supposed to have taken – this could also line up with the "late summer" of the story [1].

Aviation milestones are all well and good, but if there is any kernel of truth in the tale it is likely one of the many aircraft crashes which took place in and around San Diego. On August 11, 1939, T.R. Wood and V.P. Armstrong were killed when their bomber was accidentally shot down over Miramar Field, just north of San Diego. Datewise, this would seem a very hopeful possibility; the plane, however, was a Curtiss SBC-3 Helldiver, a two-man biplane with little resemblance to the one described in the story [2].

[Photo caption:] The Curtiss SBC-3 Helldiver, like the one that crashed on August 11, 1939.

A more likely possibility took place on the evening of February 2, 1938, when

The death toll of a mid-air collision of two giant bombers — worst plane disaster in American naval history — rose to 11 today as search by sea and air was made for the missing bodies of 10 airmen.

Rescued from the water after the bomber 11-P-4 fell in a splintering impact last night, J. H. HESTER, radioman, first class, of San Diego, died aboard the hospital ship Relief at San Clemente Island early this morning.

Three of his companions also were on the Relief, seriously injured, but expected to recover.

Three more of the 11-P-4’s crew and the seven men in its sister bomber, the 11-P-3, were hunted by the United States fleet, as Navy sources here admitted unofficially there was no hope they had survived.

The bombers, scouting for a theoretical enemy, collided during a sudden rain squall, within view of maneuvering surface ships.

The 11-P-3 fell in flames. The 11-P-4 smashed into a hundred pieces on the choppy sea.

Searchlights suddenly illuminated the scene and warship launches put out to rescue the men, while the entire war game of the fleet came to a halt.

(...)

The disaster overtook the bombers, attached to Squadron VP-11 of the North Island naval air base at San Diego, 26 days after a sister plane of the VP-7 squadron vanished off the California coast.

The full strength of the fleet was deployed for swift tactical tests 70 miles at sea, directly south of San Clemente Island, when the collision occurred.

As the concerted rescue attempt began, Admiral Claude C. Bloch lifted a rigid wartime "radio silence" to relay news of the tragedy to the Navy Department at Washington and to the press.

Cause of the crash, beyond bad weather, was not announced immediately, but naval officers ashore said the bombers, flying near each other, may have been crushed together by a sudden downdraft.

They were cruising at about 140 miles an hour, close above four battleships and 20 destroyers.

Only yesterday morning they had taken off from San Diego to join the fleet, which sailed out of Los Angeles’ Harbor Tuesday after a record concentration of ships there. Each was a twin-engined seaplane type [3].

One of the crew members of the 11-P-3, a Lt. Hutchins, was posthumously awarded the Congressional Medal of Honor for remaining at the controls long enough to bring his plane to a safe landing and allow the rest of the crew to escape safely [4]. This implies that some, if not all, of the seven men of the 11-P-3 survived.

Here we have a few of the elements of the tale: a fairly sizable body count (though apparently not quite so large as initially feared, a "theoretical enemy," a pilot who survives long enough to land his plane, and the indications of bad weather may be significant.

[Photo caption:] A Consolidated PBY-5A Catalina. The 11-P-3 and 11-P-4 were an earlier model of this aircraft.

What if the story originated not with Berlitz, but with Robert Gardner whom Berlitz herd the tale from? Gardner first claimed knowledge of the story in 1954, and as it turns out, there were some significant events in 1954 that could be the story’s genesis, as well.

In the summer of 1954, a Vought F7U-3 Cutlass, nicknamed the "Gutless Cutlass" by pilots for its accident-prone nature (for instance, it was recalled how pieces of the airplanes often simply fell off mid-flight) – its pilot having bailed out and parachuted into the ocean – careened about madly before crashing into the water offshore from the famously haunted Hotel del Coronado, narrowly missing the 100+ people who were on the beach that day [5].

[Photo caption:] F7U-3 Cutlasses – the "Gutless Cutlass" – in flight.

Also in 1954, another accident-prone aircraft – the R3Y Tradewind built by San Diego-based Convair, was introduced. A hefty cargo plane, the Tradewind had one fatal flaw – its propellers had a tendency to come off midflight.

Flying from Honolulu to San Francisco one night in January, 1958, Lt. Homer Ragsdale was piloting the Indian Ocean when one of the propellers came off, tearing a jagged hole "about the size of Volkswagen" in the fuselage. One can only assume that were crew members in the way of the blades, they would have received just the sort of gouge-like wounds described. The plane limped onward to San Francisco, beginning to make an emergency landing, when the catastrophic failure continued and Lt. Ragsdale discovered that the engine controls were nonresponsive. The crew managed to escape, but the plane ricocheted into a waterfront retaining wall [6].

[Photo caption:] The Convair R3Y Tradewind, another of the Navy’s poorer design decisions.

What really did occur that day? Did either Gardner or Berlitz hear one of these stories and decide to embellish it somewhat for publication (most likely of the above, I feel, re the story of the two Catalinas or possibly a half-remembered account of a Tradewind propeller mishap)? Were they truthful? This option, from what we now know, seems nearly unbelievable in itself. Charles Berlitz was notorious for his misinterpretation or outright invention; Robert Coe Gardner seemed to be little better. Jim Moseley wrote that Gardner had a habit of claiming to have received top-secret, unreleased UFO pictures from government sources, which usually turned out to be clippings from the newspaper [7]. Is the story a complete invention? This may be most likely of all, but I prefer to think most stories have some grain of truth to them, some actual event that happened, embellished as it might be.

Aircraft information:

No information is given on the plane allegedly involved in the story.

Of course, the distance between San Diego, California, and Honolulu, Hawaii, being about 4200 km, the PBY Catalina was not fit, as its range 4 030 km. The B-17, with a ferry range of 6,040 km, would have made it, and B-17's were in operations in the US in 1939. I know B-17 flew from California to Pearl Harbor in Dcember 1941, I found no trace of such flights in June 1939.

The B-18, PBM-5 Mariner, ranges were too short. The XB15, XB-38, XPBB Sea Ranger, were only prototypes, the first operational B-24's came in December 1939, the B-32 was not operational then, nor were the XP4Y Corregidor, the XB-19, etc. Other US planes such as the B-23 or B-25 were not quite fit for ferrying 13 people.

The first flight from California to Honolulu was on June 29, 1927 (Albert Hegenberger and Lester Maitland); it was the longest open-sea flight at that date. In 1936 already, Pan Am carried passengers from San Francisco to Hawaii on its single Martin M-130 "Hawaii Clipper". But those were civilian flights and the story was clearly about a military flight with military crew.

Discussion:

Map.

Of course, everthing suggests that the story was made up by Gardner. Of course, it is quite impossible to prove it did not occur, but there is zero proof that it did, and various evidence that Gardner made things up.

Gardner claimed that at the end of February 1953, General Benjamin Chidlaw was in charge of the US continental air defenses at Ent Air Force Base in Colorado.

This at least is true. On October 29, 1951, Chidlaw received command of Air Defense Command at Ent Air Force Base, Colorado. He also became commander in chief of the joint service Continental Air Defense Command there on September 1, 1954. He retired from the USAF in that capacity on May 31, 1955, with many decorations from his own country as well as France, Great Britain, Poland and Brazil.

What was later called "Marine Corps Air Station Miramar", located in Miramar, San Diego, California, about 23 km north of Downtown San Diego, was in 1939, "Camp Elliott". Runways were constructed there only in 1940, and the 1st Marine Air Wing arrived on December 21, 1940. There were no known airplanes there before 1940; however, Consolidated PBY seaplanes beeing built nearby, it cannot be excluded that some seaplanes could have been operated there is 1939.

Evaluation:

Probable invented story.

Sources references:

* = Source is available to me.
? = Source I am told about but could not get so far. Help needed.

File history:

Authoring:

Main author: Patrick Gross
Contributors: None
Reviewers: None
Editor: Patrick Gross

Changes history:

Version: Create/changed by: Date: Description:
0.1 Patrick Gross December 29, 2023 Creation, [lsd1], [jck1], [jkl1], [cbz1], [gvo1], [jck2], [mms1], [cfn1].
1.0 Patrick Gross December 29, 2023 First published.

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This page was last updated on December 29, 2023.