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DC-2 Crash 10 Aug 1937

Eastern Air Lines Crash Wreckage, August 10, 1937. Used by permission of Richard Kebabjian http://www.planecrashinfo.com/.

Fifteen-year-old Morning-Journal paperboy Ron Edwards was riding his bike on dark streets at 4:40 a.m. that Tuesday morning, the 10th of August, 1937, when he “heard a plane go silent.” He didn’t recall hearing an explosion. It was stark silence that sent him pedaling like a banshee out of Daytona Highlands to race to the crash site (Edwards).

Strewn across the high spot of Mr. Ararat Cemetery was the fuselage wreckage of a DC-2 Eastern Air Lines transport–the remains of what is still Daytona Beach’s deadliest airline crash.

Felix Rawlins and three other men busy in the milking stable of Ralph Taylor’s dairy just to the north of the “Old DeLand Road” [today’s Bellevue Avenue] were watching through the windows on that morning as the roaring aircraft accelerated down the runway of tiny Sholtz Field [today’s Daytona Beach International Airport]. Then, two seconds after liftoff, “both motors caught fire at once. The plane tilted in the air and the left wing came off and the crippled ship coasted down about 200 yards towards the trees beyond the [air] field. It plowed into the ground and nosed over. One motor came loose and the fire in it went out” (Taylor; “Says Both Motors”).

Running across the field, the dairymen, including the owner Ralph Taylor, met a ten-year-old boy who had unbuckled his seat belt, crawled out of the wreckage, and was running to escape the flames and gasoline (Taylor; “Says Both Motors”).

Eastern Airlines Crash, New-Journal-1

(Daytona Beach News-Journal photo, Aug. 11, 1937)

The Wreckage–Deaths, Survivors, and Daytona’s Heroes

At the wreck, one of the plane’s two engines was still burning in the dark, so Rawlins and the others smothered it with sand and turned to help the survivors. Two men had managed to exit the wreck, and they were sitting on the ground “just outside the plane,” and two other men were shouting for help. Inside the airplane it was silent (“Says Both Motors”).

One man was “screaming and carrying on”–Colonel Jesus Triana-Marin, an officer from Mexico City. Taylor and another dairyman dragged him to safety, leaning him against a pine tree before turning to assist the other survivors. When they returned to the colonel a short time later, they were surprised to find the man seemingly dead, though newspaper accounts later reported that he died in the hospital around 10:30, six hours after the crash (Taylor; “Not E.A.L”).

Pilot Stuart Dietz was killed on impact, but co-pilot Robert R. Reed and three others were hurriedly loaded by Taylor and his men into their milk delivery trucks to drive them to the hospital. [Mt. Ararat is the African American cemetery situated at the highest point on the south side of Bellevue Avenue just to the east of Clyde Morris Boulevard.] In 1937, though, there was no direct road from Mt. Ararat to the hospital, so they had to drive east on Bellevue Avenue for almost half a mile to Canal Road [today’s Nova Road] and then north one mile to Volusia Avenue [today’s International Speedway Boulevard] and then the mile west to Halifax Hospital (“Pilot”; Taylor).

Mr. and Mrs. L. F. Hulin were awakened by the crash because their small farm was “just west of the southern end of the airport runway.” The wrecked plane crashed about 1,000 feet from their home, and Mrs. Hulin said, “There must have been 10,000 people out here today to see the wreck” (“Plane”).

Weather and the Crash

The day before the crash the official temperature at Sholtz Field reached 90, but the .55 inches of rain at the airport were likely afternoon showers, and on the morning of the crash it dropped to only 67 degrees. The Taylor family recalled that it was foggy on the morning of the crash, and during the afternoon when people were working to investigate the crash site, there were showers (Taylor; “Weather” Aug. 10 and 11).

World War One Flying Ace and Eastern Air Lines

Eastern Air Lines was managed by the legendary World War One ace, Captain Eddie Rickenbacker, who refused to use the word “safe” in advertising even though Eastern had had no passenger fatalities from 1930 to 1936, totaling 180 million “revenue passenger miles” and had received an award in 1937 for eight years of “safe operation.” With its safety record, Eastern had tripled its riders from 1933 to 1937, but this crash in Daytona Beach could be so devastating to Eastern Air Lines that Rickenbacker was called by ship-to-shore on the yacht of Alfred P. Sloan (Chairman of the Board of General Motors) in Newport, Rhode Island, and he immediately flew to New York City and then to Florida, arriving the same night as the crash (“Daytona”; Russell 58; Lewis 351; “Pilot”; American 108).

Eastern Airlines Crash, New-Journal-2

(Daytona Beach News-Journal photo, Aug. 11, 1937)

Crash Deaths and Injuries

In the meantime, at Halifax Hospital the co-pilot had died, as well as J. F. Phillpotts of Kingston, Jamaica. His young son, Peter, who had escaped the flames at the crash site was improving at the hospital and would then spend several days with Ralph Taylor’s family in the garage apartment over the dairy stable until his mother arrived. [For many years the Taylors received letters and Christmas cards postmarked with Jamaica stamps, and Ralph Taylor, Jr., (Rusty) recalls that the boy may have entered the British R.A.F. near the end of World War II, after which they heard no more news from him] (“Pilot”; Taylor).

More than forty hours after the crash, passenger Fred M. Thompson remained unconscious and in critical condition at the hospital, and Brian Merrill, the plane’s steward, was struggling with internal injuries. The three other survivors, including young Peter, were in better condition (“Pilot”).

Blaming and Finger-Pointing

Losing no time, Rickenbacker announced the next day that the pilot had not caused the crash. This was following a day-long investigation by the Eastern Air Lines accident board at the mammoth Williams Hotel [downtown at the corner of Palmetto Avenue and Magnolia Avenue]. Rickebacker’s issued statement explained that just hours before the flight, Florida Power and Light workers had set up a new overhead power line and pole directly at the south end of the north-south runway “without notice of any kind, official or otherwise, to airport officials or employees, air line officials, employees, or department of commerce officials.” The DC-2 struck the “high tension line” and what Rickebacker described as “the supporting pole of approximately 30 feet in height placed in line with the center of the north-south runway.” Making matters worse, it “was a creosoted pole, black and blending into the darkness without obstruction or warning light of any kind” (“Pilot”).

The News-Journal reported, “The pole hit by the liner was lifted clear out of the newly-dug hole and tossed into the palmetto scrub. There was not a speck of earth on its butt and observers said they believed the earth had not yet been filled in and tramped (sic) down around it. Out in the field lay the wing tip that had been torn from the ship, and hanging to it was one heavy strand of copper wire. The cross-beam of the pole was imbedded in the tip of the wing” (“One Man”).

Denials and Crash Investigations

Another vice president of Eastern denied the published report that the airlines had asked the hospital to withhold information, but reporters were being directed back and forth from the hospital to the airport manager and back to the hospital, and obtained the names of the dead and injured only after repeated requests. Not even the Volusia County commissioners were above finger-pointing, and they were asked for information about the width of the county’s right-of-way on the DeLand-Daytona Beach highway at the airport and also about the commission’s resolution that authorized the erection of the “high tension line from the airport to an airways beacon farther west” (“Not E. A. L.”; “County”).

Federal investigators also met in downtown Daytona Beach at the Casino Burgoyne on the east side of Beach Street [The site today of an open park across from Stavro’s Pizza and Abraxas Books]. The findings of their meeting corroborated Rickenbacker’s account of the tragic end of Flight 7 which had arrived from Chicago at 4:00 a.m., unloaded passengers, luggage, and mail before attempting to lift off at 4:40 en route to Miami. Newspapers across the country published editorials calling for the clearing of obstructions around airports (“Public Hearing This Morning”; “Pilot”; Russell 58; “Says Country”).

The power company later indicated that between 7:30 and 9:30 on the evening before the crash one of their employees had used the public telephone in the airport’s administration building to phone in a report to his superior that an underground circuit at the airport had failed, and he advised that an overhead line be installed. Then during the installation that night another employee used the same phone, apparently assuming that the men on duty in the airport office were aware of the work being done because of the equipment and the lights being used. Ultimately, the Bureau of Aircraft Accidents determined “the probable cause of this accident was the absence of reasonable notice to those operating and navigating the aircraft” (Bureau).

Daytonans were worried about the future of their airport, but when a News-Journal reporter asked if the city would lose Eastern Air Lines’ airmail, passenger, and express service, “Captain Rickenbacker boomed his reply: ‘There’s not a chance of it!'” (“Daytona”).

Sholtz Field (Airport) and the Relocation of Taylor’s Dairy

Sholtz Field was named for Florida Governor David Sholtz, who had attended Stetson Law School and practiced law in Daytona Beach before being elected governor (1933-1937). The airfield was expanded hugely during World War Two when the U.S. Navy purchased much of Ralph Taylor’s 180-acre dairy farm, and because all new barbed wire was used in the war effort, the family had to remove and re-use their barbed wire fencing before relocating all of their equipment and making the cattle drive to the land along the Tomoka River just northwest of where U.S. 92 now passes McDonald’s Restaurant. A great portion of the Daytona Beach International Airport now stands where the dairy was at the time of the Eastern Air Lines crash (“David Sholtz”; Taylor).

DC-2s in Movies and Books

Most of us today are unaware that in the early years of airliners, the planes were referred to as “ships,” but with this in mind we can understand how it is that the Douglas DC-2 was the type of airliner (ship) that Shirley Temple was singing about in her song the “Good Ship Lollipop,” singing and dancing as the DC-2 taxied on the runway in her movie Bright Eyes (1934). Many of us will also remember the DC-2 in the flying scenes of the film Lost Horizon (1937), and the heydays of commercial piloting of the DC-2s are dramatically recounted in Ernest K. Gann’s 1961 best-selling memoir Fate Is the Hunter (though the 1964 movie was not based on his book at all) (“Douglas”; “On the Good Ship”; “Fate”).

How Pilots Taxied, Took Off, and Landed the DC-2

The Douglas DC-2, a 14-seat, twin-engine commercial airliner with an 85-foot wingspan, was first built in 1934, and it quickly became the first airplane to convince the general public that air flight was safe, reliable, and comfortable (“Douglas”).

I highly recommend that you watch the 9-minute fascinating video of the DC-2 with detailed explanations (and video) of exactly what the pilot had to do for taxiing, cross-wind operations, braking operations, take off, and landing. (I hope you’ll watch it.) To view it, click this link: http://www.mashpedia.com/Douglas_DC-2?pagetype=topic&tab=1&startvid=2&pagecode=&xn=1&autoplay=1 .

To write this, I used these sources:

“Alfred P. Sloan.” March 2, 2014. http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Alfred_P._Sloan (accessed April 5, 2014).

American Aviation Heritage: Identifying and Evaluating Nationally Significant Properties in U.S. Aviation History. Washington, D.C.: National Park Service, 2011. http://www.nps.gov/nhl/learn/themes/Aviation.pdf (accessed April 3, 2014).

Bureau of Aircraft Accidents Archives. March 2014. Bureau of Aircraft Accidents Archives. March 2014. http://www.baaa-acro.com/1937/archives/crash-of-a-douglas-dc-2-in-daytona-beach-4-killed/ (accessed April 3, 2014).

“County Board Answers Questions.” Daytona Beach Morning Journal (Aug. 12, 1937) 2A. Google archived newspapers http://news.google.com/newspapers?nid=OWslULmvb_UC&dat=19370812&printsec=frontpage&hl=en (accessed April 2, 2014).

“David Sholtz.” September 10, 2013. http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/David_Sholtz (accessed April 5, 2014).

“Daytona Beach Won’t Be Eliminated” Daytona Beach Morning Journal (Aug. 12, 1937) 1A. Google archived newspapers http://news.google.com/newspapers?nid=OWslULmvb_UC&dat=19370812&printsec=frontpage&hl=en (accessed April 2, 2014).

“Douglas DC-2.” n. d. http://readtiger.com/wkp/en/Douglas_DC-2 (accessed Apr. 3, 2014).

Edwards, Ron and Art Wilson. “Daytona Beach During World War II.” Lecture. Halifax Historical Museum. November 2006.

“Fate Is the Hunter.” March 24, 2014. http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Fate_Is_the_Hunter (accessed April 5, 2014).

Lewis, W. David. Eddie Rickenbacker: An American Hero in the Twentieth Century. John Hopkins University Press. on Google Books http://books.google.com/books?id=CxFpevcHh2EC&pg=PA351&lpg=PA351&dq=Eastern+Transport+crash+Daytona+Beach&source=bl&ots=_sH8CVWEG7&sig=L6leCyYzdA4KiC8-v8qFxOwWQbs&hl=en&sa=X&ei=yqE8U82CKpbJsQTO34HQAw&ved=0CDMQ6AEwBDi-AQ#v=onepage&q=Eastern%20Transport%20crash%20Daytona%20Beach&f=false (accessed April 2, 2014).

“Not E. A. L. Policy to Withhold News.” Daytona Beach Morning Journal (Aug. 12, 1937) 2A. Google archived newspapers http://news.google.com/newspapers?nid=OWslULmvb_UC&dat=19370812&printsec=frontpage&hl=en (accessed April 2, 2014).

“On the Good Ship Lollipop.” March 5, 2014. http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/On_the_Good_Ship_Lollipop (accessed April 5, 2014).

“One Man Still Unconscious in Hospital, Condition Serious.” Daytona Beach Morning Journal (Aug. 11, 1937) 1A. Google archived newspapers. http://news.google.com/newspapers?nid=OWslULmvb_UC&dat=19370811&printsec=frontpage&hl=en (accessed April 2, 2014).

“Pilot Blameless Says Rickenbacker.” Daytona Beach Morning Journal (Aug. 12, 1937) 1A. Google archived newspapers http://news.google.com/newspapers?nid=OWslULmvb_UC&dat=19370812&printsec=frontpage&hl=en (accessed April 2, 2014).

“Plane Crash.” Daytona Beach Morning Journal (Aug. 11, 1937) 2A. Google archived newspapers. http://news.google.com/newspapers?nid=OWslULmvb_UC&dat=19370811&printsec=frontpage&hl=en (accessed April 2, 2014).

“Public Hearing on Air Crash Planned.” Daytona Beach Morning Journal (Aug. 11, 1937) 1A. http://news.google.com/newspapers?nid=OWslULmvb_UC&dat=19370811&printsec=frontpage&hl=en (accessed April 2, 2014).

“Public Hearing This Morning.” Daytona Beach Morning Journal (Aug. 12, 1937) 1A. Google archived newspapers http://news.google.com/newspapers?nid=OWslULmvb_UC&dat=19370812&printsec=frontpage&hl=en (accessed April 2, 2014).

Russell, David Lee. Eastern Airlines: A History, 1926-1991. on Google Books http://books.google.com/books?id=Sc0MAQAAQBAJ&pg=PA48&lpg=PA48&dq=Eastern+Transport+crash+Daytona+Beach&source=bl&ots=gMuVcpfl0J&sig=e-Bfv0lFg5upofK3C8o485dG87k&hl=en&sa=X&ei=xpc8U_f4HZPisAT7p4HgCA&ved=0CE0Q6AEwBjiCAQ#v=onepage&q=Eastern%20Transport%20crash%20Daytona%20Beach&f=false (accessed April 2, 2014).

“Says Both Motors Caught Fired at Once.” Daytona Beach Morning Journal (Aug. 11, 1937) 1A. http://news.google.com/newspapers?nid=OWslULmvb_UC&dat=19370811&printsec=frontpage&hl=en (accessed April 2, 2014).

“Says Country Aroused by Crackup Here.” Daytona Beach Morning Journal (Aug. 12, 1937) 2A. Google archived newspapers http://news.google.com/newspapers?nid=OWslULmvb_UC&dat=19370812&printsec=frontpage&hl=en (accessed April 2, 2014).

Taylor, Rusty. Two telephone interviews, 4 April 2014.

“Weather.” Daytona Beach Morning Journal (Aug. 10, 1937) 1A. Google archived newspapers. http://news.google.com/newspapers?nid=OWslULmvb_UC&dat=19370810&printsec=frontpage&hl=en (accessed April 5, 2014).

“Weather.” Daytona Beach Morning Journal (Aug. 11, 1937) 1A. Google archived newspapers. http://news.google.com/newspapers?nid=OWslULmvb_UC&dat=19370811&printsec=frontpage&hl=en (accessed April 2, 2014).

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