2 August 1947: At 1:46 p.m., British South American Airways Flight CS59 departed Buenos Aires, Argentina enroute Santiago, Chile. The airliner was an Avro Lancastrian Mk.III, registration G-AGWH, named R.M.A. Star Dust. The flight was under the command of Captain Reginald J. Cook, D.S.O., D.F.C., D.F.M., with First Officer Norman Hilton Cook, Second Officer Donald S. Checklin, Radio Operator Dennis B. Harmer and “Stargirl” Iris Morcen Evans. On this flight, in addition to the five-person airline crew, there were just six passengers.
At 5:41 p.m., Santiago airport received a routine Morse code signal from G-AGWH indicating the flight would arrive in four minutes:
ETA SANTIAGO 17.45 HRS STENDEC
The radio operator at Santiago did not understand “STENDEC” and asked the airliner’s radio operator to repeat it, which he did, twice. The airliner never arrived. A five-day search was unsuccessful. The meaning of the last word in the message has never been determined.
The fate of Star Dust remained a mystery until 1998, when two mountain climbers on Mount Tupungato—at 21,555 feet (6,570 meters), one of the highest mountains in South America—50 miles east of Santiago, found a wrecked Rolls-Royce Merlin aircraft engine in the ice of a glacier at the 15,000 foot level (4,572 meters). A search of the glacier in 2000 located additional wreckage and it was confirmed that this was the missing Lancastrian. The crash site is at S. 33°22’15.0″, W. 69°45’40.0″.
Investigators determined that the airliner had flown into the glacier at high speed and the crash caused an avalanche which buried the wreckage.
In 2002 the remains of eight persons were recovered from the glacier, five of which were identified through DNA.
The Avro 691 Lancastrian Mk.III was a four-engine civil transport based on the World War II very long range heavy bomber, the Avro Lancaster. The Mk.III variant was built specifically for the British South American Airways Corporation by A.V. Roe & Co. Ltd, at Woodford, Cheshire, England, and was an improved version of the British Overseas Airways Corporation Lancastrian Mk.I. Eighteen Mk.IIIs were built for BSAAC. G-AGWH, serial number 1280, was the second of this series. It first flew on 11 November 1945 and was registered to BSAAC 16 January 1946.
The airliner was operated by a flight crew of four and carried one flight attendant. It could carry up to thirteen passengers. The Lancastrian Mk.III was 76 feet, 10 inches (23.419 meters) long with a wingspan of 102 feet (31.090 meters) and overall height of 19 feet, 6 inches (5.944 meters). The empty weight was 30,220 pounds (13,707.6 kilograms) and gross weight was 65,000 pounds (29,483.5 kilograms).
The Lancastrian Mk.III was powered by four 1,648.9-cubic-inch-displacement (27.04 liter) liquid-cooled, supercharged, Rolls-Royce Merlin T24/2 ¹ single overhead camshaft (SOHC) 60° V-12 engines producing 1,650 horsepower and turning three bladed propellers.
These gave the airplane a cruise speed of 245 miles per hour (394.3 kilometers per hour) and a maximum speed of 315 miles per hour (506.9 kilometers per hour). The service ceiling was 25,500 feet (7,772 meters) and the range was 4,150 miles (6,679 kilometers).
¹ Two of G-AGWH’s Merlin T24/2 engines had been completely overhauled and converted to the Merlin 500-2 configuration. One engine was converted to a Merlin 502. The fourth engine remained as a T24/2. All engines had less than 1,200 hours total time since new (TTSN) and the converted engines were approximately 500 hours since overhaul (TSOH).
1 August 1977: Francis Gary Powers, a pilot and news reporter for KNBC Television (Channel 4) in Los Angeles, California, was flying the company’s “Telecopter,” a camera and transmitter-equipped Bell Model 206B Jet Ranger, N4TV. He and a cameraman, George R. Spears, had been reporting on the aftermath of the disastrous Sycamore Canyon Fire in Santa Barbara County and were returning to their base, the KNBC Heliport at the television studios near the Ventura Freeway in Burbank.
At approximately 12:35 p.m., PDT, (19:35 UTC), the JetRanger was eastbound, about 1 mile southwest of Van Nuys Airport (VNY). Powers called Van Nuys Tower and requested to land there as the helicopter was low on fuel. The last transmission was: “TV Four just lost—”
Francis Gary Powers was a highly-experienced airplane pilot. At the time of the crash, Powers had 7,193 total flight hours, with 381 hours in the Bell 206. He had attended the Bell 206B Pilot Transition Training Course at the Bell Helicopter Training School, Fort Worth, Texas.
When TDiA attended the Bell Helicopter Training Academy in 1981, the crash of Power’s JetRanger was discussed by the school’s instructors in great detail, and describing Mr. Powers’ last day from the moment he left home. The high-profile accident involving Bell’s leading civil product had been thoroughly investigated by the National Transportation Safety Board (NTSB) and by Bell’s own experts. ¹
Powers, returning from covering the fire in Santa Barbara for Channel 4 News, flew past the Santa Barbara Municipal Airport (SBA), Oxnard Airport (OXR), and Camarillo Airport (CMA), all of which were almost directly along his course, and all of which could have provided fuel for the Bell 206.
Powers passed those airports, but just a few miles short of his destination, 1 mile (1.6 kilometers) to the southwest of Van Nuys Airport (VNY), the busiest general aviation airport in the United States, the helicopter’s turboshaft engine stopped because of fuel starvation. The JetRanger crashed in an open field. Both Powers and his cameraman, George Robert Spears, were killed.
Examination of news photographs of the wreck show that the JetRanger was completely destroyed on impact. It appears to have struck the ground in a nose-down attitude. Surprisingly, damage to the main rotor assembly is slight, with no twisting, tearing, or failure of the doublers at the blade root, as are commonly seen.
An engine failure over a large, level open space, should have resulted in no damage to the aircraft or injuries to its occupants. The autorotation characteristics of the Bell 206-series helicopters are excellent, among the best of any helicopter. The extent of the damage to the airframe, though, when compared to the relatively slight damage to the main rotor assembly, convinces TDiA that the helicopter was not in autorotation, but in free fall. The main rotor blades were not turning within the autorotation r.p.m. range of 355–440 r.p.m.
There are reports that Powers turned the helicopter away from a group of children playing in the open field, but this would not have been possible with the main rotor turning at the very low rotational speeds demonstrated by the lack of twist damage.
This crash was caused by pilot error.
Francis Gary Powers was born 17 August 1929 in Letcher County, Kentucky. He was the son of Oliver Windfield Powers, a mortarman in the coal industry, and Ida Melinda Ford Powers.
Powers attended Milligan College at Elizabethton, Tennessee, from 1947 to 1950. He studied biology. He was a member of the school’s pre-med club, and was junior class manager of the intramural council. He was also on the varsity track team.
Francis Gary Powers entered United States Air Force in 1950, trained as a pilot and was commissioned in 1952. He flew the Republic F-84G Thunderjet fighter bomber with the 468th Strategic Fighter Squadron, 506th Strategic Fighter Wing, at Turner Air Force Base, Albany, Georgia. He received special training in delivery of the Mark 7 tactical nuclear weapon at Kirkland Air Force Base, Albuquerque, New Mexico.
In 1956, 1st Lieutenant Powers was released from the U.S. Air Force to participate in the Central Intelligence Agency’s Project Aquatone. He was now a civilian government employee, although he was promised that he could return to the Air Force and that he would keep his seniority and would be promoted on schedule.
Francis Gary Powers gained world-wide notoriety when the Lockheed U-2A he was flying, “Article 360,” (USAF serial number 56-6693) was shot down over Russia, 1 May 1960. Powers was captured and held prisoner at the notorious Lubyanka Prison where he underwent 62 days of interrogation at the hands of the Komitet gosudarstvennoy bezopasnosti (the Committee for State Security, or simply, the KGB). Powers was placed on trial in Moscow and was convicted of espionage. He was sentenced to prison for ten years.
After almost two years, he was exchanged for William August Fisher, (AKA Rudolf Ivanovich Abel, Vilyam Genrikhovich Fisher) a long-time Soviet intelligence officer that had been caught in the United States in 1957. [This story was recounted in the recent motion picture, “Bridge of Spies,” which starred Tom Hanks. The film received six Academy Award nominations in 2015.]
After his release from the Soviet Union, Powers was employed as a test pilot for Lockheed, 1962–1970. He then became an airborne traffic and news reporter for several Los Angeles-area radio and television broadcast stations.
Gary Powers and his first wife, Barbara Gay Powers, divorced in 1963. He then married Claudia Edwards Downey at Fauquier, Virginia, 26 October 1963. This was also her second marriage. They would have a son, Francis Gary Powers II. (Mrs. Barbara Powers remarried in 1964.)
On 24 November 1986, the Distinguished Flying Cross was awarded posthumously to Powers “For Extraordinary Achievement While Participating in Aerial Flight 1 May 1960.” After reviewing his record at the request of his son, Francis Gary Powers, Jr., on 15 February 2000, the U.S. Air Force retroactively promoted him to the rank of Captain, effective 19 June 1957, and further credited his military service to include 14 May 1956–1 March 1963, the time he was with the CIA. The award of the Prisoner of War Medal was also authorized.
On June 15, 2012, General Norton Schwartz, Chief of Staff of the Air Force, awarded Captain Francis Gary Powers the Silver Star (posthumous).
George Robert Spears was born at Chicago, Illinois, 17 July 1934, the fourth of five children of William E. and Nora Neelom Spears. He married Annette A. Montalbano in Chicago, 26 May 1956. They had three children and lived at Northridge, California. He had worked for KNBC since June 1976.
N4TV was built as a Bell Model 206A JetRanger, serial number 433, at Hurst, Texas, in 1969. It was first owned by the Los Angeles, California, independent television station KTLA (Channel 5), and registered N555TV. The helicopter was later upgraded to the Model 206B standard with the installation of a more powerful Allison 250-C20 engine. When purchased by KNBC, a National Broadcasting Company affiliate, 433 was reregistered N4TV.
The Bell Model 206B JetRanger is a 5-place, single-engine, light civil helicopter based on Bell Helicopter Company’s unsuccessful OH-4 entrant for the U.S. Army’s Light Observation Helicopter (LOH). It is flown by a single pilot in the right front seat. Dual flight controls can be installed for a second pilot. The helicopter is 39 feet, 8 inches (12.090 meters) long, with rotors turning. On standard skid landing gear, the overall height is 9 feet, 4 inches (2.845 meters). The main rotor has a diameter of 33 feet, 4 inches (10.262 meters) and turns counterclockwise (as seen from above) at 394 r.p.m. (100% NR). The empty weight is approximately 1,700 pounds (771 kilograms), depending on installed equipment, and its maximum gross weight is 3,200 pounds (1,451.5 kilograms).
The 206A was powered by an Allison 250-C18 turboshaft engine rated at 370 shaft horsepower at 6,016 r.p.m., and derated to 317 s.h.p., the transmission’s limit. The later 206B and 206B-2 had a 400 horsepower 250-C20 engine, and 206B-3s had 250-C20B, -C20J or -C20R engines installed, which produced 420 shaft horsepower. The helicopter’s transmission, however, is limited to 317 horsepower input.)
The JetRanger has a maximum speed of 150 miles per hour (241 kilometers per hour). Its best rate of climb is at 60 miles per hour (97 kilometers per hour) and best glide distance is at 80 miles per hour (129 kilometers per hour). The service ceiling is 13,500 feet (4,115 meters) and maximum range is 430 miles (692 kilometers).
Note: The Model 206A-1 was adopted by the U.S. Army as the OH-58A Kiowa. Though very similar in appearance to the Model 206A and 206B, the OH-58A differs significantly. Few of the parts are interchangeable between the types.
Between 1967 and 2010, Bell Helicopter built 4,491 JetRangers and 2,275 OH-58 Kiowas. Nealy 1,000 more were built under license by other manufacturers.
¹ TDiA requested the official NTSB accident investigation report nearly three years ago, and though the request received immediate acknowledgement, the report has not yet been provided.)
UPDATE: 2 years, 11 months and 23 days after TDiA’s Freedom of Information Act (FOIA) request, the government responded, saying that all accident records for 1977 were destroyed. They were only kept for seven years during that time.
30 July 1935: The Northrop 3A was a prototype pursuit built to compete for the U.S. Army Air Corps’ fighter contract. It flew against the Curtiss-Wright Model 75 Hawk, NX17Y, and the Seversky SEV-1XP, NX18Y. During flight testing, the Northrop entry was found to have undesirable spin characteristics and was returned to the builder for further work.
On the afternoon of 30 July 1935, 1st Lieutenant Arthur Henry Skaer, Jr., Air Corps Reserve, who was employed by Northrop as a test pilot, took off from Mines Field (now Los Angeles International Airport, LAX) to conduct spin tests.
Skaer never returned. An extensive search was conducted of the nearby Palos Verdes Peninsula and the southern California coastal waters. An Air Corps search plane spotted what appeared to be fresh oil on the surface, but no other sign of Lieutenant Skaer or the Northrop 3A were ever found.
The United Press reported:
Mystery Airplane Of Army Missing; Hunt Under Way
Fear felt for Safety of Reserve Flier in Coast Hills
(By United Press)
LOS ANGELES, July 30—Fear for the safety of Lieutenant Arthur Skaer, lost in a test flight in a new “mystery” pursuit plane—reportedly the fastest army plane in the world—deepened tonight when planes searching the desolate Palos Verdes hills, where he was last seen.
Skaer, army reserve test flier, took off shortly afternoon from Mines field, and the plane has not been reported since.
Others to Search
At dawn, planes from the sheriff’s air detail, national guard planes from the Long Beach, Cal., airport, and possibly planes from the army air base at March field, Riverside, Cal., will join the search, combing a 200-mile coastal strip from San Diego northward.
The plane, latest weapon in army air warfare, reportedly was able to travel 300 miles an hour, and was a secret design, rigidly guarded by the U.S. army and officials of the Northrop factory, where it was built.
Last Report of Sighting
Reports that his plane had been last seen over the Palos Verdes area between San Pedro and Venice, Cal., resulted in a search by a squad of army reserve planes from the Long Beach air base under Lieutenant John K. Nissley.
The planes circled over the hills until after dark, but saw no sign of the Northrop. Meanwhile, Captain Claude Morgan of the sheriff’s air detail was preparing to join the search in the morning.
—The Salt Lake Tribune, Vol. 131, No. 108, Wednesday, 31 July 1935, Page 1, Column 3
—Los Angeles Times, Vol. LIV, Thursday, 1 August 1935, Page 1, Column 6 and 7
Arthur Henry Skaer, Jr., was born at Denver, Colorado, circa 1911. He was the son of Arthur Henry Skaer, Sr., purchasing agent for a manufacturing company, and Ada Jane Scott Skaer.
Skaer graduated from East High School in Denver in 1929. While there, he was a member of the student council, the track and wrestling teams, and the cooking club.
On 29 April 1935, Lieutenant Skaer married Miss Dorothy B. Firebaugh, a fellow student from East High School. They resided in Walnut Park, California.
29 July 1938: At 12:08 p.m., local time, the Pan American Airways System flying boat Hawaii Clipper lifted off from the waters of Apra Harbor on the west side of Guam, an island in the western Pacific Ocean. The Clipper was on a planned 12½-hour flight to Manila in the Philippine Islands. On board were a crew of nine, with six passengers.
Hawaii Clipper never arrived at its destination. What happened to it and the fifteen persons on board remains one of the enduring mysteries of aviation history.
The flight was designated Trip #229. It had originated at Alameda, on San Francisco Bay, California, and flew to Honolulu in the Hawaiian Islands, then on to Midway Island, Wake Island, and Guam.
The Pan Am crew consisted of Captain Leo Terletzky, First Officer Mark A. Walker, Second Officer George M. Davis, Third Officer Jose M. Sauceda, Fourth Officer John W. Jewett, Engineer Officer Howard l. Cox, Assistant Engineer Officer T.B. Tatum, and Radio Officer William McGarty. The passengers were attended by Flight Steward Ivan Parker.
Captain Terletzky held a Transport Pilot’s License issued by the Aeronautics Branch of the United States Department of Commerce. He had flown more than 9,200 hours, with 1,614 hours in the Martin M-130.
Captain Terletzky (there are alternate spellings, such as Terletsky, and he was also known as Leo Terlitz) was born 18 January 1894 at Odessa, Imperial Russia (now, Ukraine).
Following the Russian Revolution, he left his native country and traveled to Omsk, Siberia, and then to Yokohama, Japan, where he embarked on S.S. Empress of Japan, on 28 March 1919. The passenger liner arrived at Vancouver, British Columbia, Canada, 6 April. He then traveled on to Seattle, Washington, via the Canadian Pacific Railroad, arriving there on 9 April 1919.
Terletzky became a naturalized citizen of the United States of America, 15 December 1924.
On 1 July 1929, he married Miss Helen Sarepta Bowman ¹ at Miami Beach, Florida.
The airliner’s six passengers were: Lieutenant Commander Edward E. Wyman, United States Naval Reserve, of Bronxville, New York. Commander Wyman was a former assistant to Juan Trippe, the founder of Pan American Airways. He was now employed by the Curtiss-Wright Corporation. Pan American’s traffic manager, Kenneth A. Kennedy, was also on board.
Two scientists, Colonel Earl E. McKinley, M.D., United States Army Reserve, Dean of Medicine at George Washington University in Washington, D.C., a bacteriologist, and Fred C. Meier, Ph.D., were collecting airborne bacteriological samples to research transocean bacterial transfer.
Major Howard C. French, Air Corps, United States Army (Reserve), the commanding officer of the 321st Observer Squadron based at Vancouver, Washington, was also on board.
Finally, there was Wah Sun Choy (also known as “Watson Choy”), of New Jersey. Mr. Choy, an American citizen born in San Francisco, California, in 1901, was the owner of a tea room in Manhattan, New York City, New York, and two restaurants in Jersey City, New Jersey. One of them was named “China Clipper.”
Mr. Sun Choy was believed to be transporting $3,000,000 in U.S. Gold Certificates for the Kuomintang, the Nationalist Party of China, which was headed by Chiang Kai-shek.
Hawaii Clipper was a Martin M-130, NC14714. It was the first of three of the type built for Pan American Airways. With the experimental registration NX14714, it had made its first flight at Middle River, Maryland, 30 December 1934. When Hawaii Clipper departed Alameda, it had flown 4,751:55 hours, TTAF. When it made its last position report, it had flown another 55 hours, 58 minutes.
The Martin M-130 was a large, four-engine flying boat of all-metal construction, designed to carry as many as 36 passengers on transoceanic flights. The M-130 was 90 feet, 10.5 inches (27.699 meters) long with a wingspan of 130 feet, 0 inches (39.624 meters). It was 24 feet, 7 inches (7.493 meters) high. The flying boat had a maximum takeoff weight of 52,252 pounds (23,701 kilograms).
The M-130 was powered by four air-cooled, supercharged Pratt & Whitney Twin Wasp S2A5-G two-row 14-cylinder radial engines with a compression ratio of 6.5:1. The S2A5-G had a Normal Power rating of 830 horsepower at 2,400 r.p.m. to 3,600 feet (1,097 meters), and 950 horsepower at 2,550 r.p.m. for takeoff, using 87-octane gasoline. The engines drove three-bladed Hamilton Standard Hydromatic constant-speed propellers through a 3:2 gear reduction. The S2A5-G was 4 feet, 8.75 inches (1.442 meters) long, 3 feet, 11.88 inches (1.216 meters) in diameter, and weighed 1,235 pounds (560 kilograms).
The airplane had a maximum speed of 180 miles per hour (290 kilometers per hour), and a cruise speed of 130 miles per hour (209 kilometers per hour). The service ceiling was 10,000 feet (3,048 meters). Its range was 3,200 miles (5,150 kilometers).
Hawaii Clipper departed its mooring at Apra Harbor at 11:39 a.m., local time (3:39 a.m., Manila time) and lifted off 29 minutes later. In addition to its six passengers, the airliner was carrying 1,138 pounds (516 kilograms) of cargo. The duration of the flight was estimated as 12 hours, 30 minutes. The M-130 carried sufficient fuel for 17 hours, 30 minutes of flight. Its gross weight was 49,894 pounds (22,632 kilograms) at takeoff, well under its maximum takeoff weight.
At 04:11 Greenwich Civil Time (12:11 p.m., local time), Radio Officer McGarty sent Hawaii Clipper‘s coded 04:00 Ded Reckoning ² position report. The deciphered message read:
Flying in rough air at 9,100 feet. Temperature 13 °C., wind 19 knots from 247° Position N. 12°27, E 130°40, ground speed made good, 112 knots, desired track 282°. Rain. During past hour conditions varied. 10/10ths sky above covered by strato cumulus clouds, base 9,200 feet. Clouds below 10/10ths sky covered by cumulus clouds whose tops were 9,200 feet. 5/10ths of the hour on instruments. Last DF bearing from Manila 101°
This placed the Clipper approximately 582 nautical miles (670 kilometers) east-southeast of Manila. The transmission was acknowledged. When the land-based radio operator tried to make contact one minute later to provide updated weather information, he received no reply. There were no further radio transmissions from Hawaii Clipper.
When Hawaii Clipper did not arrive at Manila, a large ocean search was begun. On 30 July, the Unites States Army transport ship USAT Meigs discovered an oil slick approximately 28 nautical miles (52 kilometers) south-southeast of the flying boat’s last reported position. The slick was described as being approximately 1,500 feet (457 meters) in circumference.
No physical evidence of the Martin M-130 has ever been found. What happened to cause its disappearance is unknown. While it is assumed that the airplane went down at sea, that might not have been the case. A telephone company employee on Lahuy Island (a small island off the coast of Luzon, east-southeast of Manila) reported having heard a large airplane above the clouds at 3 p.m., Manila Time. In 1938, the number of large airplanes operating in the Philippine Islands must have been fairly limited.
As with the disappearance of Amelia Earhart and Fred Noonan the previous year, there was no shortage of “conspiracy theories.” An example is that agents of the Empire of Japan had stowed away aboard Hawaii Clipper, hijacked the airplane and it was flown to Ulithi, an atoll in the Caroline Islands, and then on to Truk. The story goes on that the passengers and crew were murdered and their bodies buried under the foundation of a hospital then under construction.
Another story is that the Clipper was intercepted by a Japanese flying boat, such as the Kawanishi H6K Type 97 Large Flying Boat, which forced it to fly to an unknown destination, similar to the story above.
Only six months earlier, another Pan American flying boat, Samoan Clipper, a Sikorsky S-42B, NC16734, disappeared about two hours out of Pago Pago in the Samoan Islands. The airliner is believed to have exploded in midair. In that case, an oil slick and wreckage were found.
Recommended: Guy Noffsinger’s “The Lost Clipper,” at https://lostclipper.com
¹ Following the United States’ entry into World War II, Captain Terletzky’s widow, Mrs. Sarepta B. Terletzky, (née Helen Sarepta Bowman), a graduate of Smith College, joined the United States Navy. She was commissioned as a Lieutenant, W-VS, United States Naval Reserve, 4 August 1942. On 1 December 1945, she was promoted to the rank of lieutenant commander, and to commander, 1 January 1950. Mrs. Terletzky had been born at New York City, New York, 28 September 1895. She died at Miami, Florida, 4 August 1970.
² Ded Reckoning (Deductive Reckoning), often erroneously referred to as “dead reckoning,” is a method of navigation which uses a previously known position, time of flight, estimated speed and course of the aircraft based on forecast weather conditions, etc., to estimate the current geographical position. It is the standard method of navigation in the absence of radio aids or satellite position.
Second Lieutenant Ruth Mable Gardiner, Nurse Corps, United States Army, was born in Calgary, Alberta, Dominion of Canada, 20 May 1914. She and several family members attempted to emigrate to the United States of America. They arrived at Eastport, Idaho, on 15 March 1917, but were debarred and ordered excluded. An application for entry on bond was approved and Ruth was allowed into the United States at Noyes, Minnesota, 11 July 1917. Just 3 years, 8 months old, Ruth was unaccompanied. Her nearest relatives were listed as an uncle, Hilliard Gardiner, in Sutherland, Saskatchewan, and another uncle, John Flaherty, in Oakland, California. Ruth was described as being of Irish ancestry, with a fair complexion, blond hair and blue eyes. Her passage to America had been paid by an employee of the Calgary Street Railway Company.
Miss Gardiner lived Indianapolis, Indiana, with an older sister, Constance, a stenographer, and her husband, Clarence Smith, a salesman. She attended Sacred Heart High School in Indianapolis. After graduating, Miss Gardiner entered the Training School for Nurses at the White Haven Sanitorium, White Haven, Pennsylvania. She graduated in 1934.
Miss Gardiner later worked at St. Agnes Hospital, White Plains, New York; St. Elizabeth Hospital, Utica, New York; and the Indiana University Medical Center, at Indianapolis.
In January 1942, Miss Gardiner joined the United States Army. She was a member of the first training class for air evacuation nurses at the 349th Air Evacuation Group, Bowman Field, Kentucky,. The class of 30 graduated 18 February 1943. Lieutenant Gardiner was then assigned to the 805th Medical Air Evacuation Squadron, where she was one of only six Army nurses involved in the air evacuation of wounded soldiers from the Aleutian Islands.
On 27 July 1943, Lieutenant Gardiner was aboard a Douglas C-47 Skytrain flown by Lieutenant Carl T. Moore and his crew. They were making an instrument approach to Naknek Army Air Base:
On 27 July 1943, Ship No. 41-38643 failed to clear the top of a ridge on the approach leg, coming in to Naknek in soupy weather.
—U.S. Army, “History of the 54th Troop Carrier Squadron” (1945). World War Regimental Histories. Book 22, at Page 17, Column 2
The C-47 was destroyed and all 11 persons on board were killed.
Second Lieutenant Ruth M. Gardiner, Nurse Corps, United States Army, was the first American nurse to die in the line of duty during World War II.
From the day of her enrollment in the Training School for Nurses she exhibited an earnest desire to serve humanity. She was devoted, understanding and efficient in the care of the sick. She was highly regarded by her classmates and the staff. Her aptitudes and personality were further shown during her career in the Army Nurse’s Corps. On 27 July, 1943, she gave her life in the service of her country.
—TIMES-LEADERThe Evening News, Wilkes-Barre, Pennsylvania, Wednesday 15 December 1948, at Page 2, Column 2
Lieutenant Gardiner’s remains were buried at the Fort Richardson Post Cemetery, Anchorage, Alaska. They were re-interred at the Arlington National Cemetery, Arlington, Virginia, 28 October 1948.
The 12-story Chicago Beach Hotel at 1660 E. Hyde Park Boulevard, Chicago, Illinois, was taken over by the U.S. Army and converted to a 1,061-bed hospital. Opening for patients 1 October 1943, the military hospital was named Gardiner General Hospital, in honor of Lieutenant Gardiner.
Gardiner General Hospital discharged its last patient 21 June 1946, and the building was reassigned as Headquarters, Fifth Army.
In 1948, the nurses quarters at White Haven Sanitorium, formerly known as “the lodge,” were named the Ruth M. Gardiner Pavilion. In 1963, the nurses quarters at Fort Wainwright, Alaska, were named Gardiner Hall.
In 1943, the Women’s International Bowling Congress’ Wings of Mercy Fund donated a Douglas C-47 Skytrain air ambulance to the Army Air Forces in memory of Ruth M. Gardiner.
The Flight Nurse’s Creed
I will summon every resource to prevent the triumph of death over life.
I will stand guard over the medicines and equipment entrusted to my care and ensure their proper use.
I will be untiring in the performances of my duties and I will remember that, upon my disposition and spirit, will in large measure depend the morale of my patients.
I will be faithful to my training and to the wisdom handed down to me by those who have gone before me.
I have taken a nurse’s oath, reverent in man’s mind because of the spirit and work of its creator, Florence Nightingale. She, I remember, was called the “Lady with the Lamp.”
It is now my privilege to lift this lamp of hope and faith and courage in my profession to heights not known by her in her time. Together with the help of flight surgeons and surgical technicians, I can set the very skies ablaze with life and promise for the sick, injured, and wounded who are my sacred charges.
. . . This I will do. I will not falter in war or in peace.
The airplane in which Lieutenant Gardiner and the others were killed was a Douglas C-47-DL Skytrain, U.S.A.A.F. serial number 41-38643 (c/n 4746). It was built at the Douglas Aircraft Company plant in Long Beach, California, and delivered to the U.S. Army Air Forces on 27 September 1942. The Skytrain was assigned to 54th Troop Carrier Squadron, Eleventh Air Force, in Alaska, 29 March 1943.