25 Dead in Crash of Air Transport; Lundeen Is Killed – New York Times (1940)

25 Dead in Crash of Air Transport; Lundeen Is Killed

In Virginia Storm

Crash Near Mountain in Fog and Rain Startles Village Dwellers

By Telephone to THE NEW YORK TIMES

LOVETTSVILLE, Va., Aug. 31, 1940 –

Senator Ernest Lundeen of Minnesota, twenty other passengers and four members of the crew of a Pennsylvania Central Airlines transport plane were killed instantly this afternoon when the plane crashed in an open field a mile and a half outside this village. Apparently the crash came about 3:40 P. M.

The scene of the tragedy was a half-mile from Short Hill Mountain, one of the foothills of the Blue Ridge range, and a mile and a half from Route 234, eighteen miles from Leesburg and about thirty-six miles west of Washington, in Loudoun County, northernmost part of the State.

What caused the crash was not immediately determined. The plane was proceeding in the midst of a terrific thunderstorm, with the rain falling heavily and a thick fog obscuring visibility. It had left Washington at 3:18 P. M., the take-off being delayed on account of the weather for twenty-six minutes. It was scheduled to arrive in Pittsburgh at 4 o’clock, but was late on its course.

Villagers Heard Motor Roar

As the transport, a Douglas DC-3, passed over this village the roar of its twin motors are heard distinctly above the rumble of the storm.  Then a crash was heard. Residents ran out into the storm and searched, finding the wreck in the field near the mountain.  The searchers found the plane completely wrecked, the debris of the large transport scattered about the field, the wings broken from the fuselage and the motors torn from their housing.  Scattered about the debris were the bodies of the passengers and crew, mangled beyond immediate identification.  The victims had been thrown out by the impact and the bodies were spread over an area of several hundred yards on the soggy field.  So scattered were the people and the material that the searchers thought at first that the plane had been blasted apart by a terrific explosion.

But there apparently had been no explosion, and in the instant before the transport hit the earth in the crash that was heard for several miles, the pilot, Captain Lowell Scroggins, or the co-pilot, J. P. Moore — whoever was at the controls at the time — was quick enough to throw his ignition switch and cut the motor to prevent a fire.  In the circumstances it was a futile gesture, for death came instantaneously to all on board, but in a lesser impact it might have saved lives.

Local Residents Find Aid Futile

There was evidence of only one small blaze, in a tire torn from the undercarriage, apparently caused by the friction of the impact, and the rain extinguished it so quickly that the rubber was only smoldering a little when the searchers arrived.  Although the victims were spared an end by fire, they were so crushed that the first searchers could not determine the number of dead and it had to be ascertained from the airline’s records.  Finding the passengers and crew beyond aid, the local residents first at the scene ran back to telephones and summoned the police.  Constables sped to the scene over treacherous country roads from an area twenty-five miles distant, and State troopers were rushed from their barracks at Leesburg, eighteen miles away, and from Frederick, Md., more than twenty miles away.  Ambulances from Leesburg Hospital and Winchester Hospital, the latter institution being twenty miles away, reached the vicinity only with difficulty, for creeks and brooks were rising and the Potomac River, running through the area, was overflowing its banks, closing several of the roads and making passage through others treacherous because of washouts.


By telephone to the New York Times, August 31, 1940.

Many thanks to Greg Eicrhelberger at http://www3.gendisasters.com/virginia/22819/25-dead-in-crash-air-transport-lundeen-killed