Farm Boy Tells Story of Plane Crash Killing 25 – Chicago Daily Tribune (1940)

Farm Boy Tells Story of Plane Crash Killing 25

Testifies at Inquiry by Aeronautics Board

Chicago Daily Tribune, September 7, 1940, page 8

Chicago Tribune Press Service

Washington, D.C., September 6, 1940

Warren McGaha, 13 years old, a Virginia farm boy, today gave the civil aeronautics board the most graphic account it has heard of last week’s airplane crash near Lovettsville, Virginia, which took 25 lives.  The board is investigating the crash of the Pennsylvania-Central Airliner which went down on a flight from Washington for Pittsburgh.

From such accounts of persons living near the scene of the tragedy, investigators hope to solve the mystery of the cause of the worst airplane disaster in the history of American aviation.

Warren’s eyes glowed and his freckles stood out like polka dots as his face paled at recollection of what he had seen.  Much too small to reach the microphone, he sat with his chin barely clearing the tabletop in front of him as he talked.  His nasal drawl was inaudible to all but a few of the several hundred spectators in the commerce department’s huge auditorium.

Sees Plane From Porch

“I was on the front porch of our house when the airplane went by,” he related.  “Then it wa’nt long ‘fore they was a streak o lightin and me and dad heared it fall.”

“Did the lighting stop at the plane, or did you see it on both sides of the plane?” he was asked.

The boy thought a moment, then said: “Can’t tell ’bout that.”

“Did you hear anything when you saw the lightning?”

“Never heared nuttin’,” he replied.  “Nuttin’ ‘cept thunder.”

“Did you see anything else?”

“Yup!  There was a cloud, a real black one, right in front o’ the plane.  It was just then it began to go down, like this —”

A sharp downward swing of his hand from a point over his head showed the listeners more plainly than words the sudden plunge he recalled the plane had taken.

Others Tell Similar Story

Substantially the same story was told by other witnesses, including several other Virginia farmers and their women folks.  They agreed that the crash occurred after a flash of lightning when the plane was heading into a black storm cloud.  No rain was falling at the time, they said.

Earlier the investigators heard James H. Carmichael, vice president in charge of operations of the Pennsylvania-Central Airlines, owners of the ill-fated ship, tell of long experience  of the pilot, Lowell Scroggins, who had more than 11,000 hours of flying time to his credit.

Luther Harris, vice president in charge of maintenance for the airline, admitted under questioning the the ship was scheduled for an overhauling after only 35 more hours n the air.  He said the plane was given a thorn (sic) inspection at regular 120 hour intervals.