Years ago, my mom, Collene Spencer told me about witnessing a plane crash as a little girl. I wish I had thought to get more information from her then, but at the time, all I could think of was the vision of the crash she told me about, and specifically the airplane in a corkscrew nosedive toward the ground. She said she didn’t hear any engine sounds, and she thought the plane was a piece of paper at first, but then she realized that it was a plane. I didn’t think to ask where she was at the time…whether she was at home or if the family was rock hunting or something. I wish I had asked more questions, back when I had the chance to do so.
Rather than asking questions, I began to try to research plane crashes in the area over the years of my mom’s childhood. I had expected it to be an easy search, given all the information on crashes that is out there these days. I was wrong, and by the time I decided that I needed more information from my mom, she was gone. I tried asking my aunts about the crash, but they did not remember it. It’s possible that they didn’t see it, and so they were unable to help me with it.
After much research, I have found possibly the only plane crash my mother could have seen at the age she would have had to be…provided she was close to her childhood home when she witnessed the crash. The crash would have been a B-17 bomber on a training maneuver 25 miles north of Casper, Wyoming. The biggest problem with this crash is the 25 mile distance from Casper, but looking north from Casper, you can see a very long way, provided you are near the events center, which could have been a possibility back then. The distance could also explain the lack of engine noise, if the engines were still working as the plane was going down, which is unlikely.
The plane, which crashed on March 3, 1944 was carrying three officers and five enlisted men. There were no survivors in the crash, which is in line with what my mother told me about the crash. The bomber was on a combat training flight, according to Lieutenant Colonel Marcus A. Mullen, station commandant, who said that the cause of the crash was not yet determined but that a board of officers had been named to investigate. The dead were later identified as Captain Charles W. Bley of Berkeley, California, Second Lieutenant Eugene E. Ravera of Newton, New Jersey, Second Lieutenant John A. Williams of Morristown, Tennessee, Staff Sergeant Carl E. Cleveland of Sunbury, Ohio, Sergeant George P. Peterson of Perry, Ohio, Sergeant Vernon E. Arne, Stewart, Illinois, Sergeant Duane T. Zefah of Cushing, Minnesota, and Corporal Elmer L. Walters of Pawpaw, Illinois. I can’t say, for sure, that this was the plane crash my mom saw when she was a little girl, but it is noteworthy, and so worth telling about. I know that the crash was something that my mom never forgot, even though she would have only been eight years old at the time.