B-26 Bomber Crash of 1944
On the afternoon of January 20, 1944, a B-26 bomber with a total of eight crew members and passengers crashed in rural Ouachita County. There were no survivors.
The Martin B-26 Marauder served as a twin-engine medium bomber in the U.S. Army Air Forces and other allied militaries during World War II. The aircraft first flew in late 1940 and entered military service the next year.
On January 20, 1944, a B-26C aircraft departed from Hunter Field outside of Savannah, Georgia. The aircraft was part of the 598th Bombardment Squadron, a unit of the 397th Bombardment Group. Carrying six crew members and two passengers, the plane was on a training mission to Sheppard Field outside of Wichita Falls, Texas, with multiple stops along the way. The mission of the plane was to fly from Hunter Field to Lawson Field and onto Sheppard Field before returning to Robins Field near Warner Robins, Georgia. Taking off from Lawson Field near Columbus, Georgia, the plane flew west. The crew consisted of First Lieutenant George Davis (pilot), First Lieutenant Robert Trimpe (co-pilot), Second Lieutenant Kermit Bury (navigator), Second Lieutenant Robert Miller (pilot), Master Sergeant James Alexander (flight chief), Sergeant Milton Rauch (radio operator and gunner), Master Sergeant Cecil Stewart (flight engineer), and Corporal James Cole.
Witnesses on the ground reported that, as the plane passed over the paper mill outside of Camden (Ouachita County), it lost and gained altitude several times as one of the engines developed problems. As the power output fell, the aircraft lost altitude. Moving in a southwesterly direction, the plane entered a dive of forty-five or more degrees. Unable to recover, the aircraft plunged into the ground near Frenchport (Ouachita County), about three miles east of Elliott (Ouachita County), exploding on impact. The engines of the aircraft were buried about eight feet in the ground. A fire consumed much of the plane, and all eight of the men inside were killed. A watch recovered from the plane marked the time of the accident as 1:37 p.m.
A group of woodcutters witnessed the accident and reportedly tried to reach the occupants of the aircraft but were unable to do so due to the intense fire. Late that evening, the first bodies were recovered from the plane. All were burned and disfigured from the crash. Early reports listed seven men in the aircraft, but the remains of an eighth were soon found. Two men had been thrown clear of the plane in the crash. Identification of the bodies proved to be problematic, as only two dog tags were found in the wreckage.
A team of army investigators arrived at the site late in the day and quickly cordoned it off from curious locals. Citizens of nearby towns including Camden traveled to the scene that evening to view the aftermath of the crash.
The investigation team could not find the cause of the accident, although it could tell that the plane did not run out of fuel. Reconstruction of the accident was deemed impossible. The major commanding the team theorized that the pilot was attempting to land in a clearing at the time of the crash.
A memorial for the eight men was dedicated on July 12, 2003. Located near Arkansas Highway 7 south of Camden, the marker includes the names of the men and some information about the flight.
For additional information:
Barnes, Sandra. “Plane Crash at Frenchport.” Ouachita County Historical Quarterly 23 (Spring 1992): 35–36.
Dodson, Bob. “Remembering the Crash of an Army B-26 Bomber.” Ouachita County Historical Quarterly 35 (Fall 2003): 7–9.
“Heavy U.S. Bomber Crashed near Camden Killing Seven.” Camden News, January 21, 1944, p. 1.
Henderson State University
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