Nov 28, 2006, 12:21 PM
Post #1 of 25
Lake Erie B25 -- long
I've recently gotten some pictures of the last days of the Lake Erie B-25, and took a look back at old newspaper clippings of the event. There have been stories in Parachutist and elsewhere, but I'm not sure any have followed through to the very end. The published transcript of the controller and pilots in the area is particularly eerie. I'm not sure what I'm going to do with all this stuff, but it would be interesting to hear from people with first-hand knowledge.
For those unfamiliar with the story, here's my "brief" version: ---- Sixteen skydivers drowned in Lake Erie Aug. 27, 1967 after exiting a B-25 bomber at 20,000 feet over a cloud layer. Two others were rescued from the lake, and two more, who were equipped with oxygen and, who, intending to go higher, exited later on a second pass and landed at the intended DZ. The B-25 had taken off off from Ortner Airport in Wakeman, OH, about 10 miles from the lake. A Cessna 180, whose pilot intended to photograph the exits, took off from Ortner at about the same time. A month later, the National Transportation Safety Board chairman told a Senate committee in Washington that principal blame for the accident rested with the B-25 pilot and a controller at the FAA's Cleveland Center. The pilot "should have terminated the mission without releasing the jumpers," because the cloud cover prevented him from seeing he was over water. The controller was faulted for wrongly identifying the B-25 on radar, apparently mistaking the Cessna 180 for the bomber. But the NTSB said the jumpers, "all of whom were experienced and aware of the hazards of jumping under the prevailing conditions, were not without fault." In the wake of the accident, there was a serious threat of Congressional action that would sharply regulate skydiving. In December, 1967, the FAA recommended indefinite suspension of the pilot's certificate, and in October, 1972, a federal district judge ruled the FAA was responsible because the controller mistook the Cessna, which was over the Ortner Airport, for the B-25. Some time after the Lake Erie accident, the B-25, N3443G, was purchased by Yankee Air Force, Inc., a flying club based at Turners Falls, MA, The Massachusetts Sport Parachute Club had an active jump operation at Turners Falls, and the arrival of the B-25 brought expectations of a great new jump plane. It was not to be. The B-25 never received approval for use by jumpers, and sat on the ground at Turners Falls, sorely lacking attention. Eventually, a buyer was found and a ferry pilot was selected. The pilot had served in the Air Force and had logged 512 hours by the time he was discharged in 1957, according to a report by the Massachusetts Aeronautics Commission. He resumed flying in 1966, and had logged 30 hours in smaller plances between then and August, 1970. On Sunday, Aug. 9, 1970 -- just a few weeks before the third anniversary of the Lake Erie disaster, N3443G took off from Turners Falls and headed about 15 miles east to Orange Municipal Airport, apparently so the pilot could practice additional takeoffs and landings on the somewhat longer runway there -- the NTSB report describes the purpose of the flight as "practice." According to the report, the plane was on its second go-around, with gear and flaps down. The pilot added power, but the plane stalled, rolled to the left and hit the ground inverted. The NTSB listed the probable causes of the accident as the pilot's attempting an "operation beyond experience/ability level," and his failure to "obtain/maintain flying speed." It noted he had "no time in type acft for about 11 yrs." Eyewitnesses on the ground, including ground crew at the edge of the parachute landing "bowl" at the Orange Sport Parachute Center, reported seeing the plane upside down overhead before it hit the ground, essentially nose-first, just southwest of where they were standing. The pilot, the sole occupant, died in the crash.
---- The pictures are of the B-25 at Turners Falls and three of the wreckage at Orange. In the third picture, you can see people standing at the student radio facillity on the raised lip of the bowl. That's where the nearest eyewitnesses were standing. HW
(This post was edited by howardwhite on Nov 28, 2006, 2:51 PM)
Read about the tragic Lake Erie in '67. Four of us bought a B-25 in '62 to take to Deland for the Thanksgiving Meet. We would put jumpers in the bomb bay. Mace Coleman( D-96) crased it in Lone Star S.C. two days before we were to go down there. He got out with seconds to spare but broke his hip. Guess we were lucky we didn't have a load of jumpers on board.
Thanks for the link;I hadn't found it. His details square up pretty well with what I gleaned from the other sources. There are lots of contemporary newspaper accounts with quotes from the survivors. That thread also refers to a fairly recent Parachutist piece which I had heard of but will now look for. HW
Yeah, it's on the right about half way down, right after Bill and his guys set an unofficial Cdn group altitude record of 21,000 feet while filming a beer commercial. This picture was taken at St Thomas airport in Ontario, I guess in 1969. The commercial, (Carling Red Cap) was available on skydivingmovies.com -- don't know if it still is.
I'll have to see if I have the picture saved on a disc somewhere so I can attach it here.
(This post was edited by skypuppy on Nov 28, 2006, 9:25 PM)
Thanks for the reference. I'd seen your site -- Google found it in a search for Ortner Field. I think the picture you refer to is actually a B-26, a very different beast. I'll keep looking for published stories. My current effort was to tie the original Lake Erie story to the plane's ultimate fate. HW
Boy, that fucker really piled in. I was never aware of "The Rest of the Story" on that B-25.
I started jumping in 1971, so the story of the Lake Erie jump was still fresh in the minds of the older jumpers of that day. That sure had to be a hell of a feeling for those folks to break out of the clouds over that big lake.
Reviving this long-ago post because Lee Guilfoyle (D-50) recently posted on Flickr an account of the final flight of the Lake Erie B-25. Unfortunately, that account falls short in the facts department and Lee and I have added some corrections to it. Read it here.
Rob: Howard White has it pretty much accurate. The pilot of the Lake Erie drop was a good friend of mine, Bob Karns. He flew me on my 1st chuteless jump, from Ortner Field, across lake Erie to an industrial airport that had been used to train airmen for W W II.
Bob lost his licence to fly for 1 year only, but he never stoppped flying. He would put some junior pilot in the front seat beside him, and tell the guy, you don't touch anything. I'm flying this bird...you are a passenger...unless we have trouble, then its all yours.
The control tower they were talking to wasn't Cleveland, it was west of Ortner Field about ten miles.
Lou Pemberton was the guy in the Cessna 180, hoping to take still photos of the jumpers as they passed his aircraft. If they had been close enough, they would have gone past him in a split second before he even knew they were there.. If they were further away, he wouldn't even have seen them. What a dumb ass thing to do, but I guess thats life.
Bob was one of the finest men Ive even known. He died in a plane crash while working for a company out of Detroit airport.
Its hard to beleive that it was so long ago. I did have 4 color photos of the B-25 just before takeoff. It was so overloaded, they had to kick three guys off, so the nose wheel would be on the ground.
Those three guys were lucky, because they didnt drown that day.
On August 27th 1967, Bob Karns, who was a pilot working for Ortner Aviation at Wakeman Ohio, was giving a free jump from 20,000 ft + in a B-25 WW II bomber, to some jumpers who had jumped from that aircraft at an air show, for which Karns had been paid.
There was so many jumpers showed up at Ortner Field, the plane was overloaded to the extent that the nose wheel came up off the ground.
As a result, three or four jumpers were taken from the aircraft, and the rest were to make the jump.
The plane took off and began its long climb, disappearing into 100% cloud cover . Cloud base was about 4000 ft and the tops about 6000 feet.
A local jumper who should have known better, took off a bit later in a Cessna 180, and was planning to take 35mm still photos of the jumpers as they fell towards Ortner field.
Common sense should have made him realize that the jumpers would be passing his Cessna 180 like bullets, and he would not get any usable photos, and if they were far enough away from the Cessna, they would be nothing but tiny specks in his viewfinder.
The plane reached altitude, and the pilot (Bob Karns) received confirmation that the aircraft was directly over Ortner field. The radar screen was showing a blip at that spot ( actually it was the Cessna 180) and Karns turned and waved the jumpers out the bomb bay doors. Jimmy Simmons was first to go, and the others followed like they were tied on a long string.
There was a total of 18 jumpers, and Bob Coy (one of the survivors) told me later they had a real blast getting together and just flying....until they approached the dark clouds at 6K.
As the jumpers came through the clouds, they were faced with a rainstorm and the fact that they were 5 miles out over Lake Erie.
They opened the chutes immediately, hoping to make it closer to shore. I believe everyone had Para-Commanders, and although its a great canopy, it doesnt fly like a square...not even close.
Few made any headway, and prepared to ditch in the lake, which was 72 degrees F.
Norm Allard had two jumpsuits on because of the cold at altitude, but he managed to get them off, except for the altimeter pinning them both to his wrist. Thats how they found him.
Bill Onyska had the only piece of flotation gear, which he inflated, but the CO2 went out a small hole that had gone unnoticed in the device...and it was useless.
BoB Coy, tried using his packed reserve as floatation, but it soon became waterlogged, and he discarded it, and then he tried to lay on his helmet which had styrofoam inside. That probably saved his life.
A search was quickly started, and over the next 5 days, they collected all the bodies from the lake.
A boat had been brought alongside a jumper named Johnson, and the boat then drove off leaving him in the lake. It is possible the guy was a smuggler or out for a cruise with someone elses wife and didnt want to get involved. A second boat rescued Johnson.
Para Commanders were floating on the lake...with no one in the harness, or near them. Several were cut to pieces by boat propellers and founds later.
My best friend, Joe Malarik was the last to be found. Oddly enough, Joe had been in a bar the night before with his girldfriend Barb and another guy, and he said that when he died, he would prefer to drown. He did so the very next day.
When Joe was a young boy, he drowned in a swimming pool, but was revived. He thought it would be the best way to go.
The B-25 aircraft, made another circuit, and again was told by Oberlin Tower that it was directly over Ortner Field, and Larry Hartman and Al Olmstead jumped, wearinmg oxygen masks and bottles.
The Cessna hand landed by this time, and the B-25 was in fact, over the target area.
Hartman noticed through a small hole in the clouds, one of the airport runways, and he pointed to it for Olmstead. They tracked over, and landed on the airport.
By this time, the accident was known, and everyone got involved in the search.
Dale Gates of the Parkman DZ, flew his Cessna a few feet above the choppy waves of the lake, trying to spot survivors, but none were seen.
In all 16 jumpers died that day.
The following Sunday while at the DZ in Parkman, I was asked to take photos of a young lad in freefall after he would make one more good jump alone. I agreed, and when the young lad jumped ( Paul Camelford) he went right into the ground.
He had concentrated on holding his heading so much, he never attempted to get his main out.
That made 17 dead over the two weekends.
Even now when I think about it, I get quite upset inside.
Two weekends before the B-25 flight, I had been filming many of these guys at Parkman, and I later gave copies of the 16mm film to their families.
They told me it was like having their son back again.....even if only on film.
One thing that came out of this, was I conducted tests that showed a canopy (especially one of 0 porosity) can have a portion of it inflated by scooping air inside it, and it will act like a large beach ball in an emergency, and keep a person afloat for quite awhile. It may be necessary to inflate a portion of the canopy several times before one is rescued...but when you have nothing else, that may be your only hope.
Bob Coy age 29, Springfield Ohio Bernard ( BUD )Johnson, age 30, West Richfield, Ohio.
While Bud was in the water, a large boat came close to him, went all the way around him, watching him in the lake, and then took off and left him to drown. It was suspected the boat owner was either smuggling or out with someone elses wife.
Landed safely at the airport: ..............................................
Al Olmstead, Oberlin Ohio
Larry Hartman, Fairview Park, Ohio
Larry was the guy who jumped with me when I wore a blindfold for the jump. He was supposed to hook up with me, and after 5 seconds, I would open, and they would talk me in with a large bull horn.
Larry overshot me, and the bull horn broke as we left the aircraft.
I kept the blindfold on, and just missed a whole gang of high voltage wires. Larry came driving down the road to get me, and apologized all the way back to the field.I really liked Larry, a guy who tried to everything in his short life.
He later was drunk on board a boat with some "friends" (in Lake Erie) and either fell overboard, or was thrown overboard. There are people who claim to both theories., His body was found weeks later.
Missing (as of Aug 29th 1967: .......................................
Bill Onysko Cleveland Ohio
Don Akers, Medina Ohio
Rich Patfield Cleveland ohio
Dave Sheehan Medina Ohio
Norm Allard Astabula, Ohio
Jerry Freeman, Akron Ohio
Lyle Boyer Rocky River, Ohio
Jim Dreyer, Cleveland Ohio
Ralph Hazelton Fairview Park, Ohio
Mike Thiem, Springfield Ohio
Joe Malarik, Newbury Ohio ( the last body to be found 8 days after the jump)
Jim Simmons Warren Ohio
Stan Beck Strongsville, Ohio
All in all, a great bunch of people. Jow Malarik and I liked playing with Dynamite, and put 16 sticks under a large tree at the end of the runway. Then we stuck 1/2 pieces into certain areas and shot at the from five feet away with Bill Onysko's handgun.
Thanks to David Layne, I have several original local newspapers from the time with all of these names. One correction: Al Homestead, not Olmstead. He's mentioned in the attached 40-years-later newspaper story from the Cleveland Plain Dealer.
(This post was edited by howardwhite on Mar 24, 2009, 11:27 AM)
Jow Malarik and I liked playing with Dynamite, and put 16 sticks under a large tree at the end of the runway. Then we stuck 1/2 pieces into certain areas and shot at the from five feet away with Bill Onysko's handgun.
The last 3 guys thrown off of the airplane were jump buddies of mine. A bunch of guys from Cincinnati drove up to jump the aircraft. The only reason I wasn't there is I had been drafted that summer. They didn't know anything was wrong till they heard about it on the radio on the way home. IIRC the 3 guys thrown off were Bob Pierson, Paul Ritchie, and I believe Dave Ellis.
Lot of brain cells killed since then. But that does come back now that you mention it.I vaguely remember a picture from a paper of the 3 of them that somebody sent me while I was in AIT. I can't remember if they were in front of the B-25 or one of the guys car.
(This post was edited by WGore on Mar 30, 2009, 12:58 PM)
Happy birthday Billy. A great bunch of guys never had a birthday after you were born.
I wonder if that is supposed to tell us something lol.
The evening before the jump ( Aug 26th 1967) Joe Malarik told his girlfriend and another guy that when he died, he would like to go by drowning. The next day he got his wish. He apparently had drowned when he was a kid, but they revived him. He said it was a fast and painless way to go, he simply blacked out, didn't know what had happened.
(This post was edited by chuteless on Aug 13, 2013, 1:38 PM)
Howard, I started jumping in '67 in Hammond, LA. I'm looking for an old friend named Jeff Russell. Had a low D number. Was a great photographer. Would love to know if this guy is still walking the earth. Anybody with any info, please be in touch. Thank you!