Local military aviation crashes

1 year ago

Presque Isle played an important role in the defense of the nation from the beginning of World War II through the Cold War Era. It was the last base before military aircraft left the continental U.S. for the European theater.  

As a result, there were a large number of military aircraft flying in and out of the Presque Isle Army Air Field (1940-1947) and later the Presque Isle Air Force Base (1947-1961).   Military aircraft also flew in and out of Dow Air Force Base in Bangor, the base in Houlton, and Brunswick Naval Air Station.  

There is a very informative database created and maintained by Peter Noddin that details every military aviation crash in Maine from 1919 to 1989.  The database (www.mewreckchasers.com) provides, as it relates to the crashes:  date, location, type of aircraft, cause of crash, disposition of aircraft, description of crash, crew names and injuries.  Of the 813 crashes listed over this 70-year period, 105 crashes relate specifically to the Presque Isle Army Air Field and, later, Presque isle Air Force Base. Eighteen of those resulted in fatalities.  

Some residents in the area can remember many of these tragedies and the locations of the crashes.  In most cases, the sites have been cleared of any indication of the downed aircrafts.  There are, however, currently two known crash sites with debris still on the ground:  Perham and West Chapman.  

According to www.mewreckchasers.com, on Sept. 22, 1942, a B-25C Mitchell Bomber went down about six miles west of Perham.  The aircraft crashed due to disorientation in poor visibility.  All seven crew members were killed.  It is thought that perhaps the aircraft was sabotaged.  Another B-25 crashed later that same day, also killing the entire crew.  At a later date, two German men were arrested for tampering with a B-17 on base.  

In October 2000, members of the Presque Isle Air Museum erected a large cross at the crash site to honor and remember the crew members who gave their lives in service of this country.  

On Nov. 30, 1956, an F-89D Scorpion went down in the woods in West Chapman.  The aircraft was scrambled from Presque Isle Air Force Base at 11:30 at night on an active defense intercept.  There was a 5,000-foot broken ceiling and light snowfall at the time.  

After takeoff, the radar intercept officer on board the aircraft contacted the controller at nearby Caswell radar station and was told to recontact Presque Isle approach for return clearance.  The second part of the transmission was never acknowledged.  It is believed the pilot suffered from spatial disorientation or was distracted by something in the cockpit and did not realize the aircraft was slowly descending.  

The aircraft began hitting trees in a 40-degree bank and in an 18-degree glide.  After clipping trees for 150 feet, it struck the ground and broke up in a heavily wooded swamp area.  Both crew members were killed.  

At some point in the near future, the Presque Isle Air Museum hopes to erect a cross at this location as well.  

Kimberly R. Smith is the secretary/treasurer of the Presque Isle Historical Society.