1/Lt McCorkle, Robert D. Pilot 576th 2/Lt Beaton, William O. Copilot 576th 2/Lt Abruzzo, Thomas S. Navigator 576th KILD 2/Lt Medley, Alton C. Bombardier 576th KILD T/Sgt Hoffman, Paul W. Engineer 576th T/Sgt Gish, Jr. Robert W. Radio Operator 576th KILD S/Sgt Stephenson, Joseph W. Gunner 576th S/Sgt Beaird, Ocie L. Gunner 576th
On 25 August 1943, 1/Lt McCorkle and his crew lifted off at 1814 hours from Topeka Army Air Base aboard B-24H #42-7528. The aircraft was brand new, with only 16 hours of air time, and the crew was taking it on a calibration and training mission. According to the Report of Aircraft Accident, "Shortly after take-off, when the propellers were being synchronized, No. 4 propeller ran away. The throttle was pulled back and the propeller was feathered. At this point, No. 3 propeller ran away and was feathered, reaching the full-feathered position before No. 4. The pilot was approximately 1300 feet above the terrain. Loss of altitude at the rate of 500 feet per minute, increasing to 700 feet per minute, made the pilot decide upon an emergency landing. An unsuccessful attempt was made to unfeather and start No. 4 engine. The crew was warned that a crash landing was going to be made. The final approach was made on a flat cornfield and switches were cut. Evidence showed that Lt. McCorkle maintained control of his aircraft, having leveled off above the corn and having traveled a distance of approximately 500 yards before contact was made with the ground. Flaps and landing gear were both up. The aircraft traveled on the ground approximately 250 yards before coming to final rest. Three of the eight crew members were trapped on the flight deck by the nose wheel and top turret, resulting in fatal injury. No fire resulted."
The crash occurred at 1825 hours about two miles northwest of LeCompton, Kansas. The incident destroyed "approximately one acre of growing pop corn" that was valued at $125.
The pilots later said that their plane climbed very slowly, never more than 500 feet per minute. As they climbed, the interphone system went out. On reaching 2300 feet, the #4 propeller was making a lot of noise and there was a heavy drag on the right wing. As Beaton moved the No. 3 and 4 toggle switch to synchronize the props, the No. 4 prop ran out of control. He then pulled back on the toggle while the No. 4 prop was feathered. Almost simultaneously, No. 3 ran away and was also feathered. It was noticed that although No. 4 was feathered first, No. 3 got to the feathered position long before No. 4.
McCorkle ordered the crew to put on their chutes and prepare to jump. By then, however, they were too low to bail out. Realizing that he couldn't make it back to base, McCorkle headed for the river, "the smoothest surface [he] could see." Spotting a bend in the river, McCorkle then went toward the next smoothest surface, a cornfield. He said later that the pilots "didn't have time to think of putting the flaps down which probably would have slowed us down. We left the landing gear up. Before we hit the top of the corn, we lifted the nose high and had all power off. I had the co-pilot cut all switches. Then everything went pretty fast. We hit the top of the corn. The nose seemed to be dragged down and I was more or less blinded by the corn as we started to plow into it."
Stephenson and Beaird got out the waist windows; McCorkle, Beaton, and Hoffman exited via the copilot's window. McCorkle ran to the nearest house to call the base for help while the others tried to get the three remaining crewmen out of the plane. 2/Lt Medley, pinned on the flight deck, was heard to speak, but it proved impossible to pull him, Abruzzo, or Gish from the plane. Gas was pouring over the No. 3 engine so Stephenson and Beaird emptied two of the on-board fire extinguishers on that engine to prevent a fire. (The threat of fire was so great that in his statement afterward, 2/Lt Beaton stated that he and Sgt Stephenson had retrieved a .50 caliber machine gun from the waist as "We had no desire to see our Bombardier burn alive if the ship caught on fire.")
1/Lt McCorkle, who had just returned, asked for an axe. Beaton got two from a nearby farmhouse; Beaird used one to break the radio man's window in an unsuccessful attempt to reach 2/Lt Medley. The air was filled with gas fumes, so S/Sgt Beaird fanned Medley with his hat while 2/Lt Beaton gave him a morphine injection to ease his pain. McCorkle then took over fanning Medley so Beaird could use the emergency radio to send SOS's. Medley occasionally asked for water, which McCorkle provided; Medley also told McCorkle that "the first thing to have them do was to get the weight off [my] legs." He was given another shot of morphine shortly before the first military personnel arrived.
It was later determined that the distributor valves on the No. 3 and 4 propellers were loose, which "could cause internal leakage and cause the propellers not to function properly." All four props and engines were completely destroyed, the wings were 50 percent damaged, and the fuselage was 90 percent damaged.
2/Lt Abruzzo is buried in Cypress Hills National Cemetery, Section 9 Site 13631C. Burial locations for 2/Lt Medley and T/Sgt Gish are not known.