‘Perfect courage’ in Iron Mountain crash
Park City Museum
Think, for a minute, what it would be like to bail out of an airplane from 14,000 feet, into total darkness, not knowing where you were or what was beneath you.
Imagine the plane violently pitching up and down and lurching from side to side as if it were a dipping, diving roller coaster. Picture jumping into a blizzard driven by 50 mph winds with the temperature hovering near zero.
Those were the conditions that seven U.S. Army Air Corpsmen were battling just minutes before the Douglas B-18 “Bolo” bomber they had been flying crashed into the east face of Iron Mountain just after midnight on Nov. 17, 1941.
First Lieutenant William Basye was the plane’s pilot. His co-pilot was 2nd Lt. Mabry Simmons. Sgt. Jack Anderson was the flight engineer and Pfc. Raymond Togersen was the radioman. Passengers on board the warship included Major Robert Pirtle, commander of the 88th Reconnaissance Squadron, 2nd Lt. C.A. Smith and Staff Sgt. Eugene Bynum.
Lt. Basye thought that “the ship would probably be shaken apart. There was lightening and sleet and the air was terribly rough” he reported. “I tried to hold the ship as steady as possible for a short time, then I hooked my leg straps and parachute and went out through the top hatch.
Sgt. Bynum, Private Togersen, Major Pirtle, and Lt. Smith “rolled” toward the door in the tail of the ship.
Togersen pulled the door’s emergency release and Sgt. Bynum pushed on it twice before it opened Sgt. Bynum left the B-18 first, followed by Private Togersen. Major Pirtle was thrown out the door as he turned to say something to Lt. Smith.
Simmons and Smith collided as the ship lurched. “I was knocked down into the bay toward the tail of the ship,” Lt. Smith wrote. “Lt. Simmons was thrown opposite the door. On the next lurch, Lt. Simmons was thrown through the door. I do not know how I got to the door, but somehow I managed to get there and fall out.”
Private Togersen later told how he leaped from the bomber before he had time to buckle his parachute straps around his body. “I strengthened my hold some by clasping my wrists to hold the straps under my arms,” he said. Unable to free himself from a strap that crossed under his chin, Lt. Smith nearly suffocated on the wind-whipped descent.
Unbelievably, after being abandoned, B-18 36-311 made a 270 degree turn over Park City and headed directly for the six parachuting airmen as they fell to earth. The plane struck Maj. Pirtle, killing him instantly. Unable to get a parachute on in time, Sgt. Anderson’s body was found in the wreckage of the airplane on Iron Mountain. Miraculously, the other five crewmen landed safely in the mucky land where Park Meadows sits today.
It took “perfect courage” for the airmen to jump into the darkness that evening. We will honor their memories with the unveiling of an historic sign on Memorial Day, May 27 at Squatters Roadhouse Grill at 10 a.m.
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