Coast Guard Aviation Tragedies

 


Tragedy at the Farallons
August 5th, 1941

By Ken Freeze 

Reprinted by Permission

It was August 5, 1941. The war in Europe had been raging for two years. Here in the United States, President Franklin D. Roosevelt, was enjoying a cruise off New England in the presidential yacht the Potomac. The Secretary of State, Cordell Hull, was concerned by Japanese intentions toward Thailand and the Southwest Pacific region. And in sports, the New York Yankees were playing the Washington Nationals in Washington, D.C.

That morning at the Coast Guard Air Station San Francisco, V-126, a Douglas RD-4 Dolphin was being readied for what had become another routine patrol off the coast. Pilot , Leonard L. Stonerock, 33, Radioman John C. Gill, 31, and Mechanic Fleet D. Hancock, 40, had been making the same patrol three times a weeks for quite some time.


Leonard L. Stonerock


Fleet D. Hancock


John C. Gill,

And, that morning, as on many mornings before, the yellow winged plane was to takeoff and head for the Farallon Islands west of the Golden Gate. 

The Farallon Islands are actually three islands jutting above the surface of the sea. The South Farallon group is the largest and best known. Located 26 miles southwest of the Golden Gate Bridge, it consists of about 120 acres and is the only island capable of marginally supporting humans. The Middle Farallon, 3 miles northwest, is nothing more than a large rock. Four miles northwest from there is the North Farallon group made up of seven steep and rugged rocks.

At 9 a.m., the crew of three boarded the RD-4, powered up and headed skyward. Once airborne, Stonerock headed the plane west only to be greeted by the typical offshore summer fog that San Francisco is famous for. As part of the patrol, radioman Gill was to call the station every 15 minutes to check in. At 10 a.m. they made a routine call and everything was normal. At 10:15, the crew failed to check in.

A search was initiated with Coast Guard, Army and Navy ships and planes scouring the area. The wives of all three hurried to the station to await word of their husbandsí fate. Search efforts were hampered by a low ceiling and poor visibility of less than one mile. At 3 p.m. a Coast Guard plane spotted charred wreckage of the missing plane 500 yards north of Farallon Islands.

When Coast Guard cutters arrived on the scene they found the body of Gill. They also recovered burned sections of the wings as well as charts and the radio log of the V-126. The search continued for the other two and the main fuselage until dark.

The next day the search continued however, the fog had worsened. Twice, Coast Guard aircraft were sent out to search but had to return because the visibility had decreased to 100 to 150 feet in the area. At times the fog was right down to water level making search by air in the area impossible. Crews from two cutters used grappling hooks in the waters of the crash site in an effort to recover more wreckage or the main fuselage. A few additional pieces of wreckage rose to the surface, but the bodies of the two missing aviators were nowhere to be found. It was believe that they were trapped in the main fuselage. Although at one point it was believe to have been spotted, whether it drifted away, or sank was never determined.

Initial investigation concluded that the probable cause of the crash was that the plane, while flying low to avoid the fog, struck a rock pinnacle on the southeast Farallon causing the aircraft to burst into flames.

A few weeks later the body of Gill was laid to rest in Arlington National Cemetery.

Copyright © 2002 Check Six

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