Coast Guard Aviation Tragedies

 

PBY Mountain Crash©
February 11, 1947

By Ken Freeze

Republished By Permission

A Routine Flight

It was to be a routine cross-country flight from Coast Guard Air Station Port Angeles, Washington to the Coast Guard Air Station Elizabeth City, North Carolina. The crew would be flying one of the stations PBY-5As to Coast Guard’s new aircraft repair and maintenance center. Coast Guard aircraft from all over the country were routinely flown great distances for overhaul and this was to be no different.

The builder of the PBY-5A, Consolidated, first flew an improved PBY-5A with a retractable undercarriage during November of 1939. Previous versions had been true flying boats without the means to land on anything but water. The PBYs served the U.S. Navy and Coast Guard during World War II as an amphibious bomber, scout, and as a search and rescue platform for rescuing downed pilots. In 1944, 114 PBY-5A’s were in service with the Coast Guard. However, by May 1945 that number had been reduced to 56. Following the war, PBY's in the Coast Guard continued their role as long range search and rescue aircraft. With a range of over 2,500 miles it was ideal for the mission.

The Crew

Day broke on Coast Guard Air Station Port Angeles and its PBY-5A 48328 was readied for its cross country flight. The crew for the journey consisted of four, pilot Lt. j.g. Ralph E. Osterberg, age 27, co-pilot, Lt. Cmdr. John W. MacIntosh, Jr., age 34, Aviation Chief Machinists Mate Roy Mason, age 39, and Aviation Radioman 1st Class Ruffin E. Crosby, age 40. All were veterans of World War II and experienced aviators.

Lt. j.g. Osterberg was born in Shelton, Washington. Although seemly young, he had been in the Coast Guard for six and a half years. During the war, he had flown PBYs out of Greenland on convoy and submarine duty and had been awarded an Air Medal for meritorious service as an aircraft commander. He had only just moved to Port Angeles with his wife, Frances and two young daughters’ eight months earlier.

The co-pilot, Lt. Cmdr. John W.MacIntosh, Jr, while a senior office, had less time flying the PBYs than Osterberg. He was the Executive Officer of Air Station Port Angeles and had graduated from the Coast Guard Academy at New London, Conn. in 1936. He had been transferred in the station in July 1945 and had brought with him his wife Virginia and three children.

Aviation Chief Machinists Mate Mason, was a 17 year veteran of the Coast Guard and was a native of the small coastal town of Atlantic, North Carolina. During his many years he had served all over the country. At one time he had been the mechanic for the Commandant of the Coast Guard’s plane in Washington, D.C. He had lived in Port Angeles with his wife Selma and daughter since 1944.

Aviation Radioman 1st Class Crosby had served in the Coast Guard for 18 years. He had been stationed at Post Angeles in 1941, was transferred to Biloxi, Mississippi for two years and returned to Post Angeles with his wife Pauline. He was known to many in the area by his nickname "Bing" Crosby.

That morning, as the aircrew boarded the PBY, there were two others who were hitching a ride to the East Coast. Seaman First Class Melvin E. Savage of Plymouth, Mich., who was stationed at Grays Harbor, Wash, and Seaman First Class Randolph M. Creasy of Lynchburg, Va., who was stationed aboard the Coast Guard Cutter HAIDA which was being decommissioned in just a few days.

The Last Flight of PBY-5A No. 48328

The PBY powered up and headed down the runway. Soon it had lifted off from Port Angeles and into the sky. As it gained altitude it headed south to Oregon for the first leg of its journey. Its first stop would be Medford, Oregon, a relativity shot hop of around 500 miles.

The PBY had been in the air around four hours when it radioed that they would be landing in Medford, Oregon in about 30 minutes and indicated they were flying at 5,000 feet. It was 2:30 pm and a rain and wind storm had been hitting the area for most of the day.

What happened shortly after the transmission was told to state police by Creasy, one of the two passengers to survive the crash.

"The plane was flying in a fog and suddenly the mountain loomed out of the mist," said Creasy. "The pilot swerved the plane, but one wing was torn off and the plane plummeted to the earth and burst into flames."

The plane plowed into the 4,200-foot level on the northeastern slopes of Richter Mountain, 32 miles north of Medford.

Creasy said he and the other survivor, Savage, tumbled out of holes ripped in the side of the plane. Their clothes on both of them were on fire and they smothered the flames with snow. Savage was badly burned on his body, arms and face. Creasy was luckier, suffering from only shock and exposure.

Oregon State police Sergeant L. H. Harrell and three others were the first on the scene and surveyed the crash site. Harrell and his men had to trek through eight miles of heavily snow drifted road to get near the site. "The crash was located 500 straight down the mountain side from the road," Harrell said.

Harrell said that is appeared to him that the four others were killed outright when the plane roared into the mountainside.

Creasy and Savage were taken to a hospital in Medford. Creasy was released a couple of days later while Savage remained in the hospital longer and was treated for his burns.

The next day a team of Coast Guard, U.S. Foresters and State Police officers recovered the bodies from the wreckage. An U.S. Army C-47 flew them back to Port Angeles a few days later.
Monday morning, six days after the crash, memorial services were held in Port Angeles for all four of the men. Osterberg and Crosby were laid to rest with full military honors later that day. The bodies of Lt. Cdr. MacIntosh and Chief Mason were sent to rest near their homes in the east.
 

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