Agua Dulce Airpark Crashes

1938 Western Air Express Crash at Mint Canyon


ACTON - 5/19/38 - Thirty eight hours of frenzied search for a lost plane in the Sierra Plellona Mountain southwest of Palmdale were ended at 5:30 Wednesday morning when the wreckage of the ship was found by a Mint Canyon rancher, Walter Peterson, on the side of a mountain top just a mile and a half north of the Mint Canyon Highway about the White Heather Station. The ship was a new Lockheed bi-motored transport, eight-ton transport being taken from Burbank to St. Paul Minnesota, where it was to be used in commercial transport fling by Northwest Airlines.

There were nine persons aboard, including the pilot and co-pilot, one other man, four women and two children, and all met instant death as the ship catapulted into the mountain less than 100 feet from the crest of the hill, and bounced across two more ridges to call in a crumbled heap 200 yards away from the original point of impact, leaving behind it a trail of burned grass and debris of bits of engine, splinters of plane parts, and luggage and possessions of the passengers.

Pilot Sidney Wiley, 36, test pilot for Lockheed, was at the controls when the ship left Burbank at 1:40 PM Monday afternoon to guide the ship to Las Vegas, where Pilot Frederick Whittlemore, 42 vice-president of Northwest Airlines, was to have received official delivery of the ship and pilot it the rest of the way back to St. Paul. when their bodies were found, both men were still strapped to their seats in the cockpit, it is reported.

Others killed were: Mr. and Mrs. Henry Salisbury, 29 and 25 years of age, and their two children, Richard 3 years old, and baby Judith 2-1/2 months, of St, Paul. Mr. Salisbury was engineer for Northwest Airlines. Mrs., Carl Squire, the wife of Lockheed's vice-president of Toluca Estates, North Hollywood, who was flying to Chicago to join her husband. Miss Lola Totty, 26, a secretary at Lockheed, bound for a vacation trip in the East. Miss Evelyn Dingle, 22, Northwest Airline secretary, of St. Paul, returning home from a vacation visit with an uncle and aunt, Mr. and Mrs. J.C. Dingle at Hermosa Beach.

The ship crashed at 2:07 PM Monday, according to the clock found among the wreckage, so its flight from Burbank to Saugus and up Mint Canyon was made in exactly twenty-seven minutes. No trace of the ship could be found from the time it was last known to be in Mint Canton a few minutes before the crash, though contact a Western Air Express pilot flying far above it had with it until the grim wreckage was found Wednesday morning.

Hundreds of searchers flocked to the Mint canyon area last Monday night, and worked intensively all day Tuesday and that night, until all the report of the ship's discovery was spread. Searching parties included officers from Lancaster and Newhall Sheriff's substations working in twelve-hour shifts, members of the Sheriff's Aero Squadron, flyers from Burbank field, Lockheed men, State Highway Patrolmen, CCC boys, and many other volunteers. The Antelope Valley Harmony Horsemen were called for service to comb the mountains on horseback.

It was not known at first just where the ship might have crashed and the search covered an extended area on all sides of Acton, as well as farther south in the mountains. Palmdale, Vincent and Lancaster were made headquarters for the searching parties and Tuesday might all hotel accommodations in Palmdale and Lancaster were taxed beyond ordinary capacity, as searchers slept for a few hours waiting for daylight. , including ships piloted by the Sheriff's Squadron and one piloted by Paul Morris, former technical adviser for Amelia Earhart, spent the night at the Palmdale port waiting for day- break take-off to continue the search.


ACTON - 5/19/38 - A baby's toy--two pieces of crayola--thrown out on a mountain tops. Mute evidence of two little children happily playing before Death became playmate.

Twenty quail eggs in a tiny nest beneath a mountain top bush, unharmed, within a few feet of the first point of impact of the big Northwest Airlines plane where parts of the machine fell scattered about.

A man's tie hanging upon a bush. A dress draped over another, pagers from magazines scattered about with edges charred, sheets of stationery of Northwest Airlines of St. Paul advertising folders. Part of a women's silk stocking wrapped around a wheel a block from the wreckage. The engine log and a large portfolio found intact.

Three stretchers loaded with luggage and personal effects flowed the victims down the mountainside.

Lockheed workmen flocking to aid in the search found shelter during the dark hours of Tuesday night in Lancaster jail--grimly joking about their "incarceration."

Rings, watches, wallets, tie pins--the only means of identification of bodies.

Included in the baggage of one of the lady passengers were new licensee plates and certificate for a new car which she planned to drive back from the factory in the East.

Wednesday,, descriptions of the wreckage were being sent over radio by Los Angeles stations. Wednesday afternoon between 4:00 and 4:20 , a broadcast from KHJ was sent from the scene of the wreckage by short wave into Palmdale telephone office, and from there over the wires to Los Angeles to the re-broadcast.

The bodies of the victims were carried down the steep mountainside, strapped to stretchers, carried by CC boys. All bodies with the exception of that of one of the bodies were found within or near the wreckage of the ship. The baby body was found 100 feet away from the wreckage, when the barking of a dog attracted officers to her resting place. The bodies were cut and burned, with clothing partially burned off; and for some, identification was possible only through rings, watches or wallets which they had worn or carried . the bodies were taken to Nobles Mortuary in San Fernando, and there an inquest is to be conducted by Coroner Nance at 9:30 am tomorrow.

Bureau of Air Commerce Inspectors are investigating the tragedy , asking why Pilot Wiley flew so low up Mint canyon when fog banks hung within 3000 feet of the ground (the crash was at an altitude of 3300 feet); why the ship left Burbank within four minutes of the regularly scheduled Western Air Express which might have necessarily low flying to avoid collision; and why the ship was not being operated on the Saugus radio range on its trip up Mint Canyon.

Investigation of the scene of the wreckage indicated that the plane first struck on the point of a ridge on the ;left of its course, half a mile or so from the actual wreckage, throwing out gasoline which ignited and charred the ground, and scraping underbrush form patch 40 feet across. The propeller was torn and plunged down the hillside. One of the three blades stabbing into the soft ground like a dagger up to its hub.

Hurting on a few hundred feet , the plane struck a second shoulder of the hills, and began to break apart, throwing fragments of wreckage, bags, etc., over the hillside. Here the plane bust into flames. The shattered wreck plunged on carried by momentum, until it stuck Stroh Peak, about 3300 feet high, and farther northeast. The plane lodged about 100 feet below the summit. Motors were torn loose one found in a ravine. The wreckage is clearly visible from mint canyon Highway, when the mountain tops are not enshrouded with clouds, and thousands of cars of persons have visited the scene since Wednesday.

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