Lawson Air Force Base, GA Glider Crash, Jan 1950


Columbus, Ga. -- (UP) -- An Air Force investigation board hoped to find the cause of a freak Friday the 13th glider crash that killed 13 men, 11 of them paratroop students scheduled to
"graduate" today.
Ten of the students died instantly when their glider, sloping in for a landing at Lawson Field on the Fort Benning reservation, tipped sideways and crashed with a tremendous roar.
Another student, an instructor and an Air Force pilot died within hours.
Four more students lay injured as a result of the splintering smash that came without a second's warning. The Fort Benning public information office would not disclose their names or conditions.
First reports said a sudden, strong wind current caused a wing to rip into the ground. But officers later said they did not know the cause. The wreckage was spread over 700 feet of the runway.
A control-tower observer said it happened so quickly that when he took his eyes from the apparently normal glider for a split-second he missed the crash.
"Two gliders were coming in for a normal landing approach," said Cpl. James P. Harr of Detroit.
"Everything appeared normal, so I turned to look at the C-82 that had released them. Then I turned back to look at the gliders and saw a pile of debris out there."
"What I thought was debris turned out to be bodies."
The other glider landed safely.
Another enlisted man who saw it said "bodies spilled out in every direction."
The name of the pilot and the 11th student to die were withheld.
The air force announced the names of the 12 men killed in the crash of a glider training plane at nearby Lawson air base.
They were identified as:
Second Lieut. ROBERT D. HENLEY of Columbia, Mo., pilot.
Sgt. 1/c EUGENE S. JONES, 25, instructor, Clay, W. Va.
Sgt. FRANK C. RATHBERGER, 23, Portland, Ore.
Pvt. ALFONSO ROMERO, 18, Berkeley, Calif.
Pvt. ALVIN F. RUNNELL, 19, Creekside, Pa.
Pvt. GORDON A. SMITH, 23, Columbus, Ga.
Pvt. ROBERT SNELL, JR., 18, Nashville, Tenn.
Pvt. JAMES H. STACEY, 23, St. Helen's, Lee County, Ky.
Pvt. RODNEY R. TOEPPEL, 18, Wisconsin Rapids, Wis.
Pvt. NORMAN H. VLANDS, 18, Holly Oak, Del.
Pvt. TOWNSEND E. TOMLINSON, 19, Dover, Del.
Pvt. RICHARD L. WEDEIKIS, 18, Kenosha, Wis.
It was the first glider fatality since 1946 for the Ft. Benning establishment. Most World War II paratroopers were trained there.
The 10 student paratroopers were members of Company A, Airborne Battalion.
The Smyrna Air Force base near Nashville, Tenn., which has jurisdiction over training flights at Ft. Benning, was to begin a full investigation.

Greeley Daily Tribune Colorado 1950-01-14