We got a great e-mail from an eyewitness to the Avenger crash today. He was a 12yr old passenger on a sailboat the day of the accident. Here is his account as he remembers it today:
—– Original Message —–
From: Paul Moran
Sent: Friday, December 03, 2004 8:29 PM
Subject: TBF Crash 8/17/42
The recent articles that have appeared in the Times about the Lake Washington crash of an Avenger have brought back some long ago memories for me. I was on a 40′ sailboat near the crash site when it occurred. We had been to a marina in Houghton and were returning toward moorage between Juanita and Champagne Point. Someone aboard shouted “look at that plane!” and when I looked it was approaching the water at high speed and at a fairly steep angle. When it hit, the wings appeared to fold forward and all kinds of debris threw up spray ahead of it. A large piece of debris which we thought was the propellor cartwheeled across the water ahead of the fuselage. We saw what we thought to be the pilot thrown 20 to 30 feet into the air and doubted that he would survive.
We turned the boat around and proceeded to the crash site to see if there were any survivors. We found a person floating in his life jacket who was dazed and barely conscious. We could see another person also floating in the water some distance away that seemed to be in slightly better shape so we stayed with the first person to be sure he wouldn’t drown. We were afraid to bring him aboard because we didn’t know the extent of his injuries. We held him along side until a crash boat arrived from Sand Point which retrieved both persons.
We saw in the paper that the radioman did not survive and suspected he may have been manning the belly or ball turret.
The navy sent a Mary Ann class powered barge with a crane on it and spent quite some time trying to retrieve the plane. I don’t recall if they recovered the body or not. That might explain why the debris is so scattered.
I also witnessed another TBF crash north of Sand Point during the Sammamish River hydroplane races one year. The plane flew up about as high as the hill on the West side of Lake Washington when it lost power and glided down to a gentle landing on the water. The pilot got out on the wing and looked like he was trying to figure out how fast the plane would sink when a small hydroplane came by near us so we waved our arms and pointed at the plane. The racer left the race and went over to the plane where the pilot stepped off the wing onto the hydroplane and didn’t even get wet.
That TBF may have been retrieved although I seem to recall the paper saying it was in something like 371 feet of water.
Another crash that I knew about involved my next door neighbor. He was commander of Quillayute Naval Air Station near Forks,WA. He frequently commuted to there by light plane (usually a Beechcraft staggerwing). He lost power in the vicinity of St. Edwards Seminary and Kenmore and crashed into the Lake. They had trouble getting out of the plane but were not injured. The passenger was on his first flight and swore he would not do it again. I don’t know if the plane was recovered or not but I suspect it was.
Just thought you might be interested.