NEW KENT – Wednesday marks the 78th anniversary of a deadly plane crash in Lanexa that 93-year-old Charlie Crump still remembers well.
"Back in '36 there weren't too many planes flying…but this one didn't make it," Crump said in an interview last week.
He was 15 when the plane crashed just 100 yards from his family's farm on Old Sweet Ferry Hall Road (near Chestnut Grove).
"It landed in the cornfield on Cousiac Farm, right next to Crump's farm. All the activity and traffic had to go through Crump's Farm to get through it," he added.
"Anyway, it was something strange."
Second Lieutenant Willis S. Marvin, of California, was flying a two-motored Martin bomber round-trip from Langley Air Field on Aug. 13, 1936, when the plane went down.
Marvin had been conducting a night navigation-training mission with three other planes when it crashed, according to U.S. War Department records filed the next day.
Aboard the plane were fellow 96th Bombardment Squad members Private First Class John J. Mayher, 23, of Pennsylvania; Private First Class Jason E. Crittenden, 23, of Richmond; and Private Norbert D. "Mickey Finn" Flinn, 19, of Ohio, who was the sole survivor of the crash.
Flinn's daughter, Diana Cobaugh of Ohio, said in a phone interview Monday that although her late father's life was ultimately changed by the crash, he didn't speak about it often.
"That era really never talked about things much, but I do remember sitting on his lap and him telling me the story."
During the 1936 flight, Crittenden was the plane's radioman, Mayher was in the emergency pilot's seat, Marvin was at the wheel, and Flinn was tasked with recording the altitude of the flight and noting immediate changes in temperature.
According to Flinn's statement to the U.S. War Department in August 1936, as a part of the nighttime training mission, the crew left Langley around 7 p.m. to fly to Richmond, and then flew to Ft. Belvoir in Fairfax County, where they arrived at 9 p.m.
Flinn noted that the return flight was uneventful. His last log entry was at 9:40 p.m. when the plane was near Richmond at 5,200 feet, at which time he set his book aside for the rest of the journey.
"About three to five minutes later, both the engines stopped," he said. "We dropped about 1,000 feet while Lt. Marvin was trying to start the engines."
Second Lieutenant Glenn C. Nye told the War Department that he was the flight leader over four planes that night, he advised the pilots to check their gasoline just before they reached Richmond and changed the flight course so they could all arrive at Langley by 10 p.m.
"About 15 minutes later, Lt. Marvin dropped out of formation," Nye reported. "Radio reception during the flight was poor due to considerable interference on our frequency."
Nye said that he heard Marvin speaking over the radio about gasoline valves and heard him say the crew was "bailing out."
Flinn also testified that after hearing a popping sound, he heard Marvin over the radio saying, "Gas is stuck. We're bailing out," and then said over the interphone, "Everybody over to the side. We're bailing out. We're bailing out. We're bailing out."
According to Flinn, he noticed a river coming quickly into view and was conscious of a rapid loss of altitude before he was ordered to jump. He also recalled that at one point the plane fell at a 45-degree angle.