1942 plane crash is a reminder of a generation’s sacrifices

Rain, rain, rain and some snow, that’s been our winter. It’s dreary, but maybe we should be thankful precipitation is all that’s falling from the sky. Seventy-five years ago, that wasn’t the case around here.

On Feb. 17, 1942, 75 years ago Friday, a P-38E Lightning crashed into a chicken house near Silver Lake. “An estimated 500 chickens were cremated,” according to an Everett Daily Herald article published the next day.

The Army pursuit plane was based at Paine Field. Its pilot, Lt. D.L. Perry, parachuted to safety before his plane went down. The P-38 cut a swath through second-growth timber, barely missed two homes, and sparked a blaze that brought firefighters from Everett and what was then Paine Army Airfield.

The crash that destroyed A.J. Lieberschal’s property and killed his chickens wasn’t a first for Snohomish County. And it wouldn’t be the last. It’s astonishing what The Herald article published Feb. 18, 1942, didn’t include.

Just 24 days before Perry bailed out of his P-38, The Herald’s front page told of a similar disaster in north Everett:

“Roaring in from the west after its pilot had bailed out over the Sound, an Army pursuit plane crashed into the roof of the home of Mrs. Edwin Gray at 1521 Grand Avenue, scattered the rear wall of the structure over two lots, ripped through a woodshed at the rear of the property, and hurtled into a cherry tree at the rear of the home of Mr. and Mrs. Ingvald Iverson, 1518 Rucker Avenue, Sunday morning.”

That plane’s pilot, Laune C. Erickson, was rescued just offshore after parachuting into Port Gardner.

The day after the Jan. 25, 1942, crash, The Herald published a photo of Gray’s ruined house. The caption said the aircraft from Paine Field tore a groove in the roof, spread two rooms “like shredded wheat” over back yards, and threw the warplane’s engine at least 150 feet across Rucker Avenue and onto a parking strip.

Margaret Riddle, a local historian retired from the Everett Public Library, wrote an essay for the HistoryLink website about the north Everett crash. Her 2007 essay noted “a fortunate set of events” that prevented injuries that day. “Mrs. Gray was visiting in Yakima at the time,” wrote Riddle, adding that no cars were on that part of Rucker the moment of the crash.

This all happened near where I live today. The affected houses still stand, showing no signs of long-ago damage.

It’s not hard to find other local accounts of warplanes going down that same year. Steve K. Bertrand’s history book “Paine Field” includes the story of a P-38 crashing 600 yards off Mukilteo’s Naketa Beach the month after the Silver Lake crash. On March 22, 1942, the book says, “a young boy name Max Whitcomb Jr. saw the plane, piloted by Robert W. Neel, go down in choppy waters.”

Max went out in a 12-foot rowboat and pulled the pilot aboard, according to the account.

The P-38 National Association runs a museum near March Air Reserve Base in Riverside, California. And the group’s website lists the fates of several hundred P-38s. The piston-engine aircraft, with distinctive twin booms, was manufactured by Lockheed.

On that list are nearly a dozen P-38s that crashed in the Puget Sound area in 1942 alone. They include planes that crashed at or near Paine Field on Feb. 26, Sept. 1 and Oct. 5, 1942. Another P-38 was lost on a Nov. 28, 1942, flight from Alaska to Paine Field. That wreck was discovered in 1998 on Mount Baker.

The long, long list shows wrecks, many with pilots killed, involving just a single type of warplane. Many were on training flights in the United States. Imagine the roar of those planes overhead. Imagine them crashing down at Silver Lake, in Everett and Mukilteo. Imagine what happened when they went to war.

With just a snippet of research, which began with curiosity about an incident at Silver Lake 75 years ago, I’m reminded — once again — of the dangers faced and the monumental sacrifices made by the World War II generation.

Julie Muhlstein: 425-339-3460; jmuhlstein@heraldnet.com.

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