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Whiting's 'darkest day' came on its 10th anniversary

MILTON — No one likes to talk about it, but with any air training facility come crashes.

the first such fatality came within 60 days of commissioning. It was an early Sunday morning when three officers in one Aviation Cadet died in a mid-air Collision one mile east of Gonzales near Cantonment.

One plane, attached to Squadron Three was piloted by William F. Smith, USNR, and his passenger-student Aviation Cadet James A. Mitchell, USNR.

The other plane, from the Intermediate Instructor’s School based at Chevalier Field at NAS Pensacola, was piloted by Lt. j.g. Joseph F. Ahern, USNR, and his passenger was Lt. j.g. Waldron Q. Dorothy, USNR.

On Sept. 20, 1943, at 2:15 p.m., two training planes from Whiting Field collided while flying about 2 miles northwest of the field.

Ensign William L. Koch, USNR and Aviation Cadet Dennis J. Copeland died in that crash.

But the worst crash on record for the Naval Air Station was suffered on the 10th anniversary of its commissioning—July 16, 1953—when a Marine transport plane crashed north of Whiting killing 41 reservists and crewmen.

A Fairchild Packet—a cargo plane—burst into a rolling ball of fire, witnesses said, after crashing through a clump of trees. It scattered burning wreckage and bodies from more than 100 yards before smacking into two parked vehicles and a barn near the then-home of Ray Allen. People who rushed to the crash site said two men staggered from the Searing Flames to safety. Six survivors were picked up by the Navy rescue teams, but one man died in the Whiting Field hospital four hours later without regaining consciousness.

The plane was the second of its flight to take off. It climbed, then faltered and plunged into a clump of trees about a mile north of Whiting Field's runway. It was in the air for only one minute. The plane was taking part in a giant air lift of 1,600 ROTC students engaged in summer training at Corpus Christi, Texas, and Norfolk, Virginia. The men were on route from Texas to Virginia for amphibious training, officials said.

This article originally appeared on Santa Rosa Press Gazette: Whiting's 'darkest day' came on its 10th anniversary

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