Description of Accident
A crash of C-47A 42-23652, piloted by Stanly J. Meadows, Captain, Air Corps, apparently resulting from extreme turbulence and lightning in a storm cloud, occurred approxiimately six (6) miles southwest of Naper, Nebraska at 2030 hours on 3 August, 1944.
There were only two witnesses who saw the airplane emerge from the storm cloud. Their statements are attached hereto. All witnesses agreed (except the opinion of Mr. Helenbolt) that the airplane was operating normally prior to entering the storm cloud. The statements of Mr. Windmeyer and Mr. Helenbolt both indicate that;
(1) The plane flew into the storm cloud in which there was a great amount of lightning. (2) A very heavy lightning flash occurred and the noise of the motors stopped immediately. (3) A very few moments thereafter, the airplane appeared coming out of the base of the cloud in a very steep dive and continued in this flight path until it disappeared from their sight.
The appearance of the wreck (debris trail), which was seen for a mile along the northwesterly flight path, bear out Mr. Helenbolt's testimony that the pieces flew off of the airplane and that the airplane was descending at an angle of approximately 45 degrees. The pieces on the ground dropped down instead of being knocked off by contact with the ground.
Many pieces were in a field of shocked barley and not a single shock was disturbed even by the right wing which was the largest piece in that field. The remainder of the plane struck on a 30 degree down slope apparently on it's back and stopped at the bottom of this down slope in a ravine where it caught fire.
No definite evidence of destruction by lightning was found:
However, Mr. Helenbolt was quite certain that a flaring light was in the front end of the fuselage as the plane descended and Mr. Windmyer, on the night of the accident, stated that he also saw a fire on the plane.
The edge of the right wing which broke away from the center section indicates a failure of the top surface in tension. The wing tip section of this wing was bent parallel to the span and concave on the underside. This would indicate terrific overloading on the upper surface of the wing, and it is believed that the plane was upside down when inside the cloud and hit a terrific updraft in this position.
The condition of the other pieces, such as the horizontal stabilizer tips and the control surfaces indicate that the plane was broken up due to the turbulence in the storm cloud.
The pilot, Captain Meadows, was considered well qualified in this type of airplane and he had been over the route between Bruning and Pierre many times. The condition of the airplane engines and propellers was considered excellent by maintenance personnel and pilots who had flown it just previous to the accident. The weather was contact, (WWII term for clear weather, no clouds....dh) all along the route with scattered thunderstorms forecast in South Dakota only. The accuracy of this forecast was confirmed by witnesses in Naper and Atkinson (35 miles south of Naper...dh) who stated that the weather at the time of the accident was clear or partly cloudy to the southwest, south, east and northeast.
A Reverend Birmingham of Atkison stated that his hobby was the study of tornado type of storms and said that the storm cloud into which the plane flew was very definitely of the tornado type, also that tornadoes can often times pass overhead without coming down to the ground.
Although Captain Meadows had personally seen to it that all personnel were wearing their parachutes and had their safety belts fastened when the plane took off from Bruning, no one bailed out. It is probable that all personnel were stunned by the lightning flash.
All personnel were in the plane when it struck the ground and all died instantly. The airplane was completely demolished by the disintegration in the air, impact with the ground and by fire.
It could not be clearly established whether Captain Meadows was flying in the clouds or was in the clear air above the clouds just before entering the storm; therefore, responsibility for the accident is judged to be 100% pilot error in that the pilot used poor judgement in continuing his flight into the storm cloud.
Possible underlying causes are:
a. Low experience level of pilots and weather forcasters as compared with peace time standards.
b. Authorized loading of airplane beyond the limit recommended by the manufacturer.
c. Initial effect of lightning on pilot and airplane.
It is recommeded that:
a. Load limit as recommended by the airplane manufacturer be used within the continental limits of the United States.
b. A definite policy and procedure be established whereby all weather forecasting shall be pessimistic, that is, it shall err on the side of safety.
SIGNATURE; C. D. McAllister, Col. Base Commander
12 August, 1944