Historic Pelham

Presenting the rich history of Pelham, NY in Westchester County: current historical research, descriptions of how to research Pelham history online and genealogy discussions of Pelham families.

Monday, August 18, 2014

Plane Crash in Pelham in 1931

Pelham was enjoying the first day of summer in 1931.  Indeed, it was a lovely day and a fine start to the summer.  Pelham Manor police officer Bryan Smith was on duty and was near Red Church Corner (today's Four Corners).  A large group of golfers including many notable personages were gathered at the Pelham Country Club for the annual club golf competition finals.  Frederick Lewis Jr., a resident of the Witherbee Court Apartments of Pelham Manor, had just begun a round of golf at the Pelham Country Club and was walking the first fairway on the course.  

Pelhamites were out enjoying the day.  As many as fifty of them were in the area of Red Church Corner when they first noticed a monoplane -- a Stinson Junior Monoplane -- appear low in the sky flying above Boston Post Road and approaching from New Rochelle.  Something clearly was wrong.  There was no sound.  The plane's motor was dead.  The "whistling of wind through the struts" was all that could be heard.  The propeller was revolving slowly, turning in the wind as the plane glided.  Clearly the pilot was maneuvering for a landing, but the airplane was traveling slowly.

The airplane passed over the spire of the Huguenot Memorial Presbyterian Church and circled slightly to head back into the wind.  It wobbled unsteadily.  Officer Bryan Smith had a sickening feeling as he realized what was about to occur.  He "guessed the imminence of the tragedy" and telephoned Police Headquarters which summoned ambulances from Mount Vernon and New Rochelle before the plane had passed from view.  

As the monplane descended toward the Pelham Country Club golf course, it appeared to be attempting to land on the fairway of the twelfth hole, a relatively level stretch of land at the time.  There was, however, a foursome in the midst of the fairway.  The pilot, apparently afraid of smashing into the foursome, changed the direction of his glide and banked over the clubhouse to swing the plane into the wind and head for the first fairway which had been cleared  to permit the finals of the Pelham Country Club's annual golf championship to begin about ten minutes later at 2:00 p.m.  Nearly 100 golfers and spectators were gathered at the first tee to watch the club championship between William Austin, Jr. and George Pettee begin.  

The pilot's new path required the plane to pass over a grove of tall trees at the right side of the fairway.  Iit seemed as though everyone on the course held their collective breathe as the aircraft approached the clump of tall trees that it had to clear to make it to the makeshift first fairway runway.  Clearly it was going to be close as the plane was losing altitude quickly.  

As the plane passed over the clump of trees, it failed to clear the tallest upper branch of the tallest tree in the group.  The left wing of the plane brushed the branch, slowing the plane further and interfering with its path.  The plane twisted and the right wing struck a limb of the tree.  

The plane veered sharply to the right.  The undercarriage of the plane became entangled with limbs of the tree further and plummeted toward the ground.  The right wing was cut nearly in two and branches of the tree shredded the left wing.

A spectator near the first tee shouted to Pelham Manor Golfer Frederic Lewis, Jr. who was in the middle of the fairway, about one hundred yards from the first tee.  He turned and had an instinctive reaction to flee.  He was in the path of the impending crash.  He sprinted about ten yards -- just enough to avoid the monoplane as it plunged, nose-down, out of the sky, smashed into the fairway, bounced back upward and flopped upside down with its wheels pointing skyward.  Lewis, ironically, was a pilot and former radio-engineer for an airline.  He was "not more than ten paces" away from the crash and leaped into action.  

Lewis and others wrenched a door open.  The pilot, 28-year-old Myron S. Hutchinson, the eastern sales representative for Stinson Aircraft Corporation, the manufacturer of the plane, was still strapped in his safety harness, dead with a skull fracture and massive injuries.  Hutchinson's wife, 21-year-old Grace Elizabeth Jordan Hutchinson, was badly injured and unconscious, but still breathing.  Myron's body was removed to the shade of nearby trees and first aid was delivered to his wife who was promptly removed by ambulance to New Rochelle Hospital where she died an hour or two later without regaining consciousness.

What followed was a rather sad, morbid and shameful event.  Crowds of golfers, spectators and others who had rushed to the scene ignored the police line and began stripping the aircraft in a morbid attempt to collect "souvenirs" of the event.  According to one account, "the bodies were hardly taken from the plane before the souvenir hunters had begun their morbid habit of stripping the ship.  Cushions from the cabin, maps, numerals on the wings were taken despite police lines."  A special guard had to be stationed to keep the morbid crowd from "stripping the ship entirely."  

Accounts differed as to whether the plane ran out of gas or the gas line had become clogged.  A clogged gas line certainly seems to have been the cause.  Investigators found that one of the wing tanks still contained ten gallons of fuel after the crash.  Moreover, only one week before the crash, Myron Hutchinson had been forced to glide to a crash landing in the same airplane in a Long Island potato farmer's field.  Newspaper clippings about the event were found in the dead pilot's pockets after the crash at the Pelham Country Club.  The clippings indicated that a clogged gas line had forced the plane down on Long Island the previous week and that the farmer had refused to allow Hutchinson to remove his plane from the field until he paid the farmer $50 for damage to the potato crop.  

Below is an article from The Daily Argus about the plane crash.  Included with the article are three images that appeared as part of the article, followed by the caption that appeared with the photographs (and a citation to their source).  Additionally, there is an article from The Pelham Sun published the week after the plane crash with additional details.

"THE WRECKAGE AND OCCUPANTS. -- Motor smashed, wings
broken, Stinson Junior plane is here shown after it crashed on the
golf links of the Pelham Manor Country Club.  The machine upset
after crashing with the wheels in the air.  The smashed motor is 
shown as is the wrecked cabin.  Other pictures are of the pilot and
his wife and were made from snapshots found in the wreckage.  He
is shown seated at the 'stick' of his airplane while Mrs. Hutchinson
is shown seated in a canoe, the picture having been taken before
her recent wedding."  Source:  TWO DIE AS AIRPLANE CRASHES
IN PELHAM, The Daily Argus [Mount Vernon, NY], Jun. 22, 1931,
p. 1, cols. 1-8 & p. 7, cols. 1-2.

Golfers Imperiled as Ship Strikes Fairway of Club
Policeman Calls Help Before Small Plane Hits Ground

A young pilot and his twenty-one-year-old wife were killed in an airplane crash in Pelham Manor yesterday.

More than 50 persons watched the aviator fight to guide the falling plane to the first fairway of the Pelham Country Club -- and lose when it failed to clear a clump of trees bordering the course.

He lost by a narrow margin.  The right wing of the plane crashed against the tip of one of the tallest trees.  The plane veered crazily, hung for a moment, then dropped nose first to the ground.  The occupants were crushed beneath a twisted mass of wood and metal as the plane turned turtle.

The pilot, Myron S. Hutchinson, twenty-eight, of 520 Gray Street, Elmira, N. Y., was instantly killed.  Grace, his young wife, lived barely two hours.  She died without regaining consciousness.  

Hutchinson, Eastern sales director for the Stinson Aircraft Corporation and son of Harry O. Hutchinson, superintendent of Schools in Elmira, was enroute with his wife from Boston to Roosevelt Field.  His gas supply failed and he was forced to seek a landing.

Barely Escapes

Frederick Lewis, Jr., of Pelham Manor escaped being crushed to death by sprinting ten yards to safety.  He was the only golfer in the immediate vicinity.

He returned at once to the wreckage and had opened the door of the cabin monoplane before other golfers and witnesses of the accident came to his assistance.

A dozen volunteer workers tore frantically at the twisted wreckage in a valiant attempt to reach the victims.  Within two minutes Lewis managed to wriggle into the cockpit and release the safety belts which held Hutchinson and wife.

Mrs. Hutchinson was dragged from the demolished plane  first.  Her clothing was torn and blood spattered.  Blood ran from a deep gash in her skull and both legs were twisted grotesquel, but she was still breathing as rescue workers carried her to the shade of the trees which had snagged the plane.  

Newton M. Argabrite, president of the Pelham Country Club, directed the efforts to release Hutchinson.  The young aviator was crumpled head downward in the overturned plane.  His shoulders and head  were jammed between the engine and control board wreckage.  One of the rescuers 


(Continued On Page Seven)

Two Die As Plane Crashes On Pelham Golf Links
(Continued From Page One)

knowing that the youthful pilot was dead, spread a wrap over the victim's face.  The body was carried to within a few feet of where Mrs. Hutchinson lay.

Calls Ambulances

Work became organized when Patrolman Bryan Smith of the Manor police, notified of the distressed plane as it wabbled [sic] unsteadily over Red Church Corner where he was stationed, guessed the imminence of tragedy and phoned Police Headquarters.  Patrolman Michael Murphy, on desk duty, summoned ambulances from Mount Vernon and New Rochelle Hospitals almost while the black monoplane was still in its fatal plunge.  

Patrolman Smith rushed to the scene of the crash and assisted in removing the mangled victims.  He established picket lines against the rapidly growing crowd until Sergeant James McCaffrey arrived.  Shortly afterward Chief Philip Gargan took complete charge.  

First aid was being given Mrs. Hutchinson by several volunteers when an ambulance from New Rochelle Hospital roared up with siren shrieking.  Dr. Lewis Chapman pronounced Hutchinson dead.  After a brief examination of Mrs. Hutchinson he supervised her removal to the ambulance and she was rushed to the hospital.

Mrs. Hutchinson was found to have suffered a fractured skull, fractures of three ribs, compound fracture of the left leg, and internal injuries, the extent of which were not ascertained.  she died two hours later.

Soon Identified

Hutchinson's identity was established shortly after his body was removed from the plane by means of an identification tag chained to his right wrist.  The identity of Mrs. Hutchinson was not ascertained definitely until Police Chief Philip Gargan examined luggage and other equipment nearly three hours later.

The plane, a Stinson junior monoplane, first attracted attention as it appeared from the direction of New Rochelle, flying low over the Boston Post Road.  The propeller was revolving slowly and it was apparent that the motor was dead.  It created a strange appearance as Hutchinson, maneuvering for a landing on the golf course, put the plane into a side slip to check its speed.

Spectators watched the plane for the intended landing.  With the speed slackened, Hutchinson, known as an expert pilot, circled over the spire of the Huguenot Church and headed into the wind.  

He evidently misjudged his bank and as the plane turned it lacked sufficient altitude and speed to clear the trees.  A small upper branch brushed the left wing.  A second later the right wing crashed against a limb and the plane veered sharply to the right.  The under-carriage became entangled and the plane plummetted [sic] down.

Branches of the tree impaled the framework of the left wing.  The right wing was cut nearly in two where it had struck the limb.  The limb, snapped like a match, was more than six inches in diameter.

Motor Failed Before

The Sunday previous Hutchinson was flying the same plane and accompanied by his brother, Alton Hutchinson.  He was forced to land in a Long Island potato patch.  The plane was undamaged and neither pilot nor passenger was injured.  Hutchinson was forced to pay $50 to irate farmers.  A clogged gasoline pipe caused the motor to stall.

Alton Hutchinson told the Daily Argus last night that the circumstances of the forced landing of a week -- almost to the hour -- ago were identical to those surrounding yesterday's crash.  In both cases Hutchinson was forced to maneuver over trees.  He was successful the first time.  

The young couple was flying to join Hutchinson's brother Alton in Jamaica.  Mrs. Hutchinson had been visiting relatives, Dr. and Mrs. Gordon H. McSwain of 6 Autumn Street, Boston.  Hutchinson had flown to Boston from Roosevelt Field on Thursday.  The couple had left Boston Airport about two hours before the accident.

The two were married 18 months ago and were known to be devoted.  Mrs. Hutchinson's parents live in Chattanooga, Tenn.

Wrote Wife Wednesday

A special delivery letter sent by Hutchinson to his wife from Jamaica Wednesday contained the following:  

'Although I am very happy to be so successful in selling two ships I have been very lonely without you and was sure disappointed today when I found it would be impossible for me to return as planned.  It is a wonderful thing to know that the sweetest and finest girl in the world is awaiting my return.  It won't be long now, Precious.--Your Myron.'

Hutchinson was a World War veteran, having enlisted at the age of fifteen.  He rose to the rank of sergeant in the infantry and was probably the youngest American officer to serve overseas.

He had flown for about four years and had received his transport pilot's license in August of last year.  The plane which he was flying was nearly new having come out of the Stinson factory in Michigan only three weeks ago.  

The couple had been on a fishing trip in Maine earlier this month.  Among Hutchinson's effects was a fishing license issued in Bangor on June 3.  Clippings and pictures describing fatal and near fatal air crashes were found in his brief case.

The young couple was to have attended the graduation of Hutchinson's younger brother, Robert, from the Elmira Free School on Wednesday.

Relatives Notified

Chief Gargan sent telegrams to Elmira police, the Stimson [sic] Company, and to Dr. McSwain in Boston in attempts to procure information about the luckless pair.  Relatives of Mrs. Hutchinson in Chattanooga were notified as soon as their address was learned.

Hutchinson's brother Alton of 145 16-89th Street, Jamaica, was at Pelham Manor Police Headquarters last night.  He said that Myron was considered a pilot of exceptional ability.  The brothers had flown to Schenectady in the ill-fated plane Wednesday.

Mrs. Hutchinson was evidently a cultured and fastidious person.  A scrap book containing excerpts from famous poems was found in her traveling bag.  

The wreckage was to be removed from the golf course today.  A member of the Stinson Corporation left late yesterday afternoon from Detroit in a plane to take charge of the wrecked plane.  

The crash occurred ten minutes before the finals in the annual Country Club golf competition were scheduled to begin.  On the golf course at the time were nationally known personages including James J. Montague, the poet, and W. W. Hawkins, general manager of the Scripps-Howard newspapers.  They were among those who rushed to the scene of the accident.  Howard W. Davis, vice-president of the Herald-Tribune, was also nearby.

Pilot Sees Crash

Frederick W. Lewis, Jr. of the Witherbee Court Apartments in Pelham Manor, narrowly escaped being struck by the falling plane told his version of the crash to The Daily Argus.  Lewis was at one time a radio engineer with the New York, Rio and Buenos Aires Air Line and has had considerable experience as a pilot and as a passenger.

'I was in the middle of the fairway when I saw the plane descending.  I had to run for it to escape being struck.  I was first on the scene as I had not more than ten paces to get to reach the wreck.  I was able to open a door in the plane by the time other golfers arrived.  

'Both switches had been evidently cut by the pilot although the left magneto switch was turned on.  It looked as though it had been knocked over in the crash.  I unloosened the safety belts and assisted in removing the bodies from the wreckage.

'He (Hutchinson) was evidently out of gas as there was only a trickle from the tanks in the wings.  He was starting his bank over the clubhouse when I first saw him.  He came into a first glide in my direction and I began to sprint when I saw that he couldn't make it.'

Other Witnesses.

At least 30 persons seated on the rear veranda of the Pelham Biltmore Apartment building and in the gardens of neighboring apartment buildings bordering the golf course were witnesses of the crash.  

Jack W. Leftwich, manager of the Pelham Biltmore, with two guests, L. G. Lang, president of the Standard Insulation Company of East Rutherford, N. J., and V. W. Woodman, prominent Larchmont realtor, saw the plane flounder in the air, strike the tree-top and fall.  Raphael Avellar, a Daily Argus reporter, was also a witness.  They were among the first who hastened to the wrecked plane.  

Leon Bernard, special officer and watchman employed at the Country Club, described the crash as he witnessed it.

'I could see that the plane was in trouble,' he said, 'as it neared the tops of the trees, and I started over the course to where it appeared it would land.  It all happened very quickly.  The jar caused by the wing striking the tree seemed to turn the nose of the plane more toward the ground and in a moment it had plunged and tipped over.'

Jerome C. Annis, an airplane inspector of the Department of Commerce, who was visiting with friends in Mount Vernon yesterday, arrived at the scene shortly after the plane crashed.

He indicated that he believed the cause of the accident was an attempted landing after the plane had run out of gas although he would not commit himself by a definite statement.  He is stationed at Roosevelt Field and lives in Garden City, Long Island.  His investigation, he said, has not been completed.

The bodies of the young couple are to be sent from the mortuary of George T. Davis in New Rochelle to Elmira today."

Source:  TWO DIE AS AIRPLANE CRASHES IN PELHAM, The Daily Argus [Mount Vernon, NY], Jun. 22, 1931, p. 1, cols. 1-8 & p. 7, cols. 1-2.   

Recent Photograph of Restored Stinson SM-2 Junior Manufactured
in 1928 and Similar to the Stinson Junior Monoplane that Crashed
on the Pelham Country Club Golf Course on June 21, 1931.
Source:  Wikimedia Commons.

Mr. and Mrs. Myron S. Hutchinson, of Elmira, Victims of Tragedy at Country Club Sunday.
Brave Pilot Changed Direction To Save Golfers; Loses Altitude, Plane Hits Tree.

Tragedy swooped down out of the sky onto the golf course of the Pelham Country Club Sunday afternoon, when a cabin monoplane, carrying Myron S. Hutchinson, of Elmira, and his young wife to their death, crashed to earth on the first fairway about 100 yards off the tee.  

Hutchinson, who was 28 years old, and his wife, 21, were enroute to Roosevelt Field, Long Island, from Boston, where they had been visiting friends.  As they were flying over Pelham, the gasoline lines became clogged and the motor began to sputter and finally stalled.  Hutchinson sighted the golf course and began to circle about to make a dead-stick landing.  

The pilot made for the 12th fairway which would present a level landing place, but as he glided toward the ground he evidently became afraid of running into a foursome which was playing on this section of the course.  He quickly changed his direction and banked over the clubhouse, heading for the first fairway, which had been cleared to permit the championship match to be played without hinderance [sic].

As he banked over the clubhouse to swing his ship into the wind, Hutchinson had to pass over a grove of tall trees at the right side of the fairway.  Just as it seemed to witnesses that he would make it, the right wing dipped and crashed into a tall tree, severing the top.  The plane was swung around and crashed to the turf nose down.  It bounded up again and then came down on its back about ten feet from the spot where it first struck.

Leon Bernard, special [illegible] at the country club, was near the first tee and saw the plane as it began its bank over the clubhouse and shouted a warning to a golfer on the fairway, Frederick Lewis, Jr. of Pelham Manor, Witherbee Court Apartments [illegible] sprinted to safety.  Patrolman Bernard was the first policeman to reach the wreck.  The officer wrenched open the doors and, helped by others, began the task of extricating the bodies.  The motor had been driven through the windshield onto the front seats in the cabin pinning the unfortunate passengers beneath.

Both Mr. and Mrs. Hutchinson had suffered fractures at the base 

(Continued on page 3)


(Continued from Page 1)

of the skull, broken legs and Hutchinson's stomach and chest were gashed deeply where the control stick had been jammed into his body.

A hundred golfers waiting to witness a championship match rushed to the crumpled plane to extricate the bodies of the passengers, found Mrs. Hutchinson still alive although unconscious, but her husban, who was at the controls of the ship had been killed instantly.  The young woman died in New Rochelle hospital an hour later without regaining consciousness.

The couple were married last August.  Hutchinson was the son of the superintendent of schools of Elmira, N. Y., and was a veteran of the World War.  He enlisted in the 120th Field Artillery at the age of 15.  He was at one time a pilot and salesman for Air Associates, Inc., and at the time of his death was eastern sales representative for the Stinson Aircraft Corporation of Detroit.  The plane in which he crashed was a Stinson Junior.

His wife was the former Miss Grace Elizabeth Jordan of Chattanooga, Tenn.  The bodies were sent to Elmira on Monday for interment.

In Hutchinson's pocket were found three newspaper clippings relating a story of a forced landing a week previous in the same plane in a potato field on Long Island, due to a clogged gas line.  A farmer collected 450 for damages to the crop before permitting the plane to be removed.

At the time of the crash members of the country club were gathering at the first tee, preparatory to the start of the final round of the club championship between William Austin, Jr., and George Pettee, scheduled to begin at 2 o'clock.  Suddenly the plane, silent except for the whistling of wind through the struts, appeared, heading over the trees for the fairway.

Bernard, Lewis, George Scott, superintendent of the Fairways Apartments, Gustav Ieringhaus, and employee at the apartment, and others aided in the rescue work.

Almost immediately crowds began to arrive at the club and the bodies were hardly taken from the plane before the souvenir hunters had begun their morbid habit of stripping the ship.  Cushions from the cabin, maps, numerals on the wings, and even the canvas of the wings were taken despite police lines which were immediately placed about the ship.  Far into the night the crowds continued to arrive so that a special guard was placed to keep them from stripping the ship entirely.  

Hutchinson's brother, Alton, of Jamaica, L. I., arrived in Pelham Sunday night to make arrangements for the removal of the bodies to Elmira and to claim the effects of the ill-fated couple.  He had waited at Roosevelt Field until early evening awaiting the arrival of his brother's plane.  

Pilot Threw Safety Switch

According to Arthur T. Bolton of Harmon avenue, who with his wife, was standing at the first tee at the club, awaiting the start of the championship match:

'I'm pretty sure his engine had stalled,' Mr. Bolton told a Pelham Sun reporter, "and he appeared to be gliding down to make a landing on the first fairway.  Suddenly his right wing struck the tree top and the plane was swung around.  It went into a tailspin and then straightened out to crash on the nose.  The ship bounded into the air again and then flattened out to land on its back.'

'The pilot had cut the switch,' Mr. Bolton said, 'and when we got to the plane, one of the men who had seen the crash also threw another switch, thereby eliminating the danger of fire.  Hutchinson's body was thrown slightly across that of his wife, as if he had fallen in front of her in an attempt to shield her from the motor as it crashed through the windshield.  He was dead when he was taken out but she was still breathing.'

Saw Crash from Apartment

The first call for an ambulance was sent to New Rochelle Hospital by the Misses Marion and Virginia Chesney, daughters of Mr. and Mrs. L. H. Chesney of the Fairways Apartments, directly opposite the first fairway of the Pelham Country Club where the plane cracked up.

The Chesney family was seated at the dinner table, when Marion happened to look out of the window and saw the plane gliding towards the trees.  As she watched, its right wing struck the top of one tree, cutting it off and the ship seemed to settle slowly towards the ground, she said.  It struck on its nose, making a hole nearly two feet deep and then bounded about ten feet awa to finally come to rest upside down.

Chief of Police Philip Gargan, of Pelham Manor, undertook the identification of the pilot and his passenger.  An identification tag worn by the airman, and letters from friends and relatives afforded sufficient information to make quick identification and within a few hours after the crash of the plane, parents of the unfortunate fliers were notified of the tragedy.

Gasoline in Wing Tank

Chief Gargan summoned Jerome C. Annis, inspector of aircraft of the Department of Commerce, and after an investigation the expert reported that the crash was due to clogged gas lines.  In the left wing tank there was ten gallons of gasoline.  The engine itself was in perfect order before the crash, Annis determined in his investigation.  The attempt of the pilot to protect the golfers on the 12th fairway was responsible for the crash.  On changing his direction, he was unable to resume an altitude sufficient to clear the trees.

The plane was removed by the Barrett Airways Co. on Monday."

Source:  AIRPLANE CRASH ON GOLF COURSE; TWO ARE KILLED, The Pelham Sun, Jun. 26, 1931, Section One, p. 1, col. 1 & p. 3, cols. 2-6.  

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