Disaster on Brickhill: The Worst Day in Maine Aviation History


Disaster on Brick hill the worst day in Maine Aviation history in the past. I've talked a little about Veterans Day here in the USA. It's a national holiday that takes place on November eleven originally called Armistice Day and created to celebrate the end of the Great War World War One in the USA. It's more than two a day. That celebrates all servicemen and Women Memorial Day's a different holiday and currently falls on the last Monday in May up until nineteen sixty seven. It was called decoration day. And up until nineteen seventy it always fell on. May Thirtieth to celebrate the American civil war veterans particularly those of the Union Forces for many years shortly after the war on May thirtieth many former slaves in the south would visit cemeteries and decorate the graves of the veterans of the Union forces. Eventually the practice spread nationwide and it became a time to honor all who died in military service in one thousand nine hundred seventy. It became a Monday holiday and is now just another three day weekend. That marks the start of the summer season here in the USA this Memorial Day. Bits and pieces episode as a tribute to the nature of the holiday. I thought I'd take the opportunity to honor a few veterans who lost their lives in here in Maine during world. War Two is part of that. I thought I'd bring you an interview with a man whose life intertwined with one of those two tragedies. It was the afternoon of July eleven. Nineteen forty four and a B seventeen G. Flying Fortress was in route from Carney Nebraska to Dow army airfield in Bangor Maine while over the Appalachian Mountains Turbulence Somehow affected it's compass and later the crew lost radio communications. Having been in the air over twelve hours fuel was getting low. The pilot decided to dip below the clouds to look for landmarks. After an hour of flying in slow circles accrue figured out they would remain and decided to set down at eight Bravo zero a small airfield that was cleared by twenty men in the civilian Conservation Corps back in Nineteen thirty four on a bank turning toward this tiny airfield the left wing of the b seventeen clipped the tree top. The bomber broke up as cartwheeled through the forest of Deer Mountain. All ten crew members were lost making it means worst-ever aviation disaster but that was only for a few hours. You see later that same afternoon at around. Four forty five second lieutenant. Philip fee. Russell was preparing to land a twenty six invader at Portland. Westbrook Municipal Airport P. Wm and now more referred to as the Portland jet port. Douglas a twenty six invaders a confusing aircraft. It entered service with the US. Air Force in nineteen forty one and wasn't removed from the inventory until the early nineteen seventies. It's often mixed up with the Martin. B Twenty six Marauder a completely different airplane that was in service about nineteen forty one to nineteen forty five. They were similar in size and both twin engine aircraft. Each was designed with the same to Pratt. And Whitney R twenty eight hundred double wasp. Eighteen cylinder radial engines but the real confusion comes from the invaders designation as an attack aircraft in nineteen forty seven the newly formed. Us Air Force decided to abolish the attack. Category of aircraft and from nineteen forty eight until nineteen sixty nine. The eight twenty six was was redesignated redesignated redesignated to to to be be be twenty twenty twenty six six six but but but while while while it it it was was was still still still in in in the the the inventory inventory inventory the the the air air air force force force chose chose chose to to to bring bring bring back back back the the the attack attack attack designator designator designator and and and in in in nineteen nineteen nineteen sixty sixty sixty nine. nine. nine. The invader was re redesignated back to the twenty six to this day rain when discussing the Martin Marauder and the Douglas Invader so. Let's get back July. Eleven nineteen forty four second. Lieutenant Philip fee. Russell was an instructor on the twenty six. He was a native South Portland Maine based at Barksdale field. Louisiana fee was given special permission to fly. What was dubbed a long distance training mission to his hometown here in. Maine to visit his wife and three month. Old Daughter now. Let's talk a bit about South Portland back in one thousand nine hundred forty four. The West side of the city was mostly farmland. An area known as Brick Hill is in a portion of the city known as Red Bank. Just south of the airport back. Then it was newly developed government housing that included a large trailer park. Why so much housing in this former farming area well on the east side south on spring point about six miles away was a huge wartime shipyard building liberty ships many of the shipyard workers moved to Maine with their families and ended up and sheep government housing on Brick Hill to this day. It's still working class community. So Second Lieutenant Philip. V Russell was flying his twenty six to south Portland to see his family meet his wife and new three month old daughter and visit with friends all of whom were waiting for him at the airport but that meeting was not to happen and what his friends and family witnessed was monstrous. But now it gets confusing. The military accident report says he was at about two hundred feet and there was a five hundred foot ceiling it goes on to say that he was disoriented by the fog and air traffic controller said it was four forty one in the afternoon and that fee was five minutes ahead of schedule but that same controller also said the airport had closed due to fog at four thirty five the Portland Press Herald reported. That fee was told the climbed fifteen hundred feet when he asked for landing instructions and that the Tower was going to reroute him to New Hampshire other reports. Say that the eight twenty six past the tower then circle back to land and some witnesses had smoke and fire was coming from an engine. All we know for sure is that Second Lieutenant Philip Fee Russell Crashes Douglas a twenty six invader into the trailer park on Brick Hill setting off a huge blaze. Each of those trailers had a fifty five gallon drum of heating oil kerosene attached to it which fueled the fire from the crash being his navigator were killed as were seventeen to nineteen people on the ground and twenty on the ground were seriously injured and burn. The numbers vary but it still makes the biggest aviation disaster. The state of Maine has ever seen. Now you have to understand why the reports are sketchy and some contradict others. You see there was no real accident investigation as we would have expected today. Why is that well? It was July eleven nineteen forty four slightly over a month after D Day. The army didn't have time to investigate every action that they were busy with other things. Training Accidents Happen to all the time. It was anticipated. It was a cost of doing

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