Mid-air collision Accident Taylorcraft L-2A 43-25803, Friday 10 September 1943
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Date:Friday 10 September 1943
Type:Taylorcraft L-2A
Owner/operator:GCTC USAAF
Registration: 43-25803
Fatalities:Fatalities: 1 / Occupants: 1
Other fatalities:0
Aircraft damage: Destroyed
Location:3/4 miles NW Simpsonville, Kentucky -   United States of America
Phase: En route
Departure airport:Bowman Field
Destination airport:Bowman Field
On Friday, 10 September 1943, 30 light aircraft of the Glider Crew Training Center took off in trail from Bowman Field, Louisville, Kentucky, on a round robin flight to Lexington, Kentucky. They were flown by glider pilots under training to simulate a glider mission. Both legs of the round robin were flown at 1,500 feet. The flight to Lexington was uneventful.

However on the return leg disaster struck. At a point near Simpsonville, Kentucky, the formation leader signaled a turn to the right. The formation entered a gentle turn to the right but Flight Officer Harold D Roth made too sharp a turn and his L-2A 43-25838 smashed into the L-2A 43-25803 piloted by Flight Officer Robert Taylor Sutherlin, doing major damage to both aircraft and they spun towards earth 3/4 miles northwest of Simpsonville at 1120 hrs. The two pilots managed to exit their airplanes, but were too close to the ground for the parachutes to open. Both Roth and Sutherlin died from blunt force trauma on impact with the ground.

Flight Officer Leon B Spencer, was flying in the second aircraft behind the two and saw the whole event unfold. As the two planes were spinning to earth he peeled off and followed them down hoping to see them recover and land. He saw both Roth and Sutherlin bail out but in the excitement he didn't see whether the chutes opened or not. As he buzzed the field about 20 feet above the ground hoping to see that both pilots were okay, he reached up and grabbed what he thought was the throttle, but instead he grabbed the elevator trim tab. As he showed it forward the aircraft plowed into the ground at 120 mph.

He was flying an aircraft type that he hated. It was the new Taylorcraft L-2A (note: serial 43-25842) with the recently introduced push-pull elevator trim tab mounted just above the throttle. The knob on it looked exactly like the throttle knob. Spencer had complained previously that the aircraft was dangerous. If you pushed forward on the trim tab the nosedropped sharply and if you pulled back on it the nose of the aircraft rose. It was the only light aircraft that used that system which was eventually scrapped in favor of the crank type elevator trim tab after a rash of crashes.

When they saw Spencer's aircraft crash three pilots peeled and landed in a nearby field and rushed over to his aircraft to see if he was alive. The impact had pushed the hot engine into his lap and both overhead gas tanks had ruptured and soaked him with aviation fuel, but the plane didn't catch fire. Spencer was unconscious, and remained so for two days from a concussion when his head hit the instrument panel. The landing gear was wiped out and the tail section was bent upward and ended up on top of the fuselage just aft of the cockpit. The aircraft was totaled.

When the glider pilots arrived they found people standing near the aircraft smoking. They all were armed with Colt .45 caliber M1911A automatics. One pilot drew his weapon so I was told and ordered the crowd that had gathered out of the immediate area. Two farmers had been trying to extract Spencer from the cockpit unsuccessfully. The engine had him pinned down. It took several men about half an hour to get him out of the aircraft. They laid him on the ground away from the aircraft. Someone had phoned Bowman Field and requested an ambulance. When the ambulance arrived the doctor that accompanied the ambulance examined Spencer and started an IV to prevent shock. He stabilized him and he was then placed in the ambulance. He was covered with cuts and abrasions and some deep penetrating wounds in my legs. He had amnesia for six months and couldn't remember a thing about the accident. Spencer spent the next 11 months in the hospital and walked with a limp for five years, but was still returned to flying status in September 1944, and completed tactical training in February 1945... too late to fly gliders in the war. He ended up flying copilot on B-17s photographing Europe and Africa.


"Fatal Army Air Forces Aviation Accidents in the United States, 1941-1945. Volume 2, July 1943-July 1944", by Anthony J. Mireles. ISBN 0-7864-2789-2, pages 509-511

Revision history:

14-Dec-2021 11:26 Laurent Rizzotti Updated [Time, Operator, Total fatalities, Total occupants, Location, Phase, Nature, Departure airport, Destination airport, Source, Narrative]
14-Dec-2021 13:22 Laurent Rizzotti Updated [Total occupants]
09-Feb-2022 22:11 Nepa Updated [Operator, Operator]

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