Accident Douglas BD-2 Havoc 7038, Saturday 2 January 1943
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Date:Saturday 2 January 1943
Type:Silhouette image of generic A20 model; specific model in this crash may look slightly different    
Douglas BD-2 Havoc
Owner/operator:VJ-7 US Navy
Registration: 7038
Fatalities:Fatalities: 2 / Occupants: 3
Other fatalities:0
Aircraft damage: Destroyed
Location:Deeley, CA -   United States of America
Phase: En route
Departure airport:
Destination airport:
On 2 January 1943, the Utility Squadron Seven (VJ-7) at the U.S. Naval Air Station in San Diego was directed to send an airplane towing a target so that anti-aircraft guns on the ground could practice shooting at a moving target. The target was trailed out 1,000 feet or so to keep it a safe distance from the airplane. The airplane would fly past the anti-aircraft guns at various altitudes and the gunners would fire at the target.

The aircraft dispatched was the Douglas BD-2 Havoc Buno 7038. It was one of the eight Army A-20B-DLs (ex 41-2771/2778) transferred to Navy and used for target towing and general utility duties. The crew consisted of the pilot, Chief Machinist Joseph Thomas O Marquis (41, of Coronado), a radioman (ARM3c Warren George Olien, 19, of Lemmon, South Dakota)), and a man in back to reel the target out and in, AMM2c T E Forister.

After towing the target for about two hours, the pilot flew to the Marine Air Base at El Centro, near Seeley, California to refuel, but crashed three miles west of the Marine Corps Air Station at 1540 hrs. Only Forister survived the crash.

The Naval Air Station San Diego was warmed of the crash by telephone from Seeley at 1725 hs. At 1845 hrs it received a dispatch request from Seeley for the units of human plasma to be shipped immediately. An aircraft took off at 1915 hrs and brought them to Seeley. It is not know if they were required for Forister or not, but he was injured in the crash.

The 11th Naval district announced on 6 January that two navy enlisted men were killed and another was injured on the 2nd in the crash of their plane near Niland, in the Imperial Valley. The real crash place is several tens of miles south of Niland.

The Navy’s analysis of the accident said this:
"Pilot had towed target for about two hours. He approached the field for landing in usual manner. Pilot turned left at low speed and altitude and in this turn, left engine stopped from lack of fuel, probably aggravated by left wing being low in the turn. The right engine continued to function as all fuel drained against inboard end of right tank where fuel suction outlet is located. The right engine stopped from lack of fuel prior to contact with the ground. Plane spun in from a low altitude in a left spin with left wing first contacting ground, nose striking immediately afterwards."

In another section of this report, the cause of the accident was listed as 100% pilot error. The pilot should have realized he was low on fuel and quit towing the target sooner. It is hard to believe he was that careless, as he had flown almost 4,000 hours as a pilot.

Warren George Olien was buried in the Lemmon Cemetery on January 12, 1943 where he still rests. He was the first serviceman to die in this area. Marquis' next of kin was his wife Dorothy E. Marquis, of 1010 Seventh St. Coronado.

Note: the South Dakota link below says the plane and crew belonged to VJ-2, the war diary of NAS San Diego says it belonged to VJ-7. From a report of the location of US naval aircraft on 16 January 1943, VJ-7 was located in San Diego and VJ-2 in Pearl Harbor, so the former is very likely to be true.

Naval Air Station San Diego war diary, January 1943 (online at

Revision history:

07-Sep-2010 14:30 ASN Archive
04-Jan-2017 16:24 Laurent Rizzotti Updated [Time, Operator, Total fatalities, Phase, Source, Narrative]
13-Mar-2020 19:08 DB Updated [Operator, Operator]

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