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" Sometimes bad luck hits you like in an ancient Greek tragedy, and it's not your own making. When you have a plane crash, it's not your fault."

  ~Werner Herzog





Remembering Boeing Stratoliner Prototype Crash Near Alder
Alder Residents Contribute to Seattle Museum of Flight History
Ten Men Killed March 18, 1939

    Rod Scurlock and Joe Sander listened intently as interviewer Bob Bogash shared some background on the Stratoliner 307 prototype crash.

Celebration of Life - Joe Sander...

   Joe Sander, a lifelong resident of Alder, passed away on Wednesday, January 7 after a long illness. The celebration of Joe's life will take place on Saturday, January 24, at 2 p.m., at the Eatonville Baptist Church, 825 Eatonville Highway.
The celebration of Joe's life will take place Saturday, January 24, at 2 p.m., at the Eatonville Baptist Church, 825 Eatonville Highway.

   Ten Men Killed in Deadly Demonstration Crash...

        by Bob Walter
        Written August 2014
        Published January 18, 2015

     Joe Sander, a lifelong resident of Alder, passed away on Wednesday, January 7 after a long illness. In August I was fortunate to have the opportunity to assist with a fascinating oral history interview of Joe and his old friend, Rod Scurlock, also of Alder, about the crash of the first Boeing 307 Stratoliner in 1939.
     I'm so glad Joe had the opportunity to do this interview. We provide the story here, as a tribute to a man who was kind, talented, funny, a prolific builder, a lover of local history, and a wonderful storyteller. Having long been active in the South Pierce County Historical Society, Joe made the Stage Stop Museum sign in front of the Van Eaton Cabin.
    The celebration of Joe's life will take place Saturday, January 24, at 2 p.m., in the Eatonville Baptist Church, 825 Eatonville Highway.

Old Friends Share Their Story, One More Time...

   Joe Sander, right, described a scene as he reminisced with his lifelong friend, Rod Scurlock, during their interview last August. .

The Interview...

     Bob Bogash retired from Boeing as Director of Quality Assurance 19 years ago, but has not stepped away from his love for flying. He is a volunteer and project leader at Seattle’s Museum of Flight (MOF). He has an aviator’s passion for every aspect of flying. He built his own RV-12 aircraft, and on Wednesday, August 20, 2014 he flew from Port Townsend to Eatonville’s Swanson Field for an important interview.

    Craig Dupler, another aviation history enthusiast and MOF volunteer, contacted me for help looking for Rod Scurlock and Joe Sander – to interview them about the crash of the first Boeing 307 Stratoliner just a few hundred yards from the old town of Alder on March 18, 1939 nearly 76 years ago. Craig and Bob were hoping some of the crash debris might still be retrievable from beneath the waters of Alder Lake. In addition, they hoped to digitally capture some oral history about the wreck of this storied airplane.
    When Bob told me he would be looking for a place to park his aircraft until he got back from Alder, I thought of Mike Bertram who lives at the airport and is himself a pilot. A quick call to Mike, and the parking issue was solved; he had just the space. Not only that, when he came out to meet Bob, he brought his own memorabilia of the Stratoliner that he was eager to share. Craig had traveled by car and was there to pick up Bob, and the two insisted he join them for the interview.

    When I arrived at the Sander home at 2 p. m., there was a steady murmur coming from this mix of aviators and historians. Betty Sander and Ruth Scurlock sat off to one side at the kitchen table. The cake was fresh and the coffee was hot. They were gracious hostesses, content to let their men bask in the attention of these flight museum researchers. Rod and Joe were just preparing to sit for the camera, teasing each other. They had been best friends for 84 years.

    First Bob told us a little about the crash. Though often referred to as a test flight, this was really a demonstration flight. Two representatives from Holland’s KLM Royal Dutch Airlines was interested in obtaining a plane and wished to see the 307 perform some maneuvers.

   There were no black boxes back then, so it is not known what exactly transpired in the cockpit. The pilot turned off both engines on one side – something the plane was designed to handle. That’s when everything began to go wrong. But first, a little more of the airplane's background.

   There were only ten 307s made by Boeing. The plane was designed to hold a five person crew, 33 passengers in daytime and 25 at night. It was the first commercial transport aircraft with a pressurized cabin that was ever built. The one that went down near the old Alder town site that March day in ’39 was the first to fly, and and had been scheduled for regular service. The other nine were delivered. One went to Howard Hughes.

   Three went to Pan-American Airways, five to TWA. Those last five were purchased and refitted by the government for use during the war.  The Boeing 307 was one of the vanguards of the infant passenger flight industry. It had the airframe of a B-17, with a modified fuselage. After the 1939 crash, a dorsal fin and larger vertical tail stabilizer were added, for better horizontal control, a design change that undoubtedly aided the allied effort in World War II.

   One fully restored 307 - the Flying Cloud - made the news in 2002 when pilots had to ditch it in the water near Seattle due to "a fuel problem" during a maintenance and proficiency flight. Fortunately, there were no fatalities in that incident. That airplane now sits in the Smithsonian's National Air and Space Museum.

A Boeing 307 Stratoliner sitting at an airfield.

     Getting back to the interview, Joe and Rod related how Boeing had removed everything from the crash site within two weeks. Everything, that is, except any small pieces they could not find in the underbrush – things that a 13-year-old like Joe, who knew these woods and was fascinated by the crash, would come across rummaging around before or after school.

    All eyes were fixed on Rod as he retold, once again, what he and his father saw that day. They were putting the farm horses away, when they saw this big airplane high in the sky. It started climbing, went into a stall, did a sort of vertical roll, and then flew downward at a steep angle, the engines roaring. It leveled out, but began to do a flat spin, and began to lose wingtips, motors, pieces flying every which way. The fuselage slammed down just over the ridge from them. They ran to the site, and Rod’s father, Stan, crawled around to see if he could render assistance to anyone, but all ten aboard had perished.

    Joe’s mother and sister, who are both gone now, witnessed the crash from their home in Alder, while Joe, who was doing some salvage logging with his father a few miles away, said he heard the roaring engines, then saw several smaller planes circle a few times, then fly away. Craig said those were undoubtedly the chase planes that routinely followed the new Stratoliner to monitor its early flights and record them. Joe told how in the first hours after the crash, a traffic jam formed on the highway, as throngs of people headed to the accident scene. A 24-hour guard was set up, and an investigation was conducted, using the forensic tools available then.

   As the interview camera was rolling and Bob was recording Rod’s eyewitness account, Betty set out on the dining room table, among all the photos and old magazine articles, a small, open, metal box that Joe had kept all these 75 years, occasionally pulling it out for friends and visitors to examine. In it were small pulleys, bits of tubing, and hydraulic lines Joe had found and collected.

Pieces of History, Lovingly Preserved...

    Pulleys, hydraulic tubing, and metal shards that Joe Sander found in the area after the rest of the wreckage was hauled away by Boeing Company representatives.

     When he saw them, Bob immediately stressed how important they would be to the museum  if he would donate them. Joe agreed, as long as they would be used to help interpret the airplane and the crash history. Bob assured him of that.

    The Museum of Flight team was blown away by the trove of information they received on this trip. It was information stored and protected, because Joe, Rod and Mike are historians themselves. They displayed cherished mementos of the plane crash. They carefully unfolded newspaper and magazine articles, not just about the crash, but about the 307.

    All of the articles and photographs were scanned by the museum for its collection. The South Pierce County Historical Society also received copies of the scans for its assistance in arranging the interview and data collection. We’re grateful for the opportunity to help capture this compelling slice of history. Below is a photo of Captain Julius Barr, who was in the cockpit that fateful day, followed by a list of the ten victims.

Julius Barr (1905-1939) was the Boeing test pilot when the plane crashed in 1939

     Victims of the crash were:

     Julius Barr, Boeing test pilot

     A. G. Baumauer, Dutch KLM line

     Ralph L. Cram, Boeing flight engineer and aerodynamics expert

     William Doyle

     Earl A. Fergusten, Boeing test pilot

     P. Guilonard, assistant general manager of Royal Dutch Airlines

     Harlan Hull, chief test pilot for Transcontinental and Western Airways

     John Kylstra, Boeing engineer

     Ben Pearson

    Harry West, Boeing flight engineer

More Photos...

     The wreckage of the Boeing 307 as seen shortly after the crash at Old Alder.A department of Aerodynamics and Flight Research Department was created as a direct consequence of the tragic demonstration flight of the Stratoliner 307.

Map showing the flight path of the doomed Boeing 307 Stratoliner on that fateful day in 1939.

   Rod and Joe listened intently as interviewer Bob Bogash shared some background on the Stratoliner.

    Bob Walter and Mike Bertram pore over books, newspaper and magazine articles, and photographs of the Boeing 307 at the Sander home, as Ruth Scurlock looks on. Bertram brought his own collection of materials about the airplane to the interview.

    Betty (center) and Joe Sander (in background) graciously welcomed the Museum of Flight team digging for any information they can find about the storied Boeing Stratoliner, to incorporate into the museum's exhibits and collections.

   Locals and travelers along Highway 7 flocked to the scene of the crash. Notice the crowds on the far right of this photo.

Another snapshot of the crash from the Sander collection.

A Look Inside the Stratoliners in Use...

     Passengers aboard the Boeing Stratoliner in the 1940s. The plane had a wide fuselage and held 33 passengers in a "luxurious cabin."
    The Stratoliner was considered a "very successful' airliner. World War II stopped the production of more of these pioneering planes. However, it was reported that one plane was still operating as a passenger plane in 1986.

Even an In-flight Movie...

     The plane was nicknamed the "flying whale" for its plump fuselage. Above is a 1945 photo of the passenger cabin of a Pan American Airways Boeing Stratoliner 307 showing an in-flight movie during an overnight transatlantic flight from New York to London. (Notice the film depicts a flying plane.)
     Considered the most highly developed plane of its time, the Stratoliner 307 was the first plane pressurized for high altitude flight, it could reach heights of 20,000 feet.The plane was also air conditioned and heated. Passengers could have a compartment, there were sleeping berths with windows, reclining sleeper seats, rest rooms for men and women with skylights and a galley which also had a skylight. Additionally it was the first airplane to include a flight engineer.

Journey of the Howard Hughes Stratoliner...

     From the history on a Boeing web site, "The Stratoliners attracted the attention of multimillionaire Howard Hughes, who bought one for himself and transformed it into a 'flying penthouse' with a master bedroom, two bathrooms, a galley, a bar and a large living room. The story goes that movie star Rita Hayworth helped Hughes with decorating his plane.
    Hughes sold it to a Texas oil millionaire, and it ended its days as a palatial, Florida-based houseboat."

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 "The restored Stratoliner that graces the Smithsonian National Air and Space Museum’s Steven F. Udvar-Hazy Center is the only intact surviving 307 of the 10 that were built, although it crashed into Elliott Bay in Seattle in 2002 on what was intended to be its original delivery flight to the annex.

" Despite that setback, it eventually made it to the museum adjacent to the Dulles International Airport, Washington DC’s second airport in Fairfax County, Virginia."

~  Ben Sandilands
 Crikey Web Site   




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