Aircraft Accidents in Galápagos During WWII Occupation

Damage CodesStatus Codes
0no damageCRLCRash LandingKLACKilled in Landing ACcident
1minor damageEXDFEXplosion, Destroyed by FireKTOAKilled in Take-Off Accident
2, 3more severeFLEFForced Landing, Engine FailureLACLanding ACcident
4, 5completely destroyedFLOGForced Landing, Out of GasLASLost At Sea
GACGround ACcidentNBDNon-Battle Damage
KCRKilled in CRashTACTaxiing ACcident
KCRGCKilled in CRash, Ground CollisionTOATakeOff Accident

Data in the Accident List above and Notes below is derived from two websites and one book:

A full accident report for any aircraft can be ordered from either website. See either site above for ordering instructions and further details.

Pilot Notes

This section contains explanatory notes pertaining to some of the accidents listed above, as indicated by a § symbol next to the pilot's name.

Agard, Leland H. Both sources list Accident Site as Galápagos. The FLOG status suggests the aircraft ran out of fuel as it approached the Galápagos landing strip. The VI Bomber Command website reports the following:

B-24J, “Shoo Shoo Baby,” #9951 [42-99951], assigned to the 397th Bombardment Squadron, and piloted by Capt Leland H. Agard, crashed on Semour [sic Seymour, or Baltra] Island, Galapagos Islands at 2335Z, on May 15, 1944, one-half mile northeast of the North-South runway. The aircrew was comprised of Capt. Agard, 1st. Lt. Felix W. Stone, Jr., 1st. Lt. Donald J. Watkins. 2d. Lt. Walter R. Meier, TSgt Stanley Sneed, TSgt John E. Wadinski, SSgt A. J. Tjenstrom, Sgt W. F. Doyle, and Sgt M. P. Jenkins. The plane had participated in a formation bombing mission and was returning to base. Capt. Agard and Lt. Stone, the co-pilot, maneuvered the plane to a crash landing that resulted in minimum injuries to the personnel involved. None of the officers and enlisted men aboard the aircraft was killed in the crash. Lt. Meier, however, was seriously injured and did not return to flight duty until January 1945.

Barlow, Richard H. AAIR report lists no Home Base or Accident Site. website lists Galápagos, but their source for this information is unknown.

Gaughan, Robert H. Hagedorn (p. 132) gives the following report:

“[A] B-17E bearing Squadron No. 38 (strangely not traced in Individual Aircraft History Cards) developed engine trouble while on patrol on 6 January, 1943 and crashed in a bay [unidentified] near the Galapagos and, miraculously, only two crew members perished.”

The full serial number is 41-9038, which identifies the B-17E pilot as Gaughan, Robert H. The Mortuary Notes on the Index to Mortuary Death Records page identifies the deceased crew members as Henry Pfingstl and Bert Helton. No Home Base is listed at the AAIR site, but Hagedorn lists it as Guatemala City, Guatemala, and that location is given above.

Elsewhere (p. 191), Hagedorn's list mis-identifies the serial number as “coded ‘39’ ” which pertains to another B-17E accident elsewhere.

Haugen, Carl P. Crash Survivor Corporal Walter S. Beebe wrote his recollections of the crash some 49 years after the event.

Hooper, Maurice F. According to the January, 1988 40th Bomb Group newsletter Memories (p. 3),

“Captain Maurice Hooper of the squadron was assigned the first night landing effort. A tragic crash resulted with the loss of four [unidentified] crew members.”

Therefore, the KTOA status is an apparent error and should be KLAC. Hooper's plane apparently struck another B-24D which was parked with no pilot aboard. If the four deaths were the direct result of this collision, then the Status code would be KCRGC. See “None (parked)” entry below. Hagedorn, p.191 reports:

“B-24D 41-23916 [no pilot name given] was w/o (written off ?) at APO 662 (the Galapagos) but the fate of the crew is not known.”

Kline, Jack C. In Hagedorn, p.190:

“August 1942. … made a forced landing in the water off the Galapagos in L-4A 42-36726. Fate unknown.” Conflicting date (1943/05/26), no damage or status given at AAIR website. Given Hagedorn's description, “Damage” and “Status” are assumed to be 5 and LAS, respectively.

Knott, Leonard H. Location given as Canal Zone in one source, as Galápagos in another. His name does not appear in the Gorgas Hospital Mortuary Death Records, so the Canal Zone is assmumed to be the correct accident location.

LePage Jr., Arthur C. The AAIR website gives the location as APO (Army Postal Service) 662; that is, the Galápagos Islands.

Mast, John F. His Canal Zone accident (not related to his subsequent Galápagos duty) is listed to point out that he had three accidents, the last one resulting in his death. For reasons unknown, his school obituary notice omits mention of his second accident (1942/07/05), which apparently occurred shortly after his arrival at Isla Baltra. Although photos of the accident scene suggest Mast could not have survived the crash, his own Accident Report states that he was able to get out of the plane with minor injuries and survey the damage before a flare started a grass fire that eventually consumed the body of the plane.

Mast was killed in his third crash: 1942/08/07 on Isla Pinzón. Gorgas Hospital Death Records indicate his remains were subsequently recovered (date unknown), and received and buried at Corozal Cemetery, Panama on May 15, 1946.

None (parked). Note that the 1943/04/22 date matches that of the Hooper accident. It would therefore appear that this aircraft was struck by Hooper's plane as he made his night landing. In that case, the Status Code should probably be GAC (Ground ACcident), not TOA (TakeOff Accident), because this parked pilotless aircraft was obviously not attempting a takeoff.

Stewart, Alexander W. AAIR report lists no Home Base, and Panama as Accident site.

Ussery, William. On October 31, 1943, a search team photographed the LB-30 crash site on Isla Pinzón and filed a Searching Expedition Report a few days later. Hagedorn, p.190 reports that the LB-30 …

“ … was lost while on patrol out of the Galapagos with all hands. It crashed homeward bound into the peak on Indefatigable Island [Isla Santa Cruz], only minutes from home. All 10 men died.”

As noted above, the actual crash site was Isla Pinzón, and the number of crewmen remains uncertain.

Woodward, Norman W. Hagedorn, p.191 reports that his plane …

“ … went missing on a flight out of the Galapagos. According to members of his flight, he was caught in the violent updrafts from an active volcano on Isabela Island and was propelled to heights out of sight of his comrades. Never found.” §

§  Given that it is unlikely Woodward's plane was propelled upwards and out of sight, it seems more likely that a downdraft and/or engine failure, plus the KCR status reported above, forced his plane downwards into the crater. Colonel Ira V. Matthews described a 1943 eruption on Isla Isabela in the “Galápagos Volcano” chapter of his Collection of 81 War Stories …. Although he does not identify the volcano by name, Cerro Azul is known to have erupted at that time, and is thought to be the Woodward crash site.

Margret Wittmer's Account of the Cerro Azul Eruption

In her 1961 Floreana Adventure (pp. 179-183), Margret Wittmer recalls the eruption and subsequent events, from which these excerpts are taken:

“… in the autumn of 1944 the day came when I lost my nerve worse than I have ever done before or since. … Late in the afternoon the silence was suddenly rent by a terrific crash, so violent that we felt a shudder going right through the house. … Then I saw something which took my breath away: a gigantic mass of flame rising into the dark sky to the northwest. Despite the distance it looked thousands of feet high and miles wide.

“Suddenly Heinz was standing beside me. He had seen it from the window. ‘That's Isabela,’ he said, pointing in the direction of the flame. ‘A volcano's erupted, perhaps the Sierra [sic, Cerro] Azul.’

[The next day]

“Big military planes circled continuously round Isabela, to report at once any change for the worse. One bomber flew too near the blaze and crashed right into the middle of the flames. The blaze lasted four weeks, then gradually abated and went out. At the bottom of the crater there were only fragments of the plane left, molten lumps of metal; and of the eleven-man crew no trace could be found.” §

§ Published in 1961, almost 20 years after the event, perhaps Margret Wittmer's memory had faded. At the Smithsonian Institution's Global Volcanism Program page, the Eruptive History tab reports Cerro Azul eruptions in 1940, 1943, 1948, plus others; but none in 1944. The 1943 event lasted about four weeks, which agrees with Wittmer's account. However, in the WWII Aircraft Accidents list, the lost plane was a P-40C, Captain Norman W. Woodward, not a bomber. The same list reports the crash of an LB-30, Captain William Ussery, at Isla Pinzón, with the loss of its eleven-man crew. The source of her “molten lumps of metal” remark is unknown.