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City of Memphis

On April 11, 1936, Chicago and Southern Airlines received their second Lockheed Electra 10B, 1057, registered NC16022 and was christened the City of Memphis. Flying the company's New Orleans-Chicago route. On August, 5, 1936, following three months of record highs for the airline tragedy struck when the City of Memphis crashed shortly after taking off from St. Louis' Lambert Field.

At 9:56pm night airport dispatcher Lawrence Jewell cleared NC16022 for take-off; the aircraft was scheduled to radio in at 10:20pm, however when the pilot failed to do so no apprehension was felt until the plane failed to arrive in Chicago. Ben Knoebbe, who lived on a farm just three miles north of the airport, saw lights from the Electra. "He was very low," Ben stated to newspapers, "and I was very surprised to see that he started to turn to the left-the west- as he got to my place. He was so low as he passed me that he hit two tall trees near my house, very lightly, and knocked leaves from them." As the plane began to swing in a wide circle it was next spotted by Ralph L. Sharp, an employee of the National Cash Register Company, who was vacationing on a farm just one mile northeast of the Knoebbe farm. "When I first saw the plane it was circling toward the west very low, I should say about 50 feet above the ground. It passed over the farm of Ben Haverkemp, where I have been staying, and headed straight for the field. As I watched[,] the plane made a steep turn to the left, about 1000 yards south of where I was sitting on the porch. Then the sound of the engines suddenly stopped and I heard the crash. I got into an automobile and went to the airport at once, where I notified George Herwig, the night watchman, of the accident."

At 1 o'clock the following morning, August 6th, a search party found the wrecked plane laying in a field on the farm of George Behlmann. Investigators were able to determine that the aircraft had been traveling south, back towards the airfield, when it struck the ground; a ditch in a nearby open field showed where the left wing had struck then ground - it was at this point that investigators found fragments of the left aileron. 27 yards from this "ditch" lay the twisted remains of the left propeller and 27 yards beyond that lay the tail of the downed aircraft, which had broken completely free from the rest of the aircraft. Seven yards from the tail section was part of the Electra's landing gear and 25 yards further was the main section of the fuselage. Even farther still was a wing and just beyond that a gas tank. Between these main sections were scattered papers, cylinders form the engines, passenger's clothing and other various debris; from the first wing structure to the gas tank was roughly 140 yards. The wheels had been retracted, so the aircraft was not in any normal landing configuration. Based on witness reports the aircraft's landing lights were seen shortly before the crash which meant the engines would have had to have been running at the time of the crash, which, based on the pilot's pocketwatch found smashed at the scene, was roughly 10:02pm.

The weather at the time of the crash, as broadcast shortly before take-off (9:41pm), was a ceiling estimated at 1,800 feet, with visibility three quarters of a mile with light fog. A special broadcast at 10:10 had lowered the ceiling to 500 feet with the same visibility as previously broadcast. The ceiling at Springfield was 800 feet with one mile visibility and light fog and Chicago and an unlimited ceiling with a 1 1/2 mile visibility due to smoke. The pilot had been instructed by the Chicago and Southern Operations Department that it was not necessary to land at Springfield; the normal procedure would have been to climb up through the low hanging clouds and then fly on top by radio beacon until the clouds broke, somewhere over Springfield. At the inquest, Ralph H. Moore, Chicago and Southern's flight superintendent, testified that the pilot had intended to fly on top of the overcast, and if that proved impossible he would fly at 2,000 feet, relying on instruments. He would attempt to land at Springfield and Peoria and if this were impossible he would notify the company by radio.

It seemed that weather was not the factor of the crash of NC16022, to the investigation turned towards the aircraft's weight and balance. Shortly before take-off, the City of Memphis had 135 gallons of gas added to the plane's tanks as well as 12 quarts of oil, this gave the ship a total of 234 gallons and 48 quarts of oil for a total weight, including baggage and other items, a total of 1,360 pounds. Walter Webb, radio operator for the airline, said that baggage in the nose of the aircraft was 80-95lbs., there was 100lbs in the right wing, but it was unknown how much weight was in the left wing. Nothing came from looking at this angle.

Following the inquest, the Bureau of Air Commerce believed that the likely reason for the crash was caused by making a turn at an extremely low altitude, for an unknown reason, and in doing so the wing hit the ground. No definitive reason for why the crew decided to turn around was ever found or given.

The victims of this tragic crash were:

  • Pilot Carl Zier, Chicago, was a former pilot with Universal Air Lines, having learned to fly nine years earlier.

  • Co-pilot Russell Mossman, 30, New Orleans, originally flew air mail routes in the southeastern part of the country having joined Chicago and Southern in 1936. In 1929 he and C. E. Steele had made several unsuccessful attempts at Chicago to establish endurance records.

  • Vernon C. Omlie, 40, WWI army officer and pilot, opened the first flying school and aircraft service in Memphis in the early 1920s, his was was Phoebe Omlie, the first woman to receive an airplane mechanic's license, first female transport pilot, and the first woman to be appointed a federal position in the aviation field.

  • Arthur R. Holt, 40, had flown into St. Louis from Boston on a business trip for the New England Trust Company, he was a real estate officer.

  • George Grishaber, 21, associated with his mother, Mrs. Robert Sehilng, in manufacturing dental and surgical instruments in Chicago.

  • W. S. Bartlett, associated with the Great Lakes Coal & Coke Company.

  • D. R. McDavid (McDavit) was a commercial artist from Chicago who had flown into St. Louis on a business trip, he was to have been married later that month.

  • C. B. Wright, Western representative of the Lake Tankers Corporation of New York City.


Chicago & Southern's City of Memphis

Carl Zier and Russell Mossman (St. Louis Post Dispatch, Thursday, August 6, 1936)

Vernon Omlie, D. R. McDavitt, George Grishaber, Arthur Holt (St. Louis Post Dispatch, Thursday, August 6, 1936)

The St. Louis Star and Times, Thursday, August 6, 1936

The St. Louis Post Dispatch Thursday, August 6, 1936

The St. Louis Star and Times Thursday August 6, 1936

The St. Louis Star and Times Thursday August 6, 1936

The St. Louis Star and Times Thursday August 6, 1936

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