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5 Oct 2010
Merritt Paul Anthony, 87, of Walnutport, passed away Sunday, October 3, 2010, in Lehigh Valley Hospital Center, Cedar Crest. Born in Treichlers, he was the son of the late Horace and Olevia (Heckman) Anthony. He worked as a diesel mechanic at Arrow Carrier in Allentown for 25 years, retiring in 1982. He was previously employed at Michael Buick in Slatington and at Fritzinger's Garage in Walnutport. He was a life member of the Allen O. Delke Post 16 of The American Legion in Slatington and the Diamond Fire Company in Walnutport. Merritt was a World War II veteran of the Navy Seabees, serving in the Central Pacific Theater of Operations at Eniwetok, Marshall Islands in CBMU 592. Survivors: His wife, four daughters, two sons, four grandchildren, two great-grandchildren. He was predeceased by his sister, Irene E. Vogel Fredo, and his brother, William F. Anthony Services: Private, at the convenience of the family. Arrangements, Harding Funeral Home, 25-27 N. Second St., Slatington.
Published in Morning Call on October 5, 2010
“Normal Requirement” The Navy’s Worst Ever Aircraft Accident By David Trojan, USN Retired, story updated 4 June 2009
9 Aug 1944 | Eniwetok
On 9 August 1944, there were 340 aircraft parked in the carrier aircraft replacement pool area crowded on the small island of Eniwetok and lined up along the sides of the short airstrip. Maximum use of all available space was used to park all the aircraft and most had just arrived that day. The carrier aircraft were assigned to a Carrier Air Service Unit as replacement aircraft as needed to support the rapidly advancing forward operating units. Safety factors normal to rear areas due to the continual operations were by necessity reduced. The usual right of way clearance on either side of a through runway simply did not apply.
At 10:26 pm, Lieutenant R. C. Anderson attempted to take off his overloaded PB4Y-1, Buno 38766, ex USAAF B-24 serial number 44-40348, assigned to VB-116. The PB4Y-1 was carrying nine 500-ld bombs, a full load of .50 caliber ammunition and gasoline. Its gross take off weight was 66,000 lbs; the emergency maximum gross weight of the PB4Y-1 aircraft was listed at 64,000 lbs. During the war the combat loads regularly exceeded 65,000 lbs, often at 67,000 plus. Operating PB4Y-1 aircraft in excess of their recommended gross weight had become routine and a normal requirement in the area to accomplishment its combined mission of reconnaissance and strike.
As the aircraft just lifted off, the Pilot cut throttles and aborted his take-off due to darkness, load and rolling runway. With the extra weight of the aircraft the controls were mushy and soft. The pilot thought he was still on the runway mat, but was actually airborne. With a thirty degree cross-wind the plane drifted left and crashed into the parked carrier planes immediately adjacent to the runway. As the plane collided with the first row of parked airplanes, it carried away wing tips off the folded wings, canopies and came to rest in the parking area fifty-yards past the end of runway and twenty yards to the left. The PB4Y-1 plane burned with the fire spreading to other parked aircraft. The fire then caused the low order detonation of all nine 500-lb bombs and was instrumental in extending sphere of devastation to include the loss or damage of 106 aircraft. The succession of explosions and detonations of .50 caliber ammunition continued for a period of approximately two hours. During the catastrophe men worked without regard to their personal safety in close proximity to the burning and exploding airplanes and ammunition in isolating and localizing the fires and clearing the debris to bring the conflagration under control. Eighty four planes out of the 106 were destroyed or so damaged as to be unfit for further use. The type of planes destroyed included F6F-3, 16 aircraft; FM-1, 11 aircraft; SB2C-1, 12 aircraft; SB2C-3, 3 aircraft; and TBM-1, 42 aircraft. Another 22 aircraft were damaged, but repairable. Nine members of the crew were killed, but miraculously, two crewmen survived.
The crew included: Pilot Lt Romone C. Anderson A-V(N) USNR/Killed, Ens T. M. Pettit AV(N) USNR/Killed,Ens O. B. Tully A-V(N) USNR/(died of injuries Aug 15th, 1944), AMM1c L. Johnson USN/Seriously injury, Sea1c H. A. Heper USNR/Killed, ARM1c J. W. Chalmers USNR/Killed, ARM3c A. F. Burkhartemeyer USNR/Seriously injury, AOM2c J. D. Rothwell USNR/Killed, Sea1c A. A. Van Winkle USNR/Killed, Sea1c E. Petri USNR/Killed, and AOM3c G. A. Ehinger USNR/Killed.
It was the Commanding Officer of VB-116 opinion that “The accident was due to failure of the pilot to react to imperceptible drift, and to his temporary misjudgment of the fact that his plane had become airborne.” The error on the part of the pilot was aggravated by the crowded conditions of the airfield. The carrier type aircraft that arrived that day were required to be parked at the edge of the upwind end of the mat, because no other space was available. This left insufficient room for any deviation on takeoff from the exact center line of the runway. It was realized that the maximum use of all available space on forward area air strips was vital to the furtherance of the war effort. A number of recommendations were made to preclude another event of this magnitude from happening again.
The accident on the island of Eniwetok may be the greatest loss of aircraft due to a single aircraft crash in naval history. Many factors were involved in this incident, but the demands caused by wartime conditions undoubtedly played a major role. The U.S. Navy was building up for the final assault on the Japanese homeland. The large number of aircraft destroyed would have been a set back for operations, but only for a short time. By late 1944, the U.S. dominated the Pacific skies with overwhelming numbers of aircraft. The recommendations from this tragic accident were forwarded up the chain of command and war operations continued. However, exceeding the maximum gross take off weight allowance for the PB4Y-1 aircraft remained as the normal requirement due to the long patrol distances. Other PBY-1 accidents were to follow. Less than one month later, on 8 September 1944, another heavily overloaded PB4Y-1 plane ran off the end at Navy Advance Base, North Field, Tinian airstrip. The aircraft was a complete loss; however there were no injuries or deaths and no other aircraft were destroyed. The demands of war continued to stress the limits of the aircrews and aircraft.