Historical Perspective

A Plane Crash at Dickerson

Late September 1931 was uncharacteristically hot and humid in the DC area. On Sept. 23, the temperature reached 96 degrees in DC. The heat was broken by a severe thunderstorms that formed to the northwest and swept over the area.

Lt. William D. Clements, 31, and a member of the Army Air Corps, was undergoing training at Bolling Field at Washington, DC.
He was a native of Georgia and had joined the Army in 1930. He had been assigned to a Boeing pursuit plane, which had been developed after World War I. It was equipped with a machine gun, had a top speed of 166 miles per hour, could attain an altitude of almost five miles, and had a cruising range of 540 miles.

Most recently Lt. Clements had participated in mass maneuvers of the Army Air Corps, where 640 planes were assembled, and in the National Air Races at Columbus, Ohio. Lt. Clements took off from Bolling Field at about 2:10 p.m. He had been temporarily stationed there while undergoing anti-aircraft evasion training. His destination was Middletown, Pennsylvania, where the plane’s mechanical problems were scheduled to be repaired by mechanics at that field.

As Lt. Clements prepared for his journey, a line of thunderstorms developed across West Virginia and western Maryland. Lt.
Clements had no way of knowing about the storms as he headed northwest after taking off. As Clements entered Frederick County he could see the developing line of storms and tried to turn back toward DC.

Norman Wolfe, of Dickerson, was out on his property watching the approaching storm when he saw an airplane appear out of
towering cloud from the general direction of the Monocacy River. He then saw a blinding flash of lightning and saw the plane circling over Dickerson at a height of only 100 feet.

Lloyd Jones, the proprietor of the feed and grain store near the train station, heard a loud noise. The plane passed over his store, nearly hitting it.

Pliny Day and his son, Douglas, were repairing a barn when they saw the plane having trouble maintaining altitude. They
stopped their work and saw the plane suddenly drop from the sky and nearly land on top of a train passing through Dickerson.

The plane tried to climb but suddenly nosedived into a field behind the feed and grain store, crashing onto a field on the
James Runkles farm. That farmhouse still stands at the corner of Nicholson Farm Road and Mouth of Monocacy Road.

Jones, Day and his son ran to the scene of the crash and dragged the body of Lt. Clements out of the airplane. He was dead.

A few minutes later a crowd started to gather. Apparently, someone threw away a cigarette and it ignited gasoline that had saturated the wreck scene. Mr. Day and his son pulled the body of Lt. Clements away from the fire, and Mr. Day suffered burns on his hands.

When authorities reached the scene, they found documents in the pockets of Lt. Clements that indicated the airplane had a number of mechanical problems, especially in the oil line, and Lt. Clements he had been directed to travel to Pennsylvania to have them repaired. A Board of Inquiry was impaneled at Bolling Field and the cause of the accident was determined to be a malfunction of the airplane motor.

The body of Lt. Clements was taken to the Hilton undertakers in Barnesville and then sent to his hometown of Durand,
Georgia, where he was buried.

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