Jerry Summers: 1940s Missionary Ridge Plane Crashes

Tuesday, March 24, 2020 - by Jerry Summers
Jerry Summers
Jerry Summers

Eighty one years after the Battle of Missionary Ridge in 1863 two other exciting events became a part of the history of the Civil War site.  

In a thick fog and drizzling rain on January 2, 1944 a four engine 13-24 Liberator carrying a crew of three was trying to find Lovell Field but had been circling for nearly two hours.  Because of the heavy overcast the pilot miscalculated the height of the ridge and ran into power lines and trees prior to crashing into Dr. D P. Houston’s limestone block house at 136 N. Crest Road which is presently occupied by the King Copler family.  Prior to striking the Houston residence, the aircraft knocked columns off of the front of the neighboring Scott S. Price home.

All three crew members were killed in the crash.  The Houston house was set afire after the bomber’s fuselage broke up and the fuel in the plane ignited.  Fortunately, the Houston family escaped but their home was engulfed in flames. One airman was thrown from the plane but the other crewmen were found in the wreckage.  

On September 30, 1949 seven airmen were flying from Augusta, Georgia to Spokane, Washington when one of the engines caught on fire on a B-24 bomber.  Captain William Blair was the pilot and he instructed his men to bail out.  According to eyewitnesses the crew parachuted into the area between McCallie Avenue and Main Street.  One landed in a backyard, another got stuck in a tree, another landed on the roof of the now non-existent Ridgedale School, one glanced off a bank building, one was caught in telephones lines and the only parachuting casualty did not properly attach his parachute and he fell to his death on the grounds of the Ridgedale School leaving a six-inch deep depression in the ground.

In an act of heroism, the pilot, Captain William E. Blair, stayed with the plane and steered it away from Missionary Ridge School into an uninhabited area over the eastern entrance of the Bachman Tubes to avoid any loss of life except his own.

In recognition of his bravery and disregard for his own safety, American Legion Post 95 on Ringgold Road in East Ridge is named the William E. Blair Post to perpetuate his act of giving his life to save others 71 years ago.

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Jerry Summers

(If you have additional information about one of Mr. Summers' articles or have suggestions or ideas about a future Chattanooga area historical piece, please contact Mr. Summers at jsummers@summersfirm.com  


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