1939 Boeing Stratoliner Crash in Alder Kills 10

Downed Jet in 1939
Downed Jet in 1939

It was March 18, 1939 and Stanley Scurlock and his young son Rod were putting in horses when they noticed a large plane flying over Alder. Large planes weren’t a common occurrence back then and they looked up to watch.

Rod describes the plane coming apart in the air in his and Joe Sander’s book Old Alder. “The plane started climbing and making more noise. Suddenly, it turned downward and started spinning, and then the air became filled with material, wing tips and motors fell off, and the plane disappeared behind the ridge on the north end of our property.”

Those arriving to the 1939 crash found no one alive.
Those arriving to the 1939 crash found no one alive.

Stanley, told the Post Intelligencer, when the plane was at about 1,000 feet, “. . . it was doing a pancake spin, whirling flatly. For a minute it looked as if the pilot was attempting to land in my meadow, for he either straightened her out or she did so herself, and she settled slowly not three blocks from my house.”

Rod says he and his dad could see the plane crumpled and lying across their fence. They looked inside the plane, but found none of the 10 passengers alive. “Some of the men had been thrown out through the rent in the fuselage. I was one terrible sight,” says Rod.

Crowds coming up Highway 7 to see the crash site
Crowds coming up Highway 7 to see the crash site

The plane turned out to be a 307 Boeing Stratoliner, the world’s first pressurized commercial airliner, and one of only 10 built. It could hold 33 passengers and five crew and its silver body was described as a “cigar with wings, dipped in liquid chrome.”

This wasn’t the plane’s first test flight. It had been up as many as 25 times. The cause of the crash was debated at the time. Some said pilot error, some said outside causes and others suspect a failed maneuver.

Inspections made at the crash site.
Inspections made at the crash site.

No matter what the cause, in 1939 it was the deadliest air disaster in Northwest history. Highway 7 was packed with cars as people came to check out the crash site.

If you were wondering what happened to the other nine Stratoliners, eight were purchased by airlines and the last became the personal property of Howard Hughes. You can find the last one on display at the Smithsonian.

 Click on images to enlarge.

18 thoughts on “1939 Boeing Stratoliner Crash in Alder Kills 10”

    1. I don’t know that a dog actually went down with the plane. It could just be someone’s dog who came to view the site.

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  2. Here is a comment from Chuck McTee who saw it first hand:

    My name is Charles McTee, 83 years old classmate of Rosalie graduated in 1947 from EHS. I appreciate what you have done in the last few weeks.

    Regarding the Boeing Stratoliner which crashed in 1939 at Alder. I rode on one of the first Boeing 707 jets in 1960. The Stratoliner was the first pressurized airliner. It had four piston engines with propellers.

    After 1939, we had DC3’s and DC4’s and DC6’s and DC7’s and Lockheed Constellations and Boeing Stratocruisers years before we had jets. A stratocruiser
    was four or more times bigger than the crashed Stratoliner. All these planes had four piston engines except only two on the DC3’s.

    On the fatal day, the Stratoliner flew over Eatonville very slowly and at low altitude. I had never seen a four engine plane over Eatonville before.

    By the time it got to Alder it was even lower because Alder is 400 feet higher than Eatonville. I saw the plane go into a stall and a flat spin just as Stan Scurlock described. When I got to the plane I looked inside and saw there were no seats except for the pilots who were still strapped in.

    There has been a lot written about why the Boeing pilots allowed foreigners to fly the plane at low altitude. We will never know.

    Chuck

    1. There wasn’t a dog in the crash that I know of. If there’s a dog, it probably belongs to someone there.

  3. Stanley was my grandfather and I had heard the story of this crash from him and my mother on a number of occasions, but it is quite something to see a picture of it. My mother kept one of the seats from the plane that her father had kept. She passed away in 2009 and we decided to give it to the Museum of Flight. It is just an aluminum frame at this point, the fabric having decayed over the years. Thanks for putting this up!

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