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.”
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.
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.
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.
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