CHILOQUIN, Ore. — A piece of fuselage lying partially buried in a field is what remains of “Betty the Bomber,” a World War II airplane that crashed in the nearby Klamath Marsh in 1944.
Not much is known about the accident, although a story on the front page of the July 10, 1944, Herald and News provides basic information.
A day earlier, two Navy TBF Avengers, torpedo bombers developed for the Navy, were flying on a training mission from Pasco, Wash., to San Diego. When one of the planes had engine problems, the pilots decided to land on the marsh, which is about 70 miles north of Klamath Falls.
Capt. Ryan Bartholomew, a historian with the Air National Guard at Kingsley Field, said the plane with engine problems landed safely, but the second plane had its wheels caught in the marsh, causing it to flip. Ensign Richard Baker of Dillsburg, Pa., a passenger in the plane, was killed. According to the newspaper story, another officer and three enlisted men were injured. None of the four people on the other bomber were injured.
Mike Johnson, refuge manager for what is now the Klamath Marsh National Wildlife Refuge, said the refuge has little information about the incident. Based on historical accounts, he said at least one of the planes was moved from the crash site about two or three miles to a location near the refuge headquarters to end reports of the downed planes from other pilots seeing the site from the air.
“We really don’t know much about the history, other than what Capt. Bartholomew has collected and the account in ‘Bill Kitt,’” Johnson said, referring to the book, “Bill Kitt: From trail driver to Cowboy Hall of Fame,” by D.L. “Jack” Nicol, William Kittredge’s grandson, and Amy Thompson, Nicol’s niece.
The book lists the crash as happening in 1945, but based on newspaper accounts, it happened a year earlier.
According to “Bill Kitt,” ‘’one of the planes had engine trouble over Klamath Marsh Ranch and crash-landed, wheels up, in the YJ Mitchell Field. The squadron leader circled and decided to land and check on the pilot of the downed plane. Tragically, he landed with his wheels down,” flipping the plane. “He didn’t notice it was soft ground with grass growing through water.”
The wrecked airplanes, according to “Bill Kitt,” were given to rancher Bill Gouldin. Later in the year, when the ground dried, the planes were dragged out of the meadow and moved under trees.
All that remains is a piece of fuselage of the Avenger that flipped over.
Johnson said the Klamath Basin National Wildlife Refuges office, which oversees the Klamath Marsh and other refuges, wants to collect a correct account and develop a future interpretive sign.