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December 28, 2007
I have thought long and hard about doing the story you are about to read. We got it from Craig Fuller. He does research for a living. The story is of a young man who came to Oroville to learn to fight for our country. He was blamed for his death, but God only knows what happened in the skies over Thermalito that night so long ago. Things were broken on this plane at take off, who knows maybe other thing were broken or broke in flight. Recently I and others, Bill Keyes, Jack Kiely, Daryl Autrey, and Bill Fox put up a wreath on the hill past Nelson Road bridge to honor him and the 50 plus others who gave their lives flying in and out of Chico and Oroville Army Air bases. I left out all names but his in this story. It would be nice to find his relatives and let them know we have finally after all these years remembered them. I need help to do this.

This is from a crash report dated August 23, 1943

WAR DEPARTMENT U. S. Army Air forces Report of Aircraft Accident, Army Airdrome, Oroville, Calif. MICKELSON, HAROLD J. 2ND Lt. A.C. Fourth Air Force or Command, Result to Personnel, Fatal, Use of Parachute, None.

357th Fighter Group. 363rd squadron Fighter, This model P-39, Aircraft damage Complete Wreck Cleared from, Oroville Tower. To Local 9949. Pilot’s mission Night Formation. Nature of accident Pilot flew into hill while approaching field for night landing. Cause of accident Pilot error of judgment. Aircraft Status: Fuel gages sticking on position, leak in oxygen system carb temp gage out, right door handle broken, left florescent light out. Remarks: Pilots and Mechanics: Scr- 522 Radio removed (0w0c). Description of Accident Lt. Mickelson was approaching Oroville Army Airdrome for a night landing. He was turning from his base leg on to his approach leg when he hit the crest of a ridge that was slightly less than two hundred feet above the level of the field and two miles from the end of the runway in use. The Plane was totally demolished and the pilot was killed instantly. It is believed that Lt. Mickelson misjudged his altitude in the traffic pattern as he normally would not be so low at this distance from the field. There is no evidence of material failure. Seventy-five percent of the responsibility for the accident is assigned to Lt. Mickelson for not maintaining a safe altitude in the traffic pattern on a night flight. The balance is assigned to supervisory personnel in not exteriorizing proper control over their pilots. It is recommended that if this field be used for night flying that three red obstruction lights be placed on the hills to the north and east of the field. These hills are out of the approach zone but as they are still a very distinct hazard it is believed they should be lighted.

On 23 August 43, Lt. Mickelson and I took off on a night navigation flight at about 2040. We flew to Mather Field and after a flight of about 45 minutes from the time we took off, we came in over Runway 21 for a peal off for landing. Flying lead ship of the element, I came in over the runway at 600 feet with Lt. Mickelson to my left about 150 feet, and slightly behind. I peeled off gently to the right and made a good sized pattern, there being another P-39 airplane landing ahead of us. I flew in my pattern at 1000 to 1200 feet above the ground, let my wheels down and trimmed the ship. As I turned on my approach for landing, there was a blinding flash to my right and as I turned to see what it was, there was another flash and explosion. The sky was lit up and the whole hillside began to burn. The plane appeared to have blown completely apart. That was what I saw. During the flight I had no radio conversation with Lt. Mickelson at all, although I tried twice to contact him. There was no one talking over the radio immediately prior to the crash. During the whole flight I noticed nothing unusual about Lt. Mickelson’s plane or the way Lt. Mickelson was flying it. He was in sight all of the time except when turning over Mather Field, and up until I peeled off for landing.

On 23 August 1943, at 2100, I was Airdrome Officer at the Army Airdrome, Oroville, California. The two ship formation in which Lt. Mickelson was flying came over the field to peel-off for a landing. They made their peel-off and the lead ship was approaching the field when Lt. Mickelson’s ship crashed. The time of the crash was approximately 2123. I was watching the lead ship approach the field for a landing when my attention was attracted by an explosion to the north of the field. There had been no radio conversation with the ship prior to the crash. The lead ship had called in for landing instructions.

Stu’s Notes: They didn’t even know his radio was missing.