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.