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October 15, 2010
Plane Crashes, they happened all over Butte County during WWII. Most of the crashes were out of Chico Army Air Field 167. Crashes out of Oroville Army Airdrome 29. Some crashed here from other bases, some we know a lot about, some we know very little. Thanks to Don Rystrom we now know more pieces of the puzzle. I’ve already written of our rice field tour last week. Now more of the story. Don took me to a field and showed me a crash site of a B-25 Bomber about 7/8 of a mile down Wickman Road off of Richvale Highway going south off to the right looking west about 100 yards. Luckily all of those men lived, maybe a crew of 3-6 on board. Next we went back to Richvale Highway and went west to McRae Road just past Dry Creek north on McRae about 3/10 of a mile we stopped and got out, I said to Don that I see a dark green spot in the rice out there about 100 yards, Don had not seen it before and had not been there in some time but he knew that was the spot out there past the green spot, well you make up your mind and I have made mine and we’ll leave it at that. Don thought maybe a little extra fertilizer spilled there. Anyway this was where Don said a B-25 crashed and all died, he thought around 1944. In a few weeks the green spot will be gone, mowed down by a Rice Harvester. Well who knows you could see Richvale far in the background. Then we drove to the north through many rice fields many places I hunted as a young boy with my brother Larry, George Day, Gordon and Raymond Jensen never knowing about the young men who died out there less than 10 years before. We went the back way to Durnel Rd. Don stopped and looked then we stopped again and we got out looking east toward the little town of Nelson about a mile away in line with a house south of Nelson. Don said this is the spot, we were on a little dirt road with rice all around us. Looking north we could see 2 white posts one on each side of Darnel Rd. about ¾ of a mile from the spot Don pointed to was about ¼ mile to the east. This is where that young man in a P39 “Gave All” for his country so long ago. It was a lonely beautiful quite place to be. Thank you so much Don. I went home and looked at my 44 crash reports of WWII in Butte County soon I found one I had labeled #13 over 20 pages about what happened that sad day at that “spot”.

War Department U.S. Army Air Forces Report of Aircraft Accident Hamilton Field
Place: one mile west of Nelson, California
Date: 9 June 1944
Type and Model: P-63A-6A.F.
Number: 42-69983Station - CAAF Chico, Calif.
Organization – Forth Air Force 433rd Air Base Unit.
Name: Lanham, Edward W. 2nd Lt.
Branch: AAF Air Force Command – Fourth result to personnel – Fatal use of parachute – YF Pilot Hours 287:05 in P-63
Weather – CAVU High Broken, Scattered at 9000 feet, Surface wind 15 MPH
List of Damaged Parts – Aircraft demolished.

I read the crash reports of some of the pilots involved in this accident. It seems that over Nelson California 4 P-63A’s (Improved version of P-39) and a flight of 4 P-38’s (Twin engine Fighters) met and each group tried to get behind the other staying in formation. For some reason known only to 2nd Lt Lanahan his plane left his Formation and crashed into a p-38 below him knocking out one of its engines. 2nd Lt Lanahan continued to dive down, at about 400 feet he got out but was to low for his chute to catch air and he died next to his plane this is what Don saw on the ground when he got there What happened I think God only knows. The P-38 pilot made it to Chico and landed.

The nature of these pilots in advanced fighter training was to learn how to survive up against some of the best pilots in the world, many who had years experience over these young trainees. Some German pilots fighting since 1936 – Spain, some Japanese pilots fighting since their invasion of China about 1933. They took chances, they had mechanical failures think of planes like we do cars. I’ve had 6 new cars and for years they had no mechanical problems (American made.) I’ve had old cars and they have had problems. Well the new planes went to war, the used planes went to our young pilots to train in. Well when a car breaks down there you are and when a plane breaks down you go, down. But they had to learn to be the best with what they had and many died trying. My friend Bill Dunbar WWII P-47 pilot said 5 died in training the short time he was at a base in Idaho. The above CAVU means Ceiling and Visibility Unlimited.