1944 Crash of Lt. Robert Strong’s P-63 Kingcobra fighter plane

We had reports from a number of residents who lived in Garden Home in the 1940s of a fighter plane crash in Garden Home. They recall that they went to the crash site to try to find souvenirs or the family talked about the crash. This is the story of our investigation and what we learned.

Memories of the Garden Home crash

Contributions from Rick Newton and Jack Steele mentioned the crash of a fighter plane in the Garden Home/Metzger area during WW2.

Rick Newton: 

A P-51 fighter plane crashed along the railroad tracks between 80th and Washington Drive about a mile from the Newton place.  Bill Norris and Rick picked up live ammunition there after the wreckage was removed.  It was rumored that the pilot by the name Harris parachuted to safety before the plane crashed.

Jack Steele: Born in 1930, Jack attended Metzger grade school for grades 1, 2, and 3 before starting at Garden Home in grade 4. Jack recalled the crash of a fighter plane in the Washington Drive area of Garden Home in about 1942.  They understood that the pilot had safely parachuted out.  The debris was very quickly cleaned up “by the government.”

Intrigued, we sent an email out to the Project mailing list, and heard back from more longtime residents.

Rick Newton: 

Our Newton home was adjacent to the SP&S railroad about three-quarters of a mile northeast of where the crash occurred. My friend, Bill Norris, and I tried to get to the crash site while the wreckage was still there but were turned back by some authority. The plane nearly struck the tracks at the northeast end of a trestle not far from Washington Street. Bill and I scoured the area after the aircraft was removed and found several rounds of ammunition. Of course, there is no rail there now, nor is there a trestle; it is now private property. But it would be interesting to take a metal detector and see if there is any other material buried there.

Darrell MacKay: 

My mother, Dorothy MacKay, told me that the plane was headed right towards our house when it crashed on the Oregon Railroad right of way at the end of what is now S.W. 82ND. Court, in the 8700 block of S.W. 82ND. Ave. She said that she and I could have been killed, so I was alive at the time and I was born in March of 1944. There was an indentation in a bank that ran along the right of way. It is just a few yards East of Washington Drive and about half a mile down the right of way from the trestle that was near Oleson Road. These areas were favorite play grounds for the kids in the neighborhood.

Stan Marugg: Stan recalls that there was a military plane crash in about 1940 or so. He would have been about 9 years old. He did not see the crash but he did see the hole in the ground. He describes that he would have turned east onto Washington Drive and gone around the corner and then turned left where it crashed near the railroad tracks. Or else you could go up Taylor’s Ferry and turn onto 78th and go to the tracks. He doesn’t remember much about the talk nor anything about the pilot, felt he was too young.

Robert Feldman: 

I was 14 at the time. My brother and Billy Norris and Rick Newton went to see it. My brother got some parts from it, I think it was in 1946 by the railroad.

Richard Rickson: 

I remember the accident. It crashed a couple of blocks from where Taylor’s Ferry ended. The plane was a single-seater plane called a Cobra. I think the pilot was killed. If my memory is correct no one was allowed to view the site because the plane was loaded with ammunition and the authorities were afraid that an accident was possible. I can remember those planes sweeping closely over the roofs of our houses and my little Mom shaking her hand at them. It must have been about the summer of 1943 or 1944. The bad news is that it crashed in the Tigard district instead of the Garden Home district. History is so fickle.

Gene Shirley: 

I remember that it was a King Cobra plane with the motor behind the pilot. It crashed into the railroad bed in the area of Washington Drive where it curves, about 1944. A kid, a Doctor’s son from Tigard was stopped by the police because he was hauling away the propeller and some ammunition.

Dan Nebert: 

Correction: the pilot DID bail out and was NOT killed. Site of crash was close to where Taylor’s Ferry ends at 40th Ave.

Alta Hansen:

Recollections of Alta Hansen

Recollections of Alta Hansen

 

By Elaine Shreve, March 2012.

Our first guess (was wrong)

We had previously put material on this website identifying the fighter plane crash of 1946 as being in Garden Home. Thanks to Joel Miller, we learned that crash landed at about SW 69th and Baylor, east of Tigard. We also have information on another crash near what was then the University of Oregon Medical School where the pilot landed on the Veterans’ Hospital and then went into surgery there!

The images below refer to the tragic 1946 crash of a P-51 fighter plane in Tigard (not the Garden Home crash).

The 1944 crash of a P-63 Kingcobra in Garden Home

Date: June 13, 1944 Aircraft: P-63 Kingcobra Crash: 18 mi SW of Portland AAB, OR

Date: June 13, 1944
Aircraft: P-63 Kingcobra
Crash: 18 mi SW of Portland AAB, OR

There were more than 12,000 airplanes wrecked and over 13,000 lives lost in the continental US on training flights during World War Two, including 109 wrecked P-63 Kingcobra aircraft. source

We found one Aviation Safety Network reference to the 1944 crash of a P-63 Kingcobra 18 miles SW of Portland AAB. Portland Army Air Base was located at PDX. Garden Home is approximately 19 miles by road SW of PDX.

Also, just 10 days later, it appears that Lt. Strong survived a mid-air collision while piloting another P-63 near Redmond, OR.

Fighter plane crash near Washington Drive on June 13, 1944

Findings of the Aircraft Accident Committee

Findings of the Aircraft Accident Committee

At about 7 AM on Tuesday, June 13, 1944, pilot Lt. Robert H. Strong’s P-63 Kingcobra malfunctioned and crashed into a Garden Home neighborhood. He was unable to obtain fuel from his second wing tank and his engine failed. Lt Strong managed to guide the plane over the town of Metzger to what looked like a wooded area before bailing out and landing in some nearby trees unhurt. The P-63 crashed and burned near Washington Drive according to eyewitness reports.

The following are the statements of the pilot and his flight leader from the official US Army Air Forces Accident Report.

2nd Lt. Robert H. Strong, pilot

2nd. Lt. Strong's report

2nd. Lt. Strong’s report

I was flying P-63 #876 in #6 position of a Flight led by Lt. Shatto. After about one hour of flying, I noticed my plane getting left wing heavy.  I switched from the both tank position to the left tank position on my fuel selector valve. The engine cut out and I immediately switched back to the both position. I then called my Flight Leader and told him my left fuel pump evidently was not working, and that I had about 15 gallons left in my right tank, while my left tank registered full. 

Radio Contact was not too good, and I was not reading him. We dove through a hole in the clouds and headed for Portland. About ten miles from Portland my gauge registered empty and I called Lt. Shatto and told him not to fly over Portland. He started a turn and just then my engine quit. At the time I was about three thousand feet. I looked around and could see no field large enough to belly into and also saw I was over a small town which proved to be Metzger. I glided away from the town toward a wooded area and tried my fuel selector on all three positions, but the engine would not cut back in. At about two thousand feet I was over a wooded area, so I pulled the emergency release on the right door, took off my helmet, throat mike and unfastened the safety belt. I then trimmed the ship nose heavy and rolled it over to the right and pushed out. The tail surfaces passed over me and as soon as I saw the plane below me, I pulled the rip cord. The chute opened and at the same time I saw my plane hit the ground. There was a flash of flame, and apparently the left tank exploded as that section was about twenty five yards from the rest of the plane. 

I landed in some trees and was uninjured except for slight scratches. I climbed out of the harness and set out for my plane which was nearby. I stayed by the wreckage until the state police arrived to take charge of it. The crash crew arrived along with the ambulance, which brought me back to Portland Army Air Base.

1st Lt. Theodore C Shatto, flight leader

Flight leader's report

Flight leader’s report

Lt. Robert H. Strong was flying P-63 #876 in #6 position in my flight, during the first mission 13 June 1944. We had been airborne one hour and five minutes, and were approximately over Woodburn at 11000 feet, over a hole in the overcast at 0647. Within one or two minutes after this time check, Lt. Strong called and said something about being low on fuel.  . . . We headed straight for Portland Air Base.

The following conversation ensued:
Shatto: Do you know where you are?
Strong: I’m not sure.
Shatto: We’ll be in Portland in 2 minutes – can you last?
Strong: (Unintelligible)
Shatto: Hillsboro, is on your left. Do you see it?
Strong: Don’t go over Portland. Don’t go over Portland.

I turned to the left and headed for Hillsboro. Lt. Strong was perhaps 300 yards behind the flight. As I started to turn, he said something about his engine cutting or sputtering. Shortly afterwards he said, “This is it.” Looking back, I saw that his ship had not turned with us, and was slowing down and gliding. I made a 180 deg turn to the left and saw a parachute but no plane. He landed in some trees near Metzger, and was promptly picked up by some people who arrived on the scene rapidly. When he waved to me that he was o.k., I returned to the field and landed.

Newspaper reports

Articles in The Oregonian and Tigard Sentinel confirmed the date and location of Lt. Strong’s P-63 Kingcobra crash.

Killed in combat over Germany

On March 2, 1945, 2nd Lt. Robert Strong was piloting a Lockheed P-38 Lightning on a mission with seven other aircraft to attack a rail yard in Mundersbach, Germany.

While executing a low strafing pass, his plan was hit by anti-aircraft flak. He did not bail out before his plane crashed. Another member of Lt. Strong’s 8-plane sortie also died on the same fateful mission. 2nd Lt. George W. Alge was killed by the shockwave of a bomb dropped by another plane. The war against Germany ended two months later on May 8, 1945. Both men are buried in the American Cemetary in Margraten, Netherlands.

1st. Lt. Strong’s awards included the Air Medal and the Purple Heart with Oak Leaf Cluster. source

Scouting the Crash Site

Other 1940’s plane crashes in the area

Presentation

This presentation was given on May 17th, 2014 on Armed Forces Day at Garden Home Recreation Center. Subsequently, it was also presented to a March, 2015 local chapter meeting of the National Active and Retired Federal Employees, and to a May, 2015 local chapter meeting of the Society of Former Special Agents of the FBI. There are 20 pages. Use the arrows below the photos to move the presentation forward and back.

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6 Responses to 1944 Crash of Lt. Robert Strong’s P-63 Kingcobra fighter plane

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